Hard­man’s Hunt­ing

Phil Hard­man bags more than he’d bar­gained for when he ac­cepts a rat-shoot­ing in­vi­ta­tion

Airgun World - - Contents -

Phil finds some new friends and more rats than he can shake a ri­fle at

This month started with a rather con­fus­ing phone call from the editor. “Have you con­tacted that chap, Steve, yet?” he asked.

“Erm, Steve?” Turns out I’m not so good with check­ing my emails, so I had no clue what he was on about.

‘Steve’ turned out to be Steve Sut­ton, one of our read­ers, who had con­tacted the editor to in­vite me out along with one of his shoot­ing bud­dies, up on to one of his rat shoots. Steve lives a few miles away from me, in New­cas­tle, so with dis­tance no prob­lem I’d have been mad to turn down such a gen­er­ous of­fer. I gave him a what was sup­posed to be a quick call, to ar­range a date and time to meet up, but like most tele­phone calls to fel­low shoot­ers, it was any­thing but quick and we ended up chat­ting for a good half an hour as if we had known each other for years. That’s al­ways a very spe­cial thing to ex­pe­ri­ence, the bond that we shoot­ers have with one an­other, it’s in­stant. It doesn’t mat­ter who you are, where you live, how old you are … hav­ing such a shared pas­sion in­stantly bridges any gaps. I had to wait a few days be­fore we went out, due to fam­ily com­mit­ments, but that gave me enough time to check and dou­ble check all my gear; bat­ter­ies charged, spares, NV fully charged, ri­fle charged, pel­lets in the car so I couldn’t for­get them, check, check and check! My big­gest dread when meet­ing new peo­ple is for­get­ting some­thing vi­tal and mess­ing up the evening for ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially if they are a reader, and are ex­pect­ing ‘Phil Hard­man the pro­fes­sional’, when in re­al­ity they’re go­ing to get Phil Hard­man the bloke with an air­gun who is ex­tremely dis­or­gan­ised, at least un­til the shoot­ing starts.


Even­tu­ally, af­ter what seemed to me to be weeks, the night of the shoot ar­rived. I was pretty ex­cited. Steve had told me of some mon­ster bags he’d taken from this per­mis­sion

“as soon as I stepped out of the car I re­alised that he hadn’t been ex­ag­ger­at­ing”

in the past, and al­though the rats had been heav­ily shot for months, he was con­fi­dent that we’d get a de­cent num­ber. My ex­cite­ment only built as I filled up the Jimny with fuel, grabbed some pop and a sand­wich and headed up the slip road of the A1 north­bound, mu­sic blast­ing. I reached the top of the slip road and hit a wall of traf­fic, a bumper to bumper stand­still. In my head I heard that sound made when the nee­dle slips off a record. The next 45 min­utes saw me make 0.9 miles and what I had thought would be a 30-minute trip took me way longer.

Even­tu­ally I made it to Steve’s, and af­ter a quick hello we were on the move again to meet up with his shoot­ing buddy, Steve. Yes, that’s right, two Steves, which made the evening much sim­pler, given how bad I am with names, but it might make this ar­ti­cle a lit­tle harder to fol­low.

We headed north, me fol­low­ing in my car, and drove, and drove, and drove. I re­ally hadn’t re­alised just how far north we would be head­ing, and by the time we ar­rived at the shoot we were in the deep­est dark­est parts of Northum­ber­land and I’d been driv­ing for 2.5 hours. Sixty miles it was, on the but­ton ac­cord­ing to my car’s trip read­ing. I was amazed – peo­ple drive this far to shoot rats? I have to travel maybe 500 me­tres to get to my rat shoot, never mind 50-plus miles! Sud­denly, a few things made sense, like the sheer amount of kit they were un­load­ing from their car. When you have trav­elled that dis­tance, you can­not sim­ply turn and pop back home if you for­get some­thing, or need some­thing you don’t have with you. I’m used to be­ing able to nip back for a bite to eat or a cup of tea mid­way through my ses­sions. Th­ese lads are so iso­lated that if any­thing goes wrong here, the night is over!


When we met up, I’d men­tioned that I would be happy with half a dozen rats in the bag, and Steve had said with the ut­most con­fi­dence that he could guar­an­tee that, easy. I did say I would hold him to it, and rib him re­lent­lessly in the mag­a­zine if we didn’t man­age it, but as soon as I stepped out of the car I re­alised that he hadn’t been ex­ag­ger­at­ing when he had told me about the num­bers he was used to up here. There were rats scur­ry­ing about in the lit­tle lane where we had parked on the edge of the farm­yard, and de­spite be­ing il­lu­mi­nated by our head­lights, they were just go­ing about their busi­ness with­out a care in the world. Steve took me around to give me the lie of the land, in the torch­light whilst he baited cer­tain ar­eas. Even when he was do­ing this, there were rats run­ning around, not re­ally both­ered by the torch­light.

An open drain pro­vided the first kill of the night, a rat trapped down there meant that I was to shoot whilst Steve il­lu­mi­nated with his torch. It was far too close to use a scope, so I looked down the side of the bar­rel, some­thing I have done on many oc­ca­sions in the past, and fired. The rat slumped stone dead a small

spot of blood show­ing just how per­fectly I had hit it in the head.

Af­ter we fin­ished putting the bait out, we headed back to our lit­tle base for the evening. The other Steve, be­ing a more, ‘sea­soned’ hunter, mainly hunts rats from a static po­si­tion, with a fold­ing chair. On the other hand, I like to slink about, lurk­ing in the dark pick­ing them off in cir­cuits, with short breaks in be­tween. The ‘less sea­soned’ Steve likes to do a mix of both, so he went be­tween us.

We took a lit­tle while to start, mainly due to chat­ting, like a bunch of lads that had known each other all our lives, which was great, but the rats weren’t go­ing to shoot them­selves, so I headed around into my part of the yard and we cracked on.


As I flicked on my Night­mas­ter Atom, I was in­stantly greeted by a very close-range rat, 10 yards max, big old thing it was. It was sit­ting there, eat­ing the bait that had been placed only a few min­utes ear­lier, and pre­sented a fairly easy opening shot, which I nailed. Scan­ning around I spot­ted an­other, but due to not know­ing the area ex­actly, I missed over the top and it scam­pered off dou­ble quick. I didn’t have time to be dis­ap­pointed, be­cause in­stantly, I saw an­other pair of eyes twin­kling in the in­frared light of the NV, and this time, I aimed un­der, so not to re­peat my pre­vi­ous mis­take, only to send the shot harm­lessly un­der the rat’s chin. One for three, not a great start, but I knew it was sim­ply down to not know­ing what I was look­ing at through the Atom, and mis­es­ti­mat­ing ranges as a re­sult. New land can be tricky in day­light, never mind in to­tal dark­ness. I shrugged them off and knuck­led down, nail­ing the next shot. In the back­ground I could hear the muted sounds of shots from the two Steves as they, too, got stuck into the ac­tion.


I barely had to take a step for­ward be­fore hav­ing to fire an­other shot, and then an­other, and be­fore I knew it, it was time to reload, and then again and again. I was plough­ing through mags so quickly that I com­pletely lost count of how many I had fired, but apart from those two early misses, I was on form, nail­ing them on the spot.

Af­ter an hour or so we took a break, met up back around at base camp and had a chat,

“You lose so many to can­ni­bal­ism as the night draws on”

reloaded our mags and had a drink. To be hon­est, we chat­ted for far too long, but that’s part of why we do it, get­ting out with like­minded in­di­vid­u­als, chat­ting, bond­ing, and not just about shoot­ing either. We talked about all things; kids, work, wives and girl­friends, even my bipo­lar dis­or­der came up, and we’d been to­tal strangers only a cou­ple of hours be­fore – that’s prob­a­bly one of my favourite things about be­ing a shooter, that sense of ca­ma­raderie.

Even­tu­ally, we cut the chit-chat and got back to busi­ness, the same as be­fore. There were still plenty of rats around and my own hunt­ing played to the sound­track of the two ri­fles around the other side, pop­ping off shots every few min­utes. It was fan­tas­tic, and ac­cord­ing to the lads, this was a pretty OK-ish night, less than aver­age. This was the equiv­a­lent of a re­ally good night on my own rat­ting per­mis­sion, but to th­ese lads it was noth­ing. They had showed me photos of 120 bags, 70s … and that’s picked up. You lose so many to can­ni­bal­ism as the night draws on that you tend only to col­lect about two-thirds of the to­tal shot.


The night re­ally flew over, mainly due to the ac­tion-packed na­ture of the place. It’s not a big yard, but a sin­gle 50-yard sweep can see you paus­ing every few sec­onds to scan or shoot, so the time passes by very quickly. By mid­night we de­cided to stop be­fore the rain that had been fore­cast re­ally took hold. It was al­ready be­gin­ning to driz­zle and we still had a lot of pick­ing up to do be­fore the 60-mile drive home. We worked as a team – two lit­ter pick­ers and a bucket as we went from place to place, try­ing to re­mem­ber an­gles of shots, where rats had fallen, and pick­ing up as many as we could. It’s re­ally bad eti­quette to leave dead rats ly­ing around, so it pays to get into every nook and cranny to make sure you get as many as hu­manly pos­si­ble, so they can be dis­posed of prop­erly.

We all took a guess at how many we’d col­lect; I guessed 41, but frus­trat­ingly, we col­lected 40, just one off. I even had a scan around to see if I could bag an­other, but it wasn’t to be. Still, 40 col­lected, not a bad night at all! I bet we’d shot 70 eas­ily, and I know for a fact that at least half a dozen rats that I’d dropped at the start had been dragged off and eaten by oth­ers, and they were the ones that had fallen in the open; the ones that were un­der ma­chines or in cover were much more tempt­ing for any rats look­ing for an easy meal. We said our good­byes af­ter pack­ing up, and agreed to do it again some­time soon be­fore part­ing ways on the drive home. I didn’t get in un­til 1.30am, I was tired, aching, but happy, and lay in bed re­liv­ing some of the shots in my head as I dozed off. What a night!


I have al­ways said that for every writer in a mag­a­zine, or on YouTube who does it well, there must be a hun­dred lads out there that do it just as well, if not bet­ter, than us, and on this oc­ca­sion I ex­pe­ri­enced that first hand. Th­ese lads’ ded­i­ca­tion to rat shoot­ing is un­par­al­leled, and they’re out here two or three times a week, every week. I was se­ri­ously im­pressed not just with the per­mis­sion, or the ac­tion, but with both Steves who are to­tal gen­tle­men. Once again, thank you both for the ex­cel­lent night, the great sport, and the even greater friend­ship you both ex­tended to­ward me. Great stuff, lads!

That’s it from me for this month, see you all next time. I

Per­fect shot place­ment. The rats didn’t stand a chance!

Sea­soned vet­eran Steve has been do­ing this since way be­fore I was born.

Try your best to search every nook and cranny, don’t leave dead rats ly­ing around.

Us­ing lit­ter pick­ers min­imises your con­tact with the rats.

Wear­ing gloves pro­tects your hands from all man­ner of germs.

The lit­tle HW110 did me proud, as al­ways!

40 rats in the bag, and new friends made. What a great night!

How many were in the bucket?

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