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Revisiting The Spring-Powered Air Rifle

Late summer through to autumn is always a prime period for grey squirrel control in a ‘normal’ year. This year, after a five month drought, is hardly ‘normal’. The woods, the domain of Sciurus carolinensis are severely stressed. One of the ways a tree attempts to save itself when it’s thirsty is to cast its foliage. Another way is to delay fruiting. Desperate survival tactics which will often fail. If rain doesn’t arrive in time, the tree may die anyway. While driving to work last week I saw a young oak – probably only one hundred years old – that had split down the trunk itself. Half the tree lay on barley stubble, its dry core unable to sustain the weight of its branches. A sad sight indeed.

The woodland floor today, late August, looked like Octobers leaf strewn scene.

Back to the squirrels, though. As we approach September, July’s second litters have left the nursery dreys and explore the woods with all the exuberance and naivety of youth. Like rabbit kits, they pay little heed to time of day or to safety. They will only learn survival, as their parents did, if they escape a ‘near miss’. They are fast and feisty, so I employ ambush tactics rather than walkabout hunting at this time of year.

I’ve turned full circle in my lifetime of airgunning, going back to basics and I’m thoroughly enjoying handling a spring powered air rifle again. My rifle of choice today was my twenty year old BSA Lightning XL. A birthday gift from my wife on my 46th birthday and a gun I have ignored for far too long. I shot hundreds of rabbits, squirrels and corvids with this gun before migrating to the PCP air rifle for two decades. The Lightning only ever came out of the gun cabinet if I thought my shooting technique was getting lazy. Never to hunt with, just plink with and correct breathing and trigger technique.

In preparation for its deployment on autumn squirrels I took it out for a weekend to zero a newly fitted scope and get familiar with handling the loading and recoil of a legal limit spring powered air rifle again. Shooting a ‘springer’ demands much more skill and concentration than using a PCP. A lighter grip on the forestock, some space between the butt and the shoulder, impeccable breathing technique and diligent follow-through. If you can master hunting with a springer, you will easily learn to hunt with any other rifle – no matter what its power. I practised and practised until I could spin my metal crows head target at 30 yards consistently. Great fun and no air bottle needed!

In the wood I set up a camo net and seat in the shade of an ancient yew which was surrounded by beech trees. This was a tried and practised gambit I’ve used successfully for some years, though usually a month later. As the hot sun rose above the wood it warmed the beech fruit at the top of the canopy. I could hear them crack open and the beech-mast topples to the woodland floor. The squirrels can hear it too and forage for the fallen food.

They didn’t even notice the man behind the net today. To bag a hat trick with the old gun, on the ground and in the trees was very satisfying. Like the rimfire, I didn’t need to worry about running out of air. All I need with this gun is a pocketful of pellets. (SP8, SP9)

© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, August 2022

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