Shooting rats at a Highway Maintenance yard
PUBLISHED: 13:00 04 April 2018 | UPDATED: 13:00 04 April 2018
Richard Saunders is hunting rats...in a ‘constructive’ environment
Like me, you’ve probably lost count of the times that fellow airgun hunters have told you, ‘It’s all about being in the countryside,’ or ‘it really doesn’t matter if I blank. I just like to be in the fresh air’, and they’re right, of course. Who wouldn’t want to spend a few hours walking quietly in beautiful surroundings? However, let’s not forget that whether it’s rabbits and pigeons for the table, or rats and squirrels because of the damage they cause, we hunt because there is a purpose. Most of us are granted permission to shoot on land because the owner sees us as the solution, or part of it, to a pest problem. We hunt because we enjoy it. They allow us to hunt because they want fewer pests on their land.
A call from my shooting buddies, Kevin and Neil, reminded me of this difference in perspective. We’d been asked to address a rat problem at a Highway Maintenance yard used to store building materials, heavy plant machinery and all the associated debris that comes with large-scale construction. At night, it is also used to store a fleet of lorries and tipper trucks. The rats had developed a liking for the seat belts, or to be more accurate, for the sweat and muck transferred from the drivers’ hands.
The furry pests were finding a way through engine cavities and air ducts and into the cabins where they’d munch on the belts at the rate of several a week. Each one cost £175 to replace, so the problem was obvious and needed to be dealt with.
I’ve done plenty of ratting before, but all of it in more conventional farm building environments, so shooting at night in a crowded construction yard presented some unique challenges. Choosing safe backdrops was even more important than usual because we were surrounded by millions of pounds worth of expensive equipment, office windows and materials, some of which – like drums of paint – were worryingly fragile, and although we only had the security guard for company, it was possible that people were working in neighbouring yards.
If the safety challenges presented by the environment weren’t problematical enough, the piles of materials, skips of builders’ rubbish and rows of diggers, forklifts and heavy rollers provided a never-ending source of hiding holes for the rats.
The yard was well lit by security floodlights, but the three of us opted to use Nite Site Viper infrared systems, paired with a Brocock Compatto and a Ratworks tuned BSA Ultra SE in .22, and an HW100S in .177. We also used Primos Trigger Sticks for extra stability, for shots that ranged from as little as seven or eight metres up to 30.
Having completed a recce accompanied by the security guard, who was a former Ghurka and made us feel a little inadequate, we worked out safe zones and areas in which we would not be able to shoot. We were also shown the kettle and invited to use a nice warm office for tea breaks.
Once shooting stations had been allocated, we settled down and allowed the rats to get over the disruption we’d caused. Although the rats reappeared, we came to realise that their ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ antics, thanks to the jumbled environment, would be challenging.
Fortunately, I carry a jar of peanut butter in my back-pack so we set about smearing some in our intended kill zones. Our hope was that the smell would tempt the rats out. They wouldn’t be able to carry the bait away with them, so they would linger long enough for a shot.
My allocated station was at the top of some metal stairs overlooking a skip that was filled to the brim with all kinds of rubbish, including what was clearly construction workers’ left-over lunches. I was confident that the skip would be home to some rats, but knew that getting one to present itself would be difficult, so I smeared peanut butter on a cardboard box at the top of the skip.
From my elevated position, I had a clear view of the entire yard, including Kevin and Neil who’d adopted identical poses, scanning their designated areas with their Nite Site Vipers.
Despite it being well after dark, a large floodlight cast my silhouette over the shooting area below, and although the rats were used to movement in the busy yard, they reacted instinctively to the shadow, thinking it belonged to an owl.
I could hear Kevin and Neil taking a few shots and from the meaty ‘thwoks’ knew they had found their mark. Eventually, I saw movement in the rubbish skip and one rat turned into several as the lure of the peanut butter got the better of them.
The noise of the nearby dual carriageway drowned out what little report my HW100S made as I pulled the trigger on a large rodent that had scrambled onto the cardboard box. At a distance of only 10 metres, I remembered to factor in a mil-dot of holdover and was rewarded with a solid head shot and the sight of the rat’s legs kicking and tail revolving.
It could have been the crowded yard deflecting the sound of the impact, or the road noise, but the other rats barely flinched. I took a second, a third and then a fourth with as many shots before the last one scurried off.
That turned out to be the pattern for the night; prolonged spells when nothing happened were interrupted by raiding parties of rats that would disperse once we’d accounted for several of them at a time.
When it eventually went quiet, we used litter-pickers to collect a dozen bodies, half as many again having been dragged off by their brethren, and left the yard, satisfied with a job, if not well done, certainly well begun.