Rich Saunders takes advantage of a house move on the farm to crack down on freeloading rats that have been evicted from their lair
Who’d be a rat? One moment you’re enjoying life with unlimited food, plenty of warmth and a nice roof over your head. The next minute your world is turned upside down and all hell breaks loose.
Sometimes it helps to think like your quarry, and those thoughts, or something like them, must have been going through the tiny rodent minds of the rats on one of my permissions recently.
It’s a free-range chicken farm, and during the day the hens roam around the area. But when the sun goes down, they march into one of several huge chicken houses where they’re tucked up for the night.
Sounds cosy doesn’t it? And I suppose it is, apart from the fact the birds have to share their sleeping quarters, not to mention dining table, with hundreds of rats that live in the poop under the houses.
I’ve been shooting the farm for years. My usual tactics are to set out some bait – peanut butter and barbecue sauce are favourites – and then take it easy on an old camping chair waiting for the furry pests to appear.
There’s no getting away from the fact that by living in and under the houses the rats have the upper hand, and I only get a chance when one of them ventures outside to check out the bait. Despite my sessions rarely producing more than a dozen rats, regular visits mean I’ve managed to keep the numbers down over the years.
But every 18 months or so the farmer changes part of his flock and all of a sudden the odds improve in my favour. A rehoming charity removes the birds – around 3,000 at a time – and the empty house is chained to a digger and pulled into the field so it can be steam-cleaned and 18 months’ worth of chicken poo scraped away.
So, back to thinking like a rat, you can see why every 18 months your world is turned upside down; it must be like living through a hurricane.
The rats panic and scatter everywhere, taking refuge wherever they can around the farm. They become a lot easier to locate and pick off, giving me a brief window of opportunity to really crack down on the rodent population.
I’ve been through the process several times and know what to expect.
For the latest flock change I helped the farmer move the house during the day and then returned later that evening to bring the rats to book. In terms of hardware, I took my trusty .22 calibre BSA R-10 Mk2; I bought it second-hand years ago and it’s been 100 percent reliable and metronomically accurate.
It’s now paired with an ATN X-Sight 4K Pro, a digital day/night scope I used with an ABL rangefinder on an FAC rifle for shooting rabbits at night.
I found the combination too bulky, so swapped to a PARD NV008 LRF instead, which turned out to be a great decision.
Having dumped the ABL, which I couldn’t get on with, I put the X-Sight on the R-10 a couple of years ago and have used it almost exclusively for ratting ever since. Along with a Pulsar thermal spotter and a set of Primos Gen 3 trigger sticks, the setup is perfect.
As I pulled into the farm, the headlights from my truck swept around the yard revealing furry flashes of movement. Although the impulse to get shooting immediately was strong, I forced myself to have a slow walk around the yard with the thermal, knowing the rats would be easy to spot and that they’d be reluctant to leave their temporary shelter if they spied me.
Recce complete, it was back to the truck to load up the R-10’s magazine, and a couple of spares, with Air Arms Diabolo Field pellets.
I grabbed my trigger sticks and headed back to some containers where I’d spotted several rats hiding amongst the kind of debris that collects around farmyards.
Sure enough, the rats were moving up and down the gap between a chicken wire fence and the containers.
They didn’t seem too concerned about me. Possibly, having lived their entire life under the chicken house, they’d never been shot at before. Either that or they figured that the little cover they’d found was as good as it was going to get.
I didn’t stop to ponder the question as I lined up on the first rat of the evening, just 15 yards away, and rolled it over.
Another that was sitting next to it barely moved, so I quickly added that one to the tally with my second head shot of the night.
I managed another couple from the containers before deciding to rest the spot; I’ve found that short, sharp visits picking off two or three rats at a time is better than exhausting a spot, and I also knew the remaining rats would be back out again when I returned.
My next hotspot was the chicken house itself, which had been dragged into the middle of the field. With the side panels removed, I could see under the floor, which was standing about a metre off the ground.
Thanks to my thermal spotter, a group of rats was clearly visible, but I realised I’d have to get lower down to be able to target them. Fortunately, the Gen 3 Primos sticks are easy to adjust, even in the dark, and I was able to splay the legs wide enough to take up a kneeling position that allowed me to see much further under the house.
Through the X-Sight it was obvious that in addition to a few fully grown adults, a small swarm of adolescent rodents were grouped together for safety. Praying I still had enough pellets in the magazine, I lined up on the first and biggest rat.
It went down with a solid head shot, lying dead on its side for a few seconds before leaping about as its nervous system shut down. A couple of its accomplices scarpered, but several of the younger rats froze, not sure what was going on.
I cycled the R-10’s bolt and fired again, then again and once more – three more rats went down before I missed one. Cycling the bolt again, the lack of the slight resistance of a pellet in the breech told me I was empty.
With plenty of rats still staring at me, I fumbled in the dark for a fresh magazine, turning it in my fingers to make sure I loaded it the right way around.
Task completed, I lined up again and managed another two clean kills before another miss sent the rest of the rodents scurrying for cover.
Once again, I moved to another spot and by following the same tactics for the rest of the night, as well as the following two nights, I was able to account for just over 220 rats, all of which were disposed of in the farm incinerator.
It’ll be another 18 months before the flock in another one of the hen houses is changed and the process is repeated. I can’t wait.