Hunting for grey squirrels this winter
- Credit: Archant
Falling leaves are raising the stakes in favour of the grey squirrel hunters - as Jerry Moss explains
We start this month with some good news. You may remember in a previous article we mentioned an orphaned red squirrel kitten which came into our care and we hand-reared it over the last few months.
Camilla, as she is known, went from strength to strength and recently she was successfully released back into the wild. I chose an area which has a good population of reds but also is closely monitored, regularly fed and had squirrel nest boxes already in the woodland.
The day of the release came so the first task was to catch Camilla in her pen and then transport her up to the woodland where she will now live. Once on site we set up cameras to capture videos and stills of the occasion. The door was opened on the transport box by Sarah (my partner) and Camilla took her first tentative looks from the box to the big, wide world. It wasn’t long before she jumped onto the nearest stump, sniffed the air and, looking wide-eyed at the trees around her, then made her way toward the nearest larch tree and scampered up, heading straight for the cones!
We spent the next half an hour watching Camilla as she excitedly investigated the near woodland, hopping from tree to tree, eventually coming down one of them and stopping briefly to feed on a bit of fungi. After a short feed she disappeared into the woodland out of sight, but returned to the release area within 20 minutes, still eagerly investigating the feeders.
The leaf and natural food has started to drop to the forest floor, changing the stakes in our favour with regard to red squirrel conservation. This year’s crop has predominantly been beech and hazel with very little acorn around in Cumbria, so we have been really concentrating our efforts in woodlands where these trees are.
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A good tip we found was, if you see a lot of woodpigeons gathering or lifting from the ground up ahead while in a woodland, this can often indicate a good, natural feeding area where there may well be tree rats feeding also.
Although natural food is still present, it is a good time to get feeders going because we are noticing they are now starting to be fed at harder, and can always pay dividends when stalking around woodland.
Our most recent success was on a morning when Christian and I planned to hit a wood where there are several beeches and a good crop of hazel, the plan being to take a corner each and work in parallel through the woodland. After our customary brew and a final discussion on tactics, we did a radio check, loaded our Daystates and fired up our Flir thermal-imaging cameras.
I had only travelled a few yards into the wood when Christian radioed me to say he had picked up a heat source with the Flir, and had watched the grey travel off through the tops of the trees in my direction. Immediately, I started scanning the trees over in Christian’s direction and, not long after, I picked up two heat sources. Looking through my MTC Genesis UL scope I identified the first heat source as a tree rat sitting stationary, watching the second grey moving about the tree.
A short stalk was required and soon with a clear shot, the grey was dispatched. This stopped the second tree rat in its tracks and fortunately, I had a clear but slightly more challenging shot. Making slight adjustments I squeezed the trigger sending the Sovereign .177 pellet on its way. It hit its mark with a resounding smack, sending the grey to the ground.
Shortly after, I heard the familiar sound of Christians 40ft.lbs. Air Wolf thumping its target and then he came over the radio asking if I had been successful with my shots - three in the bag in no time. We moved forward, scanning the woodland and met up about halfway through the woodland.
While discussing what had just unfolded, Christian noticed movement on the ground about 50 metres behind me. He moved slowly in that direction whilst I stayed put and after 20 or so metres dropped to one knee and bought his Air Wolf up to his shoulder; after a short pause he took the shot which resulted in another grey in the bag.
We split up again and stalked the remainder of the wood, meeting an hour later back at the pick-up. We ended the morning with a bag of eight greys in total.
On behalf of the Penrith & District Red Squirrel Group we would like to wish all the readers a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2015!