Dawn is an enchanting time for the shooter and wildlife observer. Today, on the cusp of the winter solstice, it came late and allowed me to linger longer in the comfort of my bed. I woke to wind and rain battering the south-facing bedroom window, yet the temptation of lazing was immediately dismissed. For today was ‘Landowner Day’. The last Saturday before Christmas. It won’t be in anyone else’s diary but for, me it’s an annual ritual. The chance to spread a bit of festive cheer and say thank you for the blessing of being allowed to walk field and wood freely. A bottle here, a box of chocolates there, sometimes both. For all, a Sally Mitchell Christmas card with a message of gratitude inside. But first, a walk with the gun and the camera.
By the time I arrived at the Hall, there was a murky half-light. It had stopped raining, though I had negotiated minor floods to get there. At the tailgate, I married the sound moderator to the .22LR. For unlike an airgun combo, you must always take the silencer off a rimfire before storage in the gun cabinet. The gases that accumulate in a rimfire moderator turn to an acidic leachate that will dribble down the inside of your barrel and destroy it slowly. Next, I slid in the bolt, another ‘must remove’ after any hunting session … to disable the gun, for obvious reasons. I loaded a couple of five-round magazines with ammo, clipping one into the gun and pocketing the other within in easy reach. There were different cartridges in each. The Eley Subsonic ammo in the gun is perfect for grey squirrel control out to 80 yards. The high-velocity CCI Stingers in the pocketed magazine are good out to 200 yards. With the safety catch on, I shouldered the CZ and went walkabout.
The farm where I’d parked the motor sits on top of an escarpment above the Wensum valley. Through the trees, I saw the silvery shimmer which confirmed that the river had burst its banks. Days of torrential rain had filled the gentle chalk stream and where last week there had been cattle pasture, there were now acres of water. I stood on the ridge taking in the sight. It looked magnificent. The beetle-banks and higher parts of each field formed small islands that were brimming with wildfowl. A clamour further along the valley drew my eye as a phalanx of mute swans beat their way towards me, circled and splashed down clumsily into the flood plain. Squadrons of wigeon wheeled into the air when one of the estates resident buzzards appeared and soared above them; their haunting whistles echoing along the valley. The cumbersome raptor posed no real threat, which the rocketing ducks seemed to instinctively know.
My first steps down the escarpment path nearly brought calamity. The rotting leaf mulch was like black ice and only a deft performance of countryman’s ballet kept my rear end off the ground. I could hear the swans laughing on the lake. A dim winter sun broke through the grey cloud and a million raindrops glistened among the meadow grass. Just what I wanted. The sun would bring the squirrels from their dreys. Arriving at the wood I crept in stealthily and shut my eyes for a few seconds to cleanse the effect of the sunshine. Opening my eyes, the retinas adjusted to the gloom and I just stood to look around. A hare had already seen me and I watched it lope away. The witch of the wood was not on my quarry list. I settled on a fallen pine bole with the gun on my lap, for sometimes it’s best to just stay still and let grey squirrels come to you. I enjoyed a breakfast of hot tomato soup. It was to prove the right tactic.
Calling it a morning with a tally of five, I skinned them out and set off on a lazy stroll back to the motor. I saw several does including one lying in the sodden bracken. She was so close I could almost touch her. The drinks run went well, my hosts grateful as always and with shooting assured for another year I set off for home.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2019