Shawn Minchin recalls how he managed to snare a new permission that turned out to be quite a bit different to what he’d been expecting.
It was my first permission in 10 years – but on arrival I nearly turned it down. I had a call from a retired chap who lived in a large house near me and heard I offered a free service to control grey squirrels and rabbits. We arranged a mutual time and I headed over.
He mentioned on the phone that the house sat in an acre of ground – plenty I thought, to properly and safely use a rifle to control vermin. So my hopes were high when I turned into the private road and drove slowly looking out for the house. It wasn’t long before I had my first glimpse. In total honesty, my heart sank.
I looked up to a beautifully-kept lawn, with carefully tended shrubs and bushes lining the borders. The lawn fell away to a footpath and onto the road, with zero backstop for what I thought would end up being the main shooting area. For safety reasons, no way was I going to be shooting in this direction.
I pondered the alternatives as the car crunched along the gravel drive before settling at the front door. I was greeted with a warm welcome and an explanation that the squirrels were finding their way into the roof space despite several attempts to block likely entrances. They had to be removed.
We had a tour of the property. At the back there was a courtyard with a huge conifer at the end. From its base, it towered into the sky, its trunk gnarled with age and its bark providing perfect climbing territory for the greys. “This is where they come down from,” the owner explained. I looked around again and figured out a shooting plan of action. I think my smile betrayed the relief I felt.
We walked back to the car. With this first trip I was in non-hunting gear. I was dressed casually, but smartly and the next few minutes were spent telling him how I could help and reassure him that I was a safe, responsible shooter.
From the car I produced my British Association for Shooting and Conservation (basc.org.uk) details and the level of insurance afforded by my membership. I also showed him the rifle: on this occasion the venerable Weihrauch HW100 KT in .177 guise, married to a Hawke Sidewinder 4-16×50 IR scope.
This is the third HW100 KT I’ve owned over the past 15 years – not because I have had to buy again because of reliability issues, but simply because in those days I tended to fancy a change of gun after a while. I also stopped shooting eight years or so ago because of moving to an apartment, but now I am ‘back on the scene’ the deadly accurate Weihrauch is the tool I want to have by my side.
His eyes lit up upon seeing this modern machine. I demonstrated that the rifle was unloaded before firing a test shot of just air towards the ground. “It’s very quiet,” he remarked and I replied that this was the perfect rifle for so many reasons, one of which was that it is virtually silent. This feature is important because there were surrounding houses and the last thing we want to do is spook any neighbours.
Thinking of the neighbours too helped inform me of the best shooting position. I found a gate which when opened shielded my position from the overlooking windows of nearby houses. But as squirrels can turn up and run around anywhere, how could they be ‘controlled’ to arrive at a fixed area for shooting?
Here I drew inspiration from Mat Manning’s The Airgun Show on YouTube. In one episode he demonstrated how a squirrel feeding station could be set up using a bespoke design from Squirrel Management UK (www.squirrelmanagementuk.co.uk).
I duly purchased one and set it up near the base of the tree, filled it with peanuts and waited a week. In that time the squirrels would become comfortable with the feeder, which would provide a fixed and predictable target area.
That feeder is built just for this task. There’s wire mesh to stop them chewing through the wood, plus a suitably thick aluminium plate backstop. Finally, a small wooden ledge is built next to the peanut exit area to allow the squirrel to sit side-on for that perfect headshot.
The owner and I signed the necessary permission slips and we said goodbye. The days passed and I was back at the house checking all my gear – rifle, Primos Trigger Stick, beanbag (one of the most important accessories you can buy for long periods of static hunting) and my laser rangefinder.
The target was measured out to 23 yards, which on my scope’s reticle equates to nearly one mildot down for the headshot at my zero of 35 yards. Magnification is set to 12x because I use this setup for Hunter Field Target competitions.
It was early morning and I wanted to arrive before the squirrels were up for breakfast. After 10 minutes loading the Weihrauch magazines with their diet of Weihrauch FT-Exacts in 4.53mm head size and sorting out the Primos Trigger Stick, I was ready. A couple of test shots confirmed pellet placement.
At this stage I was quite darkly dressed, not in camo, but in dark brown clothing, with brown leather gloves. I wore a cap to offer some concealment from my pink face, but didn’t have a face veil as many advise. I’d have to wait and see.
I was visited by a couple of curious jackdaws investigating this odd-looking new creature crouched in the corner of the patio. I smiled as they swooped by for a better look. It was on their second pass that my attention was immediately refocused.
Down the tree and through the foliage came a bushy-tail – darting, then stopping, darting, then stopping. I cocked the rifle as silently as I could, barely breathing. The squirrel appeared above the feeder and seemed to care little about me. Seconds later he was on the ledge helping himself to the nuts.
This would be my first squirrel in some eight years, but I was very confident of hitting the target after weeks of practice on the club range. I waited until the squirrel was upright, placed the bottom portion of the mildot between the eye and the ear – and fired. For a quarter of a second the squirrel seemed frozen before falling sideways off its perch from the instant kill.
One down. I stayed put and 15 minutes later another emerged. This one seemed a little more anxious and clung to the tree near the base. But the lure of the peanuts became too much, and it too was shot.
I expected a third to arrive fairly soon afterwards, but nothing happened. What did arrive was a very plump woodpigeon, one of two I’d noticed in the area. Now, these were strictly off-limits for both failing to meet the criteria of the General Licences for wildlife management and also because I was only authorised to shoot the squirrels.
It was almost as if the pigeon knew this too. It strutted over to the feeder and promptly began gobbling the peanuts. I watched him through the scope, fascinated to see how the crop just below his neck bulged over the course of a few minutes.
After five minutes it looked like he had indigestion, swallowing awkwardly several times to accommodate the free food. This pigeon certainly didn’t care about me – he knew exactly where I was and even waving my arms in frustration to get him to leave proved pointless. “It is what it is,” I thought and waited.
It wasn’t too long before the pigeon departed – and not without its own low-level flypast just above my head to rub salt into the wounds. It is what it is, I smiled.
The third squirrel came down the tree with the same sense of abandonment as the first – straight onto the feeder, then falling straight over. As my time headed into the third hour, a fourth appeared high up in the tree. I waited and waited – and waited for him to come down, but he was much more wary and never made it to the feeder.
By this time, however, my back was beginning to feel sore so I called it a day. Three squirrels on this permission was a pretty good tally I felt, and I’d return again after a week once things had settled down.
My first permission, which so nearly never came to fruition, proved an enjoyable and informative experience – and one which has helped the home owner and surrounding wildlife too. I hope there will be other permissions to follow. As they say, from acorns, oak trees grow.
More on airgun hunting
- Hunting for squirrels w/ Mat Manning
- Hunting on a golf course
- What happened when we went airgun hunting with a thermal imager
- Controlling body odour for hunting
- The essential guide to night-time rabbit hunting