I took my little BSA Ultra SE for a rare walk out last week. It’s been about nine months since she saw the light of day, locked securely away in the gun cabinet. The manometer showed the air cylinder was still fully charged. I’ve always refilled my PCP guns prior to storage; you never know when you might need them at short notice. I loaded two magazines with .22 Daystate Rangefinder Li’s. I’m not sure if you can still buy these but as the Beezer favoured them I bought five thousand. Enough to see my lifetime out, as I rarely ‘plink’. I just zero and hunt. On which point, first action before my squirrel session was to check zero and I was delighted to find the scope was spot on, grouping five shots within a 3 cm radius at 30 yards. But that was five shots of air lost from the cylinder. Next I needed to practise some elevated shots, to get my eye back in. I needn’t have worried. Five dead pine cones later and I was ready to hunt. But I’d now used 10 of my 40 ‘sweet-spot’ shots of air.
The reason for picking up the Ultra was the desire to clear some squirrels from around the estates ‘residential’ areas. The bird feeders in the estate gardens attract the little beggars and my now ‘go-to’ gun (my CZ 455 22LR) is a bit risky too close to the buildings. As we all know, land-owners and farmers have the exaggeration capacity of an angler describing ‘the one that got away’. There are always hundreds of rabbits and squirrels, dozens of deer or hares and thousands of corvids or woodpigeons. To be fair to mine host, they had reported ‘dozens’ of squirrels visiting the feeders. My interpretation (based on years of experience in rural mathematics) was that it was probably three or four grey squirrels, visiting regularly. Nonetheless, permission is permission and it was a call to duty.
So there I was, early on typical April morning, enjoying sunshine and showers and hiding out under the main bushy-tail highway twixt arboretum and garden. The ‘highway’ being an aerial route across a trio of sycamores. The Hall is built on a plateau with the arboretum beneath, which makes targeting the squirrels tricky. They don’t need to touch the ground to reach the gardens. They can take the high road. All of which means using an air rifle or shotgun to intercept the little raiders. And you all know what I think of shotguns.
It didn’t take long to call a halt one grey as it scampered towards the garden on the sycamore overpass. A couple of loud clicks of the tongue and it paused long enough to squeeze off a headshot. The crack which followed the hiss of the moderated air rifle told me the shot was true and the squirrel tumbled from the branch and landed amongst the leaf litter with a thump. It lay kicking and writhing and got that sick feeling we all get when we don’t achieve a clean kill. I took a second shot from where I was standing; this time a heart shot. I walked over to check the animal and it was still breathing, it’s chest rising and falling. I placed the muzzle under the squirrels ear and shot again, finishing a poor job. I checked the corpse for entry wounds. The first pellet had entered between eye and ear. The body shot at entered at a text-book kill zone. Three shots to kill a squirrel? I suddenly lost all interest in hunting that morning and headed home. The little BSA went back into the cabinet. This was the sort of experience that made me crave an FAC air rifle years ago, only to find that the results were little better. I had multiples pass-throughs on quarry which resulted in injury rather than clinical despatch. It’s never enjoyable having to take a second shot (or more).
Next morning I returned with a different gun and a cunning plan. It was Saturday morning and I knew the landowner would be out shopping for a few hours. So taking the .22LR, a seat and a pocketful of Eley subsonic cartridges, I set up with my back to the house and a view to the bird tables, about 35 yards away. The first squirrel scrambled down a branch and hopped onto the lawn. It sat up on its haunches, offering a perfect target. The whump of the subbie round and the slump of the squirrel brought a sigh of relief. Not a flinch from the beast. Over the next half an hour I shot two more on the lawn and then an hour of ‘nothing’. As I had thought, a couple of pairs. Clearing up, I looked across the tree tops and reflected that the space left by these four would soon be filled again. There are a heck of a lot less squirrels on this estate than when I arrived here ten years ago but I feel like King Canute holding back the grey tide.
Of the five gun types I own (springer, PCP, .22LR, .17HMR and semi-auto shotgun) my favourite ‘all-rounder’ is undoubtedly the .22LR. It’s muted thump (using subsonic ammo with a 90+ ft/lb output) and its unerring accuracy, combine to give a hunter confidence. A confidence that ranges from a 20 yard squirrel to a 40 yard fox or an 80 yard corvid.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, May 2021