Shooting squirrels in the summer with Mick Garvey

More shadows in the hide

More shadows in the hide - Credit: Archant

Mick Garvey celebrates the arrival of the summer weather

The new Evo feeder

The new Evo feeder - Credit: Archant

Boom! There it is, summer is here, and here with a bang, and not just the odd day, but whole weeks of sun. My plans were to hit the pigeons in the woods where they came to roost and digest the crops they had been eating, and I had the perfect place – another smallish wood adjacent to the rape fields. The crops were too high for me to form any sort of plan of attack whilst they were feeding, so an ambush on their return was the plan. I checked my hunting log to see what the previous year’s shooting had yielded and this confirmed I was on the right track.

As always, I phoned my mate Mick, to let the pheasant shoot work party know I would be there, but his reply provided an extra challenge.

“Seen loads of them tree rats, Mikey – and I mean loads.”

“Okay,” I said “I’ll have a look before setting up for the pigeons.”

Chasing shadows in this beautiful place

Chasing shadows in this beautiful place - Credit: Archant

This info sat with me for a few hours, playing on my mind and messing with my plans for the flying rats. I had to go and check out the size of the problem beforehand.

Obviously, this is not a problem because any request to carry out more vermin control is a win/win situation. It also gave me the chance to fit one of my new squirrel-proof feeders and carry out a proper field test. I’m lucky enough to have a really good relationship with the suppliers for my day job as an electrical contractor, and I had already primed them for any damaged and unusable metal trunking to be put on one side rather than be put out for scrap. Two lengths of six-inch galvanised trunking had been earmarked for me, so all I had to do was cut it into appropriate lengths and within minutes I had twenty 300mm metal boxes ready to be fitted out with hinged lids, bottom feed tray and removable fronts with trickle feed escapes if required. The feeders should provide the ultimate resistance to the destructive feeding habits of the local skinnies. These bad boys will take around 432 cubic inches of feed which equates to around 7 litres, plenty you would imagine for such a small woodland like this. I made the decision to go and fit the new feeder the day before my planned pigeon attack and this gave me the opportunity to check for myself exactly how much activity there was.

Wildcat and Airmax - a fine pair

Wildcat and Airmax - a fine pair - Credit: Archant

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Chasing shadows

The heat was stifling out in the open, and with not even the slightest breeze I knew that tomorrow was going to be another tough day. The pigeons were definitely coming in, but with the heavy foliage now in place on the upper canopy, you had to spot them coming in or you’d lose them totally. I touched on chasing shadows last month – the first indication you’ll get is a passing shadow on the ground as a pigeon flies between the sun and the odd gap between the treetops. A quick flash is all you’ll get, but as long as you pick up the pigeon in flight you should be able to track it to its landing position, and providing you have a clear safe shot you’re in. This is obviously the next problem; if you lose sight of your target you are going to have to wait until it starts to feed from the beech leaves, or whichever tree its landed in. You’ll see the small branches shaking as food is taken, and this will give an indication of its whereabouts, but it still doesn’t always give you the shot because the woodie might not be visible.

For me, this is the hardest time for shooting woodpigeons, very rewarding when it goes right, but tough all the same. I filled two feeders at the extreme ends of the wood with my skinny mix and I’d fitted the new Evo feeder quite close (50 yards) to another one, which formed a triangle between the first three. I had only seen a couple of greys up high and hadn’t bothered to stalk them, just carried on with the filling and fitting, but my previous month’s outing gave me confidence that the skinnies would find the feed. If the pigeon attack slowed down, I could easily move my attention to the grey menace. It had been a while since carrying out any vermin control here, so it would be a good test of my method of attack.

The peanut mix

The peanut mix - Credit: Archant

Vantage point

Well before the alarm went off, I was up and loading the Hilux – you cannot beat an early start – and I was actually very excited about what lay in front of me. It was another red-hot day again with not even a slight breeze, not perfect for today’s activities, but no matter what, I would be enjoying it ... as usual. My gear for the day consisted of my trusty .22 FAC FX Wildcat, fitted with a Hawke Optics Airmax, and my preferred pellets, Air Arms 18gr Diablos.

I have three hides set up in this area which gives me coverage of all the treetops and feeders. The Evo feeder was set up over a small stream, and my vantage point for that was this side of the stream to give me views of both feed stations, along with views to treetops on the opposite bank where a couple of oak trees offered plenty of roosting spots, as well as great runs for the skinnies. My intention was to check this area first for two reasons; my elevated hide position gave me a better shot at the woodies in the canopy, and I could also check the new feeder to see if it had attracted any attention.

I see you!

I see you! - Credit: Archant

The steep sloping bank was made more difficult by dying bluebells now all laid out flat, they are, like ice, and I almost went rubber side up as my feet lost traction completely, but the Tundras saved me and ultimately the FX/Hawke set-up. Just as I rounded a holly bush, a shadow flicked across the ground in front of me and I froze as a woodpigeon glided in to a stop. I dropped to one knee, rested my elbow on my thigh, levelled the crosshairs on its neck and let the pellet go. As if in slow motion, the woodie fell lifeless to the ground below, one – nil to the plan.

I left the pigeon on the far side and made my way to the hide with the intention of scoping the new feeder, but before I’d even took one step another shadow passed over me and another woodie dropped into the very same tree. I only had to drop on the same spot and marginally alter my position for a slightly upward shot this time, and to my disgust, I missed and I have absolutely no idea why ... one – all.

On the spillage

On the spillage - Credit: Archant

Peanut-based feed

I managed to get to the vantage point and get settled in, I was sure that any squirrels in the area would have been made aware of my presence by now, so I was prepared to wait a while. I was focusing the Airmax on the new feeder when from behind the oak tree it was fastened to, out popped the first skinny of the day. With another slight shift of position, the crosshairs were again on target and the Diablo connected with the skull of the unsuspecting tree rat, which fell and then rolled down the bank toward the stream. I didn’t hear a splash, so I wasn’t going to get wet looking for it. The Evo feeder looked to be a winner as I took another one before deciding to pick up the kills and move on to the next hide.

Once in position, it was only a matter of waiting, and the waiting was short. The peanut-based feed was working its magic and two squirrels playing chase eventually took a break and headed down the beech tree for a mid-day snack. The first one was dispatched with a straightforward headshot from 40 yards, and its companion was taken at the same distance whilst wondering why its mate had decided on an afternoon nap.

What a great six-pack!

What a great six-pack! - Credit: Archant

Adapt and advance

It was now becoming obvious that the squirrel infestation was indeed as described by Mick earlier. This sort of spoiled my pigeon cull intentions, but ‘adapt and advance’ was the theme for the day. As I moved between the three hides, the skinnies kept on coming and I was taking shots from 25 yards out to 50 yards. The bag soon grew to 11, and there were still plenty about when I decided to call it a day. I started to skin the freshest of the squirrels for my favourite cook, Rosie Barham, but noticed that the hot weather had sent the flies into overdrive and I didn’t feel happy with some of the squirrels so they made it to the fox bait department.

The trek back to the truck takes me through another smaller wood, and chasing shadows provided me with a further five woodies, giving a total of six for the day these would be dropped off at the local pub for the excellent game and pigeon pies they make. I am now so looking forward to getting on the pigeons once the silage has been cut. I have picked up some enforcer decoys from DJDecoys and first impressions are good – very good – and as I’m writing this, I’ve just been told the fields will be cut next week. C’mon you beauties!


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