How to use an air rifle to clear pheasant pens of rats
Before lockdown, Mat Manning heads to some release pens — now free of pheasants — to eradicate greedy rodents gorging on free grub
One evening that really sticks in my mind is a ratting session with my friend Kev Hawker in February. As the pheasant season had drawn to a close, we were allowed to shoot inside the release pens on a local estate and the early signs suggested that we were in for a busy time clearing pheasant pens of rats.
Riddled with rodents
My first investigation was by day, while out on my rounds checking on grey squirrel feeding stations. The main release pen is close to a river and the high water levels, resulting from the winter’s seemingly endless rain, had driven many rats out from their nests in the banks of the waterway and into the higher ground of the woods. With numerous pheasant feeders dotted around the pen, the rodents didn’t take long to find an easy food source and settle in.
The place appeared to be absolutely riddled with them. Though I didn’t see any by day, the network of holes around the bases of trees was clear evidence of their abundant presence.
The main hotspots were around a couple of remaining pheasant feeders, which had, unsurprisingly, created areas of increased attraction.
The following evening, Kev and I turned up at the pen about half an hour before nightfall, equipped with night-vision gear and full of expectation. I was using my Weihrauch HW100K with an ATN X-Sight 4K Pro optic, and Kev had my Brocock Bantam Sniper, which I had set up with an ATN X-Sight II HD.
A few months ago I wrote about Kev’s reluctance to spend money and the fact that he had converted an old camera tripod into a shooting support to avoid splashing out on a proper set of sticks. Because I had laid on the hardware and ammunition for this session, Kev’s sole responsibility was to remember his tripod and, you’ve guessed it, he still managed to forget it.
Kev’s lack of a shooting support was going to present something of a problem. Heavy night-vision optics make for wobbly off-hand shooting, so you need a rest to deliver clean head shots reliably. Thankfully, the tripod I use for my video camera was in the boot of my car. It lacked the fancy wooden yoke that Kev had crafted for his own tripod but at least he had a rest for his gun, and his reputation for never buying essential items of equipment remained intact. What Kev lacks in preparation he more than makes up for in entertainment value. As we crept into the pen, a startled rat shot out from beneath an old pallet and darted through the gloom in front of us, inches from our boots.
That was shocking enough but Kev’s shriek almost stopped my heart. The combination of terror and hilarity soon had us laughing hysterically. If anybody had heard us they would certainly have wondered what on earth was going on.
Clearing pheasant pens of rats
After regaining our composure we had a quick look round and settled on two spots. Kev picked an area that enabled him to cover the pallet stack and a couple of tree trunks that were peppered with rat holes. I found a place that gave me a clear view of a feeder next to a very ratty-looking tangle of undergrowth. Our chosen spots put us back to back about 10m apart — a safe arrangement that meant we were just about able to talk to each other.
I like to be comfortable when I dig in for a night’s ratting, so I unfolded my backpack stool and set it up on a flat patch of ground before positioning my Trigger Stick tripod in front of my knees. Expecting a lot of shots over the next few hours, I loaded one of the Weihrauch’s 14-shot magazines and popped it into the breech before filling another and slipping it into my pocket.
Filling magazines in the half-light is a much easier task than it is in complete darkness, so it was good to know that I would be able to pull out the empty magazine and snap in another without any fiddling around after my first 14 shots.
A few minutes after I’d finished loading up, I heard a ‘pop’ from Kev’s direction over the commotion of the roosting crows. Another one followed a moment later, before I had even fired up my scope and illuminator, so there were evidently a few rats on the move.
The light had more or less completely gone, and my first peer through the X-Sight confirmed that the rodents were indeed out and about. Scanning towards the feeder, which was only about 15m from me, I could clearly see two rats scavenging grain from around its base. I flopped one over with a wallop to the head and the other darted for cover at the sound of the impacting pellet. Another rat, possibly the same one, was soon back out, lapping at the fresh blood around the dead one. I quickly added it to the tally.
Over the next hour, the croaks and screams of the crows were replaced with the hoots and shrieks of tawny owls. The atmosphere of a wood at night is unique and it’s always an exciting place to be. It was particularly exciting on this occasion because I was getting plenty of shots, and the frequent ‘pap’ from Kev’s spot suggested that the rats were also keeping him busy.
As is often the case, the remaining rats became very wary during the final hour of our foray. After witnessing their mates’ misfortune, they understandably refused to venture out to the feeder but I managed to nail a few more by sniping them as they peeped out from the undergrowth.
What do you do when grey squirrels, rats and corvids are robbing nests of eggs? You get out the airgun…
Wise keepers make life as difficult as possible for those pheasant pen predators intent on finding a tasty meal. Birds…
By the time we pulled up stumps I was well into my second magazine and estimated that I’d shot about 24 rats — we picked 23 so I wasn’t far off. Kev had also made the most of the opportunities he had been presented with and we managed to gather 16 from around his zone. A tally of 39 rats is pretty good going for a relatively short session. We’d had a thoroughly enjoyable time and the keeper was delighted when I texted him to let him know how we’d got on.