Hunting the great white

It all started after a visit to a local gun shop. The particular establishment caters mainly for shotgunners and the full-bore lot, but the owner’s well aware that I’m a pest controller who specialises in airgun work. “Morning mate,” says the manager as I walk through the door. “Have I got something that’s right up your street? Perfect for that pop gun of yours,” he quips, trying to gain a rise from me.

Anyway, it turns out that a local smallholder has started to see more than just the odd white rat running around his chicken pens. Now, I’ve seen some strange things, but white rats are a new one on me. “Does he drink a lot?” I joke, wondering if it’s all a wind-up.

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Apparently, though, a few weeks ago, some so-called animal rights activists had allegedly broken in to a property that breeds white rats and rabbits for laboratory use. They’d dumped Lord knows how many rats near this guy’s place, some of which have now moved in to cause ratty havoc, as they do in such an environment.

Now, I won’t get in to the whole animal rights debate – but suffice it to say, many of the rats ‘liberated’ by this bunch of lunatic extremists (who, of course, were disobeying many laws by breaking in to the lab) ended up being road-kill anyway, or fell foul of natural predators. So their illicit campaign was pretty pointless to my way of thinking – and, thank God, this lab wasn’t a ‘research facility’… else the rats could have been carrying all manner of things that shouldn’t be let loose around chickens that lay eggs for human consumption.

It was definitely a pest control matter for the airgun. After making contact with the smallholder, the job was on and I made a quick reconnaissance trip to prep-up for the actual shooting. Tucked away in the country, these rats were bound to be moving from the fields into a better and warmer habitat where food would be on tap. I was also armed with some ‘inside knowledge’; I’d been to this venue the previous winter, when snow was on the ground, and had observed all the tracks which gave good clues as to the most-used rat-runs.

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As rat shooting is best done under the cover of darkness, I will admit they’re always the assignments that make me feel decidedly uneasy – even though they’re invariably all-action affairs. But there was a job to do and I needed to keep my focus on why it had to be done. All the same, I wasn’t really expecting to see any scaly-tails of the albino kind.

THE GEAR

With no real opportunity for using electric lighting, I had to select a lamping rig – but as I didn’t expect periods of really hectic activity due to the cold, I decided to use my usual SMK XS20 break-barrel springer. For this assignment, it would be fed a diet of .22 Bisley Pest Control pellets for maximum shock and stopping power – something I consider essential when shooting rats at close-to-medium ranges. If the place was crawling with rats, I’d go multi-shot PCP, but regular readers will know I’ve a penchant for spring power; it’s hassle-free and ready to go 24/7.

That’s what I want as pro pest controller – something simple but very effective. I chose to team up the SMK with a compact 4×32 scope and an equally bijou Logun lamp fitted with a red filter.

1Despite the lack of incandescent lighting, I had a trick up my sleeve – specifically, a battery-powered sensor light that takes two AA batteries. It’s the kind of thing used for household security, and has an infra-red beam that, when triggered, turns on a small security light. I’ve modified it by drawing over most of the light with black marker pen, leaving just a pinhole that stifles enough light so as not to scare the rats when it comes on, but which is still bright enough to alert me when a rat has come out of hiding and is within my baited area (where the beam’s trigger is set).

I came up with the idea because I didn’t want to keep constantly scanning the yard with the gun light, spooking nearby critters and wearing out my lamp battery needlessly – and it cost less than a tenner to rig up. It’s a system that works a treat – you just sit and wait, gun trained on your chosen area, until the sensor lights up… and then you’re in business (I should market them).

THE JOB

I got to site a couple of hours before dark and liaised with the owner to find out where the likely hot-spots were. Finding a comfortable spot – ratting is an ambush job, so you don’t want to be uncomfortable – I settled down behind some old feed barrels about 15 metres from the target area. This colony has not really been shot over before, so I was hopeful that a good session would be on the cards. My client was certainly expecting a big-hit on the population – and I was working for him.

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After 20 minutes or so in the chilly night air, I started to hear the usual noises associated with rats. I was constantly looking at my ‘sensor’ blinking away, which was encouraging. I decided to flick on the lamp and go for a quick scan to see if we were in business…

11aWell… there must have been half-a-dozen pairs of rats’ eyes to be seen under one of the larger chicken sheds, though most of them went scattering for cover like grease lightning when I played the Logun’s beam in their direction. But, a couple stayed still – rather like escaping convicts caught in the prison spotlight, I thought.

With the rifle rested on a cushion I slipped the trigger and sent pellet number one smacking in to one rat’s head. It rolled over, its tail momentarily thrashing before becoming dead still. Rat number two took flight, but made a fatal mistake of then stopping to look back at its motionless brethren – and my reloaded shot landed true for another clean despatch. Both rats were of the normal brown variety and I was a little disappointed that I’d not had sight of a white rat.

5aNor did I… for the next 30 minutes, in which I thinned out a few more from the colony. But then, with another flick-on of the light, the beam picked up the unmistakable glint of white fur – and there was a huge albino rat on a pile of the food I’d put out.

I’d asked the landowner to bait them for a few days prior to my visit as rats quickly lose their shyness when they come across a regular source of free food. In this case, cheap, mashed-up cat food and garlic mixed with peanut butter and carp fishing pellets was on the menu. That concoction stank to high heaven… but worked a treat.

Taking aim at the rat’s oversized head, I placed a pellet right on the button to send the albino rat tumbling. Another was added 15 minutes later – but at well past midnight, I gave up any hope of seeing more white rats and that tally remained as a brace.

These ‘ghost-like’ rats – for that’s what they looked like in the Logun’s beam at night – were a first and, I’m sure, a last in my book… unless they survive in an environment that’s much harsher than the security of the lab they were brought up in until being so irresponsibly set loose by the animal rights nutters.

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Maybe there will be the odd one that may breed with the resident population, though; I’m actually looking forward to seeing what genetic oddities might be thrown up at this venue in the months ahead. While the session isn’t what many hunters would call sport, pest control isn’t about that, and, as a professional, I have to occasionally remind myself of that. I ended the session with well over a dozen scalies in all shapes and sizes – and colours – which made the frostbite in my fingers and toes seem worth it.

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Posted in Features, Hunting

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