Hunting: A return to ratting
PUBLISHED: 13:13 26 April 2018 | UPDATED: 13:13 26 April 2018
Charlie Portlock goes high-tech in his quest to rid the shed of rats and loves it!
Regular readers will know of my recent problems with rats and it’s taken two months of shooting, trapping and poisoning to eradicate the small population of seven animals from my coal shed. Prevention is better than cure, of course, so I’ve also pointed as many entry holes as I can find, but the building is so old and the stone so soft that it’s impossible to keep all rodents out. As you might expect, I haven’t taken kindly to being kept awake by rats running riot through the walls, especially since the cavernous acoustics make them sound like they’re the size of small terriers. It was high time to launch some kind of pre-emptive campaign against them.
The local rat population is centred around some cattle barns down in the village. Interestingly, the research shows that brown rats only harbour the myriad contagious diseases for which they’re infamous when living in close proximity to humans. Woodland dwelling brown rats are relatively benign. Perhaps there’s a lesson for us there. Whenever I bump into the cattle farmer he always looks hopeful and asks me if I’d like to come and “have a go”, but normally, I’m too busy with quarry that I can eat to go ratting. However, my recent insomnia inspired me to take him up on his longstanding offer.
The Night Stalker kit from AC Guns uses a scope-mounted video screen and an infrared torch to enable you to shoot under full cover of darkness. It’s a vast improvement over my previous efforts at lamping rats, using a head torch fitted with a green filter, but it is bulky and quite fiddly to set up. It should be remembered that this is quite advanced hardware designed to be a practical tool not a work of art. The kit works well and although it feels less robust than the main competition, it’s also less than half the price. As an entry-level IR set-up it does the job well, but it does take some getting used to and it was only after around 30 minutes of experimentation on the bench that I felt ready to use it in the field. Scanning would be easier combining it with a pair of NV binoculars, though, because raising the rifle quickly becomes tiring. However, if you plan to shoot from a fixed position, then the screen can handily be removed and placed on a nearby bale.
I was told that there’d be no need to re-zero after installation, but this wasn’t the case because my normal zero of 25 yards was now shooting an inch low. I recalibrated for 20 yards, expecting to take shots out to a maximum of 25 as I estimated that this was roughly the limit at which the infra-red beam would be effective at illuminating the target. The documentation suggests 200 yards and perhaps a fox’s eyes may show up at this range, but for ratting this seems optimistic given the size of the torch, but then I’m new to all this technology. I checked my hold-over for 10 yards (one dot) and 15 yards (half) respectively and felt confident of my aim points during the trip ahead.
I was unfamiliar with the exact layout of the barns, so I took an hour to walk down into the village for a good look around. It wasn’t difficult to spot the runs, even without the scatterings of poisoned pellets because the padded chaff highlighted the areas that saw the most activity. I identified several nest holes and well-worn paths around the cattle feeders, and I left with a good idea of where to set up for a safe shot.
Not the long game
An hour after dusk I took a short drive down to the village and by 7.30pm I was in position with my back to some bales and the rifle rested on my knees like a turret. I was warm and comfortable, but my previous experience of shooting rats at home had prepared me for the prospect of a long wait. It took some time to develop the technique of scanning for activity, but after a cold 15 minutes I was rewarded with two animals on the screen. Being able to see them at night felt like a victory in itself, and any reservations I felt about being unsporting evaporated when I recalled the great hole their relations had chewed through my kitchen floorboards. I was glad that I’d ranged the different distances from my position earlier in the day because this wasn’t possible in the dark. This kind of shooting is brand new to me and I could feel the familiar pulse of adrenalin that all hunters know.
I estimated the range at 17 yards, lined up the cross hairs and took a chest shot on the first rat. The dull ‘thuck’ told me that the shot had gone home, but I followed up with a second and then a third to the brain when I walked over to retrieve it. There are numerous ratting pellets available that promise more knock-down power, even in .177, but that first kill showed me that I really needed to be aiming for headshots if I wanted to ensure clean kills. In any case, I was grateful that the HW100 made follow-up shots so straightforward. Dialling the scope magnification down to x4 power really optimised this set-up and allowed me to track running rodents as well as benefit from the improved light gathering of the lower magnification.
The second animal that had started at the shot returned to feeding after about five minutes and I was able to put another animal in the bag. Partially warmed by my success, I spent another hour quietly stalking around the barns and waiting in ambush at different locations that I’d identified earlier in the day with my final tally rising to an unexpectedly lucrative four. After picking the carcasses up with some old pliers, I buried them with the field shovel and returned to the car freezing but satisfied. I’ll definitely be doing more ratting in the warmer months; I’ve got the bug.
Although it certainly lacks the sensory compensations of wandering though woodland or stalking quietly over green pastures, ratting is addictive. Few people want to be out in the dark, wandering through muck-slathered yards, and your efforts are likely to be gratefully received by farmers as a result. Ratting is a great way into a permission, but as there are obvious risks to livestock, prospective shooters can pre-empt any fears by suggesting shooting sites with a safe backstop that eliminate the chance of ricochets into feeders or pens. If you’re able to record a photographic tally of your kills and dispose of the carcasses in a mutually agreeable way, then you’ll soon earn a reputation as a reliable and effective addition to the pest control problem and be on your way to securing more permissions of all kinds.
I’ve enjoyed my rat shooting and I’m keen to do more, but it’s caused an unexpected bout of self-analysis, partly because I’ve had fun. My pot-shooting has always been satisfying and rewarding, but it always feels rather profound to kill for food and as a result my shooting has felt a little grave, with one shot for a two-hour stalk not unheard of; with ratting, the shot count increases exponentially and it provides the kind of kinetic thrills I’ve only previously experienced with driven game.
I’m fascinated by the manner in which we’re conditioned to view different animal species. We only have to look at Disney films and children’s books to see how we transfer human emotions to animals and then treat them according to our own conscious or subconscious bias. Casting directors will always employ stoats, weasels and rats as the villains and this might be as counter-productive as it is unfair. If we cast some animals as guilty and others as innocent, we’ll find ourselves in difficult water ethically. Where do we draw the line? Do songbirds really have any more right to live on this planet just because we find them charming? Should all rats be killed mercilessly because they represent a threat to our own health? It’s difficult to argue otherwise, but isn’t it a bit narrow-minded?
This humancentric approach to the animal world has created a plethora of ecological and environmental problems and as soon as we regard any animals as lesser than ourselves, we’re subscribing to the old biblical idea of our right to dominion over the earth; look where that’s brought us. Rats may well be a public health hazard, but they’re amazing creatures and I’ll wager that they’ll be here long after we’ve gone. Best of luck with your shooting. Charlie.