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Night vision rat hunting with Mat Manning

In midwinter Mat Manning set himself up with night vision and put in a late shift in an attempt to hold back the winter influx of rats.

Night vision rat hunting

In cold weather rats are become even more of a nuisance than ever around farmyards. It’s an annual problem; most farms are home to modest populations of rats right through the year, but numbers usually increase rapidly during the winter when cold weather, rising water levels and dwindling natural food supplies force the rats onto the farm in search of shelter and an easy meal.

The exodus from the fields and into the sanctuary of the yard usually begins in the autumn as farmers bring in their harvests. That was certainly the case this year and I made some good bags during the early part of the season. I was using lamping kit on quite a few of those outings as I like the simplicity of this traditional approach. (Read our list of the best air rifle pellets.) 

Night vision rat hunting

With more and more rats moving in as winter advances, I’m having to up my game in order to keep the infestation under control on the three farms where I do most of my ratting, and that means switching to hi-tech equipment.

So tonight I’m using an infrared night vision scope. This gear gives a huge boost to concealment by enabling me to snipe rats without using conventional lamplight.

Being hidden in complete darkness without a beam of light to give away my position makes for extremely stealthy shooting, which means more dead rats at the end of the night.

I have also swapped the spring-powered break-barrel that I’ve been using on previous sessions for my FX Impact MkII. This recoilless airgun enables me to shoot with extreme precision, especially when shot from the support of sticks, so I’m able to pick off rats at longer ranges than with the springer. It is remarkably quiet; great for avoiding detection by my quarry and also very handy when working in close proximity to livestock.

The weather is overcast, which is favourable as the cloud cover will help to block out any light from the moon and stars that could enable the rats to spot me lurking in the gloom. There is also a gentle breeze, creating just enough noise to drone out any telltale sounds. It should be a good night for ratting.

The quarry: brown rat

PEST STATUS: This rodent spreads disease by toileting around stored crops, animal feed and drinking troughs. Rats also chew wires and burrow into banks or through walls. HABITAT: Rats are found in a wide range of habitats. Farms suit them well because they offer plenty of food and shelter. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Rats breed rapidly, so populations can quickly spiral.

16:20 – Five-star living

It’s hard to blame rats for moving from the open countryside and onto farms when the weather gets wintry. Not only are natural food reserves rapidly disappearing, the banks and hedgerows where these rodents usually live are now exposed, waterlogged and being battered by cold winds. By moving into farm buildings they can find plenty of shelter within close proximity to an easy meal – it’s like living in a five-star hotel.

Mat has arrived before nightfall so he can familiarise himself with the layout of the farm and clearly identify any potential hazards before it gets dark. He is also taking advantage of the remaining daylight to establish where the rats are most active and where would be best to base his ambush.

It doesn’t take long to see why this farm is so popular with the rodents. There are lots of warm, cosy places for rats to nest during the cold months. Animal bedding, crumbling walls, stacks of pallets, hay bales and heaps of tyres and rubble all offer prime places for rodents to tuck themselves away while the countryside is being ravaged by the winter weather.

Apart from protection from the elements, the rats also have a ready supply of food on this mixed holding which is home to cattle and poultry. Vast stores of grain and cattle feed mean they will never go hungry, even in the harshest of winter conditions.

16:40 – Gearing up

Shooting in cold, dark conditions can be tricky, but having the right kit for the job makes it a whole lot easier. Choosing an appropriate setup is a balance between technology, affordability, reliability and ease of use.

Tonight Mat is using the Pard NV008P LRF infrared night vision scope. This digital day and night optic will enable him to shoot in complete darkness without having to use a lamp which could put wary quarry on edge.

Apart from being packed with features to give Mat an advantage when targeting nocturnal pests, the Pard is also extremely simple to use – an important consideration when shooting in the dark.

Mat has paired the night vision scope with his FX Impact MkII; a very accurate and extremely quiet air rifle. This airgun is a sub-12 ft-lb model, perfectly suited to controlling rats in and around the confines of farm buildings and in relatively close proximity to livestock.

The Impact MkII has a magazine-fed sidelever action, which enables Mat to quickly reload with minimal fuss. Fitted with a Side Shot magazine, this gun has a huge capacity of 38 shots in .177 calibre – that’s way more shots than Mat needs on most of his daytime hunting trips, but it’s surprising how much ammo you can get through on a rat-infested farm.

The Impact’s magazine is loaded with Predator Polymag Shorts pellets. Mat usually favours domed ammo, but has been very impressed with this unconventional round’s performance, especially for delivering clean kills when targeting rats at close to mid-range. (Read which are the perfect pellets for your air rifle?)

Expert tip – see the light

Using night vision gear is all about boosting stealth by avoiding the use of a lamp, but it is still very important to have a source of illumination with you. The fact is that night vision optics are great for picking off unsuspecting quarry, but are not much use when you need to find your way safely around the farm.

While you can just about manage with the light from a phone, it is far easier to use a proper torch. Small handheld torches can be stashed in a jacket pocket ready for when you need some illumination. (Read our list of the best torches for hunting.) 

Better still, kit yourself out with a headlamp, which will provide a pool of light wherever you look and still keep your hands free for tasks like unlatching gates, picking up shot quarry and reloading magazines.

16:50 – Support act

Hi-tech night vision gear and super-accurate airguns won’t deliver the goods if you can’t hold a steady aim. While wandering around the farm and picking off rats as you encounter them can be effective, Mat usually prefers a more methodical approach, concentrating on one area at a time.

Apart from giving him a chance to really see just how many rats there are in the zone he has decided to target (and hopefully to shoot a large percentage of them) it also enables him to shoot from a very steady position.

Mat has taken along a backpack with an integral folding stool. This provides him with a comfortable seat away from the ground where the rats are scurrying around, and also creates a very stable base to shoot from. (Read more on the best kit for airgunners.

Because Mat’s pre-charged Impact is recoilless, it means that it can be shot from a rest without the risk of any zero shift – something he intends to take full advantage of. Wobbles are one of the airgun shooter’s greatest enemies, so Mat is using a shooting tripod to cradle his gun, bear its weight and help him to hold dead on aim as he lines up for shots.

With his seat and rest in position, the gun loaded and the night vision ready for action, it is time for Mat to wait in silence, ready for some night vision rat hunting.

17:05 – Straight into action

One of the most important things when targeting rats from a static position is picking a spot that enables you to get clear shots at the places where rats are likely to show themselves.

The location Mat has chosen enables him to cover a bank and tyre heap where rats are nesting, a large container that’s used to store animal feed and the route the rodents are using to travel back and forth between their lair and their feeding ground.

Mat often puts down some bait along rat runs to help keep the fidgety critters still while he lines up for a shot. Peanut butter, chocolate spread and liquidised cat food can work well, although he hasn’t put down any free offerings tonight as the rats here are quite bold and are used to disturbance.

To prove the point, Mat gets his first glimpse of a rat just a short while after settling in. Scanning through the Pard, he can see a rodent staring out from beneath the heap of tyres.

He waits until the rat creeps out a little further before settling the crosshairs and rolling it over with a shot to the head. The reason Mat didn’t shoot the rat while it was still under the tyres is twofold: firstly, it’ll be easier to retrieve it at the end of the session and secondly, having a dead rat in or very close to the nest can make others suspicious and reluctant to venture out.

18:20 – Lots of shots

Night vision rat hunting

Tactics for a night’s ratting are usually dictated by the way the rodents behave. Rats tend to be most active just after dusk, so if Mat doesn’t see much activity after the first half-hour or so of darkness he will usually move on and try another spot.

There is no need to relocate tonight though, and Mat has clearly set up in a very productive area. Just two hours after he arrived on the farm, Mat’s tally is already into double figures – there has been a steady stream of rats trundling back and forth between the tyre heap and the feed container, offering plenty of shots.

The Pard NV008P LRF has a built-in IR illuminator, which is extremely handy, but does put an additional drain on the battery. In order to increase runtime, Mat switches the unit into standby mode when the action slows down and then flicks it back on after a few minutes so he can have another scan.

Another handy feature that Mat likes to have when using night vision is the Pard’s integral rangefinder. A quick press of a button and the distance to the target is displayed on the screen, enabling Mat to apply correct holdover or holdunder as he lines up for shots.

19:45 – Clearing up

The first couple of hours prove to be extremely hectic. Assisted by the stealth of his night vision setup, Mat manages to take full advantage of opportunities as they present themselves and he quickly builds up a respectable haul.

Just as Mat starts to think that he may be able to nail more than 30 rats from his ultra-productive position, the action comes to a grinding halt – just as if someone has flicked a switch.

This is not unusual and is down to several factors: the peak hours of early evening have passed, remaining rats are starting to realise that danger is lurking and there simply aren’t many rats left in this area after such a hammering.

Even after the sudden halt in activity, Mat has still managed to nail 25 rats in well under three hours. That’s a great contribution towards the farm’s pest control efforts and has certainly hit back the rodents in this area.

The shot rats are gathered up ready for disposal on the farm’s fire site, but the session isn’t over just yet. Mat noticed another very ratty-looking area during his daylight recce and he is determined to make the most of the night’s favourable conditions to drive down the rodents’ numbers.

So he’s going to move on to there and see how many more rats he can add to the haul over the next hour or two before he heads for home.