Hunting journal: Mick Garvey goes rat hunting

Love it when a plan comes together

Love it when a plan comes together - Credit: Archant

Mick Garvey puts the ‘cat among the pheasants’ to help out a keeper friend

Techno overload? Not for Mick

Techno overload? Not for Mick - Credit: Archant

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? Well, I had been planning my winter ratting sessions and considering a 6.5 Photon XT, so I got talking to the very helpful Paul at Scott Country International, the one-stop thermal shop. He pointed me in the direction of one, complete with the Ledray Tracer 400 kit, for the cracking price of £420 that would be delivered to my door the next day.

Then, immediately after it landed on my doorstep, I received a text from my friendly keeper. “Bad news for me, Mick, but good news for you... the rats have returned in numbers to the covered pheasant feeders. Could you help us out?” My plans were being formulated even before the phone was put back down.

The rat runs were obvious

The rat runs were obvious - Credit: Archant

I know this area well and could see only one problem - the partridge pen was still in place and was directly in my firing line - but I received another text from the keeper saying he would be taking the pen down later that day. Things were really coming together.

My rifle of choice would be the sub FX Wildcat in .22 with the Photon on top, and JSB Exact 14 grain in the mags. I was confident I had it all covered from the gun side of things, and I decided to take the Lunar Optics digital spotter because the Photon would gobble up the two AA batteries if used it for spotting too, even though I had my own T20 IR on it. I took my T20 red LED torch, just in case, and of course, the Seek Reveal thermal spotter for finding any lost rats, complemented by my LED Lenser head torch.

The feed in the hopper is what they want

The feed in the hopper is what they want - Credit: Archant

Preparing for a cold night, my outfit was the Jack Pyke lightweight technical jacket and trousers, with a Jack Pyke gilet and long-sleeved T-shirt underneath, and wellies on the feet.

Arriving early (maybe too early) I took the opportunity to zero the Photon/Wildcat combo. The one-shot zero facility really is just that, and with a full mag’ through a single, little fingernail-size hole, I was set. The zero was set at 25 yards, and mental notes made of allowances for closer shots – no mil-dots on my chosen reticle, which is the centre dot with no top to the crosshair, number two of six available reticles.

Mick really loves this Wildcat

Mick really loves this Wildcat - Credit: Archant

Before darkness took over, I had a look at the area to check out the runs and rat holes, and see the damage rats had caused to the timber framework providing support for the covered pheasant feeders. The runs were everywhere and there were so many holes, I lost count, but the signs were good, especially since the partridge pen had been dismantled and I now had a uninterrupted view of the kill zones.

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I set up resting on three wheelie bins used to store grain for the feeders. I had my gunbag laid across the top for support instead of using the bipod, and I settled down to wait for the first sighting. I didn’t have to wait long – it wasn’t even dark, and it wasn’t even a rat.

Spotting with the Luna

Spotting with the Luna - Credit: Archant

A healthy-looking squirrel bounced straight up to check out the loose grain, a great test of the Photon in daylight conditions. With the lens cover in place, and utilising the small, daylight hole, the shot was a formality and the squirrel dropped like a stone on the spot. Happy, I once more settled down and waited for the first set of eyes to show in the spotter.

The wait came to an end when I spotted an alarmingly large set of eyes staring back at me from underneath a pallet, quickly joined by another set, then another. The problem was that they were too far under the pallets, giving me no chance of retrieving them. I never like to leave a kill unretrieved so I left these in the hope that they would venture further out later on.

Seek and ye shall find

Seek and ye shall find - Credit: Archant

I turned my attention to my main target area and could see activity at the back of the cover in the now sparse undergrowth. Two or three rats were checking it out, no doubt sensing things had changed when the pen was removed. When rats do this, they’ll be wary for a while, but their greed will eventually get the better of them and they’ll be out to feed.

True enough, the first brave soul came down the run toward the feeder. I put the spotter down and clicked on the IR, slipped the safety off, found my target ,and with no more than a whisper from the Hugget silencer, the rat dropped on the spot from the perfectly placed shot. Headshots are the only way to deal with rats because they can run quite a distance with body shots. A little ‘bouncing’ can sometimes be expected with headshots, but generally if in the sweet spot they are dead immediately.


Rat-trick! - Credit: Archant

Quickly, I lifted the Wildcat and scanned the backstop. I could still see the eyes of other rats, which shows the effectiveness of the Belita silencer, and as I cycled the mag’ for the next shot, the next scaly-tail made its way down. I actually waited to see how it would react to the dead rat under the feeder – it paused, sniffed, stood up on its hind legs and sniffed some more, and then as if to say ‘tough luck, mate’, started to feed on the loose feed. Another straightforward shot at around 22 yards, and it was two down.

I was amazed to see the third rat still at the back of the covered area, but not as eager as the first two to venture down to supper. It hung around the undergrowth for around ten minutes, before presenting enough of itself for a shot. It folded on the spot, but then kicked and bounced out of sight. I knew it couldn’t have gone far, so I decided to wait rather than queer up the area by tramping all over it, and this paid off.

Another shot, made easy with the Photon, and the sixth rat was taken

Another shot, made easy with the Photon, and the sixth rat was taken - Credit: Archant

From the right came a younger looking specimen, which settled between the two already felled rats and was duly dispatched, giving me a total of four and one squirrel. I couldn’t wait any longer. I just had to go and collect them to see if the bouncer had made it down a hole. I needn’t have worried as the Seek thermal spotter picked up the heat source easily, well within the undergrowth.

The rats under the pallets seemed happy to stay right there and didn’t look like venturing out, so I trained my attention on the main areas in front of me. Soon, a huge pair of comical eyes stared back at me through the spotter. At only 10 yards, I had to lift the centre spot to where I knew the pellet would eventually arrive if I missed, but there was no such bad luck today. The JSB hit home straight and true, and a large, brown rat crumpled where it stood.

I was thinking of calling it a night with five under my belt, but decided to give it a while longer. It was getting nippy and I could feel the cold against my exposed skin, but under the technical suit I was toasty warm.

The rats continued to taunt me from the safety of the undergrowth where I couldn’t get a clean shot, yet patience is something I’ve learned over the years and I was fully aware that they would break before me. Right on cue, a nice-sized brownie came into view and cautiously made its way to the large one I had recently dropped, once again a little sniffing around and then on to the job in hand - feeding. Another short shot, made easy with the Photon, and number six was taken. Now it really was time to wrap up.

The final bit of the plan coming together revealed itself when I returned to the Hilux. I found two tickets for a race night - including free food and drinks - wedged behind the wipers, with a short note from the keeper. “Have these on us, Mick. Just a small token of our appreciation for what you do for us.” Topped the day off nicely, I thought!


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