A few weeks ago I put my back out, lifting a box full of lightweight decoys into the X-Trail, of all things! For two weekends, I was out of shooting – so with full mobility restored after far too long a lay-off period, I felt very invigorated to pull up at the Old Hall today. I set off with a light bag and a hungry rifle…
It was a cold, bright morning; rain was forecast for later. Quietly, we made our way through the wood, announced by a salvo of woodpigeons exploding from the canopy overhead. They’d actually been alerted by my long shadow moving along the floor under the low sun. We were only a few strong gales away from a bare canopy now, and I pondered on the approaching roost-shooting season. This wood was marked for future attention.
I’m still shooting the .20 calibre Weihrauch 100K-T, but readers will recall that I’d initially discounted the H&N Baracuda pellet on my first documented outing with this rifle. The truth was, I didn’t even try it. I felt its 13.6-grain weight would result in too much of a ‘lobbed’ trajectory (and so negate the point of dropping down to .20 from .22 calibre).
Instead, I opted for H&N’s FTT – an 11.4-grain roundhead. Since then, a regular correspondent has been on at me to at least try the Baracuda – so that was today’s agenda. The pellet is significantly longer than the FTT, so I was intrigued as to how it would perform.
First task was therefore to re-zero my combo. It only took five minutes; the windage was perfect, and I only had to adjust the elevation turret eight clicks ‘UP’ to strike the centre of a Birchwood Casey Shoot N’C disc at 30 yards.
Though there’s no commercial shoot on this permission, there are about a dozen pheasant feeders dotted around its 1,000 acres as the landowner runs a couple of invitation shoots. They’re topped up by the tenant farmer and an estate cottage tenant, so I tend to keep a wary eye on the feeders during my patrols.
Today, I noticed someone had a put a straw bale close to one of the feeders – but I didn’t notice the grey squirrel pecking around all the spilled feed. Dylan, however, had clocked it – and he launched at the rodent before I could stop him.
The squirrel leapt onto the bale and up into tree above before I could get a bead on it. Dylan then hid behind the bale, waiting for his master’s stream of profanity to abate, followed shortly thereafter by an extended lesson (for such a mature student) to remind him what the ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘leave’ commands mean!
A slow recce around the estate perimeter was just what I needed to blow out the cobwebs. It was also great to catch up on the small, subtle changes that had happened during my short absence. Most obvious was the leaf-fall; I now had that carpet of moist vegetation to cushion my gait.
But that layer often hides a myriad of booby-traps – cracking the odd twig or two, no matter how quietly you try and progress, is inevitable! Actually, it’s not always a bad thing, providing you have your wits about you. That crack will often move a roosting woody out onto a branch, make a coney sit up or set a squirrel on the run. So rather than wince, I’ve learned to ready the rifle and look about me.
That’s how our first squirrel was landed today: a hidden twig cracked under foot, a flash of grey fur appeared on a tree trunk some 25 yards away… and the critter was dropped with a Baracuda in the back of the head. Dylan retrieved, and I examined the shot-strike. Clean, with no exit wound – my first despatch with a .20 Barracuda had been humane, clinical.
Near the wood’s edge, I could see the flash of black and white, so crept behind a leaning oak, laid Dylan down and watched more closely to see what was going on.
The winter cherry and mountain ash trees along the drive were both in full fruit, with a host of birds feeding on the crop. The avian diners included a pair of magpies, on which I kept my scope trained for ages. But with buildings behind them, I wasn’t able to get a shot away.
Soon, though, I was distracted by a commotion further into the wood – dozens of birds were sounding their respective alarm calls: jays, jackdaws, blackbirds and, as we approached, I could hear even the wrens and tits fussing.
Fox or sparrowhawk, I wondered? Not sure which, I stopped near a drainage brook to watch the area. Dylan lay beside me, his nostrils quivering. But he wasn’t bristling – his response to fox – so I guessed it was a sparrowhawk.
I set my bag down under a yew tree by the babbling brook for a hot soup break and noticed a freshly dug burrow, just above the waterline on the opposite bank. At about 13cm across, it wasn’t really big enough to be a rabbit’s – and they wouldn’t usually dig so close to water, anyway.
Further examination showed the throw of earth bore prints, but from the other side of the stream I couldn’t see them clearly enough. I led Dylan to the water’s edge, but he showed little interest; that told me it definitely wasn’t rabbit.
Rat, perhaps? Well, if so, it was the biggest lair entrance I’d have ever seen! No, I think we might have a mink in the garden wood, which could explain all the earlier agitation among the wood’s birdlife. Of course, never having shot a mink before, I’ll be keeping an eye on this new ‘den’…
Sadly, the weatherman had got it right. The rains broke and I pulled on my Paramo rain smock – though I had an element of natural cover. The canopy in the garden wood is thick year-round due to the many conifers that mingle with deciduous and exotic trees; I didn’t have to leave unless it really hammered it down.
Dylan’s thick coat can endure a couple of hours’ rain and, like me, he’d rather be wet than caged up – so we stayed on. I was hoping for some pigeon control to test the Baracudas, but the grey stuff had clearly chosen a different refuge today. Eventually, I flicked the Weihrauch’s safety on and we went walkabout.
I’ve often written that squirrels dislike rain and will curl up in the dreys when the heavens open. Generally, that’s true – but there is one exception. Much like rabbit kits, grey squirrel young often venture out without their parents for a bit of exploration and mischief.
Today, Dylan and I watched in frustration as many of the kits cavorted and chased high in the canopy, sending small showers of raindrops cascading down into the wood. One youngster finally made the mistake of pinning wide on a conifer trunk, legs akimbo and looking down at us, side on.
As the squirrel’s aspect wasn’t a good one for a head shot, I chose to go for the engine room – a heart/lung strike. The whump of the Baracuda’s impact immediately confirmed a clean kill, and the grey tumbled into the leaf litter. Again, examination of its carcase showed a clean entrance, with no exit of the pellet. All the pellet’s energy had been dissipated into the pest’s nervous system for maximum shock effect – and I really want to test the Baracuda on avian quarry now.
I’m still thoroughly enjoying my .20 hunting experiment, too. This calibre’s flatter trajectory is certainly adding a lot of confidence to my shooting – and having such a reliable gun as the HW100K-T helps enormously. Today, I spent the final half-hour plinking at my (ingenious) Flip-Target to finish off my pellet reserves. It was always a case of ‘14 shots, 14 strikes’ with each mag. If it hadn’t been for the Old Hall’s sundial, I’d have missed dinner!