Rich Saunders’ pest control on his permission

Rich Saunders tackles a new pest problem on one of his smallest permissions.

My very first permission, gained many years ago, is a field in the next village. It’s only a few acres, but wandering about the hedgerows with my HW35, I could have been stalking the Highlands of Scotland or roaming the great plains of Africa.

Before long I had pretty much explored every corner. It sounds ungrateful I know, especially to those still seeking their first permission, but things got a little stale. I knew exactly where the rabbits would be and where to lay up and ambush them.

When I mentioned this to the farmer after several years he replied: “Oh, you should have said, I’ve got plenty of other land you can shoot on.” I didn’t know whether to kiss him or throttle him. Fortunately, I did neither and my single field turned into a collection of similarly sized permissions dotted around a couple of villages.

Although my HW35 has long been replaced, I still shoot the fields. Located only a few minutes away, each one is perfect for spending just a couple of hours, especially in the summer, stalking the hedgerows.

At various times, the farmer has kept sheep, cattle and goats. Just recently he called to say he was now in the pig business. Unfortunately, having invested in a couple of dozen prime porkers, he had inadvertently gained several hundred rats as well, and asked if I would come along and do something about them.

I went for a recce the next day. The pigs were housed in several sties, but from what I could tell, the rats were concentrated in a hedgerow that ran between two fields. Well worn tracks through the mud and grass, plus several mounds of earth the rats had dug out to make their nests, hinted at where I should set up.

Where there are pigs, rats will usually be close by, although you may have to wait until dark to spot them

The hedgerow provided the rats with cover to avoid the many owls that live in the area. And from the tracks I could see that the pests travelled from cover to cover, these being piles of pallets, farm machinery and building supplies. 

My other rat shooting permissions are all farm buildings, and the rats move about confidently, usually giving me plenty of time to line them up and take a shot. Surveying the pig pens I could see that getting these furry pests to stop long enough was going to be a challenge.

Sure enough, my first shooting session a few days later was less than successful. I saw plenty of rats, but as I feared they didn’t hang around for long. When I ‘fessed up to the farmer that I’d only accounted for three I could see he was unimpressed.

I like a challenge though, so set about planning tactics for my return. Baiting was of course the solution. However, rats are instinctively suspicious of anything new or unusual, no matter how smelly and yummy it is. Very rarely have I had instant success when I’ve introduced bait, even what the rats are used to eating, in places that are convenient to me, but new to them. 

It takes time and a commitment to putting bait down regularly over a week, and often longer, to give the rats confidence. You can of course use all kinds of free offerings, and often a bit of whatever the rats are used to stealing works best.

I didn’t think the farmer would allow me to raid the feed bins. Instead, I used barbecue sauce. It’s a bait I use a lot as it’s cheap, smells good and convenient to carry around and blob about. Also, because it is a liquid, rats have to stop and lap it up.

Baiting with a few blobs of barbecue sauce every evening for a week encouraged the rats to linger long enough to place a shot

I picked a few likely spots that were near to the runs and cover that would also give me some clearer shots on the rats. Much to the further amusement of the farmer, I also put up a trail camera so I could see if and when the rats were falling for my ploy. 

After a week of visiting the farm each evening and replenishing the bait I was ready. Reviewing the trail camera footage confirmed what the disappearing blobs of sauce hinted at; the rats were routinely dining out on HP’s finest. Time to shoot.

My favourite ratting rifle is an old .22 calibre BSA R-10 Mk2 with a black synthetic stock. It is accurate, bang on 11.7 ft-lb. The bolt action and 10-shot magazine are a delight to operate and in all the years I have used it, the rifle has been relentlessly reliable. On top I have an ATN X-Sight 4K Pro day/night scope.

BSA’s 10-shot magazine works well with the R10’s bolt action, making follow-up shots both quick and easy

Arriving at the same time as I had when pre-baiting, I replenished the barbecue sauce hotspots, knowing from the trail cam footage that I could expect the rats to appear as soon as the light started to fade, and took up position about 20 yards away.

If I can, I prefer to sit down whilst I am rat shooting, both to make any lulls in the activity a little more comfortable and to provide me with a steadier position to shoot from. Tonight though, I expected that I would have to move between the various different bait locations, and so I stood behind my shooting trigger sticks, scanning one of the bait spots with my Pulsar thermal spotter.

I didn’t have to wait long for a pair of ratty eyes to emerge under a pile of metal sheets that I hadn’t baited. I waited until their owner fully emerged before planting an Air Arms Diabolo Field pellet right between its eyes. The rat did the usual funky chicken dance as its nervous system shut down before laying still.

Another rat appeared from the same hole a few minutes later and met the same fate, quickly followed by a third. I was starting to wonder why I had bothered with all that pre-baiting as it didn’t seem necessary.

I held the R-10 and X-Sight on the hole a while longer, expecting more rats to appear, but sadly they didn’t so I raised the thermal to my eye and scanned the area with the bait spots. The eerie monochrome image revealed half a dozen of the pests lapping up the barbecue sauce like kittens around a saucer of milk.

Using an ATN X-Sight 4K Pro on his BSA R-10 meant Rich could pick the rats off in the early evening and then carry on into the dark

Wishing I had a .410 shotgun instead of an air rifle, I picked the biggest rat and rolled it over. Of course the others scarpered, but one lingered long enough to pay the price and take my tally to five in as many minutes.

On my first trip the rats had been surprisingly skittish, so I half expected my sport to be over for the night. However, when I looked through my thermal again I could see the rats lined up under a pallet, not quite sure what had happened.

Rather than taking another shot, I retreated to check out another bait spot, hoping they’d regain their confidence and come out again later.

I had high hopes for my second and third of four bait spots as they were closest to the largest of the nests. However, they both proved to be empty and I wondered if my expectations after such a good start were going to prove unfounded.

I needn’t have worried though as the last bait spot proved as popular as the first, and over 20 or so minutes I was able to account for another four rats. While the two nest bait areas failed to produce a single shot for some reason, I was able to alternate between the other two that had. 

At last, after a couple of hours, the rats disappeared. I picked up 20 with my litter picker and popped them into a bucket, and felt certain there were at least another half a dozen that had been dragged away by their mates or kicked their way down a hole.

All but the first three I’d shot had come from the bait spots, proving just how effective the tactic can be if you’re prepared to put in some time before you pick up your air rifle.

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