The day was still warm, but in the wood the canopy keeps the world in shadow. The constant changeable breeze rattled the coppice and the whooshing of the trees hid the elephantine sound of our footsteps. A footpath runs along one boundary of the wood and, being mostly clear, meant we could if not properly creep, it at least reduced the noise of our ‘stalking’.
A flicker of movement ahead and to the right revealed our quarry, munching on a nut at the base of an Oak. I twisted so my body would obscure my hand signal to TNM. The squirrel froze, and did a very good job of disappearing into the leaf litter. I shouldered the air rifle and realized just in time that the scope was set on too higher level of magnification. Finding a grey camouflaged thing against a backdrop of leaf and shadow wasn’t that easy. The cross hairs danced over his shoulder and as I should have been at my stillest my squeeze of the trigger must have pulled the muzzle to the right. The squirrel jumped four of five feet to the left; I worked the bolt back and forward and sent a perfectly aimed puff of air towards him. Sadly the puff of air wasn’t pushing a pellet.
The Air Arms S400
is a single shot rifle; I have an aftermarket ‘pellet feeder’ that must be clicked forward by hand each time. Right hand – Pull bolt back, Left hand – index pellet into place, Right hand – slide bolt forward. Ready to shoot. Supposedly. I’d missed the middle step and worked the bolt over an empty chamber. The squirrel gave me a withering look but stayed still. The next pellet jammed on loading. The squirrel sighed and bounded up a beech tree to wait patently to be shot. Now frantically fiddling I managed to free the now deformed pellet from the feeder. Through gritted teeth I start again. Bolt back, finger on the pellet feeder…No feckin’ pellets!! The Northern Monkey bounded off toward the hut to get more pellets and the squirrel and I kept each other under observation. TNM is back in a flash and I feed a pellet into the chamber. The squirrel was now further up the tree and had disappeared from sight.
As my heart rate slows, the terrible sinking feeling begins: had I shot him? Had I made a clean miss? The only way we could know would be to keep him treed until another shot opportunity presents itself.
I made that sound easy didn’t I? Several glimpses later a Holly bow lashes me across the eye and half blinded I give TNM the rifle. Due to the dense undergrowth and the fence line it’s not possible to get to the far side of the tree that the squirrel is now hiding up, I leave the wood to get a better view from the footpath. Twenty feet up the tree is the classic rotted hole at the intersection of two boughs. A hidey-hole with a bushy tail poking out. Dead, dying or hiding?
Several attempts to climb the tree prove fruitless so we cut a long pole from the coppice and rig up a lasso loop to grab the tail with. By the time we get back to the footpath armed with our retrieval-rig the tail is no longer poking out of the hole.
I’d love it if this blog were a long and triumphant record of hunting success’s and delicious meals, I’d settle for an amusing record of failures and frustrations. This time I’m just gutted, I just don’t know if I hit him, earlier in the day I was putting pellet after pellet through a hole smaller than our smallest coin. Did I fluff the shot completely? Did I allow a wounded squirrel to get away? I’m just not sure and worst of all I doubt I’ll ever know. The following day my eye swells up and I’m sofa-bound for a day feeling very sorry of myself.