Daylight ratting

103_008Rat shooting isn’t usually regarded as a daytime activity, but one of my local farms has had such an infestation that the scaly-tails have been venturing out right around the clock. Actually, I’d just about written off this year’s ratting until the autumn. Last winter was, to put it mildly, very quiet as far as Rattus norvegicus was concerned because the weather never really turned cold in these parts – so the rats stuck it out in the open countryside, rather than invading the farmyards in search of food and shelter as they do during typical winter weather.

However, a chance encounter on one of my woodland shoots introduced me to a ratting permission where the greedy rodents have put in a decidedly late appearance. I was making my way back to the car with a fistful of grey squirrels when a young farm worker pulled up in his tractor and asked if he could have one for his boss – the tenant farmer – who is very partial to a grilled grey.

To his absolute delight, I handed him the lot and we were soon deep in shooting conversation. I mentioned the dearth of rats on my farmyard permissions and the lad told me to contact the owner of another local holding, which was apparently suffering with a late influx of rats. Although I mostly take tales of pest ‘infestation’ with a pinch of salt, I’m still happy to help out with any chance of some vermin control – so we bade our farewells and I resolved to give said ‘rat-infested’ farmer a call as soon as I got home.

Well, I got a very enthusiastic response from the farmer. Approaches for new shooting permissions can be awkward exchanges, but this chap was clearly very keen to have the rats dealt with. We met on the farm the following day so that I could receive written permission to shoot and work out the safest and most productive areas to target the rats. And there were certainly a few of them around…

Since then, I’ve been making regular visits, picking off between six and a dozen rats each time – and that’s during short daytime sessions. Most recently, I was joined by my old mate Kev, who was eager to get in on the action.

Our session started with a quick recce around the yard. I’m quite familiar with the site now, but farmers have a tendency to move things around and, with livestock and machinery to consider, we wanted to make sure our shots would be safe.

Although there were some signs of nesting rats around various farm buildings, most of them seem to live in the bank of a stream that runs parallel to the farm track. Watercourses are classic ratty highways and this was no exception. Holed-up in the bank, the scaly-tails only had to make a short scuttle across the track to access barns with grain stores and feed-rich calf pens. The place was being treated a like a ratty restaurant.

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A sure sign that rats scutter into the barn to feed on calf pellets…

A farm worker was milling grain in one of the large stores and while it would have been safe for us to work around him, he was causing a major dust storm that rendered shooting pretty much impossible. We therefore decided to target the barn that housed the calf pens, as I knew from experience that the rats were sneaking in to feast on calf pellets – the scattering of droppings on the
ground was testament to that – and shooting would be safe as long as we made sure no shots strayed toward the livestock.

A rat actually ran in under the gate, clocked us and scrambled off again while Kev was setting out some bait spots! We were using my old favourite, liquidised cat food – but I have to confess that the wonder-bait hasn’t been working as well as usual on this holding. The simple fact is that, with all the grain and animal feed, the rats are just spoiled for choice and can afford to turn up their noses at our sloppy offerings!

I’ve tried handfuls of grain and cattle feed, but they ignore that and carry on towards the main stockpiles. Nonetheless, there’s still the odd rat or two that can’t resist the fishy aroma of the cat food slop, so it’s still earning us a few easy shots.

Liquidised cat food bait - enough to tempt the rats away from what's on offer?

Liquidised cat food bait – enough to tempt the rats away from what’s on offer?

We settled down among some straw bales at the back of the shed, and another rat soon emerged. This one obliged and settled onto a bait spot that Kev had dolloped in front of a steel partition. At about 15 metres, it was a banker, and my shooting buddy quickly had his Air Arms S410 trained on it, smacking over the greedy little blighter with a well-placed head shot.

I claimed the next one about 20 minutes later, though it refused to take the bait. The finicky rat scurried in under the gate and got about three metres along the wall before it sensed that something was wrong. It turned round and slinked back off towards the exit, but made the fatal mistake of pausing for another look. A final look. I’d already got it in my sights and capitalised on the brief opportunity to bag it with a whack to the head.

More rats followed and we’d dropped a handful when our composure was briefly shattered by a disturbance from behind. A large rat, which was either nesting in the bales or had taken refuge among them when we arrived, decided that enough was enough and made a bid for the gate. Its presence was heralded by a squeal from Kev as it whizzed past his feet!

I’d also jumped out of my skin and was up on my feet, well clear of my stool, when old Ratty shot past me on his way to freedom. It was clearly on a mission and didn’t pause to offer a shot, not that we would have been in any state to take a steady aim if it had! The commotion was over in a moment and we soon regained poise and got back to business – although I did notice that we were both glancing over our shoulders to keep a cautious eye on the bales for the rest of the afternoon!

We called the session to a reluctant close at around teatime – I wasn’t going to risk the repercussions of missing my wife’s birthday dinner just for the sake of a couple more rats. Still, we’d had a good afternoon, accounting for nine rats between us. Kev donned a tough pair of gloves and used a shovel to keep his hands well clear of the corpses as he shifted them to the fire site.

Although my daytime visits have provided great sport while helping the farmer with pest control, my next step will be to put in some more conventional after-dark visits. The rats are now becoming less abundant and are certainly getting more wary, but I reckon nocturnal forays will help me to bag even more.

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