Hunting: Working hard for little reward

I rested my lead arm on a trunk and waited for the shot

I rested my lead arm on a trunk and waited for the shot - Credit: Archant

Jamie Chandler is out on a new permission and working hard for little reward

Autumns beauty was bursting through

Autumns beauty was bursting through - Credit: Archant

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, da - da - da – da’, well, perhaps a little early for a singalong of that particular ditty, but for me, it’s still a time of year to which I always look forward. The harvest is in, and the hottest, longest summer on record is even now as I write, bowing out to make way for cooler, easier, autumn temperatures, and the spellbinding display of colour that is a British country autumn.

With the mellowing of the temperature and the receding long summer evenings, the countryside, from an airgun enthusiast’s perspective, comes alive with opportunities so easily missed during the lush summer months of high, full ground cover and almost impenetrable tree canopies that obscure and hinder both our ability to see quarry and to thread a pellet to a target in order to claim our prize.

As the vegetation starts to die back and conserve energy, ready for the colder darker winter months ahead, most of our traditional quarry, like squirrels, rabbits, rats and pigeons will start to feed more heavily and for longer during the days, in order to build up energy reserves, preparing for the months of less food ahead. Squirrels will be busy hoarding food, and rats will come in out of the fields and start targeting grain stores, feed and cosy bale stacks to make nests in.

Clean jacket, clean start. Re-waterproofed and ready.

Clean jacket, clean start. Re-waterproofed and ready. - Credit: Archant

The doom cupboard

Like the quarry we target, I always start to get more active and prepare for the cooler months’ hunting adventures ahead as autumn moves in. I use the time whilst there’s still warmth in the air, to drag out and prepare my hunting clobber for the chillier months, ensuring that everything is as ready as it can be. For my waterproof clothes, this means a thorough wash in a technical reproofing liquid, ensuring that afterwards they are back to being both water repellent and breathable. There’s no point in discovering a leak when caught out a mile from the car by the first heavy autumn downpour, if you can prepare for this in advance. I also ensure that my gloves are back in my jacket pockets, thermals are folded and to hand in the wardrobe and in doing so, reclaim the space that my wife and I call ‘the doom cupboard’ over the summer months. It’s a cupboard of great foreboding where outdoor clothing items might be put in all innocence, but possibly never seen again!

Along with my clobber, my air rifles are also given an extra special once over, to try to maintain peak performance during the expected wetter months ahead. I try to give all exposed parts a decent covering of a quality, protective gun oil to prevent moisture entering where it is definitely not wanted and to protect against corrosion. Not only is this probably good preventative practice regarding gun care, ensuring the longevity of an expensive tool, but it’s also remarkably relaxing. You can’t be much more chilled than when sitting in the still warm sun, polishing away, reminiscing about adventures and shots enjoyed with a particular rifle, before moving on to the next.

A preventative film of protective gun oil should keep the Scorpion tip top condition

A preventative film of protective gun oil should keep the Scorpion tip top condition - Credit: Archant

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Squirrel plague

Fantastically, for me this year is the excitement and novelty of a season on a still new permission. As mentioned in August’s issue, I have only been able to shoot there with an airgun for a few months, so I am very much still learning where the hotspots for each quarry species might be, and how best to approach them. It really has re-invigorated my passion for airgun hunting, and whilst my bags here have been modest, with many blanks, the amount of usable, real-world reconnaissance I have gained whilst here is invaluable and has helped me to improve my prospects with every trip.

One man, like many of what might appear in our cross hairs, is getting busier and busier, preparing for the upcoming months – the ‘keeper on the estate, Matt. Matt is busy ensuring that his feeders are full, his birds are healthy, predators controlled and that even the pigs that are being prepared for the ‘guns’ snacks on shoot days, are in top condition. Matt asked me if I fancied helping him cut feed costs and pen damage by knocking over a few of the squirrels that plague the woods round here, and have started becoming more active around the bird feeders as the days get cooler. Obviously, I jumped at the chance and with my .22 BSA Scorpion SE in newly cleansed condition, I rushed off to meet him on a rather cool peice of land.

Still dressed in summer clothes but predicting frost, Matt showed me around

Still dressed in summer clothes but predicting frost, Matt showed me around - Credit: Archant

Tell-tale scratching

Like a giddy schoolchild who’s been told that their drawing will be on the school’s Christmas card that year, I arrived and waited for Matt to finish his rounds topping up the feeders. Matt explained that feeding the squirrels took anything up to an eighth of the contents of the feeders, and that he’d had enough of their feeder-damaging, free-feeding ways. Matt was predicting early frosts to compound the issue, so the squirrels needed to go. With pheasants already released and partridge due to follow suit in a week, Matt didn’t want the disturbance of a powder burner causing him more dogging-in work, so was looking to see what the Scorpion SE, AA Field combo could do against the ravenous, bushy-tailed menaces.

Having been shown the well-fenced and cared for spinneys near which the squirrels often show, I was left to my own devices. I stood, stock still in the first spinney for approaching 50 minutes, listening intently for the tell-tale scratchings or gnawings of my targets. The wind was up and the tree canopy heavy, and if they were here I couldn’t see or hear them. I caught a flash of grey and an unnatural bounce of a branch; it was a sky rat rather than a woodpigeon, but it would do to start. I lasered it at 32 yards, with plenty of twigs to ricochet off around one small channel for the pellet to make contact. I rested my lead arm on a trunk and waited for the wind to die, finally threading the pellet that coughed from the Scorpion directly onto its target, and the pigeon dropped flapping, the satisfying sign of a solid headshot. I retrieved my prize and decided to move to the next spinney.

The flapping was caused by a clinical headshot

The flapping was caused by a clinical headshot - Credit: Archant

Waning light

Dusk fell and I again stood, waited and strained to hear or see any tell-tale sign of squirrels, but again the wind, cover and now waning light hampered my spotting of any bushy tails. I called it quits and headed for the car. As I neared the car, I saw two pigeons come fluttering down a line of trees as if playing kiss-chase. I dropped to the floor, froze and watched them come into range, still fully immersed in their game as I sat there in full view with no cover around me. At about 30-ish yards, my fear of losing the shot took hold and I squeezed the trigger, releasing another scorching AA Field straight to its target. With no dramatics the pigeon just dropped like a stone, straight into a thick, tall bramble bush. I spent 20 minutes searching, but with no torch to hand and a thick bramble bush to contend with, I walked away having failed to retrieve it, yet happy with my one to show for the night.

I still have so much to learn about this permission and that learning is like nirvana to me. I’ll be back with some squirrel feeders and peanuts to see if I can’t have a bit more success out of this wonderful place.


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