Mat Manning explains why he thinks fair weather shooters are missing out, and shares some tops tips for winter hunting in cold conditions.
Many airgun shooters limit their sport to the summer months, either targeting rabbits on warm evenings or taking to the garden to topple tins during after-work sessions.
While I’d agree that a spot of shooting is a fine way to enjoy long summer days, it’s actually the winter months that offer some of the finest sport available to the air rifle hunter.
My winter hunting attire also includes quilted trousers, a neck snood to keep my collar sealed, a fleece hat that can pull right down over my ears, and a pair of gloves that keep out the cold while also allowing good trigger feel. Rubber boots with a thick neoprene lining keep my feet warm and dry, and I always opt for a roomy fit so there’s space for an extra pair of socks without pinching my feet and restricting circulation. Proper clothing makes a huge difference as does a flask of hot drink – a cup of steaming tea can work wonders for morale when the cold starts to creep in.
Hunting in deciduous woodland is a lot easier after the winds of late autumn have stripped the leaves from the trees. It’s so much easier to spot and get clear shots at treetop quarry such as grey squirrels and woodpigeons now that the dense screen of foliage has gone.
Setting up and getting into position
It’s also far easier to locate quarry when natural food is scarce – and the situation is likely to remain that way right through to the early months spring. Find a food source, and you’re likely to find your quarry there. Areas of woodland that are draped with vast patches of ivy can give very good pigeon shooting at this time of year. The glossy green and purple berries provide a much-needed source of food while the dense waxy leaves create excellent roosting habitat by providing a shield against wind and rain in the otherwise barren winter woodland.
If you’re 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’ve got comfortable shooting at a static target over a predetermined distance.
Hunters who share their ground with a pheasant shoot may not even need to set up a feeding station of their own because the grain-loaded hoppers used to stop the birds from straying create quarry hotspots. Grey squirrels, rats, magpies and even the occasional woodpigeon will turn up to dine once they cotton on to the easy pickings provided by grain feeders.
Woodland quarry species tend to me most active during the first and last couple of hours of daylight during the winter months. It makes sense, as they’ll either be eager to feed after waking up from a long, cold night or busy trying to nourish themselves in readiness for the next one. For this reason, dawn and dusk sessions are usually best. By limiting your visits to these times, you can enjoy the best of the action and avoid being out for long fruitless sessions in harsh weather.
These two grey squirrels were caught in the act while raiding the gamekeeper’s grain hopper.
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