A great day hunting pigeons and squirrels with Mick Garvey

Strike a Jack Pyke pose

Strike a Jack Pyke pose - Credit: Archant

Mick Garvey bags himself a great day’s hunting – and another ‘being there’ experience

Blubell beauties.

Blubell beauties. - Credit: Archant

It’s unbelievable that I’m still having this conversation about the weather. It has been a complete nightmare! We have had the hottest March day since the 1940s, now there is snow forecast and it has been feeling so cold recently, but over the last few days there has been a change for the better and I can definitely feel spring has finally arrived. I ventured back to my favourite squirrel haunt to check out the feeders and to see if there was any activity from the tree rats; a couple of the feeders had been damaged and so I carried out some minor repairs, again! The damage could be from the local badger population as well as the ‘skinnys’, but an all-new feeder design is in the planning stage, one that should be almost indestructible. Made from six-inch galvanised steel cable trunking, with heavy-duty fixings holding it all together, I’m confident that whoever the culprit is, they won’t be breaking these babies – more of this later, though.

No compromise

The smell of bluebells greeted me like an old friend, so instead of a red carpet for me to walk on, my path was blue, and filled my nostrils with the beautiful sweet scent you only get at this time of year. I really love it and I could spend all day here, just taking in the natural beauty of the place. Leaves were sprouting and within the week they’d take over the treetops and provide my quarry of squirrels and pigeons with ultimate cover. I’d have to up my game as usual, and spot them either flying in and pulling at the beech leaves, or in the case of the squirrels, watch for the tell-tale bouncing branches as they make their way to the next feeding spot. I’d be ready, as I always am, but let us not forget that although the new foliage also provides me with some cover, the right clothing still has to be worn, and movements have to be slow and steady even with the cover from above.

Get yourself comfy for shots, if possible.

Get yourself comfy for shots, if possible. - Credit: Archant

Both my target species love the fresh beech leaves, and once feeding confidently, decent days are almost guaranteed. The pigeons are generally easier to pick off than the squirrels, and I like to tempt the squirrel population down to the ground to my feeders – not easy, but do-able. I top up my feeders with a mix of various grain feeds, including maize, wheat, sunflower seeds and most importantly, peanuts. Now, this sometimes gets contentious because the cost of some of these baits can get you in a spin, but my philosophy is that after spending decent money on guns, scopes, clothing and pellets, why should I compromise with inferior bait? Don’t get me wrong, other baits work well, but for me if I want to bring the squirrels down from the upper treetop canopy, then peanuts will do it – for me, anyway. Bird food mixes can be bought from most pet shops quite cheaply, and this can help to bulk out the feed if needed.

Treetop staring

Once I’d carried out the repairs carried out and topped up just a couple of feeders, I spent the rest of the afternoon treetop staring; watching and taking note of movements from up high. Plenty of woodies were coming in to digest their food from the fields adjacent, but nothing was showing on the ground in the shape of squirrels, which was no surprise because my attentions had been elsewhere recently. I was confident they’d be showing tomorrow.

The Texas heart shot is a no-no.

The Texas heart shot is a no-no. - Credit: Archant

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Sitting there made me think of our very own Phil Hardman, and how he’s recently lost one of his permissions. I would be gutted for this to happen to me, not just for the shooting, but also the actual ‘not being able to be there’ factor. I’m sure Phil feels the same, and not having him around carrying out his pest and vermin control is a big loss for the landowners, but I’m sure he’ll bounce back and I wish him all the luck in the world.

Green and spotted woodpeckers flighted between trees; last year’s pheasants, huge, lolloping hares, all the song birds, a couple of sparrow hawks, and the ever-present buzzards circling high above the massive beech trees, and I was in heaven, and with the sweet smell of the woodland, I almost put my feet up and nodded off. I said ‘almost’ because it was time to get home and kit up in readiness for the next day’s foray.

Subterfuge us key when out in the open.

Subterfuge us key when out in the open. - Credit: Archant

Game on!

I was greeted the next morning with beautiful blue skies, a slight breeze and temperatures of just under the magical 20ºC mark, so my days of complaining about the weather are now officially over – I hope. A nice early start saw me miss any traffic and gave me the chance of a full day in my favourite wood. First impressions were good as a couple of tree rats scampered away from the last pheasant feeder, as I arrived, and a glance over to my wood lifted my expectations because I could clearly see woodpigeons dotted in the treetops. These would be gone by the time I got there because there is no way of approaching without being spotted, but they would be back home – they always come back home.

Once into the wood, it was just a case of checking the feeders to see what the activity had been like. They’d definitely been visited because the feed had dropped significantly, so the game was on. First hit was a pigeon up high, taking beech leaves like there was no tomorrow, and with a clear shot between its shoulders it came down with not even a flap of the wings. This actually sent about a dozen others skyward. It is surprising how many drop in unnoticed when the trees are in full leaf, and I tend to watch shadows on the ground to indicate when and where they are landing. It’s always a problem shooting up to pigeons; not only because of the effect it has on the aim point (shoot high, aim low), but the kill zone available is also greatly reduced. A shot through the lower body, hoping to hit the vital organs, generally results in a flier that will eventually drop, but is not necessary. A ‘between the shoulders’ or head shot is the way, and will result in instant death.


Five-a-side. - Credit: Archant

Pinpoint accuracy

I took another couple of pigeons from the canopy and then it was time to check out the far feeder. I had been watching the feed station for around ten minutes and something was bugging me. I wasn’t sure what it was, but something wasn’t right, and the more I focused on the feeder, the more I felt it. Then I spotted a squirrel feeding at ground level below the feeder, but hidden by the bluebells. I could just make out the top of its head, bobbing up and down as it fed, I had to get its attention without sending it bolting for cover. With my hand on the fore end of the Impact, I tapped the folding lens cover of the Airmax against the scope’s body. The squirrel’s head came up for a split second, and then it went back to feeding. This was good because it wasn’t scared. Another couple of taps, and its head came up and stayed up, and with my eye already on the scope, a 25 grain AA Diablo was delivered with pinpoint accuracy out to my target some 40 yards away. Lovely ... simply lovely!

Ten breasts, ready for the freezer.

Ten breasts, ready for the freezer. - Credit: Archant

Shaking leaves

The day progressed nicely and I took a total of five pigeons, which were breasted and the carcasses put out for the foxes – they’d be taken care of later in the week. The squirrels presented a different problem altogether. Apart from the one earlier, I had not seen another feeding at ground level, which was strange because my feeders had been visited and plenty of feed had gone. Getting them to feed below when there is so much on offer up high is always tough, but I have faith in my method of attack and surely they would show.

There was no sign of the ‘shaking’ leaves indicating their whereabouts, so I just had to carry on scanning. It took a while, but I spotted the next one sitting just above the crook of a large bough, tucking into something. Once it had finished, it dropped to the crook, picked something up and returned to the same spot to eat. This one was dispatched immediately, and on retrieving it I found he had a peanut in his mouth, so that was where all the feed had gone – stashed away up high. This made the plan simple from here on, I’d just scan every branch and forget the ground-level attack. I ended up taking another three, all from the upper reaches and all just sitting there feeding. I didn’t see another with peanuts, but I’m sure that’s what they were gorging on. So, five of each will do for me, and with ten individual breasts taken home, the only thing that comes close is actually being here in this little wood.


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