A night-time's ratting is the best way of controlling a large rat population quickly, says Andrew Walker

An unchecked rat population can become a major issue – this is where our pest control services come into their own. I employ a wide range of different techniques but on a job of this scale, shooting is a good way of making a significant dent in the population and working at night is part of it.

The location

The areas I focused on were around a feed hopper and a fire tip. The hopper had a slight spill underneath from each time it was filled, which made it a perfect food source for the rats. The fire tip had been used to burn all sorts of waste, including household, and some had not been burned off fully, leaving the rats with an extra source of food. These made for two perfect locations to shoot; once the rats in one area had become wary we would move around to the next spot.

Poisoning and trapping

The option for trapping was pointless because the rat population was so large. A rat trap only catches one rat at a time, so even if I had 30 traps working at once it would still take several days to catch the same number of rats that I could shoot in one evening.

Poisoning is a great means of controlling the rat population but these rats would not use the bait stations that had been fitted and would much rather eat the other, more attractive sources of food on the farm.

night-time ratting

Andrew’s wing mirror make a perfect rest

Tactics

After I zeroed the air rifle at 20 yards, I positioned the car 17 yards from the feed area, so I had a five-yard arc of fire each side of the hopper. With this technique there should be no reason to worry about hold over or under because the rifle was checked and was on zero at 17 to 23 yards. The backdrop was extremely safe due to the raised position of the vehicle, meaning all shots went into the hard concrete floor, with a breeze block backdrop in case any went astray.

On the fire-pit area, the backdrop was a bank where the rats were living. For this area, I once again positioned the car the same distance away.

A great tip when positioning your shoot site is to mark it out in the day, either using a range finder or by pacing it out. Then, make a mark on the floor or leave a stone on the shoot spot.

Results

The first night we shot more than 100 rats but had to stop when they became wary of breaking cover to climb across dead rats to get to the food. We left the site for two weeks to allow the rats to settle and then managed another 50-plus night, though we did notice significantly less rat activity.

night-time ratting

Make sure you wear gloves when handling rats

Prime time for breeding

During the warmer months it is advised to revisit areas more frequently because this is a prime time for rats to breed and multiply fast. Make sure you collect as many fallen rats as possible and dispose of them safely away from the site. Leaving them behind will win you no favours with the farmer and will simply leave food for the other rats. On our second outing, we noticed that three of the fallen rats had been taken by other rats – this just goes to show their cannibalistic tendencies.

Facts on rats

A rat’s litter size can be up to 14, but more often around seven. Juvenile rats reach sexual maturity at 5 weeks old and have a gestation period of 3 weeks. This all goes to show how intensive rat control is the only means of keeping on top of the population. With milder winters, rats are starting to breed all year around. I have said this before, but please make sure you wear gloves when handling the rats. They carry a number of diseases which can easily be passed on to humans.

Equipment

The air rifle  – the Air Arms S200 .22, 12 ft/lb –  continues to group five shots under a 5p coin at 25 yards and is more than enough to deal with a rat. The scope is a Hawke 6-24×50, which works extremely well with the NS200 (night vision kit). The pellets that suit my gun and what I use for all my shooting is the RWS super field – great accuracy and good stopping power. The vehicle’s wing mirror makes for a perfect rest and added warmth/comfort. If you are shooting from outside of vehicle make sure you have a comfortable chair and a rest of some sort so you do not become tired from holding up your rifle for hours on end.

Ratting terrier

Ratting with terriers

I’ve been to a meet or two 
in my time: beagle packs on village greens; minkhounds 
on crumbling stone bridges…

Damage

Damage from rats can come in many forms from eating feed, leaving droppings on equipment to digging under foundations. Of course with a large rat population all of the above can become an issue. In this case the biggest issue was the rat holes had been dug under and around the buildings, which could lead to subsidence. Also, the rats had been leaving droppings all over the farming equipment making for increased risk to health and safety.