Squirrel hunting with Mick Garvey: Win some, lose some

This is my hide; there are many like it, but none are the same as my hide!

This is my hide; there are many like it, but none are the same as my hide! - Credit: Archant

Mick Garvey makes a productive comeback to his daytime vermin control duties, but at a cost

Running repairs on the feeders.

Running repairs on the feeders. - Credit: Archant

Having spent the last few months night shooting, I have managed to neglect my general daytime vermin control and I think the woodpigeon and squirrel population have been under the mistaken belief that all was now safe for them to restart their shenanigans around the woodlands and crop fields. Well, they have enjoyed their respite, and now it’s time to get back to work.

I’ve spent the last few months spent mostly with the FX Impact and so it was time to give the Wildcat a run out. The ‘Cat is a supremely accurate airgun and coupled with the Hawke Airmax and Air Arms Diablo 18 grain pellets, I felt I had everything covered. I had also decided to give my old Jack Pyke ghillie suit an airing. It’s made from camo netting and burlap strips, so it would provide me with excellent camouflage against the holly bushes where I expected to be spending most of the few hours I had.

First, though, I had to visit the woods to check on the pheasant feeders, carry out any repairs and fill the two feeders at each end of the wood, plus the central ones. I opted not to take the ‘Cat with me, so I could concentrate on the job in hand and this ended up being a wise decision because four of the feeders had been torn apart by badgers – I’m assuming. There is a large head of these short-legged omnivores here, and I have previously recorded their activity with my trail cams around these feeders. Tops and bottoms had been torn off all the low-mounted feed stations, so I was in no doubt of the culprit. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t an issue with these members of the mustelidae family, quite the opposite to be honest. I often watch them for hours when out foxing with my fullbore outfit and on more than one occasion I have had a badger chase a fox in my direction – which is always helpful.

I think the 'ghilliness' of the suit has taken root on my face.

I think the 'ghilliness' of the suit has taken root on my face. - Credit: Archant

They were watching!

So, with this forgiveness in mind, I set about restoring the feeders back to their former glory. The weather had taken its toll on the hinges. A couple still contained grain from my last outing, and even worse, some of this grain had managed to mutate into a sort of sour porridge, so a total strip down was necessary to empty the contents.

I had taken spare parts for the repairs and luckily, the steel-bodied ones needed little attention. I knew and could actually feel that I was being watched, and it was like some sort of ‘80s horror movie with the odd rustle behind me then a frantic flapping of wings a pigeon was spooked by my presence. I sensed movement to my left or right, so I’d look up only to see a ghostly, grey apparition disappear into the surrounding brambles and holly bushes. They were watching all right, and they knew what I was doing. I like to flip the lids and scratch around on the ground as loudly as possible, at the same time spreading my feeder mix and treading it in. They come to recognise these sounds and associate them with the feed I supply, and the only time this could work against me is when they are feeding freely and I miss a shot – it does happen! This would associate the feeders with danger, but luckily, it doesn’t happen too often, and with the equipment I have at my disposal I’m confident it won’t be happening any time soon.

A 50-yard belly crawl in the snow. Was it worth it? Of course it was!

A 50-yard belly crawl in the snow. Was it worth it? Of course it was! - Credit: Archant

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Once everything was repaired, topped up and eased up, I decided to give it half an hour in my favourite hide. This place has everything; chair, drink shelf, foot rest, leaf-covered trellis, a good backdrop behind me from a holly bush, and a perfectly positioned gun rest for shots to the feeders and overlooking beech trees. The odd jay was making its presence known, along with pigeons coming in to the huge beech trees from a hard day’s feeding on the newly sprouting rapeseed. I had already decided that squirrels would be my main target the following day, and I had spotted a couple playing a game of chase further down the wood. It wouldn’t be long before they found the feed and spread the word to all their mates...I hoped.

Paddy-field conditions

A nice early start was delayed by torrential rain, and I was glued to the lounge window looking for that break in the skies that the weatherman had promised. It came eventually, and I was off like a shot. I had lost a good three hours, but the tree rats would have been tucked away waiting for the same break as me, so it should be all even. The rain had been replaced by heavy snow flurries, but to be honest, I don’t mind the snow – it’s much preferable to rain, in my book.

My comfy hide with all mod cons.

My comfy hide with all mod cons. - Credit: Archant

The ground was really waterlogged and I had to park up quite a way from my usual spot because the tyres on the truck were not the best for these conditions. I took the long way round, along the hedge line rather than the more direct route, and as I approached the stile, I could clearly see a grey feeding on one of the remaining pheasant feeders. I was probably around 80 yards away and the lie of the land wasn’t in my favour with its undulating surface. There was only one thing for it – a belly crawl to get within a shootable distance, which was going to be nice in paddy-field conditions, but that was what had to be done and so the crawl began.

I must have covered 50 yards, popping my head up every so often to check my line of sight, and more importantly, that my target was still there. It was, and I had a clear shot from around 30 yards, but with no bipod it was a case of supporting the ‘Cat with my left arm, just slightly off the ground. A few quick, short breaths, then an exhale, and boom! It was game over for the grey. I watched it fall straight into the spilled feed, with the minimum of twitching. I was smiling. I was back and had made my mark with the first shot of the day. Checking the shot made me smile again – a perfect headshot had taken the squirrel and switch-off would have been immediate.

I climbed the fence and entered the wood, caused a small flock of woodpigeons to take flight from a nearby beech tree. I stood motionless and watched as they circled the far end of the wood and settled back in another beech tree far beyond my reach, but at least they hadn’t fled the wood completely and I was hopeful of picking a few off later.

Four hours' shooting, and two hours' lost in searching time, for a change of opinion.

Four hours' shooting, and two hours' lost in searching time, for a change of opinion. - Credit: Archant

Prime area for greys

My first stopping-off point was the feeder on the windward side. There were signs that the greys had been feeding, but after 30 minutes and no sightings, I was off to the lee side where the shelter offered might encourage them to feed more freely.

No sooner had I arrived than my eyes were attracted to movement above the freshly repaired feeder. There was a screech like no other bird, and the jay had given away its exact position. Steadily, I lifted the ‘Cat and saw the jay take flight, but not away – it went straight to the feeder – and with the cross hairs motionless on its skull, the Diablo was sent forward through 35 yards. The jay never knew anything about it and fell to the ground with not even a flutter. I left it where it had landed and studied the area, waiting for more movement. This is a prime area for the greys and I just knew they would turn up – it was just a case of being patient. A sound to my right told me that I had visitors, and when I peered over the top of the brambles, I could see a grey, bushy tail held high above the ferns that had died off. Head down, the tree rat was busy digging and moving ever closer to the feeder I had so lovingly prepared for him. Within seconds, he was at the base of the tree, but he didn’t even get to sample the offerings this time as another 18 grains of Air Arms finest was sent his way, and the third kill of the day was secured.

Before I could even check over the fallen squirrel, another popped its head up just beyond the fallen one. It sat and sniffed the air, then casually hopped over to check out its mate. I kept the Airmax on the second squirrel, loaded another pellet into the barrel, squeezed off a shot and another was down with an identical headshot.

Long slow trek

I let another 20 minutes pass before retrieving my quarry and then moved on to my main hide and the spot where I expected to increase my takings by a good amount. I reached into my pocket for a mag’ to replace the almost empty one – four shots and a couple of zero checks – because I like to have a full, or nearly full mag’ when setting up on a known hot spot. My pockets were empty! Frantically, I searched every pocket, and anywhere else the mag’s may have been, but no they were gone. I was gutted. I hate losing things, especially my shooting gear. Immediately, I made the decision to retrace my footsteps to try to find them. I would lose valuable time, but I needed to find them. I have always been confident with the mag’s in my pocket, and never considered a mag’ holder. In fact, when I had a KalibrGun Cricket, I actually removed the mag’ holder because I was more concerned that I would lose them from the holder rather than my pocket. Anyway, I made the long, slow trek back to the truck, luckily finding my own footprints in the snow and mud, but with no luck. I retraced my footsteps back to the woods and checked the area where I had crawled for the first squirrel, again with no luck. I had lost around two hours searching for these flippin’ mag’s so time was running out. I had three in the bag, along with the jay, which isn’t a bad total, but I knew there were more to be had, and indeed there was.

Evening feast

Once I’d installed myself back in the hide, it wasn’t long before the squirrels started to show for their evening meal. They always come from the same area when coming to these feeders, either from directly behind, or from the left, and I spotted their approach easily through the Quantum thermal spotter. I ended up taking another six, plus a pigeon, before calling it a day and making the slow trek back, again searching for the lost mag’s and again, with no luck. So, on second thoughts, I will be looking at a mag’ holder for the ‘Cat. I have seen some already and will be carrying out some research on what’s available.


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