Squirrel shooting masterclass with Mick Garvey
PUBLISHED: 14:17 01 November 2019
Dave Barham heads to Derbyshire in order to learn more about shooting squirrels from the ‘Legend’, Mick Garvey!
If you've read my FX Dreamline Bullpup 'Big Test' review, you'll be aware that it was a rather tricky one to pull off. The problem was that FX UK importers, ASI, didn't have a sub-12 ft.lbs. rifle in the country. All they had was an FAC version, which was a major problem because I don't actually hold a firearms certificate (yet).
A quick call to hunting legend and FAC holder, Mick Garvey, soon had ASI sending the test rifle to him so I could visit and spend the afternoon on one of his permissions. It just so happened that Mick had recently been feeding the squirrels on one of his perms in order to thin them out - so the plan was hatched!
I haven't shot many squirrels in recent years, mainly down to the fact that all my permissions hold mostly rabbits and pigeons, so you can imagine how excited I was to be getting some one-on-one 'private tuition' from the main man himself!
I arrived at Mick's place in deepest, darkest Derbyshire around midday and after a fantastic lunch provided by the lovely Babs, we headed over to 'Squirrel Vegas'. The plan for this short hunt was to have a couple of hours' target practice to get acquainted with the Dreamline, then head to one of the hides that Mick had set up in front of feeders to try to nail a few squirrels.
I'd also taken along my trusty BSA R10 with me on this occasion, purely to try and christen it with a squirrel - having not yet managed to shoot one with it.
I took this rare opportunity of spending a couple of hours in the woods with Mick to quiz him about grey squirrels - mostly for my own knowledge, but also for writing this piece.
The very first thing I asked was about positioning the feeders and what he actually puts in them to draw the squirrels down from the trees. His answer was simple and to the point; positioning the feeders isn't really a problem that requires too much thought. You should place them in areas near to where you can see squirrel dreys or where you've observed them on previous recces, but the most important factor when deciding where to put them is 'shootability'. You should build your hide first, then place the feeders at ranges you are comfortable shooting at. Allowing for safe backstops is also a deciding factor, and if you get these two correct you will have no problems.
The only other thing that really ups the chances of squirrels using your feeders is to add an 'easy route' to them. As you will see in some of the photos here, Mick props old fallen branches up against the trees and feeders from the ground, so any squirrels hopping about in the leaves underneath can have quick and easy access by simply climbing the branch that leads directly to the feeder.
Mick had also placed feeders at the base of numerous trees at about 35 yards, plus he'd dotted a couple more about on fallen trees right in front of the hide at about 20 yards. You obviously need to be clued up on your scope's mil dots when shooting at varying ranges, and this was another reason why I'd taken along my BSA R10, because I know the Hawke Airmax scope on top of it intimately.
Food for thought
In regard to filling the feeders with something that the squirrels find irresistible, the first answer out of Mick's mouth when I quizzed him for his secrets was "peanuts." If you fill a feeder with peanuts, you're pretty much guaranteed some squirrel action - they absolutely love them. It was while discussing this topic that Mick sloped off for a couple of minutes and returned with two handfuls of the natural food that these particular squirrels were feeding on.
"Here you go, Dave. This is what they're munching on in these woods - hazel and beech nuts, there's millions of them in the trees and on the ground here," he explained. "They love these, but as soon as you offer them peanuts they can't help themselves," he continued.
I found this really interesting. In my limited squirrel-hunting knowledge I thought the stereotypical acorn was their number one choice, but of course, if you haven't got many oak trees in your woods they're not going to be looking for acorns, are they? Der!
Although I've known Mick for a number of years, spending days at shows and evenings in bars all around the world with him, we'd never actually shot together.
If I'm honest, I was a tad nervous as he stood behind me in the hide whilst using his thermal-imaging gear to search out squirrels in the trees in front of me. It was getting very close to 'shot time' and I had to make my first shot count both for the squirrel's sake and to impress my master!
It didn't take long for the squirrels to start moving around after we'd settled into the hide. Mick spotted one about 35 yards up in a tree to our left, but as I tried to find it through my scope it became clear that it was actually sitting behind a branch - such is the power of thermal-imaging kit these days. We spent so much time concentrating on that pesky squirrel that we didn't notice the one that had climbed up onto one of the peanut feeders directly in front of us.
As soon as I saw it, I quickly lowered the Dreamline to the crossbar of the hide, took aim and gently squeezed the trigger. The squirrel dropped where I shot it, and I was both ecstatic and relieved that I'd made such a clean kill under pressure.
Leave them here
Immediately after dropping that squirrel, I passed the Dreamline over to Mick so he could take it for a wander around to his second hide and have a go with it himself. Before he wandered off I quizzed him again.
"Do you just leave your squirrels there where you've shot them, Mick?" I asked. "Don't you go and pick them up?"
"No mate, I just leave them where they fall. I had a shoot last year where I shot over 20 off the same feeder, they were piled up on top of each other underneath it and the squirrels just kept on coming. It really doesn't bother them at all," he replied.
It turns out that this wasn't just a one off, either, Mick has shot loads of squirrels over the years, with countless eight and ten bag days, and not once has he picked them as he's shot them. I guess popping out from the hide and revealing your location is not the brightest thing to do when you're looking at shooting numbers, so that's another lesson learned.
I was now armed with my trusty BSA R10 if any more squirrels decided to show where I was sitting. I'm actually really glad I passed Mick the Dreamline and swapped to my own rifle, because just ten minutes later another squirrel appeared on the fallen tree in front of me.
It was sitting just 20 yards away, about 15 feet to the left of the feeder, and my rifle was zeroed at 35 yards so I knew I had to aim low to take my shot. As I pulled the trigger there was an instant 'thwack' and the squirrel dropped like a stone - another 'perfect' shot.
That was it for this session, as the heavens threatened to open and with two squirrels in the bag for Mum Rosie's recipes we decided to head back. We'd only been hunting for just over an hour, but in that short space of time I learned so much from Mick.
As he picked up the two squirrels he turned round and said "Nice shooting, Dave." Coming from someone as experienced as him, that made me smile.
A huge thanks for taking me out, mate. I can't wait until next time!