Saturday, 24 February 2018

Squirrel Hunting In The UK Pt1

Pests: Invasive and Domestic

"When the buffalo are gone, we will hunt mice,...for we are hunters, and we want our freedom."
Chief Sitting Bull: Warrior / Philosopher / Statesman

"When the nanny state tells us meat only comes in packets, I will hunt Tree Rabbits with a pellet gun. It's the way I roll”
SBW: Plumber / Philosopher / Blogger
Invasive, destructive and delicious Sciurus Carolinensis: the American Grey Squirrel, is a very common sight in the south of England and they've reached as far north as The Kingdom of Fife. As an invasive species in the UK there is no closed season - we can hunt them 365 days a year. While their antics in city parks are certainly amusing; they are a proper pest to the farming and forestry communities, a carrier of fatal disease to the native Red Squirrels, and a delicious source of free protein to me. Well when I say 'free' like so many pastimes you need a few bits and pieces to get going.

"Squirrel hunting is for the patient, 
and for the person easily entertained by observation"
I thought they were vegetarian too! Pic found on Reddit 

The first thing you've got to hunt down is a place where you have permission to hunt. It took me a while to find a permission that was within reasonable traveling distance of my home and I still don't have a really near one.
They love that MDPE,  once they've had a good chew on this feeder, 
they'll eat the grain.

I had a permission where the family owned a nursery and squirrel damage was an easily defined cost. I’ve hunted them on a Pheasant shoot where they eat the Pheasant feeders first and then the feed, and they've vandalised the water supply. Maybe you could use MDPE as bait?

A vegetarian owns my main permission; she has a passion for woodland management and the squirrels and deer are inhibiting regrowth of her coppice. You just never know. Keep asking. The BASC website - the British Association for Shooting and Conservation -  has some useful pointers, and a template permission slip.

Once you’ve got somewhere to hunt you need a lethal weapon that can make a humane kill.
Catapult: If you're really well practised. Not I.
Shotgun: Very popular in the USA but you need a licence/certificate in the UK and due to the noise you may end up  hunting them one at a time.

.22LR rimfire rifle: Very  popular American squirrel calibre, as the bullets can easily travel on for miles not such a good idea shooting up into the trees here in the highly populated UK. So common sense safety rules pretty much limit you to shooting squirrels on the ground with rimfires. I find it hard enough to find them without limiting the search to terra-firma.
  
Fire Arms Certificate (FAC) Air Rifle:
Lots of cash, and paperwork for unproven benefit. I wouldn't bother.

.17HMR rifle bullets have a tendency to explode on contact so in some ways safer than the .22LR, but they can go even further so only applicable if you've got a lot of land to shoot over.    

My weapon of choice is the off-the-shelf air rifle (limited to 12ft/lbs); you don't need a licence so you can lend and borrow them, they are easily powerful and accurate enough to make a clean, humane kill on a Squirrel that never knew you were there. I'm a big fan of the Pre-Charged-Pneumatic school of air rifle design as they take very little practice to become accurate.

Due to the UK's firearms laws and high population density Air rifles have always been disproportionately popular here so there are loads, both new and secondhand, to choose from.  Well-known brands; English, German Czech, and Swedish, all very accurate and all pretty costly at £500 - £1,200+. There are even more brands (most quite accurate) of spring powered rifle from about a third of the cost and a middle ground where the rifles use a gas-ram system, [which is similar to the rebound dampers on a motorcycle's shocks,] to provide the puff. You pays your money, you takes your choice.
A special mention goes to the next air rifle I'm going to buy - The IMP which is a reengineered german rifle tweeked by Sandwell Fieldsports at just under £400 - look on youtube for reviews 
To keep things in perspective: Hubert Hubert of the Rabbit Stew blog regularly feeds himself with an air rifle that cost less than £100 S/H, and a second hand scope.

There are four main choices of calibre .177, .20, .22 and .25 (all % of an inch) the smaller ones fly straighter, the bigger ones land with more of a thump. All have to be pointed at the right spot to ensure a clean kill. Lots of great .22's available second hand, for the others you'd have to scout around a bit. Factor in the price of a service, it often makes a HOOJ difference. Buy the best you can afford and only cry once.

A word to the wise - it's YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to make sure your rifle doesn't exceed the 12ft/lbs limit, some second hand guns have been 'fettled' get a proper gun shop to test it for you on their chronograph (either free with purchases or about £2 and ask for a receipt).

Top-tip - once you've bought your gun give up reading air gun magazines - they are very good at convincing you that a new rifle is a 'must have' and your scope is crap.

Before Hunting: Four things you MUST remember.

RULE I: ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED

RULE II: NEVER LET THE MUZZLE COVER ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO DESTROY

RULE III: KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOUR SIGHTS ARE ON THE TARGET

RULE IV: BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET AND WHAT LIES BEYOND IT

"Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands." 

I’d add RULES V and VI:
V: FORGET THE 'AIR' BIT - IT’S A RIFLE THAT CAN KILL OR MAIM.
VI: THERE IS NO ACIDENTAL DISCHARGE - ONLY NEGLIGENT DISCHARGE

If you follow these simple rules, to the letter, every time, at least any accidents will not be of the gun kind and your safe practice will be a credit to you when you start stalking deer with a centre fire rifle. [you will].


Top Tip: Insurance
A very good idea, and it shows landowners that you’re serious. Offering the kind of reassurance that gets permission. The best deal I've found is from The Scottish Association For Country Sports you're covered for just about everything and its less than half the price I used to pay.

Here’s the rifle I use and some of my kit.
 Parker Hale Phoenix in .177 - £850 + new or good luck finding one S/H.
Upside: Accurate, and being a lever action very quick to get a second shot off
Downside: A bit heavy and 60 shots per fill.




The air rifle I chopped in to buy it. Air Arms S400 in .177 - £400+
Upside: Very accurate - more than one pellet through the same hole
Downside: No magazine - just takes one pellet at a time
Great rifle for Rabbits and still hunting, not quite so handy for stalking Squirrels through the undergrowth.

Camo clothing / Face cover/ Gloves
Lots of people have shot prey while dressed in orange jump suits, so that 'I'm a sniper me' outfit isn't essential, but some kind of face cover seems to make a lot of difference and gloves can help too.

My DPM (disruptive pattern material – English army camo) jacket was £1 and I waterproofed it for another couple of quid.

A Call
These little devices are the equivalent of a 'friend request' from a pair of nineteen-year-old nurses, not guaranteed to get attention, but squirrels, like suburban dads live in hope and may well wander over to see what’s going on. I use the PRIMOS call that comes with a CD to practice along with. It’s a lot of fun practicing in London parks and my backyard. About £15


"I don't think paralysis [of the electrical grid] is more likely by cyberattack than by natural disaster. And frankly the number-one threat experienced to date by the US electrical grid is squirrels." - John C. Inglis, Former Deputy Director, National Security Agency 2015.07.09 

Let's Go Hunting: Methods and Tactics

Mr Squirrel is one of life's opportunists so they only building a shelter if he has to. Their preference is to doss down in cracks, hollows and voids in the branch forks of trees but if none are to their liking they build 'Dreys' there. They look like a big untidy birds nests.
On my permission there is the best naturally occurring hidey-hole (often has a tail poking out) would only be shoot-able from a public footpath OUTSIDE my permission. Easy to get over exited, but it's not worth a firearms conviction for a meals-worth of Squirrel. Your rifle, and your pellet’s final destination must stay within the confines of the land you have permission to hunt on.

Hiding/sniping AKA Still Hunting
Basically choose a site where you can sit comfortably, for a couple of hours without moving, that overlooks the runway squirrels use between food and home. Wait.
Top Tip: squirrel's like to 'lay the table' for dinner, the wood where I took this picture was littered with stumps, almost every one of which had been used as a dinning table

Guess who kept his packed lunch here?

Spot and Stalk
Walk very quietly through the woods, when you see a squirrel freeze, then as the squirrel gets bored of looking at you and looks away, shoot him.

Top-Tip: Grey's are considered to have a jumping range of eight feet (2.43m)

Over Bait
A bit like still-hunting but much easier, monkey nuts and/or peanut butter/Nutella are irresistible to our bushy tailed friends with those Fat Balls that people put out for songbirds not too far behind. Once they've found your bait pile they will keep coming back to in at regular intervals as they move its content to their dray.
Top-Tip: You don't need to shoot them the first time you see them, they'll be back.

Agitation AKA Dreying (needs two of you)
You find the squirrels hiding place or Drey and using a set of drain rods (the day job), an old fishing rod, or a long thin sapling and give it a vigorous poke. The squirrels will come out to see what all the fuss is about and shout abuse. Your co-hunter shoots them. Be Careful. My top-tip is for one of you to stand on either side of the tree as Squirrels tend to run round to the other side as it's the shortest distance to cover.
Really Be Careful.

Now all you need to do is Practice. 

The Top-ist -Tip of All: Passers By
Thankfully most country people are against invasive species and, once they get talking with you, tend to be very supportive. Much of the time they will go out of their way to be nice after you've charmed your way past their initial suspicions - just as we think they are either going to be stuck-up toffs or yokels involved in , um-er... 'animal husbandry', they probably think we are the advance party for a ravening horde; come to eat their young. Please remember in all your dealings with the locals; you are every hunter and your behaviour is every hunter’s behaviour. If that's not incentive enough - they hold the keys to your next permission. Happy hunting!

More hunting and gathering tales to come
Your pal
SBW










Friday, 5 January 2018

Felt Recoil Test: Sauer 404 XT v's XTC


The OMR A reader of this blog, who became a real-life pal, and I have been having a long [few years now] conversation about rifle stock design and in the sprit of 'a little less conversation, a little more action please' we made the pilgrimage to Ivythorn Sporting to send a few down range. 
Our plan was start at the top and work down. A few hearty thumps to the shoulder from the 375 H&H later, and we turned our attentions to the 404 from Sauer. 
Posh timber aside, these are Sauer's top of the line offerings: 404 XTC and the 404 XT. The 404 is a funny thing, like the Blaser R8 it looks a bit 'space-age laser-gun' in photos, but less so in real life. I wasn't too sure how I felt about the look of it.  I'm now convinced it's an ergonomic marvel. Once you shoulder one it's a revelation. Fit to function seen through new eyes.


CZ in 375 H&H Yee Gods!! People shoot these things for fun? OMR (One Man Riflemaker) took one very reluctant shot, just to be able to say that he had, I foolishly took five and feeling a little discombobulated gave the rest of the rounds back. Recoil adverse neither of us can afford to slide any further down the rankings at our respective target clubs. I'm sure the 375's perceived recoil is negligible when you're firing at an enraged charging Cape Buffalo for the third time, but at the range? Flinch-Tastic. Rather you than me.

OMR and I had taken the precaution of bulking up on pies to absorb recoil. 

What my daughter calls my  'Wannabe Alaskan' hat and beard combo in full effect. 

Even a full spec 404 in carbon with the fluted barrel, and no moderator chambered in 30-06 wasn't the hammer blow to the shoulder I was expecting.
Shooting rounds in the 6-7mm range, these things must feel like a losely held 22LR.

The XT Carbon surprised me too at 2.8 kilograms / 6.1 lbs there's really not a lot to it. I imagine it would make a wonderful Hill Stalking rifle.
Steve from Ivythorn let us pour a cup of water over the pistol grip for a 'Cold Wet Hands' test, despite looking as smooth as a smooth thing's smooth bits, it felt every bit as grippy as an oiled walnut stock if not a little more so.

There is at least one stock manufacturer claiming that carbon fibre has recoil damping properties, so far my cynicism of this claim is unbounded. Asking about, everyone I've spoken to who has actually laid carbon with their own hands has laughed when I've repeated the claim. One fella went as far as saying 'if you want damping you'd be better off with fibreglass, but that would cost you all the weight-saving you've just spent all that money on, re-think the ergonomics, transmission of energy is key’.  

During the endless Blaser debates online, all kinds of hilarious objections to their radical design have been raised and disproved. What they all come down to is ‘I want a rifle that looks like a rifle’ Which really means ‘I want the comfort of the familiar’. There's another example from my work life. In the UK the specification for the position of power sockets has changed, they’re now a little higher up the wall above the skirting board, client after client has complained that they don't like the new height, a few months later they all say its actually more convenient. I’m not immune to this myself. When I first started spending time in Spain, I found the light switches counter intuitive, running my hand over the wall in the dark looking for the switch. In the UK we place them where your eye falls, in Spain they’re where your hand falls. Reach out at hand height and there it is.
With the 404 XT Sauer have entered a  new era of rifle ergonomics, what looks a little strange at first sight feels just right after the first couple of shots. The stock and cheek piece are only the start of their plan to make a rifle tuned by the individual shooter to the individual shooter. Interesting times.

Big shout to Steve at Ivythorn Sporting for letting us put our sticky fingers all over this stock[s] and use his range. If you want to test out the 404 or anything else from his enormous choice he does a deal where you can have any of his rifles or shot guns sent to your RFD no obligation or if you're within range of Somerset you can try before you buy. He also serves the best coffee of any gunshop I've ever been to in the UK, the USofA or even Spain

happy new year from sunny spain
your pal

SBW