This was an area that I found last fall while hunting tree squirrels. It was 6.2 miles off of the pavement, down a rough and bumpy 4x4 track. I had some tree squirrel success back in there, and at the time, I thought to myself that I should come back in the spring and check it out for ground squirrels.
I was hunting there in late November, and at the time, any ground squirrels that may have been around had already gone into hibernation for the winter. The place had all of the earmarks of good ground squirrel country though. Lots of old stumps, deadfall, and a nice supply of old blowdowns. All of the things these high country ground squirrels need to populate an area.
The terrain consists of two low hills, that come together to form a draw at their low point. The above picture shows the draw. It runs about 300 yards into the forest, then does a slow dogleg to the right, and continues on for another four or five hundred yards, eventually ending at a saddle, where the two hills come together a little higher up.
My plan was to hunt up the right side, for a couple of hundred yards, moving into the forest fifty yards or so up from the bottom of the draw. Then, I would head up the hill to where it plateaus, and hunt across the top, until it meets with the draw again on the other side.
After getting my gun and other gear out, I stepped into the shade of a pine tree, just to the right of my vehicle, and using my binoculars, started glassing the area ahead of me. Within seconds, I spot a ground squirrel on a stump at a lasered 111 yards. Continuing to glass the area, I spot another one closer in on a stump at 87 yards.
Once again, I'm hunting with my new HW 100 T, .22 cal PCP. This thing is a tack driver extraordinaire. I planned my stalk, and using the trees for cover, started closing the distance on the guy at 87 yards. When I got to the tree that I wanted to make the shot from, I knew the distance would be 59 yards to the squirrel. When I got there, the squirrel was long gone. I waited for a bit, but he didn't make another appearance so I started closing the distance on the one that was originally at 111 yards. He was still there.
Using another tree for cover, I closed the range on this one to 63 yards. The squirrel is still on the stump, facing to the left, and looking in my direction. I slowly slipped around the tree I was using for cover, and resting my rifle on my Stoney Point bipod, lined up the shot. There was a very slight breeze running right to left, so holding the crosshair just over the top of his noggin, and a bit right, I launched an 18 grain JSB pellet toward the side of his head. At impact, it was instant lights out. The furball dropped in place on the stump. Not so much as a twitch. I like it when they're DRT.
I immediately looked off to my left, to where the original squirrel was located, and I'll be darned if it isn't back out. Rotating my gun and bipod very slowly to the left, I set up for that shot also. The laser said 47 yards. I'm sighted in at 50 so I just put the crosshairs a tad low and touched off the shot. This time, the pellet blew the squirrel off of the back of the stump it was sitting on. I watched as it tumbled a few yards down the hillside.
As I always do after making a shot, and before moving, I continued to glass the area around me for other squirrels. Sure enough, almost directly behind me, on a stump I had passed by earlier, is another squirrel facing away from me. I slowly move around and set up for that shot. He lasers at 51 yards. As I'm about to launch the pellet, the squirrel suddenly turns to the left and runs over to the side of the stump, like it's going to jump down. Rather than try to make a finesse head shot, I just grabbed a heart lung hold, and launched the pellet. At impact, the third squirrel taken in just a few minutes, rolled off of the side of the stump.
WOW! I kind of thought that this place might hold some ground squirrels, but this was turning out to be better than I expected. I took a few minutes and gathered up the squirrels for a quick photo-op.
I hunted along the edge of the hill for another 50/60 yards, and then headed up to the top of the hill. As I'm hunting along, as usual, I'm living in my binoculars glassing every place that might hold a ground squirrel. Because of the lay of the land, and the tree density, most of my glassing is done between 40 and 80/100 yards.
As I'm slowly hunting along, glassing, moving, glassing, I suddenly spot a large buff colored patch in the trees about 65 yards in front of me. Because of the tree density, all I can see is the buff patch and some legs. I've been wandering through various forests across the west, for more than 59 of my 70 years, and I know an elk butt when I see one. Cow or bull, I can't tell just yet, but for sure I have at least one elk in front of me, maybe more.
The good news is, the wind is in my face. Moving very slowly, and using Ponderosa Pines for cover, I decide to stalk a bit closer. I decided at the 35 yard mark, that I was as close as I wanted to be. No point in being stupid, and getting trampled by a critter, or critters the size of a horse.
I set up next to some trees and waited. The elk was grazing along the forest floor. After a bit, its head appeared out from behind the trees, and I could see that it was a cow. Head down, and continuing to graze, she had no clue I was there. I snapped a couple of pictures, and waited. After a bit, I decide to get her in focus in the camera, and give a lip squeak.
That did it. Up pops the head, and she is looking at me on full alert. I made a quick step to the right, grabbed a picture, and then stepped back by the tree. At that point, she decided that she was outta there. Doing a 180 degree turn, she started hauling buns for another zip code. As I watched her go, after about 25/30 yards, a half dozen other cows, that I hadn't seen because of the tree density, joined her and there were multiple elk fannies bouncing through the trees as they poured on the coals.
Now the thing that always makes these kinds of encounters extra special to me, is the fact that I had just killed three ground squirrels, with an air rifle, not 75 yards away from her, and she wasn't even aware of me being in the area. Quiet is good. What a hoot.
She and her girlfriends cleared the area pronto, so I started squirrel hunting again. After about a hundred and fifty yards I hit the other side of the hill, and picked up the draw again.
As I'm coming out of the denser forest area, and I'm glassing the stumps and deadfall in the draw, I spot a squirrel sitting on a flat top stump at 58 yards.
I'm still back up in the trees in the shade, and I'm far enough away that this one doesn't seem nervous at all. Leaning my shoulder against a nearby pine, I set up for the shot. The wind has picked up, and is running left to right. Holding a bit left and high, I slowly squeezed the trigger, and watched as the pellet sailed just past the squirrels left ear. Quickly racking the side lever on the HW 100, I chambered another pellet, held a bit more left, and touched off another shot.
This one went where expected, and dropped the squirrel. Only instead of dropping it DRT, (Dead Right There) the pellet picked the furball up and dropped it down the middle of the stump. DAMN IT, I hate it when that happens! My recovery rate, when that occurs, is about one in ten, so my hopes weren't real high of recovering that particular squirrel.
As usual, I did a quick look around the area with my binoculars, before heading over to see if I could recover that last squirrel, and as often happens, I spot another squirrel behind me. This one lasers at 62 yards. Using the same tree to lean against, I simply turned around, held a little high, for the distance, right for the prevailing wind, and knocked him off of the stump that he was hunkered down on.
I got a quick picture of him, and headed down to the one that had disappeared down into the stump.
I could hardly believe it. When I got over to the stump, the squirrel was laying down in there within easy reach.
By now, it's well past lunch time, so I started to quick hunt my way back to my vehicle. I saw a few other ground squirrels, but my hunger was greater than my desire to put the sneak on them, so they were left for another time.
It turned out to be an incredible day of hunting with my HW 100 T, .22 PCP. These rifles seem to be a fairly well kept secret. I'm really glad I decided to give one a try. As the expression goes, "only accurate rifles are interesting," I can tell you from personal experience, this rifle is very, very "interesting."
As I thought there might be, last fall, there were definitely ground squirrels in this area, and the elk encounter was really good frosting added to an already awesome cake.
I've got to head out of town again for awhile, so it will probably be a few weeks before I have a chance to do much airgunning.
I'm thinking that maybe next time, I'm going to get my .25 cal Marauder out, and do something I haven't done in some time....get after some jackrabbits. I was in an out of the way area a few years ago, and had them running across, and up and down the roads, so I think it might be time to head back out there and see if the hares are still around. Yeah, that sounds like something that needs to happen.
Back in a few weeks.