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Grey squirrel control with Rich Saunders

Richard Saunders deals with some grey squirrels raiding a farm shop

Conventional wisdom has it that at this time of year, when nature’s bounty is overflowing, grey squirrels are spoilt for choice for something to eat. So much so in fact that many shooters pack away their peanut feeders and won’t get them out again until the first frost of the year.

Pest control obligations mean I run my feeders pretty much all year round, even if my returns in terms of squirrels in the bag diminish. However, just recently one of my farmer landowners asked if I could help with a squirrel problem.

Normally I shoot rats and rabbits on the farm, so squirrels were something new, and I couldn’t for the life of me think how the furry rodents could be giving him any grief. But of course I told him I would handle it.

All you need for a spot of squirrel control – an accurate PCP rifle, a rangefinder, good quality pellets and something to rest on

It turned out that the little devils had developed a sweet tooth and had taken to raiding the farm shop. This is run on an honour system with no staff, and the squirrels had learned to help themselves when no customers were around.

The mystery of eggs smashed on the floor and various packets of biscuits ripped open was solved by watching CCTV. At times, two or three of the rodents could be seen ransacking the shop. 

Though not a fortune, the cost in lost stock was one thing, but the bigger concern was the potential hygiene impact of having squirrels running wild around foodstuff.


On the trail

Having polished off a few biscuits, along with several cups of tea with the farmer, I hatched a plan. I had a good idea the squirrels were coming from the overgrown garden of an abandoned cottage across the farm track. Sure enough, having set up a couple of trail cameras, the footage confirmed this to be the case just a few days later.

The footage, along with the CCTV images, showed that the squirrels would launch their raiding party sometimes just minutes after a customer had left the shop. Clearly they were doing some reconnaissance of their own.

As part of the farm is open to the public and is frequented by grandparents and parents with little children wanting to see the alpacas, pygmy goats and ducks, the first challenge to overcome was finding exactly where I’d be able to go to target the grey squirrels.

Not only would I have to ensure shots would be 110% safe, I’d also need to be certain I wouldn’t be seen by granny, grandad and, most importantly, small children to ensure they wouldn’t be traumatised at the sight of a fluffy squirrel being hit in the head with a .177 pellet.

Richard set up two feeders, which doubled his chances of targeting the greys, and also meant he wouldn’t need to top them up as often

The problem was overcome by negotiating with a neighbouring farmer to put a feeder in his field. This was handy, as I’d been lining him up as a potential permission for some time in any case. Fingers crossed.

The field backed on to the abandoned cottage, and a fallen tree in the furthest corner not only provided an ideal location for my feeder, but was also out of the line of sight from the farm shop, provided a safe line of fire and was far enough away for no one to hear my shots.

I decided to put two feeders up for the simple reason that I had two knocking about in the garage. Not only would I have to fill them up less often, but I’d no longer keep tripping over them. Resisting the urge to fill them up with Jammie Dodgers, I opted for the usual peanuts instead.

Because the feeders were positioned lower than I would have liked, I was concerned that deer and badgers would scoff the peanuts. But after several days when the level of feed started to go down, the trail camera footage showed nothing but squirrels and small birds. 

By this time the farmer was getting impatient, and wanted to know why his Hobnobs were still being nobbled and what was I going to do about it. I was tempted to ask if he’d considered investing in a self-closing door for the farm shop, but thought better of it. 

Shooting from the back of the truck not only provided some cover, but provided a stable platform to shoot from

Instead, I initiated phase two of the plan, which involved the new Daystate Huntsman Revere Safari Edition. I’ll admit the name would suggest the rifle is suited to bigger game than a few grey squirrels, but the regulated .177 13-shot sidelever action had proven itself deadly accurate on the range. And the ergonomic enhancements in the textured wood stock meant that for shots of around 30 yards it would be ideal.

The only natural cover was too far from the feeders. I got around the problem by positioning my truck in such a way that I was not only close enough, but hidden from extra nosy farm shoppers and could also use the tailgate as a platform.


The thieves are punished

Then with the Huntsman Revere Safari, to which I’d fitted an MTC King Cobra F2 scope, it was a case of waiting for the squirrels to put in an appearance. Sat behind the truck, it didn’t take long for the first of the biscuit-pinching rodents to arrive. 

At this time of year, with the summer foliage thick and green, squirrels often seem to materialise out of thin air. And so it was with the first one – a large male that scampered along the fallen tree and settled above the feeder. It looked around for a brief second before dropping onto the feeder, selecting a peanut and settling onto its haunches to nibble. 

I’d positioned myself at exactly 27m from the feeder – the distance the rifle is zeroed at. As a result, the shot was a formality. The tailgate provided a rock-solid shooting platform, and with not even a breath of wind to push it off course, the .177 Air Arms Diabolo Field pellet zipped across the field and hit the squirrel between the eyes. It fell backwards against the tree before dropping onto the floor with barely a flicker.

At 27 metres, and with a stable shooting position, the Huntsman Revere Safari wasn’t going to miss

As I tracked the fallen squirrel through the scope to check it was dead, a second flashed past the image through the scope. Unbeknown to me, two had made that initial approach. I looked up, expecting the squirrel to have disappeared. However, although it ran up the tree, it had made the fatal mistake of turning around again to look back. Side on, it required only the smallest adjustment with the Revere Safari to send another pinpoint-accurate pellet on its way.

Although I could only just see the squirrel on the floor, I could make out enough to satisfy myself that it was well and truly dead. I left the pair where they lay, confident more would come. Sure enough, by the end of the evening session, I had seven more in the bag. For now, south Oxfordshire’s biscuits are safe once again.