This is a story I wrote about a year ago that was published in a now defunct online airgun hunting magazine. I'm putting it in my blog, but with ground squirrel hunting starting up for 2009, I thought maybe some of you guys might enjoy reading it.
Unlike tree squirrels, California Ground Squirrels are not edible game animals. They live in burrows in the ground, are covered in dirt and are loaded with fleas. They are classified as a pest species, and are vermin the same as rats and mice. There is no season, or any limits on the number you can take. They cause millions of dollars in losses to farmers and ranchers each year, and It's a constant challenge to try and keep their numbers in check. A female ground squirrel can have as many as 9/10 young in a litter, but I find that five or six is more typical. You do need a current California hunting license to take ground squirrels. Airguns are a very effective ground squirrel control tool. In the proper hands, they can be safely used around farm and ranch buildings, equipment, personnel, and farm and ranch animals. Unlike poisons, an airgun hunter is very selective by only killing the pest species. Sometimes adversity can be the mother of necessity. One of the ranches that I hunt ground squirrels on has banned the use of all ammunition containing lead. This includes airgun pellets. They have done this to keep the California Condors in the area, from ingesting lead particles from the gut piles of field dressed game or dead varmints left in the field. Needless to say, this took me completely by surprise. I have hunted this ranch for about 15 years, and have enjoyed every minute of every hunt. I had two choices, stop hunting California ground squirrels there, or by necessity, find a non- lead pellet for my airguns. I had never given any thought to non-lead ammunition, and had no idea if such pellets even existed. I put my dilemma out to the airgunning community via several forums, and received information back from one of the members about a company in England and their line of DYNAMIC tin alloy pellets. The company was gracious enough to send a sample of the PCP 2 tin pellets for me to try. I shot them in my FX 2000, FX Whisper, and FX Monsoon, all in .22. They performed beautifully in all three guns, but as they say, the proof is in the pudding. I started by hunting with them in my FX 2000, and the FX Monsoon. I knew we were onto something special when the first 5 pellets out of my FX 2000 went just under a half inch at 55 yards. The squirrels didn't know what hit them. Accuracy and penetration were superb. I decided it was time to put the FX Monsoon to work. If you're not familiar with the gun, the Monsoon is a 12 round semi-auto PCP built by the good folks at FX in Sweden. Mine has the synthetic thumbhole stock. It's in .22, and the accuracy is on a par with some of my bolt guns. It is very quiet, and mine functions flawlessly. I can shoot three full mags (36 rounds) through it before I need to give her more air.
The DYNAMIC PCP 2 pellet weighs 14.5 grains, and is made of a tin copper alloy. It shoots very well in most of my guns. I'm shooting the 5.54mm head diameter. They are also available in 5.56mm. I have the Monsoon sighted in at 55 yards. Most of my squirrel shooting is done between 50 and 80 yards, with some a bit closer, and a few longer. The Monsoon is the ideal late Spring ground squirrel rifle. The year's young have started coming above ground making for a target rich environment. The semi-auto feature is perfect for those situations where you have 4 and 5 squirrels at a time hanging around the mounds. There have been many occasions when I have taken 3 or 4 squirrels in just a matter of seconds. The first time I hunted the Monsoon with the tin alloy pellets was about the middle of May. I drove into a small canyon that typically holds a large number of ground squirrels. I fully expected to find them in quantity, especially with this year's young now above ground, and I wasn't disappointed. As I was four wheeling over to the jump off point for the days hunt, squirrels were running everywhere. I make it a rule to take my time getting my equipment out for the hunt. I like to let the area quiet down for 15 or 20 minutes after having driven through. The squirrels that went scurrying for their holes when I came by, are soon back above ground doing what they do, and some are watching to see what I'm all about. I kept glancing around as I was getting my gear ready, and there were several squirrels sitting on logs and stumps observing me. They were 50 to 60 yards away. I hunt with a good pair of binoculars, a quality laser rangefinder, and do most of my shooting from the standing position, with the rifle rested on a StoneyPoint telescoping bipod. I inserted a magazine into the Monsoon, rested the rifle on the bipod and with my right shoulder against a nearby tree, started taking care of business. The first squirrel was on a log a lasered 57 yards out. I simply put the crosshairs on his head, held just a bit to the left to allow for a slight left to right breeze and squeezed the trigger. Instantly, there was the telltale THWOCK that comes from a solid hit. I saw his head snap back and he rolled off the log. There was another squirrel on a stump about 10 yards to the left of the first one. I swung the rifle over and picked him up. The laser said 54 yards. I used the same hold, squeezed off another shot, with the exact same result. When I first pulled in under a large oak tree to park , I had noticed a mound 40 plus yards behind me, that had five squirrels sitting on it. Four young and an adult. I now repositioned myself by the tree I was shooting from, so that I would have a clear view of the mound behind my truck. There were two young squirrels on the mound and two more sitting in a small pile of dead brush a couple of yards to the right. One of the squirrels was sitting right on top of the brush pile. I decided to go for it first. The rangefinder said 47 yards. I put the crosshairs right between his front legs and squeezed the trigger. When the pellet connected, he dropped straight down into the brush and the two squirrels on the mound sat straight up. One was about a foot behind the other so I decided to take him first. When the pellet hit his head, the guy in front, simply looked around to see his buddy kicking in the dirt. I sent another pellet toward the rubber necker, and now they were both down. I swung back to the brush pile but number four was nowhere to be seen. I decided to hang out for a few minutes. Experience had shown that number four would probably be back. These guys are more curious than a cat. Sure enough, my patience paid off. A couple of minutes had passed when a young squirrel appeared on the mound and started sniffing the two that were already down. As I lined up the shot on the youngster, an adult squirrel's head appeared over the edge of the mound. I decided to take the adult first, thus plugging the main hole and escape route for the one out on the mound. Two pellets, and a few seconds later, both the adult and youngster number four were down. As each shot broke, the Monsoon instantly loaded another pellet. I never took my eye away from the scope, or took my finger off the trigger. Not bad. I hadn't gone 20 feet from where I was parked and I had seven squirrels down in only a matter of minutes. I knew then that this was going to be a great day of pest elimination/varmint hunting. I refilled the magazine ( I hunt with three mags), topped off the air in the Monsoon, and started my slow hunt of the rest of the canyon. This particular canyon is about a half mile long and 200 yards across at its widest point. I hunt very slowly and spend a lot of time in my binoculars searching the stumps, logs, and brush piles. These guys blend in very well with their surroundings and a good pair of binoculars are a must to pick them out of their hiding places. For every squirrel that is easily seen, there are a half dozen others that I would have gone right by had I not been slowly glassing their typical hideouts with my binoculars. I usually hunt canyons from side to side in a zigzag fashion. It can take me an hour or longer to go 200 yards up the canyon, but the zigzagging may actually cover five or six hundred yards. I will occasionally see several squirrels lined up one behind the other at different distances. I can usually see them all in the scope at the same time. For conversations sake, let's say they are at 67, 58, and 50 yards, and all are curiously watching me. I will almost always take the one at 67 yards first, then the one at 58 yards, and the one at 50 last. By taking them in this order, the ones in front do not see the one in back drop when hit. If I take the closest one first, the motion of it dropping when hit, will many times, spook the others causing them to dive for their holes. I have used this method for many years and it has worked very well for me. I took about 80 ground squirrels that particular day, some as far away as 80/85 yards. I've included a picture of two that I took at 76 and 80 yards back to back. I took the one at 80 yards first, and as he was tumbling down the hill, I got the one at 76 yards.
I have started calling the Monsoon and the tin alloy pellets THE DYNAMIC DUO! I am very pleased with the performance of the Monsoon shooting the tin pellets. The DYNAMIC TIN ALLOY pellets are a very viable solution to the ban on the use of lead ammunition in the Condor area. The FX Monsoon performed flawlessly. California Ground Squirrels....... Shoot all you want, they'll just make more.