CHAR­LIE PORTLOCK

Char­lie gets kit­ted out with the lat­est equip­ment to deal with a pub­lic health hazard

Air Gunner - - Contents - www.ac­guns.co.uk/ ac-night-stalker.

Reg­u­lar read­ers will know of my re­cent prob­lems with rats and it’s taken two months of shoot­ing, trap­ping and poi­son­ing to erad­i­cate the small pop­u­la­tion of seven an­i­mals from my coal shed. Pre­ven­tion is bet­ter than cure, of course, so I’ve also pointed as many en­try holes as I can find, but the build­ing is so old and the stone so soft that it’s im­pos­si­ble to keep all ro­dents out. As you might ex­pect, I haven’t taken kindly to be­ing kept awake by rats run­ning riot through the walls, es­pe­cially since the cav­ernous acous­tics make them sound like they’re the size of small ter­ri­ers. It was high time to launch some kind of pre- emp­tive cam­paign against them.

The lo­cal rat pop­u­la­tion is cen­tred around some cat­tle barns down in the vil­lage. In­ter­est­ingly, the re­search shows that brown rats only har­bour the myr­iad con­ta­gious dis­eases for which they’re in­fa­mous when liv­ing in close prox­im­ity to hu­mans. Wood­land dwelling brown rats are rel­a­tively be­nign. Per­haps there’s a les­son for us there. When­ever I bump into the cat­tle farmer he al­ways looks hope­ful and asks me if I’d like to come and “have a go”, but nor­mally, I’m too busy with quarry that I can eat to go rat­ting. How­ever, my re­cent in­som­nia in­spired me to take him up on his long­stand­ing of­fer.

NIGHT VI­SION

The Night Stalker kit from AC Guns uses a scope-mounted video screen and an in­frared torch to en­able you to shoot under full cover of dark­ness. It’s a vast im­prove­ment over my pre­vi­ous ef­forts at lamp­ing rats, us­ing a head torch fit­ted with a green fil­ter, but it is bulky and quite fid­dly to set up. It should be re­mem­bered that this is quite ad­vanced hard­ware de­signed to be a prac­ti­cal tool not a work of art. The kit works well and although it feels less ro­bust than the main com­pe­ti­tion, it’s also less than half the price. As an en­try-level IR set-up it does the job well, but it does take some get­ting used to and it was only af­ter around 30 min­utes of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion on the bench that I felt ready to use it in the field. Scan­ning would be eas­ier com­bin­ing it with a pair of NV binoc­u­lars, though, be­cause rais­ing the ri­fle quickly be­comes tir­ing. How­ever, if you plan to shoot from a fixed po­si­tion, then the screen can hand­ily be re­moved and placed on a nearby bale.

I was told that there’d be no need to rezero af­ter in­stal­la­tion, but this wasn’t the case be­cause my nor­mal zero of 25 yards was now shoot­ing an inch low. I re­cal­i­brated for 20 yards, ex­pect­ing to take shots out to a max­i­mum of 25 as I es­ti­mated that this was roughly the limit at which the in­fra-red beam would be ef­fec­tive at il­lu­mi­nat­ing the tar­get. The doc­u­men­ta­tion sug­gests 200 yards and per­haps a fox’s eyes may show up at this range, but for rat­ting this seems op­ti­mistic given the size of the torch, but then I’m new to all this tech­nol­ogy. I checked my hold-over for 10 yards (one dot) and 15 yards (half) re­spec­tively and felt con­fi­dent of my aim points during the trip ahead.

RE­CON­NAIS­SANCE

I was un­fa­mil­iar with the ex­act lay­out of the barns, so I took an hour to walk down into the vil­lage for a good look around. It wasn’t dif­fi­cult to spot the runs, even

with­out the scat­ter­ings of poi­soned pel­lets be­cause the padded chaff high­lighted the ar­eas that saw the most ac­tiv­ity. I iden­ti­fied sev­eral nest holes and well-worn paths around the cat­tle feed­ers, and I left with a good idea of where to set up for a safe shot.

NOT THE LONG GAME

An hour af­ter dusk I took a short drive down to the vil­lage and by 7.30pm I was in po­si­tion with my back to some bales and the ri­fle rested on my knees like a tur­ret. I was warm and com­fort­able, but my pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of shoot­ing rats at home had pre­pared me for the prospect of a long wait. It took some time to de­velop the tech­nique of scan­ning for ac­tiv­ity, but af­ter a cold 15 min­utes I was re­warded with two an­i­mals on the screen. Be­ing able to see them at night felt like a vic­tory in it­self, and any reser­va­tions I felt about be­ing un­sport­ing evap­o­rated when I re­called the great hole their re­la­tions had chewed through my kitchen floor­boards. I was glad that I’d ranged the dif­fer­ent dis­tances from my po­si­tion ear­lier in the day be­cause this wasn’t pos­si­ble in the dark. This kind of shoot­ing is brand new to me and I could feel the fa­mil­iar pulse of adrenalin that all hunters know.

I es­ti­mated the range at 17 yards, lined up the cross hairs and took a chest shot on the first rat. The dull ‘ thuck’ told me that the shot had gone home, but I fol­lowed up with a sec­ond and then a third to the brain when I walked over to re­trieve it. There are nu­mer­ous rat­ting pel­lets avail­able that prom­ise more knock- down power, even in .177, but that first kill showed me that I re­ally needed to be aim­ing for head­shots if I wanted to en­sure clean kills. In any case, I was grate­ful that the HW100 made fol­low-up shots so straight­for­ward. Di­alling the scope mag­ni­fi­ca­tion down to x4 power re­ally op­ti­mised this set-up and al­lowed me to track run­ning ro­dents as well as ben­e­fit from the im­proved light gath­er­ing of the lower mag­ni­fi­ca­tion.

The sec­ond an­i­mal that had started at the shot re­turned to feed­ing af­ter about five min­utes and I was able to put an­other an­i­mal in the bag. Par­tially warmed by my suc­cess, I spent an­other hour qui­etly stalk­ing around the barns and wait­ing in am­bush at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions that I’d iden­ti­fied ear­lier in the day with my fi­nal tally ris­ing to an un­ex­pect­edly lu­cra­tive four. Af­ter pick­ing the car­casses up with some old pli­ers, I buried them with the field shovel and re­turned to the car freez­ing but sat­is­fied. I’ll def­i­nitely be do­ing more rat­ting in the warmer months; I’ve got the bug.

Although it cer­tainly lacks the sen­sory com­pen­sa­tions of wan­der­ing though wood­land or stalk­ing qui­etly over green pas­tures, rat­ting is ad­dic­tive. Few peo­ple want to be out in the dark, wan­der­ing through muck-slathered yards, and your ef­forts are likely to be grate­fully re­ceived by farm­ers as a re­sult. Rat­ting is a great way into a per­mis­sion, but as there are ob­vi­ous risks to live­stock, prospec­tive shoot­ers can pre- empt any fears by sug­gest­ing shoot­ing sites with a safe back­stop that elim­i­nate the chance of ric­o­chets into feed­ers or pens. If you’re able to record a pho­to­graphic tally of your kills and dis­pose of the car­casses in a mu­tu­ally agree­able way, then you’ll soon earn a rep­u­ta­tion as a reli­able and ef­fec­tive ad­di­tion to the pest con­trol prob­lem and be on your way to se­cur­ing more per­mis­sions of all kinds.

FUN?

I’ve en­joyed my rat shoot­ing and I’m keen to do more, but it’s caused an un­ex­pected bout of self-anal­y­sis, partly be­cause I’ve had fun. My pot-shoot­ing has al­ways been sat­is­fy­ing and re­ward­ing, but it al­ways feels rather pro­found to kill for food and as a re­sult my shoot­ing has felt a lit­tle grave, with one shot for a two-hour stalk not un­heard of; with rat­ting, the shot count in­creases ex­po­nen­tially and it pro­vides the kind of ki­netic thrills I’ve only pre­vi­ously ex­pe­ri­enced with driven game.

I’m fas­ci­nated by the man­ner in which we’re con­di­tioned to view dif­fer­ent an­i­mal

species. We only have to look at Dis­ney films and chil­dren’s books to see how we trans­fer hu­man emo­tions to an­i­mals and then treat them ac­cord­ing to our own con­scious or sub­con­scious bias. Cast­ing di­rec­tors will al­ways em­ploy stoats, weasels and rats as the vil­lains and this might be as counter-pro­duc­tive as it is un­fair. If we cast some an­i­mals as guilty and oth­ers as in­no­cent, we’ll find our­selves in dif­fi­cult wa­ter eth­i­cally. Where do we draw the line? Do song­birds re­ally have any more right to live on this planet just be­cause we find them charm­ing? Should all rats be killed mer­ci­lessly be­cause they rep­re­sent a threat to our own health? It’s dif­fi­cult to ar­gue oth­er­wise, but isn’t it a bit nar­row-minded?

This hu­man­cen­tric ap­proach to the an­i­mal world has cre­ated a plethora of eco­log­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems and as soon as we re­gard any an­i­mals as lesser than our­selves, we’re sub­scrib­ing to the old bi­b­li­cal idea of our right to do­min­ion over the earth; look where that’s brought us. Rats may well be a pub­lic health hazard, but they’re amaz­ing crea­tures and I’ll wa­ger that they’ll be here long af­ter we’ve gone. Best of luck with your shoot­ing. Char­lie.

Th­ese barns are a rat mag­net

The in­frared torch was the per­fect size for close- range rat­ting

The silent PCP en­abled me to cause min­i­mal dis­tur­bance to the rest­ing cat­tle

There were holes all around the area My first one was a mon­ster!

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