Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ground squirrel hunting

Richardson ground squirrels have infested the farmland around my home. They arrived from the East and now run roads and cause tripping hazards with hidden mounds anywhere that can hobble horses and humans alike.  Health care costs paying for surgeons would justify a culling season.

My friend has a farm and stables horses. He appreciates any help saving his horses. I use my soldier skills to help. Swords into ploughshares protecting livestock.

To hunt vermin efficiently one needs to understand them. I looked online and researched as best I could but since these are inglorious animals there's minimal information. I have hunted these animals for 3 years doing badly with trial & error. I've finally learned enough and killed enough to warrant documentation.

These animals have unique characteristics. Richardson ground squirrels are not blind or have poor vision so that you can sneak up and shoot them with shotguns at close range. People do get lucky but if you are trying to eradicate a region you need to get all of them not a few. They have bi-chromatic vision so unlike gophers they can see farther and can distinguish moving predators in colour. You will stand out through noise and motion. They will be alerted if you walk anywhere near their territory.

I will share with you my secret camouflage. In order to confuse them dress lower half camo earth colours. Dress top half sky in blue or grey. You seem half as tall so far away as a moving threat. This confuses them if they spot you.

Richardson’s are hard to see on the backdrop of brown burrows. Most times you will hear chirping to localize their direction rather than sighting. Once you hear them, you stalk and wait nearing the burrows. Position yourself with safe background and a good shot into the hole. Sometimes you need to approach from different paths to get a key firing arc.

Any sign of danger they rush back to burrow holes. Any alerted will evacuate 200m from the alerted zone. I strike a burrow then move downrange to attack unsuspecting mounds farther on then come back from various approaches once they resume normal behaviour.

They play in sunshine but even when distracted they are really fast movers so combined with watching your background there will be few slew to skew tracking shots safely. They run hugging the ground and they leap into holes.

If you miss the shot they might stand still or leap for the hole. The key behaviour factor is if they are in their safe zone or in the open.  When away from cover the primary instinct is flee. When near the burrow their first instinct is freeze. They will flee to the hole if they are caught in the open. Once they are near safety zone they will freeze and hug ground before scrambling for cover.

Richardson’s chirp or squeak to alert surrounding burrows. Approach downwind and be patient. Once alerted they submerge. If they are startled they chirp distinctly then run for cover. Once hidden, burrow members avoid exposure and signal others until the danger passes. They have very limited long term memory.

After about 5 minutes they will emerge to investigate. First, eyes up. Second, face up. Third, neck up. They sneak a look and then they will overcrawl the mound hole. These are the best conditions for safe shots.

The best case to shoot them is once they are alerted but at the hole face. They feel safer at the hole.

When they are in safe zone they will freeze assuming you can't see them. They freeze to avoid alerting you and many times I've missed these low bodies hiding in plain sight. Stumbling over hidden holes where brown blurs ran I've missed many concealed targets.

Do Richardsons cry out when injured? Depends. If you hit vital organs, I've never hit headshots, they will death chirp but still run into the ground. I can't tell how many I've hit because I can't be certain for all the times they escaped to die underground. I count popup heads after 10 minutes to confirm effects.

Most hits they will be silent as they run for cover or leap into the hole. They will make your hunting challenging. Using a 5.6×15mmR / .22 LongRifle against at most a 30 cm target is tough shooting compared to a 7.62mmX63mm versus a 3m long elk.

Audie Murphy learned to feed his poor Texas family shooting varmints. He went on to become the most decorated veteran after learning to shoot the hardest targets.