We drew back the massive grain store doors as quietly as we could, and stood silently in the pitch darkness, listening. Once our eyes had accepted the darkness, and our ears became our primary receptors, we became aware of the gnawing sounds. From the walls, up in the rafters, and from the pillars that supported the roof, rats were attacking the insulation of the grain store. The, largely uninterrupted, expanse of the building interior seemed to amplify the noises, and although we were mainly on site to carry out a recce for future hunts, there was no way we were leaving without nailing at least some of these rodents.  

This trip came about thanks to our top mate, and all-around skills library of everything airguns, Jim Brown. Our Jim enjoys a huge range of airgun pursuits, and he’s also a gifted technician, with an eye for innovation and access to the hardware required to fix, fettle, and refurbish pretty much anything shooting related. He’s also great company, and when you’re a guest on one of Jim’s shoots, you’re treated like royalty.  

It was Jim and his shooting buddy, Jeff, who kindly put Dave and I onto a dairy farm they look after, and the results of that can be seen in a couple of videos on Shooting & Country TV, where we used nightvision and thermal gear against rats and feral pigeons.  

On this occasion, the venue was just a few miles away from Dave’s house, and the plan was for us to meet at Dave’s, then go to survey the grain store, with a view to Dave putting together an anti-rat campaign over the coming months. I was invited along to chip in, and with rats being my all-time favourite quarry, I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation.  

As it turned out, this shoot had a series of ‘special requirements’, plus its share of unique demands, and it didn’t take long for us to realise that we’d need to use our brains, here, every bit as much as our shooting gear.  

Through previous conversations with the grain store manager, the first thing Jim had learned was that these rats totally ignored traps, and the second thing was that we couldn’t just shoot the rats anywhere we found them. These rats had to be shot away from the stored grain, so that their blood and other bodily fluids wouldn’t foul the high-grade corn. That was easy enough, we thought, especially when sitting silently and observing the rats’ movements through our thermal spotters showed regular routes from holes in the foam insulation toward the grain.  

Depending on the point of emergence, there was between five and 35 yards of clear concrete floor between our potential victims, and their food source. Our rifles were supported on shooting sticks, and dropping the rats with pinpoint head shots would be as near a formality as it could be. Also, we had the hi-rise option of the support pillars, honeycombed with rat holes, plus the rafters overhead and a series of concrete ledges that ran around the entire grain store. This would be all about target selection, followed by clinical despatch. Excellent! 

‘First, do no harm’, has been the declared oath of medical practitioners for centuries, and it would need to apply to the three of us, for sure. Within a facility such as this, there are by necessity, all sorts of electrical devices at work to monitor and control temperature, humidity, light levels and whatever else is required to keep grain in prime condition. At various points, this hardware gives off heat signals, some of which could appear decidedly rat-like under the all-detecting eye of the thermal spotters, and a misidentified target could be a disaster.  

So it was that, even after locating and mapping every friendly hotspot in the building, we agreed that, however ‘ratty’ and obviously viable anything that appeared in the spotter’s viewfinder was, only targets which we’d seen move were to be considered. Sorted – what next?  

Mice, that’s what. Tiny, scuttling, rarely stationary, but definitely a major problem, mice, and these had to go on the vermin list. In my experience, it’s not common to see rats and mice co-existing like they obviously do here. Rats love eating mice, especially baby mice, and although there will always be a few mice taking their chances of being a rat-snack, I’ve never seen so many living so closely to such a significant number of rats.  

Frankly, I found the challenge of zapping mice out to 35 yards far more exciting than a shooter of my years really should, but trust me, it became the highlight of my night.  

By the time we were ready to claim a few rats, it was getting on for 8pm, and we’d been watching, noting, whispering and strategizing for almost two hours. Normal people simply couldn’t understand how excited we were, and how lucky we felt to be in our position on that cold night. By ‘normal’ I mean those who wouldn’t even consider sitting in the darkness, in the middle of winter, plotting the downfall of the rats we could still hear, and see, scrunching away at stuff they shouldn’t be eating.  

Dave, gentleman that he is, had decided that, because he would be putting in plenty of shifts here in the future, he’d be the cameraman and ghillie for Jim and I, and as soon as the shooting gear was prepped and ready to make a difference, Dave and Jim faded into the blackness, stage right, to plot up within convenient range of an ariel walkway the rats were using, leaving me to mind the left half of the store. Game very much on! 

I’ve been actively shooting vermin for well over half a century, and many, many aspects of my beloved sport have changed during that tremendous amount of time. The hardware, optics, clothing, pellets, accessories and techniques are a world apart from those that greeted me when I took my first steps in the hunting field, but there’s one thing that, for me at least, never changes. I still feel the buzz of being out with my rifle, and locking on to the first target on a new permission will still have my adrenalin pumping – even if that target is a mouse. 

As the first viable shot of the night presented itself as a stop-start target the size of my thumb, my heartrate rose in time-honoured style, and I went into ‘control’ mode. I charged myself with oxygen via three deep breaths, consciously relaxed every muscle I could memorise, and settled into the pre-shot routine. Yes, all of this was to shoot a mouse, but that’s the deal and it’s another precious thing that will never change.  

I knew that my Air Arms S510 Tactical can group its .177 Diabolo Field pellets inside a 15mm circle at 45 yards, so the 35-yard shot I was about to take wasn’t anything like a push, especially with a supported rifle and no wind to consider. That said, I was still happy to see the brief ‘fireworks’ through the Infiray TP25 SE thermal scope, as the pellet struck home. Less than ten minutes later, I was watching a big rat heading straight toward the body of the dead mouse, which was still glowing brightly under the scope’s unblinking eye. The rat began to feast on the mouse’s corpse, as I suspected it would, until another heavily-silenced shot dropped ratty on the spot. Two shots in, and I was already delighted that we’d decided to add a little action to the recce trip. 

Over the next hour or so, I shot six rats and four, embarrassingly satisfying mice, plus I shot one rat twice, and I’d like to tell you how that happened. Remember our ‘only shoot what you see move’ rule? Well, I applied that rigidly and it served me perfectly … well, almost. Then, after I’d tracked one of the smaller rats from its hidey-hole at the base of a pillar, I was about to squeeze the trigger on it, when it began fighting with a much bigger rat. I immediately switched targets to the larger one, and connected perfectly.  

The problem was, the one I’d just shot was an earlier victim who the smaller rat was dragging off to scoff at its grisly leisure. What I’d thought was a scuffle, was simply the smaller rat getting a good hold on its dead mate. Dead rats glow brightly for at least an hour, even in winter conditions, so from then on I stuck to the first viable target I identified.  

To my right, I regularly heard the sounds of rat-hunting success, as Jim’s virtually silent rifle dropped rat after rat from the concrete ledge that ran right around the building. A pleasing pattern emerged, as in the quiet darkness I heard the pellets hit, followed a couple of seconds later by the impact of a fat, grain-fed rat hitting the floor from 20 feet up. Jim knows his stuff, and he’s incredibly thorough and methodical, so when you add those qualities to his passion for vermin control, you have a formidable combination. I don’t care how long you’ve been hunting, you could learn plenty from Jim, no doubt about it.  

With the need to control the ‘emissions’ from the dead rodents, we collected those we shot on a regular basis, rather than the end-of-session pickup we normally carry out. This further underlined the popularity of the cannibalism I’d witnessed early, when quite often, all I found was a patch of blood on the concrete where a dead rat or mouse should have been. I even found two rats stuffed into holes in the roof pillars, no doubt cached for later enjoyment. Little charmers, aren’t they?  

After four hours had absolutely flown by, I could hear Dave and Jim approaching from the far right of the store, and I decided that the next shot was going to be my last. Truth to tell, the continual craning to scan the rafters had taken its toll – my neck muscles have never been the same since being sliced and irradiated a few years ago – but ever the stubborn old git, I wanted to end the night’s shooting on a high.  

I’d tracked rats traversing the rafters almost directly above me pretty much since I’d been in ‘shooting’ mode, but it had taken a while to identify the best spot at which to intercept them. I’d noticed that the rats always paused for a split-second before negotiating a triangular bracing plate, which also made a perfect backstop. With Dave and Jim just 10 yards away, I had the rifle angled at 45 degrees as the rat halted for its final time, before my pellet took it cleanly in the head and sent it plummeting to the concrete with a pleasing ‘whump!’ 

I even said ‘nice’, out loud as I uncoiled my grumbling body, made the rifle safe, and joined the lads in our final retrieve of the session.     

So ended one of the most enjoyable recce sessions I can remember, and you can bet that I’ll be back and hammering those rats as soon as I can. With every type of trap a non-starter, and poison out of the question, I know that Dave and his rifle, applied on a regular basis, will definitely make a real dent in that rat population, and Dave is just the man for the job. That grain store is an all-weather shoot, too, where neither rain, wind or snow can stop play. What a little piece of paradise it is – unless you’re ‘normal’, of course!  Rats