As winter gradually begins to tighten its grip, my attention turns more and more to the control of rats around farmyards. Temperatures are falling and natural food is dwindling, which means that hungry rodents are moving away from the open countryside and into the yard in search of easy pickings and a sheltered place to nest. Take the pressure off now and things can very quickly get out of hand, which won’t go down well with farmers who expect us to keep the unwelcome guests in check.
One of my farmyard permissions is an absolute haven for rats. It is a mixed holding with a variety of barns, sheds and outbuildings that offer very desirable winter quarters. Add a ready supply of nutritious food in the shape of several grain stores, and the feed that’s put out for the cattle and poultry that is reared here, and it is easy to see why the rodents like to make it their home when life gets tough out on the fields.

Having access to a farm that holds such appeal to rats sounds like an airgunner’s dream come true, and in some respects it is, but the rodents obviously pose serious problems to a business that several families rely upon for their livelihoods. That means the owners expect me to deliver real results when it comes to driving down numbers of these disease-spreading pests. To achieve that end, I have to put in some seriously long nights during the winter months. Of course, I absolutely relish it, but I have to be able to demonstrate that my actions are having a positive effect, otherwise the farmer will ask someone else to deal with the problem instead.


My latest visit to this holding kicked off just before dusk because even though the rats here are nocturnal in their habits, I like to have a proper look round before nightfall, if time permits. The first reason for this is safety, and there is never any harm in refamiliarising yourself with the lie of the land – not just to keep yourself out of harm’s way, but also to double-check that there will always be a safe backstop behind any shots you take.

The other key reason for taking advantage of having some remaining light on my arrival is to have a proper scan for signs of rats. My favourite way to target these rodents is to find areas where they are particularly active, and hit those spots hard before moving on. This approach enables me to take composed shots from a rested sitting position over a known distance. That means virtually every shot results in a clean kill, and I find these tactics far more effective – and a heck of a lot safer – than hoping for chances whilst wandering around the farm in the dark.

Air rifle magazineBUSY HIGHWAY

I didn’t have to look far to find clues to where I should set up for my night’s shooting. The main grain store was an obvious place to start, and sure enough, the edges of the vast heaps were littered with ratty footprints and droppings. I studied one of the walls and could see that the urgency of the situation was emphasised by undermined blocks, where rats had been excavating nests around the foundations – a sight that no farmer wants to see.

Rats love to follow edges as they make their way from their nests to their feeding grounds, and one wall in particular looked to be a busy highway. Apart from being undermined in places, it was also scattered.   With droppings along it base, and further investigation confirmed that the rats were using it as a route between a rubble heap in which they were nesting, and the grain store where they were dining. The wall provided a perfect backstop, so this looked like a great place to target.

Close up of thermal imager controlsTHE RIGHT GEAR

Having the right kit can make a big difference to results when it comes to after-dark ratting. If you’re on a tight budget, a spring-gun combined with a scope-mounted lamp still works as well as it ever did, but the precision of a recoilless PCP coupled with the stealth of an infrared optic will put more rodents in the bag.

My airgun choice for this occasion was my sub-12 FX Dreamline Classic, which apart from being very accurate, is also whisper-quiet. This rifle is quite pellet-fussy, but is absolutely pin-point with the heavier 10.3-grain version of Rangemaster Sovereign pellets. I took advantage of the remaining, but rapidly fading, light to load up its magazine ready for action, before making myself comfortable on my stool.

The spot I had chosen put me in the shelter of a hay barn about 16m from the main area of activity, although there were other promising-looking features – including that rubble heap and a pile of pallets – within 25m of me. I’d be shooting from a sitting position, and with the support of my Primos Trigger Stick, I didn’t expect to miss much over those ranges.

My choice of optic was the Hikmicro Alpex A50T Digital Day/Night Riflescope, which Scott Country has asked me to put through its paces. Very competitively priced at £799.99, including an IR illuminator, this digital scope produces a full-colour image by day and in twilight, and a sharp infrared sight picture at night. It is packed with features, including a wide range of reticle styles and colours, and the ability to save still images and video to its onboard memory.

Night vision scope image with rat in crooss hairsFRANTIC ACTION

Darkness had completely closed in around me by the time I had my first scan through the Alpex, and there was already a rat out. To describe the situation more accurately; the rat was actually ‘in’, being inside the same barn as me and underneath a tractor about 10m from where I was sitting. I gave the shot a touch of holdover to compensate for the very close range and dispatched the first rat of the night with a smack between the eyes.

Action is often at its most frantic as rats begin to move just after nightfall, and, sure enough, I soon had another one in my sights. This one was under a pallet – a favourite hangout of rats because they believe the cover keeps them safe from predators, such as owls, cats and foxes. Unfortunately for this rat, the open sides of the pallet were never going to shield it from airgun pellets, and it was soon snuffed out by a Sovereign to the head. I even remembered to press the button to activate the Alpex’s one-touch video recording, which resulted in some extremely clear footage of the shot.

The farm’s resident tawny owls were obviously out hunting because I could hear their hoots and screeches echoing around the farm. Their presence can often discourage rats from venturing away from cover, but I had a steady trickle of shots over the next hour or so.

A group of rats shot for pest control with an air riflePRODUCTIVE SESSION

A real hotspot emerged next to a post where rats began to linger whilst making their way along the base of the wall. I am not sure why the first one stopped there, but it fell to a well-placed Sovereign and then appeared to create an attraction all of its own. Whilst passing, rodents mostly ignored the other dead rats, they couldn’t help but stop for a sniff around this one, and quite a pile of corpses soon began to build up there.

It is easy to lose track of time when you’re absorbed in the monochrome world seen through an infrared scope – especially on a night when there are plenty of rats about. A few very productive hours passed with most rats showing themselves along the wall, although I also managed to snipe a few more from beneath the pallets and around the rubble heap. No more appeared in the barn that I was sitting in, which I can’t say I’m too sorry about because nobody wants rats getting too close for comfort!

Things really went off the boil shortly after midnight, but that was to be expected because I had then accounted for more than 30 rats, which was sure to put a dent in their numbers, and heavy losses like that will eventually put any remaining rodents on high alert.

Mat Manning clearing up after a night's ratting on the farmCLEAR-UP TIME

With things slowing down and time getting on, I took my cue to pack up and rounded off the night by clearing up the shot rats and disposing of them on the farm’s fire site. I always take along a litter grabber for this job, just in case I can’t find a shovel on the farm. Rats can carry some really nasty diseases, so you should never pick them up with your hands.

The Hikmicro Alpex had given a terrific account of itself, and I had barely made an impression on its onboard rechargeable battery, which boasts a run-time of up to 12 hours, and can be further boosted by dropping a CR123 battery into its top turret. I don’t think I’ll be staying up late enough to put that to the test, but I can’t wait to get back out with it – and judging by the numbers of rats I am seeing so far this season, that will be very soon. 


GUN: FX Dreamline Classic

AMMO: Rangemaster Sovereign (10.3-grain)

OPTIC: Hikmicro Alpex A50T

SCOPE MOUNTS: Sportsmatch two-piece

STICKS: Primos Trigger Sticks