Andrew Walker has an armoury of techniques to deal with squirrels, but his preference falls in to two main categories: trapping and shooting.
Now is the time to get on top of all those pest control jobs. With much greater access to the woodland areas we can now make a serious dint in the squirrel population before the ground-nesting birds start to lay. As a pest controller, I get some of the strangest of phone calls, from squirrels around pheasant feeders, to squirrels in swimming pools. Each requires a specific form
of control. This is where an armoury of techniques comes into its own. My personal preferences fall into two main categories: trapping and shooting. Within each of these categories I have a range of sub- techniques to ensure the job is carried out professionally.
Trapping is one of my favourite forms of squirrel control. It is very time-effective over the long term, with an initial investment in build time and setting required.
The main advantage of using traps is that they’re constantly active, working even while you aren’t there. However, effective positioning is vital to success. Traps should be set at bottlenecks where you know squirrels will pass. For example, you may consider setting your traps on logs that bridge streams, as these are ideal squirrels crossings and hopefully your trap will intercept them as they cross.
A note of caution, you must make sure you abide by local trapping laws and good practice. You can find all the information on the 1954 Pests Act on www.gov.uk. You may also wish to get in touch with the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO), who are more than happy to advise on trapping laws.
Fenn traps are one of the most effective means of controlling squirrels. I would even go as far to say that they have accounted for more squirrels than any other form of trap for me. As it is potentially indiscriminate, it is important when using a Fenn trap to use it together with a tunnel or cage. The cage should have restricted access, so that only target species are admitted.
Tunnels can be made from wire mesh formed into a rectangular tunnel shape, I tend to use mesh with a hole size of fewer than 3cm. A wire mesh construction is durable and it allows you to see if you have been successful without having to get off the quad or out of the car. Some people still prefer the traditional alternative of wooden tunnels. This option works well, particularly when situated directly on the ground. Again it is important to ensure only target species are admitted. This can be achieved by carefully placing sticks over the access points, to limit unwanted access. However, to be safe I much prefer to place steel rods through holes drilled into the top of the tunnel and hammed into the ground.
This technique has the added benefit of securing the trap and protects your prize from other opportunists, such as a fox. For those of you who are new to Fenn traps, please make sure you are extra careful when setting them. They are designed to kill with maximum efficiency. When activated the jaws come together with incredible force and can cause serious damage to your fingers.
Live traps do exactly what it says on the tin. They are designed to trap the squirrel without causing harm, which is a common request in domestic call outs. The squirrel enters the trap, lured either by bait or the strategic placement of the trap on an established run. The trap is triggered by means of a pressure plate, which releases the door and traps the squirrel. When using bait in traps remember to make sure your bait is much more appealing than the squirrel’s available diet. This is much easier to ensure in a woodland area in February, where food can be sparse.
One of my favourite baits is peanut butter as it produces a good scent trail and also makes a tasty treat for the dog and me. If you are using a single-entry trap, place the bait behind the release plate towards the back of the trap, but forward of the rear of the cage – you do not want the squirrel to take the bait from outside the cage. If you are using a double-entry trap then hang the bait directly above the plate. These traps cost around £15. If you are using these traps in a public area make sure to camouflage the trap and make it as inconspicuous as possible. I often get called out to people’s homes where they want the squirrels caught but left unharmed in the process.
Shooting squirrels can be fun and rewarding, but it also requires a great deal of patience.
Drey poking can be an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon with friends. We tend to start drey poking on the first Saturday in February, which coincides with pigeon roost shooting. This continues until the last Saturday in February as we do not wish to disturb any early nesting birds. Drey poking requires at least two people, one to poke the drey and one to shoot the squirrels as they exit. Having two or three people allows you to get evenly spaced around a tree to stop the squirrels from getting away or hiding on the backs of trees. I use homemade poles, each section approximately 6ft long, which fit together. Once you get five poles together they can become very difficult to control accurately, so use a branch as a rest to lend stability to the upper sections of the pole. I have heard tales of up to six squirrels leaving a single drey, but in my experience there are rarely more than three. People often become disheartened when nothing leaves the drey, but this shows that your trapping throughout the rest of the year is working. Make sure to destroy as much of the nest as possible at this stage as this will mean the squirrels have lost another nesting point.
A three-shot 12-bore semi-auto is my weapon of choice with loads of 32g 6/5 shot. The three shots allow you to either shoot at multiple squirrels that leave the drey or enable a follow up shot on an injured squirrel. You may prefer to shoot a heavier load directly into the drey and then shoot the squirrels as they flee with a lighter load.
However, I prefer not to shoot into dreys as you never know what can be inside or even sitting on top. It is not unknown for other species such as owls to roost in dreys. The job can be turned into a social event, which makes for a great afternoon reminiscing about the season gone and that bird you missed on the last drive of the year. (Which for some reason every one remembers so vividly, but their memory is much more hazy about the four screamers you shot just before). Safety is of paramount importance, I always suggest wearing protective glasses when poking the drey as a great deal of fine material can fall out.
Bait stations account for a great number of squirrels. There are a few pointers I have learned over the years, which will help you account for more squirrels and lose less bait. Firstly, stations should be positioned high enough up the tree to be out of reach of badgers and deer, but low enough so that you retain a safe backstop when shooting. It is also important to be mindful of your shooting position and preferred firearm, if you are shooting with a 12ft/lb airgun you will need to be within 30 yards with no obstructions to your vision.
Wherever possible I will place my bait station on low-lying trees on a ride, so I can sit up to 80 yards away with the 22LR rifle. I usually employ both situations in turn, changing as the quarry become wise to the air rifle. The best bait to use is peanuts, as they last some time in poor weather and can attract a wider range of species such as woodpigeon, which makes for a mixed bag and keeps your attention.
There are many different designs for bait stations. I use a very simple gravity fed station with a hinged lid to aid refilling. Try to keep the width of the feed tray section around the same size as a squirrel, this ensures that pheasants will find it hard to feed and when the squirrel comes to feed it will always sit side on, giving you a much better shot presentation.
I eat most of the squirrels that I shoot or trap, mainly because very few people like the idea of eating squirrel and I’m not keen on sharing them! Squirrels provide an excellent source of meat and also provides me with some fly-tying materials. Two of my favourite sea trout flies are from the tail of a squirrel – the squirrel and blue tube.