This season’s ratting campaign was slow to get going. The first half of the winter was unseasonably mild, so the rodents were in no hurry to move on to the farmyard in search of food and shelter. I’m glad to report that the action is now picking up. The open countryside is less appealing to the scaly-tails since the weather has turned colder, and their natural food supplies have started to dwindle.
Rats know that stored crops and animal feed offer easy pickings around the farm, where they can also find plenty of cosy places to nest. Although the rodents still aren’t present in their usual high numbers on most of my permissions, the winter migration is evidently underway, so I thought I’d take advantage of the influx of feed-stealing rats to try out a new piece of kit.
Although I’m a big fan of night vision optics for tackling wily rats, I still enjoy the occasional lamping session. It’s a less complicated affair, and the gear is generally more affordable. Plus, there’s no denying that it works just as well as it did in the days before NV. In fact the kit for lamping actually works better than it did back then, because lighting technology has come on in leaps and bounds.
The gear I was using on this occasion is a prime example. The Tracer LEDRAY F600 has three power levels and a beam that can be quickly adjusted from a wide flood to a tight spotlight. On top of those handy features, it enables you to choose between white, blue, green and red light with a twist of the collar behind the torch head. It’s got a 50mm snoot which screws onto the front to prevent light spillage something that can otherwise really hamper a lamping trip when you’ve got skittish quarry in your sights.
It looked like I’d encounter a few rats on the farm and I was equipped to deal with them. There was one thing that wasn’t in my favour: the weather. Farmyard rats are usually most active from twilight through to an hour or two after nightfall – and a wet, windy front was set to sweep through my neck of the woods during those few productive hours.
I wasn’t deterred, and at least the F600’s waterproofing would be well and truly put to the test!
The farm I’d chosen for the session is a dairy holding, where rats like to feast on the rich pickings provided by the silage stores. Apart from raiding the fermenting feed from the clamps, they also target the cattle sheds where they pick undigested kernels from the cow dung. Rats are filthy animals, yet you have to admire their ability to glean sustenance from just about any opportunity, however disgusting it may be.
I quickly dismissed my usual baiting tactics. There was such an abundance of food for rats to choose from on this farm that they wouldn’t necessarily fall to the lure of my smelly cat food slop. Furthermore, the rodents were quite evenly dispersed, so there was no obvious area to use bait-and-wait tactics. I had a hunch that the eminent downpour would have an effect on the behaviour of the rats and the places they chose to feed, so I opted for a mobile approach instead.
The tail switch turns the lamp on and off, then you use the grey button in front of it to select from three different power levels – combine that with ability to focus the beam by turning the head of the torch in and out, and you can get the size and intensity of the beam just about perfect for any application.
I noticed that the alignment of the beam shifts when you change between the lamp’s various colours. This is because each of the different coloured LEDs is slightly off-centre and therefore not quite concentric with the lens. It’s not a problem though, because the F600’s ingenious mounting system features a ball joint to quickly adjust its angle. Tighten it down so there’s just a little play left, and you can tweak it on the fly to ensure that the beam stays exactly aligned with your scope when you swap between colours.
Satisfied that I had the hang of the new lamp, I loaded up and headed out just as the rain started to fall. Happily, while rats can be reluctant to venture out on bitterly cold nights, they aren’t usually discouraged by a spot of drizzle.
The rain remained light, and I soon managed to pick up a scaly-tail in the Tracer’s beam. This one was sifting through a heap of slurry that had just been scraped from the floor of a large cattle shed. I steadied my aim and snuffed out the unsuspecting rat with a pellet to the head, sending it tumbling into the sludge.
The first rat of the night accounted for, I cycled the Ultimate Sporter’s sidelever to load-up another pellet and made my way around to the silage clamps on the other side of the shed. I managed to nail another rat as I crept around the outer edge of the building and then the rain went up a gear, forcing me to dash for the shelter of a small barn on the opposite side of the yard.
Shielded from the downpour, I sat on a pallet with stacks of straw behind me. I was able to cover the edge of a large silage clamp where rats often scuttle along a row of old railway sleepers, making their way to the exposed face of the feed heap. It’s an area that’s usually worth a few shots, but with the rain really coming down, I wondered whether the rats would venture out.
It turned out that the rain was too much even for the rats to put up with. Nothing moved for half an hour, then the rain eased back to a drizzle and I picked one up in the scope. It emerged from around the back of the end sleeper. The fidgety rodent wouldn’t settle in the lamplight and I failed to get a clear shot before it disappeared behind the pile of silage.
To make the lamp a little more subtle, I switched to the red beam and wound down the power, which still gave me sufficient illumination to cover the rat-run that was about 20 metres from my seated vantage point. I eventually got a chance when another scaly-tail (possibly the same one) trundled back in the opposite direction. The rat froze in the red lamplight, giving me time to settle the crosshairs and add another to the evening’s tally.
The rain eventually stopped altogether, and I managed to pick off two more rats from the same spot before I decided to call it a night. It had been a slow session – I blame the heavy downpour for blighting what should have been the most productive part of the evening– but there had still been enough action for the F600 to show its worth.
Another new piece of kit passed its first test with flying colours during the final proceedings. I’d finally got around to getting myself a litter picker to save having to hunt around for a shovel when it’s time to transport dead rats to the slurry pit. It proved invaluable on this occasion, because those dung-munching rats were absolutely filthy!