On the second weekend in August (while the rest of the UK was subjected to a battering, torrential rain, and flooding) here in East Anglia we got off lightly with just warm, gale-force winds. Yet the temperature was about 26C. It reminded me of the tent-tearing ‘scirocco’ I endured on my only ever camping trip to Southern France. The forecast of strong winds rarely bodes well for the rifle shooter so on Saturday morning I lifted my semi-auto shotgun from the cabinet and loaded my game-bag with an ample supply of cartridges. Loading the SUV I watched the trees around me bending under the forceful gusts. Despite the conditions, I did have a plan … of sorts! More on that later.
At the farm, I slipped the first shell in the breech and two more in the magazine. I use Eley sub-sonics (which are No.5 shot, 32G). To compensate for that subsonic speed, I use ¾ or full choke. Being an accurate rifle shot, I have no fear of using a restricted pattern. The spread of even a minimised 12 bore barrel is a luxury … but should never be taken for granted. As I hadn’t lifted the Hatsan (or any shotgun) for nearly four months, I opted for ¾ choke and ‘checked-in’ with a couple of practise shots at my trusty old rabbit head target. I am heavily left-eye dominant. The reason for that is simple and I’m sure many rifle shooters will be familiar with this scenario. I’m right-handed and therefore my telescopic sight eye is my right eye. Having spent so many years looking through a scope, my right eye is incredibly lazy. It relies on the information fed via a series of lenses and a reticule while my left eye is shut. Shooting a shotgun with both eyes open is something I’ve never mastered, so I have to shut my dominant eye. Yes, there all sorts of gadgets and gizmos out there in the market place to help correct ‘eye dominance’ but I haven’t found one (yet) that works for me. What does work, with a familiar load in the breech, is compensating for my eyesight. Put simply, aiming off. So for the test shot, I shut my left eye and aimed off, slightly right. That resulted in a dozen shot strikes within a three-inch diameter target. That’s terminal accuracy. It might not be purist shot-gunning but it works for me.
Taking a route down into the river valley, I could see the irrigation sprayer ahead of me. Instead of back-tracking, I decided to see if I could circumnavigate the spray head. With the carrot crop to my left and a marl-pit overgrown with thick briars and nettles to my right, I was going to have to walk right through the wet zone. I stopped about 25 yards short of its range and studied the spray pattern for several minutes. I figured I could follow the spray pattern to the right of the head and clear through as it turned left and away from me. As it passed again, I hurried forward to follow the cascade … but I hadn’t reckoned for the effect that the watering had created on the track I was following. Soon I was slipping and skating in thick, squelchy mud. Yep … you’ve guessed it. Before I could clear the spray zone, the gushing water of the next sweep (assisted by the gale-force wind) overtook me. I got drenched. Though I have to admit, in that heat, it was quite a pleasant relief! Out of harm’s way, I took a small towel from my bag and dried off both the camera and the gun. The latter (being built for the rigours of the foreshore) just needed a wipe. As for me? The ‘scirocco’ dried me through within half an hour.
I paused outside the wood to take a drink, besides the trailer that had carried the irrigation pipes. While squatting there I watched a magpie pass over my left shoulder, fighting the wind, to alight on top of a dead tree. Probably 35 yards from me to the bird? It turned its face into the wind, as most birds will. I swept up the gun, snapped off the safety and brought the muzzle bead to bear on the bird’s tail. I waited for the gust to abate and then fired. The bird tumbled down through the branches. This hadn’t been part of the random ‘plan’. The plan was to target crows, rooks, and woodies surfing the wild wind. Magpies are too fragile to enjoy riding a gale and this one had obviously been exhausted as it must have seen me on its way to the tree? Gathering my kit I set off into the wood, collecting the magpie on the way.
Standing at the windward side of the narrow wood for a good while, I felt disappointed. There were no ‘wind-surfers’ to be seen. Just as I was about to turn back into the copse, a crow threw itself from the treeline to my left and flapped up into the turbulence, wings akimbo. The invitation didn’t go ignored and it wheeled to the floor under the salvo. It turned out to be a youngster, a smattering of white still showing in its plumage. Climbing up into the wood, I kept my eyes peeled for squirrels but this was where I was reminded of why I prefer a rifle to a shotgun. I had in-ear protection plugs, preventing me from hearing my own footfall; not conducive to stealthy stalking. Although with these in place I can hear the general ‘ambiance’ of the wood, it’s difficult to focus in and match quarry sound to its position. So I tend to walk the wood with one plug (the left one) in my hand. Before long, I caught the rustle above me in the oaks. Or was it? There was still a heller blowing in random gusts, bending boughs and shaking down beech-mast or unripe hazel cobs. A sprig landed at my feet with a few unripe acorns attached. I moved away and another hit the floor. Standing back, I trained my eye (along the rib of the shotgun) up into the young oak. Though I couldn’t see the harvester, the tug and pull on the fruit-bearing stalks gave away where the squirrel was working. I judged where the grey’s head was and fired. While I wasn’t surprised at the tumble of fur through the leaf, I was dumbstruck when two grey squirrels hit the floor. Moving on, I pulled down another squirrel and an irritating jay. The latter I gave plenty of opportunity to move away but it insisted on following me, noisily. A serious mistake on the bird’s part.
I finished the morning sheltering from the wind behind a haystack, watching a pigeon flightline. Many of the birds seemed to jink as I raised the gun. I soon realised why, but there was little I could do about it. From behind the bales, I drew down two woodpigeon, both of which had ‘held up’ into the wind The noise disturbed a lodger in the stack, who tried to make a break for the treeline but didn’t quite make it! The rat started me thinking of a ‘species day’ but with only five species taken that would be a tall order. and called it a day. I took them into the wood to breast them out. Oh … and I picked up all my empty cases along the way. You know it makes sense.
Back at home later I sorted out the reason for the ‘jinking’ pigeons. My chokes are bright steel and the sun had been sparking off the ¾ choke muzzle. I pulled out some camo tape and wrapped the chokes profile ready for next time.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, August 2019