Winter ways for mischievous greys

Winter ways for mischievous greys

Mat Manning sets his sights on grey squirrels as he heads into the woods during a cold snap and explores the best options on how to use and air rifle to control grey squirrel  

The grain provided by pheasant feeders is a real attraction to grey squirrels during the winter. Mat checks the range to the feed hopper before he settles into position. This grey squirrel fell for the lure of the wheat and paid the price.

If you are planning to use your air rifle to control grey squirrels, the winter months offer a great opportunity to make a significant impression on their numbers.

For much of the year it is almost impossible to spot squirrels up in their treetop hiding places because they are hidden by a thick veil of foliage. It is a very different story now that the trees are bare, and you stand a far better chance of clocking them and creeping in close enough for a shot.

Squirrel shooting is also easier at this time of year because the rodents are less evenly dispersed through the woods. Natural food becomes very scarce after the turn of the year and remains that way well into the start of spring. Locate one of the few places where squirrels can expect to find vital sustenance and you are more or less guaranteed to encounter high concentrations of hungry rodents homing in on the valuable feeding opportunity.

Grey squirrel control is easier at this time of year as the rodents gather around the gamekeeper's pheasant feeding stations

It is possible to create a hotspot by setting up a feeding station. Many shooters who control grey squirrels put out hoppers loaded with peanuts or grain, and they can be relied upon to attract a lot of visitors during the lean months.

I share several of my shooting permissions with pheasant shoots, which means I don’t have to set up my own feeding stations because the gamekeepers have already done it for me. In these woods, the gamekeepers use large hoppers of grain to sustain pheasants through the winter and stop them from straying. But this easy food supply doesn’t just attract gamebirds; apart from helping a wide variety of songbirds to avoid starvation when times get tough these feeding places are also a real favourite with grey squirrels.

Another squirrel drops in to feed and Mat gets ready to take the shot.

Squirrels cause all sorts of problems in woodland. Their fondness for grain literally eats into the shoot’s running costs, and these scavenging rodents cause even more aggravation for the gamekeeper when they prey on the eggs and chicks of gamebirds in the spring. Grey squirrels’ habit of stealing from nests also has a huge impact on vulnerable songbirds, and their bark-stripping is ruinous to trees. Attacks by grey squirrels cause trees to grow deformed and stunted, and often kill them completely. This is detrimental to timber production and also compromises biodiversity by damaging woodland habitat and the natural food sources created by healthy mature trees.

Controlling grey squirrels is a constant battle, and my latest effort was based around a pheasant feeder. It is a grain hopper that has been getting plenty of attention – evident by the bitemarks around its lid – so I was expecting to get a few shots.

I headed out just after sunrise, in the hope of encountering hungry grey squirrels eager to feed after a long, cold winter’s night. Once I felt I was close enough to take confident shots, I pinged the feeder with my Hawke Laser Rangefinder, which confirmed to distance at 26m – perfect for a discreet ambush. Hidden by nothing more than my camouflage clothing and sparse natural cover, I settled down to await the squirrels’ arrival. I didn’t have to be very patient as the first bushy-tailed diner scuttled down a tree trunk and across the woodland floor to the feeder about 15 minutes after I turned up.

The Vantage scope is one of Mat’s top choices for woodland pest control.

Apart from attracting squirrels, grain also does a great job of holding them. I tracked the oblivious rodent through my scope while it foraged for grain and then let the crosshairs settle on its head as it sat up to nibble at a kernel. The crack of the impacting pellet rang out through the still woodland air, and the squirrel rolled over with barely a twitch.

Although not particularly fancy, my setup for this sort of shooting is extremely reliable and deadly accurate. I use a .177 calibre sub-12ft/lb Air Arms S510 Superlite topped with a Hawke Vantage 3-9×40 Riflescope and coupled with Air Arms Diabolo Field pellets. Apart from being very quiet, this combo delivers awesome precision. Don’t be fooled by the Vantage’s modest price, it is a great little scope which outclasses plenty of optics costing twice as much.

These two greys won’t be causing any more mischief in the woods.

The next visitors to come to the feeder were songbirds, which I am always glad to see. I saw robins, chaffinches and sparrows until they were hounded away by the arrival of another boisterous grey squirrel. This bushy-tail was just as eager to gorge on grain as its mate, and paid the same price for its greed.

Like most of my morning sessions, this was a short outing grabbed before the start of my working day and, all too quickly, it was time for me to leave. Still, I had made the most of an opportunity to remove two more grey squirrels from the woods, and I will be back very soon to add more to the tally.

Find out more about how to use harvested wild meat from our friends at Talking Game with the best squirrel risotto recipe 

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  • Hawke Vantage 3-9x40 AO Rilfescope

    Hawke Vantage 3-9x40 AO

    11 layer fully multi-coated optics for maximum clarity. Adjustable objective for parallax correction. 1⁄4 MOA low profile no-snag fingertip turrets. Fast focus eyebell and high torque zoom ring. Threaded objective/ocular for optional accessories

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  • Hawke Laser Range Finders

    Hawke Laser Range Finders

    Hawke laser range finders are designed to provide a variety of accurate distance measurements with the press of a button. They have been ergonomically designed to fit your hand with easy access to both buttons. See the full range avaliable

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