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Night-time ratting with an air rifle

The best way of controlling a large rat population quickly after dark, says Andrew Walker

Brown rat in building

Rats can give dogs a nasty bite and transmit disease

Night-time ratting is a key part of carrying out pest control. It’s an effective way of reducing a large rat population. Whilst there are different techniques for pest control, if you’re looking at dealing with a significant number of the rodents then shooting rats with an air rifle is a good way of doing it, with instantaneous results.

I went out night-time ratting after I was called to carry out some rodent pest control in a location that had a great number of rats, where trapping would have taken too long and poison had already been rejected by the vermin.

Where the rats were located

The areas I focused on were around a feed hopper and a fire tip. The hopper spilled underneath after being filled, which the rats had been quick to spot as a food source.  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.

night-time ratting

Poisoning and trapping

The rat population was too numerous to consider trapping. 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

A wing mirror makes a perfect rest

Night-time ratting tips and 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.

Over 100 rats in a night

During the first night-time ratting we shot more than 100 of the rodents 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

A good time to revisit rat control

Rats breed and multiply fast during the warmer months so keep an eye on the areas for pest control.  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.

How quickly rats breed

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.

Air rifle for rat control

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 a 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.

The damage rats cause

Damage from rats can come in many forms, from eating feed, leaving droppings on equipment to digging under foundations. Add to which they are a health hazard. Rats holes under buildings can lead to subsidence too.