Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Sunday, 11 March 2012

How to maximise your Squirrel hunts

I have been asked alot lately how i get so many Squirrels , here is my way of maximising my Squirrel numbers when a good job needs to be done.

Squirrels can be one of the most frustrating quarry for the air rifle shooter. It doesn't matter how quiet you are or how slow you walk they are forever out whittling us. How many times have you done everything you can to get near them and look up thirty yards away and one is going full pelt through the tree tops away from you. You can try and work out how it had seen you , or heard you but the answer is always the same " You don't know ". You can be wearing the best camouflage in the world but if we don't play them at their own game , you will never get the results you want.
In this feature I will give you some tips on how I get them close and in the numbers I feel is called controlling them.
Most grounds with any woodland no matter how small usually contains a squirrel or two. The smaller the woods the easier to get them as there isn't many places for them to hide but when you are faced alone with 70 + acres it can get very tiring walking around all day and at most you will only get one in four that you see. Summer time is the worst time to try and hunt good numbers of squirrels , there is a lot of cover on the trees and most of the time you will pass a squirrel high up in the trees without knowing it. There is also a lot of food about so the squirrel can feed almost anywhere he wants without being noticed. Conifer woods will make it easier in the summer as you will often see the branches bouncing where one has jumped from one tree to another, You can then start the stalk as you have hopefully seen the squirrel before he has seen you. Also they feed right at the tops on the pine cones and it is surprising how many times I have seen and heard them feeding well before they have seen me. If you are quiet you can hear them crunching on the seeds , then when they drop the finished cone on the floor you will often see it falling. When we move to autumn Acorns are top of a squirrels shopping list. This is when I move onto the Oaks as I know this is my main place to spot them. They will be busy feeding on and collecting Acorns for the cold months ahead so they can make easy targets if you sit and wait for them.

When the frosts arrive you should be spending more time looking on the floor for squirrels rather than in the tree tops. They will be busy digging up Acorns and Pine cones that they buried in the autumn to see them through the winter , if you do spook one feeding on the floor don't be surprised as it runs up the tree to stop so far up the trunk and look at you. They do this nine times out of ten if they are surprised so waste no time in getting it in your scope and take the shot.
As I am fortunate to have a few grounds to shoot on I can rest certain places through out the autumn so in the winter they don't spook as much as they used to earlier on in the year.. If it is a large ground that needs a good head count shot I take a lot of time in getting it ready for the winter months so I can get them exactly where I want them and in numbers .
For this feature I will give the run-down on what I have done to get the squirrels in certain places and show you how effective it was on my latest outing.
This Particular day started out seven weeks ago. The woods here are a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees so it is prime squirrel territory . I have shot many squirrels in this wood and it was getting to the stage where I was lucky if I caught one out and got a bead on it , so I put my plan into action. This permission used to be a pheasant shoot a few years back and luckily the odd feeder was still knocking about so I decided my best bet would to pick a location and set a trap where I could bring the squirrels to me.
If you have the chance to do this the first thing to sort out is the location of the feeder. My personal choice is to find an area where the trees start to thin out so I get a good view of what is coming to me. I find it is less productive if you set up in the middle of the wood , you never know what direction the squirrels will be coming from so there is a good chance you will be seen by at least one if not more. The best location is near the edge of the wood , don't worry if you think you are away from the main haunts as the squirrel will travel a good distance if he knows there is a good food supply. This also helps getting more shots off , if you have the squirrels travelling a good way then as you shoot them the next one has less chance of hearing the gun go off or the sound of the pellet impacting another of its mates as it is coming to you.

Now you have found your prime location it is time to feed it as regular as you can. I have been lucky in this case as the farmer has been topping my bins up on a regular basis for me and has also been paying for the feed. It is still worthwhile checking the bins yourself every week to see how much food is getting eaten , obviously some food will have been eaten by birds but your main lot will have been eaten by squirrels so it will give you an idea of how many are visiting the bin.

The feed I have been using is a mix of sunflower seeds and nuts , the squirrels love this and as soon as you get one squirrel feeding confidently on the bins more will follow.

Well the time had come to see if all the work had paid off , I had woken up to one of those hard frosts that want to make you turn over and shut your eyes again but like the idiot or die hard shooter I am I soon got the flask filled and loaded the rapid into the car. Before I go on I would like to stress that in these conditions you must wrap up well as you are going to be stationary for quite some time and the last thing you want is to spoil the plan by getting hypothermia for the sake of putting on an extra jumper or another pair of trousers underneath your camo . Secondly a flask and a snack is a must , the cold will use up a lot of your energy while your body fights to keep warm so a hot drink and food will hopefully keep you going until the end of your day.

Now the Bear Grylls lecture is over I will carry on. I arrived at the shoot just as the light was starting to show on the horizon , I like to get in position before the light comes as it is surprising how early the squirrels start to arrive. On many occasion I have seen them come when it has just been too dark to make them out for a shot so from now I always get there early.

Arriving at my spot that I had chosen to shoot from I put the bean bag down to keep my bottom warm and loaded the rapid up ready. I had chosen to sit behind a tree about twenty five yards from the feeder , it had thick trunks growing in all directions , this gives me enough cover from the squirrels but gives me good stability to take my shots and a good view to see what is coming to the feeder. I was already starting to feel a little cold as the woods started to become clearer but the Jack Pyke gear that I was wearing was just enough to keep me warm but also room to move with the layers I had on .All set up and ready it was not long before the light started to show enough to see the tell tale sign of a squirrel coming towards me. The branches were bouncing away as it jumped from tree to tree so I raised the Rapid ready and got my aim on the feeder. The squirrel did not hesitate for one minute as it continued towards me , it then ran down the tree and across the floor to get its breakfast. I looked through the scope and put the cross hairs on its head ready to take my shot , It was bobbing up and down eating the sunflower seeds , I was amazed how fast this one was eating them . I was watching it for a good couple of minutes and then it found a peanut , this was my chance it sat upright with the nut in its paws and I wasted no time . The .177 pellet was on its way at speed and the whack of the pellet confirmed number one was dead , a clean shot behind the eye. There was no need to rush out and pick it up as you will find the squirrels will come and feed even though there are some of its mates lying dead close to them. The odd one will look down from a tree close to the dead ones and bark at them but it will be joining the others even if it does that.

I will however pick them up quickly if I have three or four too close to the feeder just in case.
I had been sitting comfortably for a couple of hours now and I had got five in the bag so far , they had all come the same route more or less and none of them hardly hesitated to get to the feed. I had picked them up and was having a quick cuppa and a beloved Mars bar when I noticed a small shape running along the floor , I first thought it was a small rat but as I looked through my scope I noticed it was a half grown squirrel , now I did not want to shoot this one straight away , a squirrel this size never usually feeds without it mother close bye so I left it and sneakily finished my breakfast. The little squirrel had been happily feeding for about ten minutes when a larger squirrel came across the floor to meet the young one . I watched them feeding for a couple of minutes just to see what they got up to and luckily enough another squirrel started to come down a tree close to them. I got a bead on the one coming down the tree and as it stopped to take a look at the other two on the floor I sent a pellet towards its head and it fell stone dead off the trunk. The other two squirrels didn't know what to make of the other squirrel dropping on the floor and the larger one took off up a tree. I watched it until it stopped half way up and it was looking to see where the pellet had come from. There was no chance it was getting away , I had a clear shot through the scope and resting on the tree I took the shot . It slumped forward out of the tree to join the other one on the floor , strangely the little squirrel just sat near the feeder , it was obviously confused so I got the cross hairs on its head and three quick squirrels were picked up.

The plan was working well on this feeder so I stuck it out for another couple of hours and managed to get another two before the tea ran out and my joints were getting stiffer by the minute. I decided to call it a day and started to walk back to the car . On the way I managed to get a shot on another five squirrels. The first was on the floor feeding I knelt down and took a rest on a tree , it was estimated 30 yards and the pellet hitting the spot just behind the eye made the bag a little heavier. Two more were taken from up the trees further along the wood and just as I was nearing another clearing I saw two playing chase up a small oak. I got the first in the cross hairs and let the pellet fly , not noticing a branch in the way the pellet zipped passed it and off it ran , the other stopped to look back towards me and rushing I missed again . This was time to call it a day , I had a 100% record until those two misses so I didn't want to rush again and make a mistake of wounding one so the magazine was taken out of the rapid to take away the temptation.

I will keep the feeders topped up all winter now and hopefully in a couple of weeks I can get a good number again. If you cant get hold of any feeders or make them the bird feeders hung from trees are just as effective but they are more time consuming to keep the supply going.

Try it you will be surprised how your kill rate will go up.

Read more of my Airgunner features by subscribing to Airgunner here ... http://www.airgunshooting.co.uk/home

You can see this style of shooting squirrels on Country Pursuits channel by Malc Bernard here _ http://www.youtube.com/user/CountryPursuitsTV?feature=watch

Friday, 2 March 2012

Hawke Varmint on Test.

Continuing on my quest to find some great gear at affordable prices has lead me to the excellent Hawke brand this month. I was searching for my next Hunting scope for the Rapid and as I have had Hawke scopes in the past I had never found one that I really liked personally for my style of shooting. In all fairness they were really good scopes that I had looked through at the shows but one never got me thinking this is the one for me. At the midland game fair this year though I found myself holding the new Hawke Varmint SF . A nice chat to the guys from Deben found one in the post along with a Range finder that I will also be testing in this feature . This Varmint scope has a 3x12x44 magnification , it is constructed using a 1 inch tube that gives it a larger appeal to most shooters over the 30 mm scopes on the market. It has a nice Matt black finish that does stop shine pretty well . The front bell is a nice 44mm that lets more than enough light in for any shooting situation. The Turrets are great on this scope , they are small BDC type but you can grip them very well, I would go to say even in the coldest conditions it would be easy with frozen hands to turn them. The side focus is what I liked about this Scope most, it was nice and smooth and to be honest if it said the target was at 30 or 50 yards it was more or less spot on once I checked it with the range finder .The claim by Hawke is its shock proof , (I am sure to test that claim out at some point ) its also Water proof and Fog proof . If we have any problems with the scope Hawke claims we also have a nice back up of a lifetime Guarantee .

 My next bit of kit that I will be trying on this trip is the Hawke LRF 400 Range Finder. This is a great little unit that I really enjoyed using. The unit sits very comfortable in your hand and with the soft rubber grips positioned around its body gives you total control while holding it . The LRF 400 is so easy to use, you use the same button that you turned it on with to get your reading so within five seconds you will have the distance worked out and be ready to place the pellet on any target whether it is Meters or Yards that you prefer using. There are a couple of different modes also , if its raining you can turn Rain mode on and it wont affect the reading . Also there is one called '150' , it eliminates a false reading if twigs are in the way of you and your target . This is especially good if your shooting in a wood and one that I will be using a lot this winter. One last thing that I would like to mention is The six times magnification . It gives a nice sharp image of what your looking at , it is also great for spotting in the field instead of using you rifle scope which for safety reasons is a nice bonus .

 One thing that I am sure you are asking is what Reticle does the Varmint have. Now I saved this bit for now because it is what I have been waiting to get on a scope that I liked for a long time. The Varmint has not just a mill-dot reticle but also small Half mill-dots in between the larger ones.
 I have used Mill-dot reticles for a long time now , they are great if you do get a shot and it is further than your zero but only if you are confident in Your own and your rifles capabilities . It is easy to get drawn into the longer shots with them but be sensible , a light breeze can move a pellet a lot more than you will expect so plenty of practice is a must .The Hawke Varmint's Half mill-dots makes it even easier to get the pellet landing exactly where you want it and this will only lead to greater accuracy up to 40 yards if really necessary.

 Now my expert technical review is over I will go on to what I like to do best, get out and try it in the field. Today was forecast to be misty and damp, not the best conditions to test a scope but it would give me a good chance to see how it performed in probably some of the worst conditions I would shoot in. I had been roped into letting the lovely Wife’s horse out and muck out the stable while I was there so by the time I had finished the morning was getting on. I knew there would be the odd pest out there to shoot but on this permission the days of big bumper bags are long gone. Jobs finished I set up a target at my preferred 30 yards and set out to zero the scope. It was sorted in no time and even though there was still a mist in the air I could see the target nice and crisp. I was surprised how good it really was to be honest as my old Vipir scope would have its visibility cut down quite a bit when it was a bit misty.
 I set off around the small paddocks , sticking close to the hedge line in the hope a rabbit or a pigeon may be out feeding. It wasn’t until I had scared a few pigeons off from the trees in front that I thought where’s my head net and gloves. Now it may seen strange to think why didn’t I put it on but I was so engrossed in trying the Varmint scope on live quarry that I just set off. I quickly went back to the stables to look in my Rifle bag for them and you guessed it I had forgot to put them in . What a bloody idiot I was thinking to myself , I never forget them usually as its probably one of the most important bits of kit I use . Rather than head back home I thought I would just try and do my best and see what the next couple of hours bought . The mist was lifting now and no matter how slow I walked Pigeons were flitting out of trees everywhere I walked , they could see my face and hands from miles away and I was getting pretty beat up about it . I decided to sit in against a holly tree , Well i was sitting in it and not the most comfortable seat i can tell you and wait it out in the hope something would land in the trees in front of me . I had cover from a Elderberry Tree in front and as its leaves had fallen I could see through plenty of gaps in its branches . I had waited for a good half hour when Three Pigeons turned up . I soon had the Varmint lined up and as I was scanning the tree I found one. I had placed the Cross Hairs just behind its eye and a little low, nearly half a mill-dot and the thump of the pellet striking it sent it tumbling to the floor beneath.

Now I was happy, the image of the pigeon was brilliant in the scope , it was so clear and to get the pigeon on my first shot at live quarry with it was a result. Pleased with myself I set off after my next pest. I had walked all around the paddocks now and with the odd Magpie putting in a show and flying off as soon as I raised the Rapid things were looking pretty grim . I was at the far end of the ground now and I decided to sneak up to some trees and have a look around for anything that might be out feeding, The LRF Range finder was great for this its 6X magnification made looking around a breeze and it wasn’t long before I spotted a lone rabbit feeding some 100 yards away.

 This rabbit was feeding in a spot that luckily is easy to stalk to, it is raised up ground so you get the chance to swing round the field and creep up from behind them unseen. I took it a steady walk to my chosen spot and slowly dropped the legs on my Bi-pod , this is hard sandstone territory and you can soon kiss goodbye to your lovely new stocks if you rest on it. I slowly crawled up the bank and slid the Rapid along side one of the big rocks before I raised myself to get a look where the rabbit was. It was only about 25 yards in front of me so I worked myself into a comfortable shooting position as slow as I could always keeping myself as low as possible. Eventually I was ready, I was comfortable with the bi-pod support so it was easy lining up the rabbit in the scope. As I was about to take my shot the rabbit turned to look at me , this is when I got the sinking feeling again, it was showing signs of Myxi around its mouth and near one of its eyes. Wasting no time I pulled the trigger and done the decent thing , the rabbit lay stone dead .

 I quite often get asked why I use the Bi-pod so much when I am shooting . This situation just shows that you never know when you will need it , even when I am in woods I will rest the the flattened legs on a branch to give me good support without wrecking the stock if I did it without one.

The size of the Bi-pod is 6-9 inches when extended and the one I have from new boys The Shooting Party, it is called the AirforceOne Pro Tilt , its a nice small compact Bi-pod and is perfect for any situation unless you decide to shoot in fields with grass a foot long obviously. It can be mounted either using a QD stud or a Picatinny rail .

 Well it was getting on and I had to be in work in an hour so I decided to call it a day. I was more than pleased with all the kit I was using today and will it be the scope for me ?, 'DEFINATELTY' .
 The Varmint SF is here to stay and it will be a long time before I even think of getting another scope to grace the Rapid, one thing that will be added is a sunshade that I have been told is available . Well I hope that you find it in yourselves to go and look through the Hawke range of optics , I am sure there is one for everybody and don’t discount these as a hunting scope only , I am sure the Varmint SF and other Hawke scopes would be great for HFT as well.

SCOPE . The New Hawke Varmint SF riflescopes £129.95

RANGEFINDER .Laser Range Finder 400 £114.95
Both from DEBEN.

Bi-Pod . Airforceone Pro Tilt Rifle Bi-pod.  The shooting Party £44.99