Hardman's hunting: Bond of brothers
PUBLISHED: 13:55 26 April 2018 | UPDATED: 13:55 26 April 2018
Phil Hardman bags more than he'd bargained for when he accepts a rat-shooting invitation
This month started with a rather confusing phone call from the editor.
“Have you contacted that chap, Steve, yet?” he asked.
“Erm, Steve?” Turns out I’m not so good with checking my emails, so I had no clue what he was on about.
‘Steve’ turned out to be Steve Sutton, one of our readers, who had contacted the editor to invite me out along with one of his shooting buddies, up on to one of his rat shoots. Steve lives a few miles away from me, in Newcastle, so with distance no problem I’d have been mad to turn down such a generous offer. I gave him a what was supposed to be a quick call, to arrange a date and time to meet up, but like most telephone calls to fellow shooters, it was anything but quick and we ended up chatting for a good half an hour as if we had known each other for years. That’s always a very special thing to experience, the bond that we shooters have with one another, it’s instant. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, how old you are...having such a shared passion instantly bridges any gaps. I had to wait a few days before we went out, due to family commitments, but that gave me enough time to check and double check all my gear; batteries charged, spares, NV fully charged, rifle charged, pellets in the car so I couldn’t forget them, check, check and check! My biggest dread when meeting new people is forgetting something vital and messing up the evening for everyone, especially if they are a reader, and are expecting ‘Phil Hardman the professional’, when in reality they’re going to get Phil Hardman the bloke with an airgun who is extremely disorganised, at least until the shooting starts.
Eventually, after what seemed to me to be weeks, the night of the shoot arrived. I was pretty excited. Steve had told me of some monster bags he’d taken from this permission in the past, and although the rats had been heavily shot for months, he was confident that we’d get a decent number. My excitement only built as I filled up the Jimny with fuel, grabbed some pop and a sandwich and headed up the slip road of the A1 northbound, music blasting. I reached the top of the slip road and hit a wall of traffic, a bumper to bumper standstill. In my head I heard that sound made when the needle slips off a record. The next 45 minutes saw me make 0.9 miles and what I had thought would be a 30-minute trip took me way longer.
Eventually I made it to Steve’s, and after a quick hello we were on the move again to meet up with his shooting buddy, Steve. Yes, that’s right, two Steves, which made the evening much simpler, given how bad I am with names, but it might make this article a little harder to follow.
We headed north, me following in my car, and drove, and drove, and drove. I really hadn’t realised just how far north we would be heading, and by the time we arrived at the shoot we were in the deepest darkest parts of Northumberland and I’d been driving for 2.5 hours. Sixty miles it was, on the button according to my car’s trip reading. I was amazed – people drive this far to shoot rats? I have to travel maybe 500 metres to get to my rat shoot, never mind 50-plus miles! Suddenly, a few things made sense, like the sheer amount of kit they were unloading from their car. When you have travelled that distance, you cannot simply turn and pop back home if you forget something, or need something you don’t have with you. I’m used to being able to nip back for a bite to eat or a cup of tea midway through my sessions. These lads are so isolated that if anything goes wrong here, the night is over!
Lurking in the dark
When we met up, I’d mentioned that I would be happy with half a dozen rats in the bag, and Steve had said with the utmost confidence that he could guarantee that, easy. I did say I would hold him to it, and rib him relentlessly in the magazine if we didn’t manage it, but as soon as I stepped out of the car I realised that he hadn’t been exaggerating when he had told me about the numbers he was used to up here. There were rats scurrying about in the little lane where we had parked on the edge of the farmyard, and despite being illuminated by our headlights, they were just going about their business without a care in the world. Steve took me around to give me the lie of the land, in the torchlight whilst he baited certain areas. Even when he was doing this, there were rats running around, not really bothered by the torchlight.
An open drain provided the first kill of the night, a rat trapped down there meant that I was to shoot whilst Steve illuminated with his torch. It was far too close to use a scope, so I looked down the side of the barrel, something I have done on many occasions in the past, and fired. The rat slumped stone dead a small spot of blood showing just how perfectly I had hit it in the head.
After we finished putting the bait out, we headed back to our little base for the evening. The other Steve, being a more, ‘seasoned’ hunter, mainly hunts rats from a static position, with a folding chair. On the other hand, I like to slink about, lurking in the dark picking them off in circuits, with short breaks in between. The ‘less seasoned’ Steve likes to do a mix of both, so he went between us.
We took a little while to start, mainly due to chatting, like a bunch of lads that had known each other all our lives, which was great, but the rats weren’t going to shoot themselves, so I headed around into my part of the yard and we cracked on.
As I flicked on my Nightmaster Atom, I was instantly greeted by a very close-range rat, 10 yards max, big old thing it was. It was sitting there, eating the bait that had been placed only a few minutes earlier, and presented a fairly easy opening shot, which I nailed. Scanning around I spotted another, but due to not knowing the area exactly, I missed over the top and it scampered off double quick. I didn’t have time to be disappointed, because instantly, I saw another pair of eyes twinkling in the infrared light of the NV, and this time, I aimed under, so not to repeat my previous mistake, only to send the shot harmlessly under the rat’s chin. One for three, not a great start, but I knew it was simply down to not knowing what I was looking at through the Atom, and misestimating ranges as a result. New land can be tricky in daylight, never mind in total darkness. I shrugged them off and knuckled down, nailing the next shot.
In the background I could hear the muted sounds of shots from the two Steves as they, too, got stuck into the action.
I barely had to take a step forward before having to fire another shot, and then another, and before I knew it, it was time to reload, and then again and again. I was ploughing through mags so quickly that I completely lost count of how many I had fired, but apart from those two early misses, I was on form, nailing them on the spot.
After an hour or so we took a break, met up back around at base camp and had a chat, reloaded our mags and had a drink. To be honest, we chatted for far too long, but that’s part of why we do it, getting out with like-minded individuals, chatting, bonding, and not just about shooting either. We talked about all things; kids, work, wives and girlfriends, even my bipolar disorder came up, and we’d been total strangers only a couple of hours before – that’s probably one of my favourite things about being a shooter, that sense of camaraderie.
Eventually, we cut the chit-chat and got back to business, the same as before. There were still plenty of rats around and my own hunting played to the soundtrack of the two rifles around the other side, popping off shots every few minutes. It was fantastic, and according to the lads, this was a pretty OK-ish night, less than average. This was the equivalent of a really good night on my own ratting permission, but to these lads it was nothing. They had showed me photos of 120 bags, 70s … and that’s picked up. You lose so many to cannibalism as the night draws on that you tend only to collect about two-thirds of the total shot.
The night really flew over, mainly due to the action-packed nature of the place. It’s not a big yard, but a single 50-yard sweep can see you pausing every few seconds to scan or shoot, so the time passes by very quickly. By midnight we decided to stop before the rain that had been forecast really took hold. It was already beginning to drizzle and we still had a lot of picking up to do before the 60-mile drive home. We worked as a team – two litter pickers and a bucket as we went from place to place, trying to remember angles of shots, where rats had fallen, and picking up as many as we could. It’s really bad etiquette to leave dead rats lying around, so it pays to get into every nook and cranny to make sure you get as many as humanly possible, so they can be disposed of properly.
We all took a guess at how many we’d collect; I guessed 41, but frustratingly, we collected 40, just one off. I even had a scan around to see if I could bag another, but it wasn’t to be. Still, 40 collected, not a bad night at all! I bet we’d shot 70 easily, and I know for a fact that at least half a dozen rats that I’d dropped at the start had been dragged off and eaten by others, and they were the ones that had fallen in the open; the ones that were under machines or in cover were much more tempting for any rats looking for an easy meal. We said our goodbyes after packing up, and agreed to do it again sometime soon before parting ways on the drive home. I didn’t get in until 1.30am, I was tired, aching, but happy, and lay in bed reliving some of the shots in my head as I dozed off. What a night!
I have always said that for every writer in a magazine, or on YouTube who does it well, there must be a hundred lads out there that do it just as well, if not better, than us, and on this occasion I experienced that first hand. These lads’ dedication to rat shooting is unparalleled, and they’re out here two or three times a week, every week. I was seriously impressed not just with the permission, or the action, but with both Steves who are total gentlemen. Once again, thank you both for the excellent night, the great sport, and the even greater friendship you both extended toward me. Great stuff, lads!
That’s it from me for this month, see you all next time.