Mat Manning heads into the woods with his air rifle to target destructive grey squirrels as they gorge on ripening nuts and seeds, with his top tips on how to squirrel hunt.
Grey squirrels cause a huge amount of damage in all the woods where I shoot. Their bark-stripping habits causes trees to grow small and stunted, and can often kill them completely, and squirrels’ taste for eggs and chicks is also detrimental to the breeding success of game birds and native songbirds. Because of the significant impact caused by this resilient introduced species, my methods of controlling them are ruthless. Rather than shooting them in ones or twos, I tend to set up feeding stations loaded with peanuts to create a hotspot where it is not unusual to account for ten or more squirrels in a sitting. The ultimate goal is complete eradication, so I see no point in messing around.Because of the significant impact caused by this resilient introduced species, my methods of controlling them are ruthless.
My approach is a little more leisurely in the autumn, though. At this time of year, feeding stations can be somewhat less effective because of the sudden glut of natural food. Ripening hazelnuts, acorns, beech mast and sweet chestnuts can draw squirrels away from my offerings. The upside is that they create natural feeding zones where I can expect to encounter quarry during roving forays. My bags aren’t usually as big during these wandering sessions, but it entails a lot less preparation and is a much better way to enjoy the countryside at this wonderful time of year than being cooped up in a hide. The lack of preparation required for these mobile outings also makes them very easy to fit in around other commitments, and my most recent session was snatched during a couple of hours early in the morning before heading home for breakfast and then on to work.
I chose a route that kept me close to the trees squirrels were most likely to be targeting. Although I was on the move, I stopped from time to time to scan for signs of squirrels, and eventually spotted one feeding on mast up in a tall beech. The greedy little bushy-tail was too distracted by the easy pickings to notice me, and I managed to creep to within 25m before I settled down for the shot. That’s actually closer than I zero my Hawke Vantage 3-9×40 riflescope, so I used the Mil-Dot reticle to give it a touch of hold-under. My estimation was spot on, and the precise head shot hit home with a crack, sending the squirrel plummeting to the ground.
That early shot was following by an unproductive half-hour as I plodded on through the woods without seeing a sign of a squirrel. Things changed when I reached another stand of beeches, though. As I crunched through the dry undergrowth, a squirrel darted along the ground about 40m ahead of me and disappeared up into the trees.
It was apparent that the squirrels were well onto the beech mast, so I decided to park up on my beanbag seat for a while and see if any would venture back out if I waited quietly. You don’t need a lot of cover for an impromptu ambush like this. The important thing is to keep still and scan the treetops very patiently.
I picked a spot that gave me a clear view up into three of the more open beech trees, then took out my laser rangefinder and pinged the distance to them. This simple preparation gave me a good idea of the ranges I would be shooting over, and meant that I wouldn’t have to risk blowing my cover by doing it after a squirrel revealed itself. My rangefinder of choice is the Hawke LRF Hunter 400 – apart from being very precise, it’s also compact so I can keep it stowed in a jacket pocket.
The patient approach paid off and I bagged two more squirrels during my short stakeout. One of them was foraging on the ground about 20m from my position no more than ten minutes after I’d settled in and the other at around 30m about 40 minutes later. I reckon I could probably have accounted for one or two more from that spot but I ran out of time and had to make a dash for home.
Three squirrels is a reasonable bag for a fairly short outing. One thing is for sure, I will certainly be putting up a feeding station in that stand of beech trees once the squirrels have mopped up all the mast.
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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 accessoriesFind Out More
Hawke Laser Range Finder Pro 400
Fully Multi-Coated optical system – BK-7 prisms. 6× magnification and an adjustable dioptre. Twist-up eye cup to ensure proper eye relief. Standard/Beeline/Height/Height Difference/Angle modes. Measure distances accurate to +/- 1 metre/yard. Auto shut off battery save feature. Ergonomically designed to fit in your handFind Out More