Night vision rat control with Mat Manning

Mat Manning sets up with night vision to tackle an infestation of farmyard scaly-tails as prime ratting season gains momentum

Although some farms hold a resident population of rats right through the year, numbers of these unwelcome rodents peak during the autumn and winter months. 

This is because although rats can live very comfortably in the open countryside during the warmer months, life obviously becomes tougher when the weather turns cold and natural food is less abundant.

Most of my farmyard shooting permissions see a gradual increase in rats once harvesting gets underway. With less food out in the fields, the scaly-tails start looking for easy pickings elsewhere and lots of them will settle on the farm where they can usually find a reliable supply of animal feed and stored grain to get them through the toughest part of the year.

Rats that move onto the farm find plenty of shelter from the elements. Barns and stock sheds keep out the wind and rain, while stacks of hay bales and other farmyard clutter provide plenty of cosy nesting sites.

It’s still some time before winter tightens its grip on the countryside but the annual influx of rats is already apparent on the farm where I am shooting tonight. 

Although there are plenty of signs of their presence, these rodents don’t tend to be very active until nightfall, so it is going to take an after-dark approach to bring them to book.

Thermal sights can be brilliant for this kind of shooting but they are expensive, and such sophisticated tech can sometimes be a hindrance. With that in mind, I am using a simple and relatively affordable night vision sight, which combines stealth with easy operation. 

Shooting from the cover of darkness, it should enable me to snipe the unsuspecting rodents as they venture out after dusk.


The quarry: brown rat

PEST STATUS: This rodent spreads disease by toileting around stored crops, animal feed and drinking troughs. Rats also chew wires and burrow into banks or through walls.

HABITAT: Rats are found in a wide range of habitats. Farms suit them well because they offer plenty of food and shelter.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Rats breed rapidly, so populations can quickly spiral.


16:45DAYLIGHT INVESTIGATION

Rats may be mostly nocturnal, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea to arrive on the farm when it’s still light. Turning up before nightfall means you can have a proper look round before you settle in – apart from improving your chances of setting up in the right place, it will help you to stay safe.

Mat usually tries to arrive about an hour before the light goes, so he has plenty of time for a thorough investigation. He then uses that time to look for signs of rats and the places where they are most active, and to earmark any potential hazards.

This is a traditional farm with plenty of places for rats to hole-up amongst straw bales, stacked pallets, earth banks and rubble heaps. Feed sacks, grain stores and vast troughs of cattle feed ensure a ready supply of food for the invading scaly-tails.

Mat’s daylight reconnaissance also enables him to note dangers to himself. Farmers have a habit of leaving machinery and implements lying around, and he spots several new obstacles he will need to be mindful of when walking around in the dark. In the light, Mat can also work out the best angles to take shots at to ensure that there’s a safe backstop behind his target.

17:30SETTLING IN

After taking a careful look around the farm, Mat has identified two areas where the rats appear to be particularly active. One of the spots is close to an enclosure that contains a flock of turkeys that are being fattened-up for Christmas and the other is around a grain store, and this is where he intends to start.

The clues Mat has spotted suggest that the rats are living in a bank that runs along the perimeter wall of the yard but are raiding the grain store by night. By setting up in the corner of a barn, he will be able to cover the area the rodents are emerging from and the route they are using to access the grain. This spot also means he has some protection from the weather, which is good news as the forecast suggests that it could be a wet night.

Targeting rats from a static position rather than roving the farm in search of shots can be very effective, but it takes patience. Mat has set up his backpack stool to keep him comfortable while he waits for the rats to venture out. This simple seat makes for a stable shooting platform, especially when combined with the added support of shooting sticks to take the weight of the gun and NV setup.

17:35GEARING UP

Shooting at night can be challenging but having the right gear for the job makes it a lot less tricky. The choice of kit is vast, and although a break-barrel paired with a scope-mounted lamp will put nocturnal rats in the bag, a hi-tech approach will usually account for more. 

Modern gear isn’t without its faults, and it’s a matter of weighing up the pros and cons to find a solution that meets your needs and your budget.

Mat’s gun of choice for tonight’s session is his sub-12 ft-lb FX Impact MkII in .177 calibre. This airgun is near-silent, which makes for a very stealthy approach when combined with night vision optics. It is also compact, which reduces the chance of it getting bashed when moving around farm buildings in the dark. 

Another great thing about this super-accurate PCP is its huge magazine capacity. You can get through a lot of shots when there are lots of scaly-tails on the move, and loading up 38 pellets at a time saves a lot of faffing around refilling.

Having the right optic is as important as having the right gun, and Mat has chosen the Sightmark Wraith for tonight’s session. This comparatively affordable infrared scope creates a sharp image by night and even works in full colour by day. 

Apart from being a reliable performer, the Wraith is extremely easy to use, an important consideration when you need to be able to crack on with pest control without having to worry about using complicated equipment.

EXPERT TIP: GETTING STARTED

Shooting rats from a static position and focusing on one area at a time can be a very effective way to reduce their numbers, and it’s also safer than wandering the farm and taking shots on the move. 

The key to a successful ambush is to find an area where the rodents are active and make yourself comfortable. A fold-up seat will keep you off the ground and away from the rats, and also makes for a very comfortable shooting position. 

A set of shooting sticks will add even more stability to your shots and will help to take the strain if you use a heavy night vision unit.

Make a note of the distance to the main areas where you expect to get shots at rats, and get yourself comfortable before they venture out, and you won’t miss many of those all-important headshots.

17:55OUT THEY COME

It can be surprising how rats suddenly spring into activity when night falls. Even farms where you see no rats by day can become overrun when the light starts to fade, and it’s not unusual for the night’s action to kick off with a really busy period as the scaly-tails first venture out at dusk.

As darkness closes in on the farm, Mat hears rats waking from their slumber. At first it’s just the odd squeak within the undergrowth, but it isn’t long before he spots a rat on the move and heading for the grain.

Mat doesn’t turn up the zoom on the Wraith too high because lower magnification offers a wider field of view, which makes it easier to spot rats running about. 

With most shots likely to be taken at between 8m and 20m, he probably won’t need much more magnification than 4x or 6x, but he can always wind it up if he needs more precision for any longer shots.

The first rat that Mat spots through the Wraith is a large one, and it’s not too far from the bank where they are nesting. 

Thanks to the absence of a conventional light source, this rodent is oblivious to Mat’s presence and makes the mistake of lingering in full view at about 14m. Mat flicks off the Impact’s safety catch, lines up on the scaly-tail’s skull and rolls it over with a smack to the head.

18:50MORE ON THE MOVE

The first rat of the session heralded the start of a productive spell, and more soon follow. The scaly-tails are clearly eager to fill their bellies, and Mat is kept busy by a steady stream of rodents attempting to cross the yard.

Some shots are close, requiring a degree of holdover, while those beyond Mat’s 13m secondary zero require holdunder to stay on target. Getting aim-off right is important to ensuring clean kills, and is another advantage of turning up before nightfall – especially if you don’t have a rangefinder on you gunsight – as you can pace out the distance between your shooting position and where you expect to see rats.

As the evening wears on, Mat adds more rats to the tally. With so much action, and the likelihood of moving to another spot, it looks set to be a late finish. Night vision optics go through a lot of power, so Mat carries a spare set of batteries. 

Tonight he has connected an external power bank via the Wraith’s USB socket so he’s all set for a very long night.

20:15PICK UP AND MOVE ON

Although ambushing rats from a fixed position can be very productive when you locate an area where they’re particularly abundant, there will come a time when the action begins to slow down. It’s inevitable because a busy spell of shooting can quickly deplete the colony, and any stragglers will eventually become suspicious after witnessing the demise of their mates.

After a prolonged spell without any shots, Mat decides that he’s had the best from this spot and it’s time to move on. First he has to clear up the shot rats and dispose of them on the fire site.

Mat usually brings along a bucket and a litter grabber for the clear-up job just in case he can’t find a shovel on the farm. The important thing is to keep your hands away from shot rats as these rodents can carry some nasty diseases.

A few minutes’ work with the litter grabber and Mat has a bucketful of rats. He disposes of them as directed by the farm manager and sets up in another area ready to spend a few more hours hitting back the farm’s rat infestation.

MAT’S GEAR

GUN
FX Impact MkII (fxairguns.com)

OPTICS
Sightmark Wraith (scottcountry.co.uk)

POWER BANK
Sightmark Quick Detach Battery Pack (scottcountry.co.uk)

AMMO
Rangemaster Sovereign (daystate.com)

HEADLAMP
Fenix HM65R ShadowMaster (myfenix.co.uk)

GUN SUPPORT
Primos Trigger Stick (bisley-uk.com)

GLOVES
Macwet Micromesh Long Cuff (range-right.co.uk)


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