Cattle-shed ratting

Never let it be said that the modest power of the air rifle is a weakness. The reduced risk of ricochet and quiet operation make legal-limit airguns highly versatile tools for pest control, enabling them to be used in situations where you couldn’t possibly use a shotgun or rimfire rifle. In fact, although I often use FAC-rated airguns to extend my hunting range, if I were allowed only one air rifle, I’d opt for a sub-12ft/lb model. Why? Because I believe it would cover the widest variety of pest control scenarios.

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The advantage of relatively low power was brought home to me during a recent ratting session on a local dairy farm. It’s a new permission that I’ve only visited a couple of times – but early investigations suggest the rats are fairly evenly dispersed around the holding. Having yet to identify any real hotspots, I’d decided on a mobile approach – tactics which I hoped would enable me to familiarise myself with the site, nail a few rats and, most importantly, identify areas to hit really hard with bait and ambush tactics during subsequent visits.

The session didn’t go as planned, though. Less than 10 minutes after I arrived, heavy, unrelenting drizzle started to fall. I’d got off to a flying start, with two rats already accounted for, but the rain appeared to be discouraging others from venturing out. What’s more, it was soaking me and my kit.

My thoughts turned to a huge cattle shed that is the winter home to the resident herd of dairy cattle – and they’ve remained in their indoor quarters for much longer this year because seemingly endless rainfall over recent months has left the pastures saturated and boggy. I knew the shed would provide me with shelter and imagined that the rats could also be taking advantage of the protection it afforded them on a soggy night.

Apart from shelter, the shed also offered rats an abundance of food in the shape of the rows of maize silage set out for the cows. All things considered, this building seemed a logical base for the night’s ratting activities, as long as I could do it in absolute safety.

207_aslowpowerratting.14My theory was confirmed when I popped my head around the main door and two pairs of beady eyes stared back at me, gleaming in the reflected light of my headlamp, before darting off into the darkness. There were also many more pairs of eyes – those of the cattle – and it was these that presented me with the greatest challenge. Finding a dry place to ambush rats on a rainy night was all very well, but I’d have to ensure that I posed absolutely no risk to the livestock.

Any harm caused by a stray pellet will quite rightly see a shooter dismissed from his permission, and very likely all others in the locality once the news of his failure spreads across the rural grapevine. Of course, all shooters should have insurance to cover such a calamity – but we’re also obliged to take whatever measures we can to guard against it happening in the first place.

With the hazards identified, I was convinced that a legal limit airgun was the only tool for the job. Careful aiming and sensible use of backstops would ensure that my pellets caused no harm, and I wasn’t likely to spook the cows – their snorting was louder than the ‘pap’ of my BSA SuperTen’s muzzle blast.

Looking around the barn, the obvious place for me to set up (and avoid being licked to death by the cows) was in the middle of the track that ran down the centre of the concrete-floored barn. The cows on either side were kept back by bars and had to reach over wooden boards to access the rows of forage feed heaped down the edges of the aisle. The opposite entrance provided a safe area where I could target the rats as they crept in through the open end and along the edge of a concrete wall before reaching the feed and the cows. With the exception of one empty pen close to the entrance, rats that made it to the grub were out of bounds as they would be precariously close to the cattle.

Ideally I’d have liked a big pile of smelly bait to stop the rats just as they slipped into the barn – but I hadn’t brought any as I wasn’t expecting to be ambushing them from a static position. Nonetheless, with the plan of attack decided, I set up the little folding backpack stool I use to carry my ratting essentials and checked the connections of my rain-drenched Tracer Tri-Star Pro by the light of my headlamp.

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Although the cattle shed was partially illuminated by dim nightlights, it’s always useful to have a headlamp to provide hands-free lighting for little jobs like this, for loading pellets into spent magazines and for seeing where you’re going while walking around. I was also going to need the added illumination of the Tri-Star for spotting rats in the gloom, and I’m pleased to say that the rain didn’t appear to have done it any harm.

My tactics were simple. All I planned to do was sit and wait with the lamp turned off, and then switch it on every few minutes to see if any rats had been tempted in by the lure of the maize silage. It was actually quite cosy sitting in the murky half-light of the barn; listening to the gentle patter of rain and occasional contented huffs and grunts from the cattle as the rich, sugary smell of the silage filled my nostrils.

205_aslowpowerratting.9I waited about five minutes until the first switch-on and, to my surprise, discovered that three rats were already back, munching on the silage. They were too close to the cattle for me to consider a shot – or they would have been if they hadn’t been spooked by the lamp.

All three startled scaly-tails scuttled towards the open end of the barn and disappeared around the corner. But before I’d had a chance to switch the scope-mounted lamp off, a rat (presumably one of the deserters) scurried back into the shed and started tucking into the silage by the empty pen. The foolish little rodent’s greed proved costly, presenting me with a safe shot that resulted in a fatal strike to the neck.

I cycled the bolt to reload and, seeing that the rat was cleanly killed, I left the lamp on and trained the gun towards the entrance. As I peered through the scope, two beady eyes flickered in the lamplight as a rat peeped around the wall, clearly in a hurry to get back to the grub. I stayed on aim as ratty inched his way into the barn before pausing for a momentary glance towards the glow of the lamplight. The ravenous rodent had stalled in front of the concrete block-work of the barn. The shot was safe… and another scaly-tail was added to the tally.

202_aslowpowerratting.5Once again, I reloaded and scanned back towards the route the rats were taking into the barn. The two fatalities had evidently left the remaining rats shaken, and no more dared to creep into the lamplight. I switched off the Tracer and settled back into the darkness, hoping that more rats would infiltrate as peace returned to the barn.

The ‘sit, wait, shine and shoot’ tactics worked well and I accounted for five more rats over the next couple of hours before I decided to swap my shooting gloves for my gardening gloves and clear up the corpses. Countless other rats were either spooked and scarpered or were left alone because they were dangerously close to the cattle, and I’m convinced that I’d have shot quite a few more if I’d had some bait to keep them where I wanted them.

However, the quiet stealth of my highly-accurate Beeza had helped me to capitalise on an opportunity that would have been impossible to exploit with a high-powered gun.

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