Mat Manning Ratting by lamplight
You don’t have to buy expensive night vision kit to target rats after dark – Mat Manning explains how he uses a scope-mounted lamp for pest control at night.
Airgun shooters can provide a very beneficial service helping landowners with rat control, and also enjoy some very exciting sport while we’re at it. Most farms harbour a few rats right through the year but numbers usually rise rapidly as winter advances. Cold, wet weather and dwindling natural food reserves make life in the open countryside extremely challenging so it’s no surprise that these opportunistic rodents move on to agricultural holdings in search of nourishment and shelter. Find out more from Mat Manning on Farmyard Pest Control
And rats usually find their equivalent of paradise when they arrive on the farm. Sheds and barns provide them with protection from rain, snow and icy-cold winds, and animal feed and stored crops offer an abundance of easy pickings. Combined with the rat’s ability to breed throughout the year, this comfortable living can often lead to population explosions – and an infestation of these disease-spreading rodents is bad news for any farmer. Rats’ habit of raiding feed and chewing wires is nuisance enough but the fact that they can carry some lethal infections, including Weil’s Disease, has very serious implications for food producers.
The air rifle is as close as you can get to the perfect tool for controlling rats around farm buildings. Its modest power means that, with sensible use of backstops, it can be used in confined spaces without danger of ricochet and its quiet operation is unlikely to spook livestock.
Despite the current trend for night vision optics, lamping tactics can still be extremely effective. A scope-mounted lamp offers a simpler and far more affordable alternative to NV equipment, and is usually my first line of attack unless the rats are particularly skittish.
My most recent ratting session saw me kit-up with the Tracer Ledray F900 scope-mounted lamp. This compact little flashlight is great for ratting as its dimmable and focusable beam enables me to wind down the brightness to keep it low-key for close-range work. This versatile lamp also offers a range of beam colour options, thanks to its interchangeable LED system, and I opted for red as the rats are starting to grow suspicious after heavy shooting with a white beam – those interchangeable LEDs also offer an infrared option, so you can even use the F900 as an illuminator if you decide to make the switch to night vision. Those attributes are impressive but my favourite feature of the F900 is its angle-adjustable mount – it may seem insignificant but a lamp is useless unless you are able to properly align the beam with your sight picture.
Setting up and getting into position
I arrived at the farm an hour before nightfall and began the session with a quick look-round in search of a productive area to target. A spot between a hay barn and a silage clamp looked promising, and an abundance of fresh droppings on the ground confirmed that the area was seeing a lot of ratty traffic – most likely being used as a run between their nests in the hay and their feeding ground on the silage clamp.
Keeping rats still for long enough to get clear head shots to ensure swift dispatch can be tricky but I get around that by putting dollops of liquidised cat food along their runs. Hungry rats can’t help but stop as they pass this smelly, fishy slop, and because it’s in liquid form, they have to linger if they want a decent feed.
With my bait spots down and the light fading fast, I settled into position about 15 metres away from the baits, and didn’t have to wait long before I picked up the tell-tale red glow of reflected light in a rat’s eyes. The soft crimson illumination gave me a crystal-clear sight picture, and the crosshairs soon came to rest on the unsuspecting rat’s head as it sat slurping at the fishy sludge. I touched off the trigger and the first rat of the session met with an abrupt end.
A constant trickle of rats kept me occupied over the next couple of hours, and I’d managed to account for 17 by the time the action tailed off. Eradicating those rodents – and the dozens more I will no doubt account for over the rest of the winter – will make a worthwhile difference to the farmer’s ongoing efforts to keep their numbers in check.
The session doesn’t close with the last shot, though, and my final duty was to transfer the dead rats to a fire site for disposal. I always take along a long-reach litter grabber for this task – it’s a great way to ensure that my hands stay well away from those filthy rats.