Grey squirrels damage trees and native wildlife, making their control vital; here, Mat Manning reveals the kit he relies on to get the job done
Grey squirrel control
The grey squirrel is a highly successful introduced species that has wreaked havoc since its introduction to the UK more than 100 years ago. Their contribution to the decline of our native red squirrel is well documented, but these tenacious rodents also cause extensive and costly tree damage by stripping bark, and impact on vulnerable woodland birds and mammals by raiding nests and monopolising natural food sources. (Read more on how to save the red squirrel.)
Grey squirrel control is a year-round task, but it is an easier job when there are no leaves on the trees to conceal them. For that reason, I usually double my efforts during the spring months. We can all do our bit; here is some of my tried and tested gear for the job if you are planning to tackle the grey menace on your patch.
Weihrauch HW95K RRP: £411
Though I use pre-charged airguns for a lot of the squirrel control I carry out, they can be expensive and you also need a scuba tank or pump to fill them up. Spring-powered airguns offer a more affordable option and, if you choose the right one, are well up to the task.
I have been using a Weihrauch HW95K for more than 10 years. Its break-barrel action is always ready to go, and its spring-and-piston firing cycle is smooth and powerful, churning out muzzle energy very close to the UK legal limit of 12ft/lb. Despite its hefty power output, cocking this Weihrauch is no great strain — easy enough for my 13-year-old daughter.
Measuring 114cm with the supplied moderator — which does a good job of muting muzzle report — in place, this Weihrauch is compact enough for comfortable use in a hide. Weighing around 3.4kg, it has sufficient heft to help soak up its modest recoil while remaining light enough for most shooters to carry on roving sessions.
The HW95K is a well-engineered airgun and boasts the solid build quality that Weihrauch is famous for, plus an excellent two-stage trigger. My preference is for the flat-shooting .177 calibre, but it is also available in .22 as well as .20 and .25 to special order.
Head shots are essential to ensure clean kills when targeting grey squirrels with an air rifle, and using a telescopic sight makes that task a lot easier. The Hawke Vantage range offers a quality option that doesn’t cost a fortune. The 3-12x model has parallax adjustment down to 10 yards and provides great versatility for close and long-range pest control.
As well as producing a bright sight picture, this scope has the advantage of a half-mil reticle with plenty of aim points, which are ideal for compensating for the curved trajectory of an airgun pellet. The low-profile capped windage and elevation turrets are finger-adjustable and each positive click adjusts point of impact by ¼ MOA.
At 34cm long and weighing 490g, this Vantage model is a mid-sized scope that pairs well with any airgun. Covered by a lifetime warranty, it is waterproof and nitrogen-purged to stop it from fogging up and has sufficient shockproofing to withstand use on recoiling airguns.
Setting up a feeding station is by far the most effective way to reduce grey squirrel numbers with an air rifle. Apart from drawing in the pesky rodents, feeders make shooting easier because you will be presented with a static target at a known distance.
You can make a simple feed hopper as a weekend project, but the ones made by Squirrel Management UK are a brilliant option for shooters who don’t have the time or practical skills to do it themselves.
This well-made feeding station is constructed from treated plywood and has a generous 6.5kg bait capacity. It has been reinforced with wire mesh to stop hungry grey squirrels from chewing it to pieces, and this model even features extra-thick metal plating that can easily withstand pellet strikes from FAC-rated air rifles.
These feeders are designed by people who really know about squirrel control and that shows in their numerous clever design features. Internal seams are sealed, the feed tray is made from tough metal with drainage holes and screw eyes are attached to the rear to accept rope for fastening to trees.
There is even a handy spinning target on the side so you can get your eye in before the squirrels arrive.
Precise pellet placement requires a high degree of accuracy and, though not essential, the added support provided by shooting sticks can really boost stability. I have been using the Trigger Stick tripod for about seven years and it has helped me to put hundreds of grey squirrels in the bag over that time.
If you shoot a recoilless pre-charged airgun, you can lean it straight into the Trigger Stick’s rubber yoke for a rock-steady aim. Recoiling spring-powered airguns can sometimes kick erratically when supported in this way, but you can remedy that by placing your hand between the rest and the stock to create a soft cushion that permits the recoil to travel in the usual way.
Squeeze the trigger at the front of the handle and the telescopic legs silently slide in and out. Release the trigger and they lock in position to create a sturdy tripod between 58cm and 158cm in height — so you can use them for sitting, kneeling and standing shots. Weighing just over 1.3kg, they are easy to carry on roving sessions.
The top section of these sticks pans smoothly to cover a wide range of angles. The Gen 3 version also features a leg-lock system for added stability and a quick-change head enabling the attachment of a camera or scope.
A gamebag is handy for grey squirrel control, not just for carrying shot quarry but also for stowing gear. While you don’t need an expensive fine leather bag for pest control rounds, Jack Pyke’s Duotex material makes for an affordable and durable option that can take the rough and tumble of squirrel shooting but won’t look out of place on a game shoot if you need it to pull double duty.
The bag measures 29cm by 42cm by 10cm — more than enough room to stash a bag containing 6kg of maize or peanuts to top up your feeder. Mine also contains a sharp knife, rope and disposable ear plugs in case I nip out with the shotgun and forget my cans. The main compartment is PVC lined for easy cleaning, but I usually carry shot squirrels in the large net pouch.
A wide, adjustable shoulder strap makes for comfortable carrying. The buckle straps are made from leather and I hacked them off my previous Duotex bag because I was too lazy to fasten them and they had a habit of clanking at just the wrong time when I was out stalking rabbits. That bag has just been replaced as it began to perish after about four years of unsympathetic use. I have yet to take the knife to my new one, but I’m not making any promises.
Grey squirrel control with an air rifle is a quiet and solitary pastime. If you have a shotgun and want to make more of an event of it, round up a bunch of friends and head out drey poking. As the name implies, this method of squirrel control entails poking out dreys and shooting the rodents as they flee from their disintegrating homes.
The only specialist piece of kit you need is a long set of poles. I used lofting poles for a long time but have recently moved over to a set of drey poles from Agrigame UK and, though not cheap, they are far more suited to the task. Made from sturdy 1½in aluminium tubing, they have a really positive and secure locking mechanism.
The set of six 71in poles provides sufficient length to reach all but the highest of dreys and the hooked head section is brilliant for breaking up tightly bundled leaves and twigs. You may also want to splash out on a forestry helmet to protect your pole operator’s head and eyes from the hail of debris that tumbles down from the dreys.