Fluffy they may be but grey squirrels try the patience of many a farm owner, forester and householder and need controlling, says Bruce Potts
Days out shooting grey squirrels present a good challenge mixing and matching the guns to the style of squirrelling activity you are undertaking.
A moderated rimfire
Shotguns have their uses but, as with corvid shooting, I favour a rifle for precise squirrel ambushing. I sometimes use my .410 Yildiz shotgun, but a moderated rimfire or air rifle with the correct ammunition is almost always the best tool for the job.
Grey squirrels are tough and the most humane way to deal with them is by a single projection accurately placed in the vital organs.
Worried about safety and thinking that shooting rifles at squirrels means firing into the air? Rest assured I only shoot squirrels in trees or on top of farm buildings if there is a safe backdrop. It’s in these locations that reduced-velocity rimfires and air rifles (whether 12ft/lb or FAC-rated at 25ft/lb) come into their own.
Where to shoot them
Different types of squirrel shooting require a variety of tactics, equipment and techniques. I either shoot squirrels out of dreys, set ambushes on the woodland floor where the squirrels forage, or set up near farm buildings, where squirrels use roofs as runways.
The right ammo for shooting grey squirrels in woodland
There is little different to rifle types (i.e. bolt-action, straight-pull, pump-action or semi-automatic) at the ranges you shoot squirrels. I prefer bolt-actions, as you can use reduced loads that may not work in repeating rifles. If you are shooting squirrels in the trees, safety and stopping power must to be considered when choosing ammunition.
In such situations, I load my bolt-action Sako Finnfire .22 rimfire rifle with reduced-velocity rounds, as the ranges are less than 20 yards. I also use an air rifle, but the Sako is faster to load when I put CB long ammunition in the magazine, which cycles well through the magazine.
I use CCI CB long ammunition in the rifle rather than long rifle rounds, as it has a shorter range. From my 14.5in barrel it has a velocity of 705fps and delivers 32ft/lb energy with a 29-grain bullet. That’s a good 20ft/lb more than a 12ft/lb air rifle. It is more effective and because the bullet is travelling slower than a standard .22 rimfire round it is safer to use. I also use Eley Zimmer rounds. These shoot a heavier 30-grain bullet at 797fps producing 42.3ft/lb, so they hit harder, but I only use them when the squirrels are foraging on the woodland floor.
If a shot into the woodland is impossible due to too much leaf cover, you can safely extend your range for shooting squirrels in rides with the laser-flat trajectory of a .17 Mach 2 round. I have a Venom Arms stainless steel barrel that simply slides into my Sako Finnfire custom in place of my usual .22 LR barrel. This gives you a squirrel rifle capable of ranges of 100 yards. If you use a high-velocity frangible bullet, it is both safe and humane.
I also find my .14 Walker Hornet rifle reloaded with a .22 Hornet cartridge case shortened and necked down to take a 0.144 calibre bullet is both safe and effective. The 15-grain bullet travels at more than 4,000fps and is safe to use, as it expands so rapidly that you rarely get exits on squirrels. Since it is such a light bullet, it loses energy quickly beyond 100 yards, thus becoming safer in that regard, too.
Shooting around buildings
Farm buildings have proven a good location for my grey squirrel shooting. Due to the safety issues I usually only shoot between daybreak and 8am. You also need to be careful not to damage machinery, windows or roof materials.
Around farm buildings and outhouses I still use a rimfire rifle, but switch from long rifle or long ammunition types to CB and BB caps and short rounds which are all low-velocity short-range rimfire ammunition. They have to be loaded one at a time in a bolt-action rifle so you only have one chance for a head shot but they will not go through a squirrel, meaning that you can safely use them about the farm.
The BB caps have a 15.5-grain bullet that travels at 887fps and produces 27.1ft/lb energy. The CB caps have a 16.1-grain semi-coned bullet with a velocity of 959fps and 32.9ft/lb energy. These are more than powerful enough for squirrels but accuracy past 20 yards is often poor.
I shoot on one farm where the squirrels emerge from the treetops shortly after daybreak and use the farm buildings close by as aerial runways on their way to the next feed. You can hear them scampering over the corrugated roof. Here, I load the CB caps, or CB longs if they venture on to straw bales. Bales make a great backdrop and it is a good idea to have a magazine loaded with CB longs for a quick switch. As they run, I chatter at them to make them stop.
Air rifles are also ideal for shooting near buildings and standard-power air rifles are adequate. I never feel undergunned with an air rifle, rather, I see it as offering good sport, demanding greater accuracy on the shooter’s part. Any of the four calibres are suitable, .177, .20, .22 or .25. Smaller calibres may offer a flatter trajectory, but at these short ranges this is not a great advantage and they can go through a squirrel and could break a window, unless you are careful.
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Why grey squirrels are pests
Greys have reduced our native red squirrels to a few small populations, so shooting greys does a valuable service for conservation. In addition greys take animal feed, damage trees and bird nests. They make for good sport as they are tricky, tenacious little critters that demand a well-aimed shot from a rifle.