Mat Manning spends an unexpected night lamping scaly-tails after clocking grain-raiding rodents in a friend’s chicken run.
One of the most fascinating things about airgun hunting is the surprises it frequently throws up, and part of that is down to the large variety of pest species we are able to target right through the year. One of my recent outings highlights the point very well – I turned up expecting one thing and ended up doing something completely different.
The original purpose of the trip was to visit a friend’s woods so that we could draw up a plan to get the resident population of grey squirrels under control. Sure enough we saw quite a few squirrels and plenty of signs of the damage that they are causing to the trees.
I had my BSA Ultra SE with me just in case the chance of a shot cropped up, but we were talking too much for any squirrels to allow us to get within striking distance.
Just as we were heading back to my car, I noticed a rat in the chicken run at the top of my friend’s wood yard. I pointed out the offending rodent to my mate and his response was: “Yes, we have quite a few rats around the hens. Can you do anything about them?”
I am very partial to a bit of ratting, so I was more than happy to help. The prime target promptly switched from squirrels to rats, and we headed into the chicken run for a closer look.
Chickens tend to attract the odd rat every now and then, and it was no surprise to see that the rodents had homed in on the grain that was being fed to the hens. One or two rats were actually darting about while we were inside the run, but the shooting wasn’t going to be quite as easy as it first appeared.
Anyone who has done any amount of shooting using a telescopic sight will know that although nobody wants their target to be outrageously far away, there can also be problems if it’s too close.
I was faced with the latter quandary because, as the run was about 8m by 8m, I was likely to be taking shots at between six and eight metres. That would have been manageable with open sights, but with a set of teles, target acquisition would have been extremely tricky.
Being forced to shoot at very close range wasn’t the only problem. The rats were pretty bold, but the hens were even bolder. I have never seen such confident chickens, and these birds were literally clambering over our feet.
They mobbed us as soon as we entered their enclosure and showed no sign of losing interest as the minutes ticked by. Apart from being a massive distraction, being overrun by hens also posed a serious hazard and I didn’t want to risk harming one of my mate’s cherished layers, so I was forced to abandon any thoughts of shooting from within the run … for the time being anyway.
My plan was to start out by targeting the yard around the outside of the enclosure in the hope of picking off one or two rats before darkness closed in. Once the light had gone, the hens would retire to roost inside their coops, so we could shut them safely inside and then open one of the doors that leads into the run.
With the door wedged open, I would be able to sit inside the entrance to a nearby barn from where I could cover a couple of feeders and the underside of one of the chicken houses, with shots likely to be between 10 and 18 metres.
It was restrictive in terms of how much of the enclosure I would be able to cover, but it would set me up with shots over much more comfortable distances than being cramped in the run, and seemed more reliable than attempting to shoot through the wire mesh.
The early part of the session, targeting the yard, was comparatively quiet, although I did manage to account for two half-grown rats. I wasn’t too disappointed with the modest return, though, as I knew that the bulk of the rats were confined to the inside the chicken run and probably living underneath the coops.
Before long, the light had faded and the hens had gone to roost, so I closed down the pop-holes that led into their houses and then got ready for the next phase of the outing.
Seeing as I wasn’t initially planning on doing any after-dark shooting, I could easily have been caught on the hop without a night vision unit or any other means of seeing in the gloom. Thankfully, and due to a very jammy stroke of luck, I had the PAO LumenMAX 900 IR lamping kit in my car.
After receiving it from The Shooting Party I had already used it a couple of times in readiness for a review on The Airgun Show and had, very fortunately, forgotten to take it out of my boot. I had no idea how much power was left in the battery, but expected that it would enable me to nail a few rats before it ran out.
I hastily attached the lamp to my scope via the supplied clamp and then pushed on a red filter to soften the beam. I also topped up the BSA’s magazine with .177 calibre Rangemaster Sovereign pellets. My Ultra SE is a very accurate little airgun and performs brilliantly with this ammo.
It was a clear evening with quite a large moon, and I was grateful for the additional cover afforded by the barn on what wasn’t the darkest of nights. Settling into position, I regretted not having my shooting sticks, but at relatively close range and shooting from a sitting position with a big round of wood as a makeshift stool, the setup felt pretty stable. The absence of the heavy NV unit that I am more accustomed to was also likely to help when it came to holding a steady aim.
I flicked on the lamp pretty much as soon as I’d made myself comfortable, and almost immediately saw a pair of beady red eyes reflecting the filtered light back at me from beneath one of the coops. At around 12m it was not a difficult shot, and the first rat of the night was promptly snuffed out with a smack to the head.
Mindful of the potentially low charge in the battery, I made a point of switching the lamp off. This is an important consideration and even if you only have 30 minutes of continual runtime left you can stretch a session out to several hours by remembering not to leave the light on. Apart from extending battery life, keeping the lamp off also makes a big difference when it comes to staying low-key.
The next half-hour or so was surprisingly quiet. After seeing rats behaving with such confidence during daylight, I had expected to quickly amass a respectable tally in a short time, but activity came to an alarming halt after that first shot.
There are a lot of owls in the woods, and my friend had told me that they hunt around the yard just after dusk. My guess is that on such an unusually light night the rats were very reluctant to venture out and risk an aerial attack.
The occasional squeak from around the coops confirmed that the rats were still around, even if they were being cagey. I sat tight, switching the lamp on for a quick look round every few minutes, and eventually picked up another rodent in the beam. It was a smallish rat, very close to where I had shot the first one of the night, and was swiftly added to the tally.
Over the next hour or so I was treated to a flurry of activity – maybe not exactly a flurry but it was busier than the preceding half-hour – and I managed to pick off four more grain-stealing rodents before things went deathly quiet once again.
That quietness was another factor which was working against me. It was a muggy evening with not a breath of wind, which meant there was absolutely no ambient noise from the trees. I could literally hear the noise of the recoil pad brushing against my top every time I shouldered the gun, and I have no doubt that the rats could also hear me lurking in the barn, even though I was shooting from a static position.
There were no other chances before I decided to call time and close the gateway to the chicken run. It had been quite a magical experience sitting in the silence, which was only occasionally broken by the accessional squeak or snuffle of wild creatures around the yard and in the adjoining woods and fields.
And my tally of six rats from the chicken coop and two from the yard wasn’t exactly bad for a relatively short and very unexpected ratting session. My mate was absolutely delighted with the outcome when I texted him with the news in the morning.
More hunting from Mat Manning
- The Countryman w/ Mat Manning: Daytime ratting
- Hunting for squirrels w/ Mat Manning
- Decoying crows: The Countryman
- Farmyard pest control: The Countryman
- Crow control: The Countryman