No matter what the time of year, a working farm will always be a hub for vermin activity – as Ian Barnett explains…
One of the best permissions an airgun shooter can get is a farmyard. Not only is there shelter for raiding creatures, but abundant food. Seed stores in spring and autumn will tempt corvids, pigeons and rats. Livestock fodder, harvested grain and root vegetables attract all manner of vermin, too. Cattle and sheep sheds are home to rich sources of nutrients for birds, not just from the fodder but from the dung, which harbours beetles and flies. Although most farmers adopt a poisoning regime for rats, these are indomitable beasts and will always be dug-in somewhere around the farm.
One difference between controlling pests within a farmyard and shooting a wood is that birds and rats expect there to be human beings around. Jackdaws, magpies, ferals, woodies and collared doves will happily fly in to feed nearby, even if there are farmhands about.
The acceptance that ‘farm equals man’ is what gives the airgun shooter a slight advantage around farm buildings – though to be honest, you’ll have to build up a good relationship with your farmer, his family and staff to be allowed such a privilege.
And trust is an important factor. You’ll be shooting around machinery that costs six-figure sums, not to mention the valuable livestock in the vicinity. You’ll certainly need your wits about you all the time – so make sure you’ve got your BASC insurance cover sorted.
I like to pick a quiet time around the farm to take out some of the vermin. After harvest time, Sunday afternoons are good, when the only chores likely to be done around the farm will be feeding penned livestock. This takes only an hour or so, so it won’t disturb me for long. In fact, it does me a favour – because when the farmhands have left, the crows and magpies forget I’m still there.
I’m lucky enough to also have access to some farm outstations, often referred to as ‘holmes‘ in my neck of the woods. These are areas removed from the farmhouse, used to store fodder, machinery and occasionally to pen cattle. They’re absolute hunting havens, with lots of passing quarry species and very little disturbance – ideal little spots to fall back on during wet winter days.
This afternoon, I had the farmyard to myself – and to encourage a bit of interest and activity, I set out some flock pigeon shells and magpies, including a magpie ‘flyer’. I always set these out far from the buildings, out of range – their purpose not being to pull birds down to the floor, but to get the curious vermin up onto the surrounding shed roofs and gates.
Magpies in particular like to scout around before approaching or mobbing an interloper – and the decoys would give them something to focus on so that, hopefully, they wouldn’t notice me lurking in the shadows. There’s a caveat, however. Wild birds are never fooled for long by deeks, so it’s important to strike quickly.
I also set up a trio of rubber hens’ eggs on top of some nearby straw bales. It was a bright, pleasant day, so rather than restrict myself to the stench of the cattle sheds, I set up in the fresher air, among the machinery and stacked hay bales.
The first bird to sweep in and investigate was a fat woodpigeon – except it landed on top of a tractor just six yards away! It would have been a difficult shot, so I wasn’t too fussed when my upcoming barrel spooked it.
No other action soon had me aware that the deeks were having no real effect, so I subtly changed the set-up. I added a flock crow, then moved the eggs down under one of the magpie decoys. Result! The first taker was an angry carrion crow, which sat squawking on the end of a willow branch – an easy, albeit elevated, shot at 30 yards.
Then, as is always the case, the sight of a dead cousin spread-eagled under the willow tree soon caused an avian commotion – and I was surrounded by wheeling jackdaws, rooks, a couple of magpies and a jay! Another crow, possibly the dead one’s mate, landed with its back to me in a different tree – and it, too, toppled from its perch to a well-placed.20 H&N FTT between its shoulder blades.
More ‘rioting’ ensued, so I held back among the machinery. Some of the rooks settled into a low, full-grown alder and from my position behind an ancient tractor, I was spoiled for choice. I picked one out on a far limb… but missed, and the whole lot fled.
Considering I had all the time in the world to judge the range and settle the crosshairs, it was a dreadful, snatched shot – and I had a serious word with myself!
Soon after, a pair of magpies alighted on a distant oak. They were too far for a shot, but I felt there was potential for an imminent opportunity as they began flying back and forth, cackling at the dead crow and the magpie/egg decoy. Ultimately, they never came within range – and I had one of those rare ‘wish I was holding a shotgun’ moments…
The next bird to fall to an airgun pellet launched from the Weihrauch 100K-T was a branched woody, which lingered a bit too long while assessing the decoys. I collected it and the dead crow, leaving the scene clear of predatory evidence, and returned to the barns.
I had a good look around for signs of rat infestation, but these barns seemed clean. Things will change when winter sets in and the rats come in from the fields, of course. The exodus is late this year because of the ridiculously mild autumn; I haven’t once put on a fleece during October. (Then again, I do carry a substantial layer of blubber these days!)
I finished off my afternoon’s farmyard mooch sitting up in the giddy heights of the haystack, taking out some feral pigeons which were feeding in the yard. I was thoroughly enjoying my vantage point when a bleeping mobile brought me back into the real world with a message alert. Whoops… I was late home again!