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Grey squirrel feeder – how to set one up

JDJ Braithwaite talks through the process of setting up a grey squirrel feeder when returning to shoot a particular section of woodland

JDJ surveys the area for a good tree to host the feeder and also provide a proximal location for a hide

Shooting grey squirrels on large estates requires a plan, a strategy, for approaching how you are going to target the woodlands effectively. A casual stroll may get you one or two, but it is far from effective in terms of serious control and conservation.

I activate around three feeders in different woods at a time and rotate around them through the week so as not to overshoot any one of them. It also keeps the grey squirrels guessing and applies pressure across a broader area.

Once the wildlife camera fails to capture images of greys, the food is not being taken and I don’t see any greys across a small handful of sessions, I have enough evidence to suggest moving on to a new location. However, the idea is always to return to these places and re-apply pressure in due course.

I had been shooting this wood for about two years and had taken over 220 grey squirrels in that time. I moved out of the wood in November 2021 simply due to the need to move onto new woods on the estate since so few were left here. It was now time to come back and clear it of all grey squirrels.

I know there are very few left in here, but there were enough to warrant making the effort to remove them, and so the decision was made to return and renew my efforts. Revisiting the wood revealed that the February storms of 2022 had not been kind to it. A large old beech tree that I used as a backdrop for a netting hide had lost several large branches and suffered a large spit down its trunk. Without it, I was now having to assess the wood for new hide and feeder location opportunities.

As a general rule, I try to ensure my shooting spots do not entail stomping through the woods for long distances before settling in, as this would spook and disturb just about everything. It’s not always possible, but if it is, I try to set up close to entry points to the woods so I can quietly slip into my hide with as little disturbance as possible. My old hide spot, now destroyed, followed this principle, but now I needed to move a bit further into the wood to find a suitable replacement spot.


Choosing The Right Tree

In an ideal world, we would want to consider a number of factors when siting a feeder. First, we want a broad tree that can act as a safe backstop for shots. Indeed, the area around the tree should also be assessed for safely shooting into that area. 

Second, we want a tree that the squirrels visit or travel through. Grey squirrels use established ‘highways’ or routes through the woodland. For the feeder to get maximal attention, placing it on a tree that is part of this highway is always a good idea. 

Third, we ideally want a tree that is not too exposed and where the grey squirrels feel safe. Some surrounding cover behind the tree or near it is always a good idea. And finally, we need to actually pick a tree that also affords a good hide position less than 30 yards away.

So much for the textbooks! In reality we will often find it is not always possible to tick all these boxes, and we nearly always have to compromise in some way, but never on safety! However, we should at least try to satisfy these requirements as best we can.

For my relocation in this wood, I managed to find a tree that met most of these requirements and was still only a brief walk into the woods – so I should still be able to enter them with little disturbance. However, the tree was a little more exposed than I would have liked and if I hadn’t already seen footage from wildlife cameras showing greys on the tree and running through its branches, I would perhaps not have deemed it a likely candidate.

Part of grey squirrel foraging and feeding behaviour is that they typically like to be close to cover for safety. However, in winter many woodlands are stark and bare in terms of cover, and yet greys still need to feed. Therefore, I think that they would like more cover, but they have to take a few more risks when cover is unavailable. 

The fact this tree was being used as part of the highway suggested that even though it is a little exposed, they still felt safe enough visiting it. Therefore, based on these merits, it was worth a punt and so I decided to try a feeder on it.

These are JDJ’s tools of the trade, and they are everything he needs to set up the feeder and work the space

The feeder is now in place about chest height, thus preventing damage from deer and other unwanted interests


Working The Target Space

The next step was to go and sit in the place I’d chosen to be the intended hide space and then look back towards the feeder. Here, I’m assessing the shooting channels or routes for pellets to travel along unimpeded by deflections from branches, twigs and foliage sticking out of the ground, like dead brambles and bracken. I have permission in this woodland to do some minor trimming, but it’s important to take care when any trimming is required on living trees.

I assess the primary route to the feeder, but also obvious alternatives like the ground region in front of the tree. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a grey squirrel but being unable to take the shot due to something being in the way between you and it that may have the potential to deflect your pellet away from its target. 

I try to imagine how they would come into the space and where they might sit, and then try to ensure a clear route to those areas if possible. This process also involves clearing some of the foliage that pokes up out of the ground. Some of these potential obstacles will not necessarily be noticeable when looking down the scope, so it is important to simply walk the channel, spot and remove them. In addition, I will also often work the ground around the base of the tree hosting the feeder. 

The main reasons for this are to try to generate smells that might attract grey squirrels, but also again to clear any items that might deflect pellets into this area. 

Put a few handfuls of peanuts in the feeder and pop back in a few days to see if the grey squirrels have hit them

On JDJ’s return he noticed the feed had all gone, showing the squirrels are taking a definite interest. He’ll be back


The Value of a Rangefinder

Picking the right tree also requires an assessment of the area for an appropriate hide location to shoot from. Once you have established the position of where you will set up your hide, then it’s time to laser some distances around you. Obviously, you will want to know the exact distance to the feeder from your chosen hide position. Irrespective of calibre, I’d recommend somewhere between 25 and 28 yards as being perfect. 

Although a modern air rifle is capable of precision well in excess of these distances, we need to remember that outdoor shots can be influenced by elements such as wind and rain, and so we want an optimal distance where we can remain undetected, but one still humane for lethal removal.

I’d also recommend getting an idea for the general space and other trees so you know your distances should grey squirrels show up anywhere within the shooting space. To keep it simple, try to identify the safest distance for short-range shots (about 15 yards is typical) and the same for longer-range shooting, and this limit should be what you know you are capable of and no more. Keep all shooting within those limits. Using a laser rangefinder to get to know the space in this way removes the guesswork from judging distance.


The Final Steps

Once everything is in place, pop a handful or two of peanuts in the feeder and return in a few days’ time to see if they have been hit. You don’t want to fill the feeder at this stage just in case nothing comes in for the food and it then goes mouldy – peanuts are not cheap! I’d also suggest holding off on setting up your hide at this stage for the same reason. There is no need to put in all that effort if there is nothing in the wood. Let’s see if the greys are around in good numbers first. To be continued…