Mat Manning explains how airgun shooters can take advantage of feeding stations to bring in the grey squirrels during the spring months.
Early spring is a time when airgun shooters tasked with grey squirrel control should really ramp up their efforts. Although green shoots and fresh buds are starting to emerge, natural pickings are still scarce – and that makes squirrels easy to locate if you are able to pinpoint a food source.
Of course, you can always set up a feeding station of your own. I use a large wooden hopper and load it with peanuts – this bait is not cheap but squirrels love the stuff and will soon be queuing up for it.
If you are targeting grey squirrels, feeding stations can be absolutely deadly during the winter. Load a hopper with peanuts and you should have hungry bushy-tails queuing up after a couple of weeks. Set up a hide about 20m away and you have got comfortable shooting at a static target over a predetermined distance.
It is best to set up the hopper in a place where you know squirrels are active – close to one or two active dreys if possible. Attach it to a tree trunk as high as you can but low enough to be able to refill it with minimal hassle, and build yourself a simple hide within comfortable shooting distance.
My usual approach is to refrain from shooting until the squirrels are really plundering the peanuts, which typically takes about a fortnight. Songbirds are usually the first to visit but their comings and goings will soon attract the attention of opportunistic squirrels. Others will quickly home in on the activity and will build in confidence every time they visit. You will know when the bushy-tails are really tucking in because the contents of the feeder will start to diminish at an alarming rate – that is your cue to strike.
Those of us who share our shooting grounds with pheasant shoots will have the luxury of ready-made feeding stations. The grain hoppers used by gamekeepers to prevent their birds from straying also create a prime feeding opportunity for grey squirrels. Hungry greys do not take long to cotton on to this easy source of nourishment, and can soon munch a significant dent into the shoot feed budget.Pheasant feed acts like a magnet to squirrels as they seek out food sources during the lean months of spring.
Targeting grain feeders can be productive right through the autumn and winter, but results tend to peak in the spring as gamekeepers begin to reduce the number of active hoppers. Shoots that run 50 or 60 grain hoppers in the winter can soon wind down to just five or six after the season draws to a close. The reduction in available food sources creates serious hotspots as squirrels become concentrated around the remaining feeders.
I have been having some great sport staking out the remaining feeders around one of my local shoots over recent weeks. The squirrels on this permission are so distracted by the easy meal that I’ve not even had to go to the trouble of building a hide to avoid detection.
My usual approach is to ambush hungry squirrels as they emerge for their first binge of the day. I slip quietly into position just after daybreak, taking a course that keeps me well away from the feeder as I trek to my hiding place. Once I have settled in, I use a laser rangefinder to accurately gauge the distance to the hopper I am covering. Knowing the range then enables me to use the corresponding aim point on the half mil-dot reticle of my Hawke Vantage SF scope to ensure precise shot placement.
The Vantage scope’s half mil-dot reticle enables Mat to make precise adjustment for the pellet’s curved trajectory.
This kind of ambush requires patience but it does not usually take long for the first diners to arrive, and you can also expect to encounter the