Squirrel shooting with an air rifle

Mat Manning offers a few tips for drawing them into your crosshairs…

Come the summer months, when the trees are full of leaves, you’ll likely find shooting squirrels with an airgun considerably more challenging than in winter on bare branches. The dense foliage that covers the canopy of trees can make grays almost invisible.

So what should be done about it? How can you carry out essential pest control when the leaves are full and green? In winter, you can perch near a pheasant feeder and watch the squirrels arrive. Come May and it’s not that simple.

Hunter shooting squirrels with an air rifle

Airguns really excel at shooting squirrels, especially when equipped with a sound moderator.

Squirrel shooting with an air rifle

I decided to create my own squirrel feeding station to attract pests.

The obvious bait seemed to be peanuts. Every once in a while, I get called in to take care of squirrels that are bothering people in their gardens. The offensive bushy-tails are usually concentrated around bird feeders, where they enjoy a free meal of peanuts. In fact, many of the squirrels I’ve shot in my own yard have been killed while raiding hanging nut feeders.

wooden squirrel hopper

The contents of the wooden hopper spill into a small channel in front of a hole in the base, creating honey trap areas in which squirrels can attack.

taking the bait

My initial attempts at placing shallow wooden trays in trees met with some success, but their limited capacity meant they emptied quickly and constant trips to refill became a nuisance. So, for the last two years, I have been using a wooden hopper. It’s a simple box that, once loaded with peanuts, gradually pours its contents into a small channel in front of a hole in the base, courtesy of gravity. These boxes can be easily set up and moved from tree to tree, and only need to be filled once or twice a week, depending on the number of squirrels in the vicinity. So far they have given excellent results, allowing me to create honey trap areas where I can target squirrels year-round.

hopper full of peanuts


As well as being useful in the summer when shooting squirrels with an air rifle, the feeders also mean I can set up feeding stations in woods that aren’t used by pheasant shoots and where I can’t rely on the lure of grain. of the ranger. . The only drawback is that squirrels tend to chew on the wooden box, so the front needs to be replaced from time to time. I’m trying to persuade a friend to make a metal version to fix the problem.

shooting gray squirrels

Squirrels offer the opportunity to combine a variety of weapons and techniques; it all depends on the squirrels, he says…

I try to set up my feeders in areas where squirrels are present in high concentrations, identified by either seeing squirrels or their dreys, or locating the tree species they like best. The feeder is then installed about 5 feet off the ground. This is high enough to keep it out of the way of badgers, but low enough to reload without much difficulty.

Hiding place

Sometimes I go to the trouble of building a hideout, but it’s usually not necessary, as approaching squirrels are more distracted by the need to fill their bellies than by the threat of lurking marksmen. Sit in the shadows with a decent background and you’ll probably go unnoticed. Make sure you have a clear view of the feeder. You need to find a hiding place where you can hunt squirrels at a distance of between 20 and 30 m, depending on your aim, and that has a safe backup. It is worth considering these factors and deciding on a location before attaching the feeder to a tree.

hunting man with air gun

Sit in the shadows with a decent background and you’ll probably go unnoticed

Squirrels are quick to notice changes in their environment and will typically begin visiting peanut feeders within a day or two after they are set up. I have sometimes used monitoring cameras to monitor the number and frequency of visits. I was pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of wild birds that came by to help themselves to the peanuts. However, you don’t have to do this. Squirrels are pretty messy eaters and their forays are usually indicated by a scattering of nut debris under the hopper.

the grays arrive

During the first few days, small birds such as blue tits, nuthatches and finches are the most frequent visitors, and jays soon join the feast. It’s apparent that the flurry of feathered eaters eventually draws the attention of the resident squirrels, who quickly swoop in on the feast. Squirrels are optimistic about any kind of feeding opportunity and it is amazing how quickly the birds back off once the grays arrive in large numbers. These invasive rodents not only feed on the eggs and young of forest birds, but also starve the adults.

blue boobs

Squirrels deprive adult birds of food

How long should you wait?

Be patient and don’t reach for your airgun yet. The squirrels will attract more of their mates as they scamper back and forth towards the feeder. Usually 6-10 days is about right; if there are no signs of visiting squirrels after a fortnight, the feeder should be moved.

Once the squirrels are enjoying the peanuts, you’ll be on your way to a good bag. Ideally, get into position just before sunrise so you can intercept approaching grays when they venture out for a sunrise binge. The feeder will usually attract a steady trickle of squirrels throughout the day once they get a taste for peanuts – bedheads may need a few more visits to clean squirrels than early birds, but you’ll still get a few shots.

Air guns really shine with this type of pest control, especially when equipped with a sound moderator. The muzzle sound of a silenced pre-charged tire is barely audible, so the squirrels are unlikely to be put off by the sound of your shots. I’ve had up to seven in an hour.

shooting squirrels with an air rifle

Squirrels won’t be put off by the sound of your gunshots. I’ve had up to seven in an hour.

My experience of all this is that it takes about three or four visits before it’s time to move the feeder and try somewhere else. By then, you should expect to have caught between six and 15 squirrels (best so far is 21 from a single feeder), depending on how many are in the locality.

It is interesting that the birds return to the peanuts after the squirrels have been slaughtered. Which just goes to show how important it is to keep squirrel numbers low.