Nighttime rat control with Mat Manning

Faced with a seemingly unstoppable influx of rats, Mat Manning heads out on a nocturnal foray with the Sightmark Wraith 4K Mini

I have never known a time when rats were more abundant. The farms where I am tasked with controlling these disease-spreading rodents seem to be suffering bigger and more frequent infestations each year. And their numbers are not just spiking in the winter – even after months of heavy shooting, rats are still lingering around the farmyards as spring advances.

There are probably several reasons for rats doing so well, and I expect that one is related to farming practices providing them with plenty of food to sustain them through what should have been the most difficult months. 

I also think the rodents have benefited from the fact that times haven’t been as hard as they could be in terms of challenging weather. We have had a run of comparatively mild winters, and that’s bad news when you are dealing with a pest that has the ability to breed right through the year.

Of course, the recent abundance of rats has given me some excellent shooting, and has also provided plenty of opportunities to put a wide variety of new night hunting optics through their paces. 

The latest gunsight to do battle with the seemingly endless influx of rats is the Sightmark Wraith 4K Mini 2-16×32 from Scott Country. 

After using the Wraith in its previous guise, I was looking forward to getting to grips with this scaled-down version, and this little optic didn’t disappoint.

Mat placed heaps of finely liquidised breadcrumbs along rat-runs to persuade the skittish rodents to stop

The Mini’s biggest (or smallest) difference from its predecessor is its diminutive size. It weighs about 600g and is 14cm long without the eyecup. It is packed with features, including 14 different reticles in nine colour options, and different zero profiles for different guns. 

It can also record video and still photographs once you have installed a micro SD card.

The abundance of slug-shaped droppings around the farm was a clear sign of the infestation of rats

I wasted no time in pairing the new Wraith Mini with my Weihrauch HW100K. Its £799.99 retail price includes some very handy extras, one of which is an extended mount. 

This enabled me to get the optic sufficiently far back so I could achieve correct eye relief, although I had to use adaptors to connect its Picatinny clamp to the Weihrauch’s dovetail rail – a very simple job. 

The mount even comes with an offset accessory rail, which I found was perfect for mounting the supplied IR illuminator.

Out on the garden range for the inaugural zero-up, and with the Mini set on its colour daytime viewing mode, I quickly discovered that the new variant of the Wraith remains extremely simple to operate despite all of its technical advancements. Its single-shot zeroing is a cinch to operate, and I was soon ragging the bulls on paper targets from 10m to 30m ready for a night on the rats.

Rat recon

Signs of rats have been an all too familiar sight on my farmyard permissions over the past few months, and this outing was no exception. One side of the yard in particular appeared to harbour significant numbers of the unwelcome guests. 

Slimy black slug-shaped droppings were clear signs of the rodents’ presence, along with numerous burrows with freshly excavated soil along a wall and around an overgrown bank. This is the area I chose to target.

The Weihrauch HW100’s 14-shot magazine made for fast and fuss-free reloading in the darkness

I didn’t have to resort to using bait on my ratting permissions very often through the winter months, but I did on this occasion as the rodents are becoming increasingly wary after my heavy shooting campaign. During recent outings the rats have been noticeably more skittish and reluctant to settle for any amount of time. For this session I had concocted a new bait that I hoped would persuade them to pause as I lined up my shots.

Liquidised cat food is by far my favourite ratting bait. Rats quickly home in on its fishy aroma, and its runny consistency means they have to hang around if they want to get a decent mouthful. It does have its downsides though: it’s a faff to make and can quickly cake you and your kit in a stinking oily slop if you aren’t careful when dishing it out.

In my quest for less offensive baits, I have used liquidised sweetcorn, tiny fishmeal pellets, coffee granules and potions made from cooking oil, peanut butter and chocolate spread. All have worked fairly well but I’m always looking for something cleaner and cheaper. 

A rat settles on one of the bait spots and Mat frames it in his infrared sight picture

My latest offering is fine breadcrumbs made from running a loaf through the food processor. It is inexpensive and can be boosted with any food flavouring you can think of. On this occasion I was just using plain brown crumbs and was eager to see how the rats would react to them.

Darkness had closed in by the time I had finished depositing heaps of breadcrumbs along a few busy rat-runs between 12m and 20m from where I was planning to shoot. I unfolded my trusty backpack stool, set up my shooting sticks and checked that the IR illuminator was properly aligned before snapping a full magazine into the Weihrauch.

Taking the bait

And that magazine was soon pressed into action as the session kicked off with a flurry of shots. I sniped the first three rats from the rubble at the base of the wall and rolled over a fourth one as it stopped to nibble at a bait heap. 

It was a great test for the Wraith Mini, which gave me a super-sharp sight picture on 6x magnification.

I like to use infrared for ratting because it gives you so much more detail than thermal, which is a great help not only for achieving clean kills but also for safe shooting as you have a much better idea of what is behind the target. 

The quality is remarkable, and I was able to see rats’ whiskers in the sight picture. It runs a 4K (3840×2160) CMOS sensor with a 1280×720 FLCOS screen with a detection range up to 300m,
which means it’s more than capable of any challenge that after-dark airgun hunting is going to throw at it.

The new Sightmark’s simple and intuitive controls make for easy operation, even in the dark

Ratty activity can tail off rapidly, but the shooting remained steady over the next couple of hours. 

The rats did become noticeably more wary though, and the bait spots proved their worth by persuading the skittish rodents to settle long enough for me to take aim.

An exceptional number of owls hunt around this farm, probably because there are so many rats for them to feed on, and several swooped very close by as the night wore on. A tawny even pitched on the rafters in the roof of the barn I was sitting in at one point. 

The presence of these majestic birds is one of the reasons why the farm’s owner doesn’t like to use poison to control the rats – the risk of harming the birds through secondary poisoning by eating the rats is just too great. 

My .177 pellets pass straight through the rats’ heads, so the corpses are also free from lead should an owl end up eating one.

As is usually the case, the action did slow down quite considerably towards the end of the session – partly because of the dent I had made in their numbers.

 Several of the latter ones that I took were at longer distances, which was no problem as I had worked out the aimpoints on my reticle configuration when zeroing the Wraith on my garden range. 

That preparation, combined with increased magnification and the stability provided by my shooting sticks, enabled me to continue to make decisive head shots.

The Wraith 4K Mini runs on two CR123A batteries, which come supplied, and they still had a bit of juice left in them at the end of my three-hour stint. There is also the option of connecting an external power bank via USB if you need a really long runtime. 

By the close of my outing I had accounted for 19 rats, a welcome boost to the farm’s poison-free pest control and a very successful first outing for the new addition to the Sightmark Wraith family.

More on pest control with Mat Manning

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