Sunday, 20 January 2013

Squirrel shooting in the snow

If there's been snow in your part of the world over the last few days, it's a prime time to crack down on grey squirrels.
A lot of people mistakenly believe that squirrels hibernate through the winter but that couldn't be further from the truth. Grey squirrels can be incredibly active throughout the colder months, and spend a lot of time foraging food during daylight hours.

With snow on the ground, or even a hard frost, a lot of the caches of food they stashed away during the winter will be inaccessible. Find a place where squirrels can easily access food during a cold snap and you should be able to ambush the greedy little blighters as they try to exploit whatever feeding opportunity they've happened across. Raids on garden bird feeders are very common when there's a covering of snow.

I was delighted to wake up to a proper covering of snow on Friday morning and, although the roads in my West Country locality have been a bit dicey over the last couple of days, I couldn't resist the urge to get out in the woods where I planned to catch the squirrels stealing grain from one of their favourite winter food sources.

Most of my woodland shooting permissions are on sporting estates that are managed for pheasant shooting. The gamekeepers feed vast amounts of corn to the pheasants to keep them in good condition and stop them from straying during the winter. The squirrels seem even more partial to the grain than the pheasants and pay regular visits to the hoppers from which it is dispensed.

I managed to squeeze in a session yesterday, and got to the woods at about 3pm. It looked promising as I spooked a jay and several woodpigeons from beneath one feeder when I arrived. Well wrapped up to keep out the cold, I settled down in a spot from which I could comfortably cover a pheasant feeder in a block of woodland that contains more than a handful of squirrels.

It was a lovely, peaceful evening, and, in all honesty, I would have been happy to spend the last couple hours of the day there with or without the gun. The woodland wildlife was very active, and I saw fieldfares, goldcrests, sparrowhawks, treecreepers, flighting lapwings, several different kinds of finches and, of course, grey squirrels.
Although squirrels feed throughout the day, they usually become very busy at dusk as they try to get plenty of food on board before nightfall. I'm pleased to say that I was ideally placed to ambush a trio as they made their way to the feed hopper.

These squirrels were in excellent condition - no doubt a result of munching their way through the gamekeeper's expensive grain. They won't be doing that again...
It was a really enjoyable session and, wrapped up in several thick layers plus my hat, mittens and neck snood, I really didn't notice the cold.
If you know a place where the grey squirrels are finding easy pickings on your shoot, get out there before the thaw and you'll probably catch them in the act.