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Hunting: Lamping rats on a farmyard

PUBLISHED: 11:25 07 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:13 07 March 2018

I always try to take resting shots when I can, accuracy is everything!

I always try to take resting shots when I can, accuracy is everything!

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Phil Hardman compares ‘traditional’ lamping with night-vision on a farmyard rat hunt

This month, I decided to go back to the ‘old school’ in that I switched the infrared LED in my Nightmaster Eclipse 800, rechargeable, long-range hunting light, to the red one, so converting it from an IR illuminator, which I have used to devastating effect, into a red, gun-mounted lamp. The reason? Well, it had been a long time since I’d done any ratting with a lamp, and I wanted to be reminded of how it fared as a tactic, compared to when I use night-vision equipment.

I always remember being amazed at how much bigger my bag was the first time I used night vision, but at that point I hadn’t been rat shooting for all that long, so I was fairly inexperienced when I last used a lamp. Could my increased success be a result of my increased experience, or was it solely down to the night-vision gear? Knowing that many people still use lamps as a cheaper, convenient way to hunt at night, I thought I would check it out for myself and see how the results compared to the average NV rat-shooting session. After all, why spend money on night-vision gear, or even thermal-imaging equipment, if a lamp can do just as well, at a fraction of the price?

Lamping certainly isn't as covert as night vision, but it's still effective! Lamping certainly isn't as covert as night vision, but it's still effective!

Overkill

It was a frosty night and the usually muddy farmyard was frozen solid and I could hear the crisp and crunchy ground under the tyres of my Suzuki Jimny as I drove slowly into the yard. As I paused to open the gate, my headlights illuminated the first cow shed, and brought with it the first sight of a rat as it scurried into the safety of a hay bale. I drove through, closed the gate and then remounted the truck to park up in the main yard. The plan was to have a look around the yard, sweep the lamp in the buildings, along the front of the sheds, and then move around the back of the yard, search there, and then lamp the whole place, before jumping back in the Jimny to warm up, let the rats settle, and try again.

I fitted the Nightmaster lamp to the top of my scope and then turned it on before adjusting the power output. On full power it will easily throw light out to almost a kilometre when you use the white LED bulb, and even with the red one, 500 metres is easily doable, which is serious overkill for 30-yard rat shooting. Luckily, it can be adjusted easily by holding down the power button, which cycles it through the different brightness settings.

I settled on the second-dimmest setting, enough to illuminate even the darkest of corners, even when I was using 6x zoom on the scope, but still dim enough not to scare the rats, I hoped, and not to glare off everything and ruin my sight picture. On full power you’re able to get about three hours constant use, so on this lower level, I guess I could have stayed out all night, which is handy, because the number of times I have forgotten to charge batteries before I go out is embarrassingly high. If you do find yourself running low on charge, you can easily plug in using the lamp’s on-board, micro-USB charging port, so charging it in the car is simple enough.

The biggest benefit of a lamp is that you don't need to look through the scope as you scan for targets The biggest benefit of a lamp is that you don't need to look through the scope as you scan for targets

Nothing stirred

I stepped out of the little Suzuki and into the yard, as I slid the magazine into my Weihrauch HW110. The frost on the ground was crunchy underfoot, hardly perfect for stealthy rat shooting, but I still preferred it to the soft mud that usually fills the yard at this time of year.

I started with the big barn where the grain is stored to be used as feed for the cattle over the winter. As you can imagine, a huge pile of grain simply lying there unguarded is a magnet to scaly tails eagerly looking for an easy meal. I walked as quietly as I could, to get into position at the entrance to the barn. There is a metal gate across the doorway, which provides me with a nice rest from which to pick the rats off with accurate headshots.

Once I was in position, I clicked on the lamp’s power button, and started to scan around the grain pile, and then under the heavy equipment and various other farm related stuff that littered the barn. Much to my disappointment, nothing stirred, but this wasn’t the fault of the lamp. There was simply nothing there to spook, so either they had heard me coming thanks to the frozen ground, or they weren’t there in the first place. ‘Not to worry’, I thought. ‘I’ll come back in a few minutes and have another go’. I stepped back from my resting place and scanned the red lamp beam across the front of the sheds behind me, from left to right, slowly. All I was looking for were the glowing, twinkling red eyes of a rat amongst the dull dirt, straw and mud of the yard. Occasionally, a reflection bouncing off something metallic, or a water droplet caught my eye, but a quick look through the scope confirmed these to be false alarms.

Free-standing shots are sometimes unavoidable, so make sure you practice for them Free-standing shots are sometimes unavoidable, so make sure you practice for them

Oblivious

My first real chance came in the very back of one of the larger cattle sheds. At this time of year the animals are brought into the yard and put in the sheds over the winter, which makes shooting in there a little bit more tricky than during the summer months when they’re either empty, or have very few animals in them. I spotted the rat, a rather large adult, at the very back, and although it didn’t seem to be particularly spooked by the red glow from the lamp, it wasn’t exactly sitting still as it weaved its way from the far left corner through the legs of the cattle over toward the right wall. I tracked it, but I knew there was no clear shot so I was forced to let it go.

My patience was repaid almost instantly, because as I lowered the rifle, I caught a glimpse of a pair of eyes sparkling in the beam. I quickly remounted the rifle and took aim at two youngsters that were sitting just under the troughs that run along the left wall of the shed. These two were totally oblivious, and although I’m sure they could see the beam of light that had suddenly burst into their world, they obviously saw no threat in it because neither moved a muscle.

I picked the closest one, sitting with its body safely tucked back in the wall, only its head on show. Aiming slightly high to allow for the close range, I sent the shot on its way and watched as the pellet zipped straight into it, catching it just behind the eye. The rat didn’t really react for a second and then it kicked itself forward and slumped in the mix of mud and hay that lay on the floor of the shed. The second rat, about two yards further along the wall, didn’t move a muscle, so I re-cocked the rifle and lined up on that one, just as I had the first. This one reacted as soon as the pellet arrived, jumping out and kicking its legs, whilst its tail wriggled wildly.

Plenty of shelter, plenty of cover - rat heaven. Plenty of shelter, plenty of cover - rat heaven.

Double figures

I didn’t bother to collect my kills at this point, instead preferring to keep any disturbances to a minimum in an effort to bag as many as I could. I moved on to the next shed where, again, I missed a chance at a large rat that refused to sit still in the lamplight, only to bag a smaller adolescent a couple of moments later as it sat cleaning itself without a care in the world.

That was pretty much the theme of the night really, some would sit perfectly confidently within the beam, and others wouldn’t. It’s not that they ran; they’d scurry a yard and pause, and then just as I was about to fire, scurry a few more steps, and then pause once again, only to move just as I was about to fire. Still, as time passed, my number of kills increased, and sometimes I was quick enough to bag the unsettled ones, other times I had to watch frustratingly as they disappeared.

After an hour or so I was into double figures, but it wasn’t easy, and I had to be extremely careful not to rush my shots and let accuracy suffer as a result. I took a break in the Jimny to get warm, using the heaters to get some feeling back into my numb hands before having a second look around. I did keep an eye out of the passenger window and into the grain shed as I sat getting warmed up, though. I switched on the lamp periodically, expecting to bag at least one, but strangely I never saw a single rat in there.

Fully rested on a nice soft hay bale, I was never going to miss at this range! Fully rested on a nice soft hay bale, I was never going to miss at this range!

By now, the cold was sapping my enthusiasm quickly, and with very few rats now venturing out, I didn’t spend too long on my second walk around before I decided to call it a night. I probably could have bagged a couple more, but the amount of time I would have had to spend out in the biting cold didn’t seem worth it for one or two more, and despite losing count, I’d guess that I had managed about a dozen kills, which I was happy enough with for tonight.

Unlimited time

So, lamping rats – what’s my verdict? As a dedicated night-vision user, I am now totally accustomed to certain things that I’d learned to take completely for granted, one of which is time. On the lamp, they know you are there and it seriously reduces the amount of time you have to take the shot, whereas with NV, you maintain the element of surprise, which means you often have an unlimited amount of time to get the shot on its way. If you need to change position? No problem, they have no idea you’re there anyway, so will happily sit and go about their business in a calm manner, no scurrying quickly, sometimes not moving at all.

I prefer to use the Eclipse on a narrow beam setting so I don't spook any quarry that I'm not yet looking at. I prefer to use the Eclipse on a narrow beam setting so I don't spook any quarry that I'm not yet looking at.

Different animal

The rat in total darkness is a different animal compared to the rat in the beam of a lamp, which might not react, but more often than not will only sit still for a second or two if you’re lucky, and completely bolt for safety if you’re not. This can be frustrating, and can tempt you to try to rush your shots, which could lead to wounding, so has to be avoided at all costs. Yes, rats deserve the same respect as any other quarry, and we must respect ourselves as hunters to do what we do as humanely as possible.

Nightvison gear, then, allows you more time to be precise, so is the more effective tactic, but does come at a cost so it is always going to come down to how often you intend to use it, how many rats you’ll be shooting, and the size of your hunting kit budget.

For the odd time, casual user, who maybe has just a few rats that are causing a problem, the lamp will do the job, although you might need a few more sessions to achieve the sorts of results you could maybe achieve in a single night with NV. Is it worth paying £300-plus to bag a couple of rats from around your chicken coop? On the other hand, to keep a population of many hundreds of rats under control in a large working farm, when you might be out a couple of times a week, every week, then yes, NV is definitely worth the money. You will get your use out of it, it will enable you to shoot the rats that would have run at the sight of the lamp, and because this scenario requires you to keep on top of their numbers constantly, you would definitely see them become very lamp-shy with repeated use of a lamp over weeks and months, something that will never happen with night vision. That’s it from me for this month. Happy Hunting!

Read more from Phil Hardman...

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