Target shooting in nature with Andy McLachlan

Andy McLachlan enjoys snap shooting with his air rifle at the range, but finds some furious action of a very different nature outside.

Andy had to adopt a different technique for the rats as HFT does not prepare you for the fast action a night session can deliver

Many of us will at one time or another have taken part in some form of shooting competition with our air rifles. This usually allows us the opportunity to pace ourselves, even though time constraints may exist such as with Field Target, which stipulates that both shots must be taken within two minutes following the target being initially viewed through the scope.

But at the present time I am not aware of any competition that relies upon snap shooting at a target that either appears only briefly or is actually moving. Years ago, I remember that Running Boar was a serious shooting sport that involved shooting a target air rifle such as a scoped up Feinwerkbau 300 at a moving target of, you’ve guessed it, a miniaturised boar.

These skills are sadly lacking these days, although Running Boar was usually shot with a single-shot rifle. In saying that, some of the more recent technical innovations made available by many airgun manufacturers have brought about reloading sequences that cannot be far off the speed of rechambering brought about by semi-automatic rimfires.

Personally, having owned a semi-automatic Ruger 10/22 rimfire many moons ago, I can only state that the gun was ideal for genuine pest control duties that required swift backup shots on those rare occasions when plenty of pests required despatch.

The Ruger was most definitely not a target rifle, and while it was capable of field accuracy, it could not compete with something like an Anschutz single-shot rimfire that had been designed for match-level standards of accuracy. This is much the same comparison that an airgunner might make between a multi-shot rifle for field use and a purposely designed and regulated Field Target or benchrest rifle capable of superior accuracy on the range.

As with all things, it’s a case of horses for courses with shooting equipment, and it was with this in mind that over the past winter I set up a gun for night shooting at rats.

As anybody who has shot rats will tell you, the ability to carefully compose your shot, deliberately assess what the wind might be doing prior to assessing range and carefully releasing the shot, as a target shooter would do, is not a consideration that the pest shooter can afford when confronted with the rat.

Rats tend not to remain still for long unless they happen to be feeding on something, which is why using something sticky like chocolate spread or peanut butter to get them to sit still is such a good idea. My own shooting this last winter came about as a result of a friend who is a member of a syndicated game shoot.

Andy’s friend Paul had been using his HW100 as a ratting rig prior to buying his Pard night vision scope

Paul has been a part of the local shooting scene within our own area for nearly five decades and knows most of the people involved with game shooting. Gaining any type of ‘live’ shooting is not that easy to achieve for most people at the best of times, but for friends like Paul with his vast list of contacts, it does become easier.

Most syndicated game shoots will be managed by a gamekeeper who
is responsible for caring for and releasing birds such as partridge and pheasant. This is a considerable responsibility, and you can imagine how the gamekeeper will feel when he notices that his expensive feed stores or pheasant feeders are attracting vast hordes of the brown ratty menace.

This is what the keeper at Paul’s shooting syndicate had been faced with as the game shooting season progressed. Much of the expensive feed in the various hoppers situated around and about the shoot had been targeted by rats.

Paul had been asked by the keeper if he could use his air rifle to try to reduce the numbers of rats using this fast food facility. Paul’s Weihrauch HW100 carbine, complete with a suitable torch and red filter, had proved a successful combination in previous years.

The problem is that the use of a separate torch involves conserving batteries and trying not to ‘blow’ the use of the torch beam to rats that soon become wise once a few of their compatriots have met their maker.

This year Paul had purchased a night vision optic, the Pard NV008. This small unit is fitted to the gun’s scope rails instead of a normal optic, and provides 6.5x optical magnification plus a digital 1.5x zoom function which works day and night. I’m not going to bore you all with a full description of the unit, suffice to say that it is a lightweight product heavy on features for those who wish to shoot pests, especially at night.

Paul had taken the time to carefully set up this new optic prior to his first visit to the many pheasant feeders. He phoned me the next day to tell me that the night vision optic had allowed him to knock a severe dent into the local rat population and asked me to accompany him later that week.

Never being one to turn down such an opportunity, that session saw the pair of us taking turns with his gun as we scanned many of the shoot’s feeders in turn. I was only able to do this due to the keeper giving Paul permission for me to accompany him.

During our first trip, we also discovered a heap of manure that seemed to be serving as Rat City Central for much of the local rodent population. Using shooting sticks, this ended up resembling a shooting arcade game as so many targets were presenting themselves as we shot magazine after magazine, as the person who wasn’t on the gun at the time attempted to reload magazines swiftly enough so the one who was carrying out the shooting could keep up with the action. I can honestly say that I have never seen as many rats in one place at the same time as I did the first night we shot Rat City Central.

I started this article by describing how snap shooting is not something that as airgunners we are strictly familiar with. When shooting at so many targets in rapid succession as we were the rats, this certainly was something that had to be learned quickly if we were to effectively kill as many rats as possible in the time we had available.

I initially struggled to get the shots off quickly enough as I waited too long on many occasions for the rat to position itself correctly or to stop moving. I then realised that there were so many potential targets that I only shot when I had a clear line of sight to the head.

Once I had done this, the numbers of rats succumbing to the onslaught of spinning lead increased at a dramatic rate with the heap being quickly covered in small brown bodies.

It was honestly a case of shooting as fast as you could load the gun. This went on until we carried on with our round towards the next feeder. We both counted the numbers of kills later that night and arrived at the total of 98 between us. It was just as well that Paul had brought his fill bottle with him as we needed to recharge a couple of times due to the amount of shooting we experienced. 

I was that impressed with the evening’s action that I bought myself a second-hand Pard for my .22 Kral which we used a couple of times instead of the .177 HW100.

Fitted with the Pard day/night unit, Andy and his Kral accounted for no fewer than 87 rats in two outings

It was noticeable by the way the additional stopping power that the larger calibre possessed, and at the closer range of up to 20 yards for most rat shooting, the more looping trajectory of the .22 is not an issue. If hit by the .22, rats stayed down as the .177 occasionally over-penetrated and did not give up all of its energy into the target 

Shooting lots of rats is certainly different to spending time on a target course. Some of the skills remain the same if you are to succeed at either, but the art of speed shooting effectively is definitely something that needs to be practised.

It’s a pity we don’t have anything that we can use to simulate this as it’s certainly exciting as long as you can load the gun fast enough!

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