Richard Saunders is left scratching his head about how to deal with some troublesome rats around the stable
I’m a reasonably experienced airgun hunter, which is another way of saying that I am getting on a bit, but every now and then a challenge comes along that requires a little extra thought. I live for those days.
One of my permissions is a small stable block run by a charity that rescues, rehabilitates and re-homes abandoned horses and ponies. Rats are never far away from the horse stalls, but what they really liked was the chicken run across the yard.
A small stream behind the run acts like a roadway for the vermin who enjoy nothing more than to dine out on the chicken feed of an evening. I have shot hundreds using night vision equipment, picking my way through a maze of chicken wire and electric fence mesh to place a pellet.
Over the years, the chicken run fell into such a state of disrepair that it had to be abandoned, and being a charity, there were no funds for repairs. As a result, the chickens and a solitary turkey called Bob, who spends his day wandering about the yard, were re-homed in one of the stable stalls at night. Unfortunately, the rats followed the food.
The permission is one I visit very occasionally, and the first I knew about the relocation was an email from the yard manager who said the stables were ‘overrun with rats’ and could I come down and do something about it.
Inwardly I groan when I hear that phrase; the reality simply never lives up to the expectation. But an obligation is an obligation, so I packed my .22 calibre BSA R-10, NiteSite Eagle IR kit and shooting sticks, and headed off to the stables.
Well, the rats were indeed over-running the place, even sitting on the top of stable doors while the yard manager and I chatted. I could hear some particularly persistent squeaking from one stall, but when I checked it turned out to be coming from one of the stable girls who didn’t like the rats running around her feet as she cleaned out the straw.
I puffed my chest out in a ‘leave it to me’ superhero kind of way and promised to sort out the problem. I mean, the rats were almost tame. Sure, they’d scatter when I hit a few, but I felt certain they’d soon return and my bucket would be brim-full of the little devils by the end of the night.
The stable girls, all doey-eyed in admiration and appreciation – at least in my mind – knocked off early and I was left alone with the rats. Payback.
It was still daylight, and back at the truck I took the R-10 out of its case, forgoing the IR kit for now. I filled the 10-shot magazine with Air Arms Diabolo pellets, and then filled another two spare magazines. If I could, I’d have worn them like a bandolier across my shoulders like Rambo.
With my shooting sticks in my spare hand, I strode back to the stables. Sure enough, the rats were still scurrying about the place, brazen as you like.
And then it all went wrong.
Despite the close confines of the stables, I had a safe enough backstop, but struggled to focus on the rats even at low magnification – they were simply too close at distances of only six or seven metres and sometimes even less.
And when I did get enough room to work in, my shots sailed wide because I was zeroed at 20 metres. I tried re-zeroing at 10 metres, but I simply couldn’t get enough distance between me and rats.
Eventually I had to give up with only a couple of the furry pests to show for hours of effort. As I made my way home my thoughts were of how I’d let the stable workers down and had failed to fulfil my heroic oath.
Of course, true heroes don’t give up, and over the next few days I thought about how I could deal with the problem without having to engage the rats in hand-to-hand combat.
Open sights might have worked, except that none of my rifles have them. I thought about a six ft-lb pistol with a red dot sight, but I haven’t got one of those either, and vermin control with a pistol doesn’t sit well with me.
The only way to deal with the pests, therefore, was to lure them into a position where I could take safe, accurate shots.
The stable block is laid out with a short central corridor and stalls either side with a tack room at the end. The rats live in the stalls, and I needed to get them into the corridor and in front of the tack room.
Unfortunately, that would mean that I’d put all the expensive horsey equipment in the line of fire.
I got over this problem by creating a backstop out of some old stable doors. The next stage in my plan was to lure the rats into the killzone. To do this, I tried using piles of chicken feed placed in front of the backstop. Unfortunately, the chickens kept eating them during the day. In fact, they ate everything I put down for the rats.
Unperturbed by the setback, I asked the yard manager and stable girls, who had long ago replaced their doey-eyed hero-worshipping expressions with unimpressed looks that said ‘what’s this fat clown doing now?’, to put down blobs of liquidised sweetcorn, BBQ sauce and peanut butter when the chickens had been tucked up for the night.
A week of this rat-feeding regime, and I was ready for phase two. Once again, the BSA R-10, NiteSite Eagle gear and shooting sticks were packed into the truck.
And though I was trying to keep a lid on my resurgent saviour complex, I was buoyed by news from the yard manager that the bait disappeared each morning.
I arrived in the last half an hour or so of daylight. Everyone had gone home, which meant that I had the place to myself. A quick check of the stables showed that the ratty buffet had been laid out once more.
I topped up the bait and settled into position at a table in the yard some 20 metres from the bait, the NiteSite’s screen glowing gently in the gathering gloom.
Twenty or so minutes later and barely a sign of any of the pests, other than the occasional glimpse, and I was starting to worry, wondering if the yard’s cats were putting the rats off. At last though, as I scanned the narrow shooting ground for the umpteenth time, I saw a rat make its way slowly to one of the blobs of bait.
Anxious not to miss the opportunity, I lined the rodent up, adjusted the beam on the NiteSite and waited for it to stop and present itself as a target.
Eventually the rat shuffled into position and I let the pellet fly. It hit with a hollow thwack, which was made louder by the enclosed space, and the rat was bowled over. It lay still for a few seconds, before its furry body began doing the funky chicken as its nervous system shut down.
The sound of the pellet hitting home was deafening, and I was sure it would deter other rats from showing themselves. However, for some reason, it seemed to have the opposite effect as they trundled out in a steady stream, like fluffy targets at a shooting gallery.
They were clearly disturbed, but they didn’t seem to know where to hide, and so they kept wandering about. Several came to the bait spots, but most of them were shot as they left the stable stalls and scurried around the corridor.
Before long I changed to a second magazine and still the rats came. I was able to add several more before the action slowed down and the rats disappeared.
I’ve repeated the process several times with similar results, and though I can’t claim to have fixed the problem completely, I feel sure I now have the rat population well and truly on the run.