Rat Tales.

I skirted the stream in the hope that I might catch some varmint unawares, had a look down by the large Beech tree and back around the far field but the whole area was quiet, even one of the larger holes in the Beech, previously occupied by starlings is now occupied by honey bees.

I sat on an upturned bucket and leaned on the solid door that leads into the stable yard.

Within minutes I saw movement across the yard, it was early afternoon so it couldn't be a rat - could it ? yes it could, not an adult they are far too cautious to come out in daylight - this was a 'grey' , a young rat (about six or seven inches long),  very curious and almost suicidal in there activities.

His nose was twitching at an exit hole and his attention was on a metal feed basin that had been left about two feet from the stable door. Fortunately for me he was just hesitant enough to allow me to bring up the Park RH93 and position the crosshairs on his head, exactly thirteen yards ? - spot on my first zero !   It was a clean shot and the little horror took his last breath only three inches away from his objective. I removed it with a piece of wood and sat back down on the bucket. Three or four minutes later rat number two appeared - I gave him the same treatment.

I didn't think any more rats would come out, but I was wrong.

About ten minutes later the rat equivalent of Linford Christie emerged and disappeared directly into the metal basin and just as quickly made it back to the safety of the hole !   Hhmmm, tactics required..... Right !- Rat wants food ?- Food in basin, what if I put something interesting in front of the basin ? 

I shaved off a few slivers of milk chocolate and waited - bingo ! - another head shot grey. Not such a clean shot and the rat began a flip flop routine similar to a beached fish, it was trying desperately to make it back to the hole, no time to reload [must buy a Multi -Shot] so I ran across the yard to prevent it's escape through the hole. I jammed my foot in the hole to prevent the rat's escape then flicked it onto open ground, finally finishing it with a close-up head shot. 

The following day I perched on the bucket again but this time I was also watching the top of a feed wagon outside the stable yard (about thirty yards) beyond the area where the greys were emerging,  I was hoping a magpie would see the squirrel that I had placed there. You see, before I sat down I visited the beech tree again and found one of the new occupants, he was now sunning himself, belly up, on top of the feed wagon !

In no more time than it takes to microwave a frozen lasagne two magpies landed on the wagon roof - further to the right than I wanted as now one was out of sight and only the head and neck was visible of the second bird - Bapp !! - one down. It fell out of sight so I skirted around the stables only to find the second maggie squawking and jumping up and down on his fallen comrade - but not for long - two down.   Back to the rats, I went through a mock routine of fetching horse feed from the bins, I know it's cheating but it works every time. The rats hear this noisy 'so and so' banging pans and bin lids, thinking it's feed time they come out to play (he hee). Sure enough two more greys stuck their noses into the fresh air only to join their not so late lamented brethren.  

Not bad for two days hunting, two magpies, five rats and two grey squirrels ........ two squirrels ? - yes, I went back over to the Beech tree !


Horse's Arse.

Nothing - not a sausage! - even the magpies seemed to have gone for a Bank Holiday break. What a waste of time.

I trudged back to the main gate, a large double affair (designed to keep thieves out ) and unlocked it in order to get my car out. Before moving my car onto the entry point I walked forward just to have a quiet look around, there to my right, by the side of the flood stream I noticed the slightest of movements - I froze ( it was a cold day !).

Again, there it was, down by the edge of the culvert , the same movement.

Slowly but surely I moved back towards the car. I slid my Park RH93 from it's case, loaded it, then waited at the rear of the car. There it was again, a light brown - pencil thin predator - a Weasel. It obviously didn't want to go through the culvert and was about to make it's dash over the top as the .177 pellet stopped it in its tracks. What a shot!

It's strange isn't it, but whilst I was preparing for the shot I was completely unaware of a horse and rider slowly approaching along the road (they weren't in shot). I nipped forward to retrieve the weasel and came face to face with an 'ex' of mine riding her huge rip.

" Mornin' " I said pretending not to recognise her (she had her riding hat and sunglasses on) and bent to pick up the weasel. If she asks I thought - I'll say it was a road traffic victim ! She didn't.

She turned and crossed the road towards the bridlepath.

As I examined the Weasels needle sharp teeth I watched the horse and rider negotiating the bridlepath swing gate. I wondered if this little Ninja of the animal world might have enough life left in him to inflict one more bite in that horses arse - that would have made my day !!


One good deed.

I had owned my Original 45 for some years and thought that by having it serviced I would be improving the action of the rifle, it also seemed logical to have the mainspring replaced at the same - why? I don’t know - as I knew the rifle was in perfectly good condition it just seemed to be the right time to take it in for a service. What a mistake! After it’s service and mainspring replacement I tested it over the club chronograph, it was now only producing 9 ft lbs before the service it clocked 11 ft lbs, oh despair, before putting it away in my gun cupboard I noticed that there were also some vice marks on the cylinder. I left it there, unsure what to do with it.

A week or two later my old pal and shooting chum William related to me the story of how he came to be in possession of a live Crow and had put it in his spacious aviary. The bird had come to him through his wife’s friend who had found it whilst out riding her horse, the bird had been ‘pricked’ by shotgun pellets. The large corvid seemed quite at home in the aviary and seemed to have the same phlegmatic character that Magpies have when placed in a Larson trap - they just think that is their lot and accept the situation! There was little chance that the crow could be returned to the wild so he was named and given the free run of the larger part of the aviary.

‘Charlie’, as the crow was now called, was no bother, William’s house and garden were known as a place where unusual creatures could be found. But there was one small problem - Magpies, attracted to caged Crow they were landing on the roof of the aviary and making a frightful din. Whenever William was out with his shotgun he always shot Magpies on site, but for this situation he was going to need an air rifle and I had just the one! William wasn’t interested in power output of the rifle he simply wanted a tool for the job, so I lent him the Original 45, one week later he bought the gun from me and was very pleased indeed.

They say one good turn deserves another and so it was. One Saturday morning the phone rang and it was William on the other end. William had volunteered my services to a market gardener some twelve miles from where I live, they had a rabbit problem around their greenhouses, new lettuce seedlings are grown in row upon row of trays in these large greenhouses and the rabbits had managed to get inside and attack the trays of lettuce, they were also plenty of rabbits to the rear of the farm buildings. Pete, the owner of the business, had wanted me to try to flush out and shoot the rabbits inside the greenhouses but I assured him that possible ricochets could cause more damage than the rabbits. He left me to have a look around the buildings, I didn’t mind as I had already spotted a rabbit nipping in and out of the far hedgerow.

I uncased my FT Stocked HW77 and made my way around an emergency irrigation pond that was in the middle of the field and sat myself in the hedgerow that ran at right angles to the point I had seen the rabbit. Five minutes later the unweary bunny hopped out of the hedge right into the crosshairs of my scope, exactly 35 yards I thought, as he rolled over. I hadn’t any more spare time that day so I made my may back to the car, Pete saw me and approached - he must of thought I was the ‘bees knees’ as he stared at the rabbit which I held by the back legs. I nodded nonchalantly at his comments and tried not to look smug, but boy, did I laugh during the drive home.

The following day I wasn’t laughing as my left hand and wrist had become covered in a rash of tiny red spots, I guessed the cause of the spots was the rabbits urine. Fortunately for me the spots didn’t develop any further and after a week they disappeared.

The problem area outside of the greenhouses was not such a great size, probably only about five acres in total, so it wasn’t long before I’d located the warren. There had been some daytime sightings of rabbits (hey, I even shot one) but I knew these guys were the nocturnal type. Wanting to provided a very efficient service for my new found friend I decided to continue to use my HW77 which is fitted with a thumbhole stock, I know the ranges and hold over for this rifle off by heart and in dimly lit conditions I would be shooting from 15 to 40 yards, I didn’t want any poorly judge shots. Also the sound from the HW77 was only a lowly ‘thwok’.

The afternoon of my first evening foray I went to the farm and decided on the best place to position myself, as extra ploy I discreetly repositioned small rocks and boulders that were already part of the landscape, I placed them at differing ranges- 20-25-30 yards etc, now I was sure that I could do the job required.

I arrived at the farm while there was still some activity around the buildings, I didn’t want anyone seeing my car for the first time to think I was a trespasser. As darkness descended over the landscape one or two of the outside lights began to cast dim shadows across the grassed area where I was waiting. I turned the zoom scope magnification down to 5x so I would benefit from it’s maximum light gathering ability.

I was sitting in the classic field target position with my arms folded across my knees when the first grey shape of rabbit appeared, I wasn’t about to spoil the whole show by firing at the first rabbit that showed up, so I waited. Sure enough one by one the whole clan started to appear. By now the nearest was only fifteen yards away, the cross hairs came to rest just above it’s eye, slight pressure on the trigger and he slumped to the ground. Without moving, I watched the reactions of the others through the scope - a few pricked ears, but no panic in the ranks, maybe they can’t see in the dark? or perhaps they should have chosen a carrot crop to raid! After a minute or two had passed I quietly reloaded and took aim on another, further away this time, exactly 25 yards (he was sitting next to one of my markers), at this distance the pellet would rise approximately one inch above the sightline so I lowered the cross hairs to below the rabbit’s eye and squeezed off another shot.

I was able to shoot two more before a certain nervousness started to pass amongst the remaining rabbits and one by one they went back to the warren. I collected up the shot rabbits (wearing a plastic glove this time) and returned to the car, I was ready for a coffee so stayed there for some time drinking from my flask and eating sandwiches. I hoped this break would give the rabbit colony chance to settle. To the right of me I could make out the unmistakable shape of a large Tawny Owl on the apex of a neighbouring house, I figured he might have designs on my rabbits so I covered them with a cloth sack and hung them up to cool, these rabbits were destined for a ferreting friend of mine.

On my return to the grassed area I raised the HW77 and scanned through the scope, the moonlight helped, but there was very little activity to be seen. I sat down at my original position and waited.... and waited, something strange was afoot. Sure enough at the far end of the grassed field I could see Renard the Fox illuminated by a lonely street lamp, it was time to go home - but there would be many other opportunities for me and my HW77.


Full Frontal Lobotomy

Down on the horse fields we always have plenty of magpies and as soon as I remove any, the vacuum created is filled by others looking for an opportunity to increase their territory.

There are two trees on this shoot which are particularly high and are always used by magpies as lookout points. The taller and slimmer of the two once had a magpie nest in it - but it fell into disuse ! later the nest was reoccupied by squirrels who stuffed it full of leaves and other materials - that also fell into disuse !!

I’d had this particular tree staked out for a hit on a ‘chatterer’, I'd paced out the distance to the tree and added on a couple of yards for good measure, I was sitting with the HW77 across my knees when he showed up, he set down on the highest boughs (aren’t they always) I estimated the shot at 45 yds (aren’t they always), included a little ‘windage’ in the computation and raised the scope cross hairs accordingly.

The .177 pellet struck him centrally between his folded wings, in that moment between the pellet starting up the barrel and the impact on his fragile body he had begun an instinctive leap into the air, whether it was his balance or the force of the impact, I don’t know, but in the seconds that followed he performed the most perfect reverse swallow dive straight down to the ground 9/10 (I deducted one point as his entry was a bit off !).

We had recently excavated the stream to improve the flow and create an island for nesting water birds, retrieving the maggie would have meant a fair walk through mud and horse sh_ _ , I decided to leave it where it fell, in the hope that it might encourage other corvids to investigate the fallen bird - no such luck.

I had forgotten about the fallen magpie when three days later I heard the most raucous din, I crept forward (you know, knees bent - rifle out in front ?) to investigate - a crow had seen the maggie and was ‘creating’ something awful. Too bad, I was on his blind side he was too occupied trying to raise the dead to notice me anyway. An almost perfect shot with the HW77 hit him square in the chest and went the same way as his cousin, not so elegantly - more like a Focke Wulf 190 with it’s tailplane shot off ! - but just a permanently.

I was already up to my knees in mud, so I this time I made the effort to skirt around the stream and retrieve the two comrades. I scooped them up and immediately ducked under the cover of the nearby feeding stalls as I'd glimpsed another maggie coming my way. I half expected it to fly over but there was no sign of it - but I could hear it - right above my head.

There was a tear in the heavy thick plastic sheeting which protects the rear of the stalls. I got down on my hands and knees and got a squint of it high up the tree behind the stalls, an almost vertical shot, no chance from this position, but wait, the ghost of my grandfather came to my aid (he always wanted to be a cowboy). What if I lie down on my back and slide the rifle through the slit in the plastic ? Names of long dead westerners passed through mind as I struggled into position - Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok - Clint Eastwood (?).

A magpie never looked so surprised! he crashed down through the branches (I can’t tell you where I shot it), as it bounced through the lower branches it took a deflection and seemed as though it would hit me in the face, I made to get clear as fast as possible and cracked my head on a horizontal bar - "ooh dear" I said to myself as I reeled back in pain, the falling maggie clipped the crown of my head for good measure.

That was enough hunting for that day! I took my throbbing head to the nearest shop to buy a cool can and some aspirins - boy did I get some strange looks ? When I got back to the car I examined myself in the mirror - I had a bright red weeping wield across my forehead and magpie blood and entrails stuck to the back of my head.

Christ ! - the shopkeeper must have though I’d just had a lobotomy.


The Last Hunt

Wow, life is Good ! a letter arrived today from that farmer I’ve been pestering for the last two years - he wants me to clear all the vermin from a section of his farm - Waahhoooo !! Heaven on Earth !!.

I gather all my kit together -deeks - cammo nets -lofting poles - loads of ammo’ - my favourite gun -scope etc, I’m going down there at the first opportunity (tomorrow). I pile all my clobber by the back door in anticipation of the coming day’s shoot.

Right ! the alarm clock worked (for once) and it’s just before dawn. Car boot open, pile in every possible piece of equipment you own and off you drive down the road, - man life is Good ! The sun is beginning it’s daily chore as you arrive at the farm gate. Farmer Giles greets you and gestures to a far off wood, Huh? but there is no track for your car ! never mind, you haven’t come this far to be deterred by a little ‘Yomp’ . Pockets full, rucksack on back, gun over shoulder, a sack full of deeks in either hand and away you trudge ....1/2 a mile... 1 mile.... hhh..huufff hhuufff , you’re there, Yes - Yes - Yes - bonanza, the trees are stuffed with pigeon, the fields are full of corvids and rats frolic on a nearby river bank - man life really is good !

Kit off, cammo netting in position, bum bag in place you settle down to a well deserved flask of coffee...coffee ?, oh sh_ _ the flask - the sandwiches ! damn ! never mind, the killing zone is filling up nicely so your thirst and hunger will be satiated by a good days shooting. The first Magpie drops into range - cross hairs on his vicious looking beak and BLAM..... blam ??? No ! ... ppfffuuuttt more like, Jesus.... you forgot to charge the air cylinder, AArrgggrrrrrhhh !!! no No NO, it can’t be ! - I know, I’ve read about hunting in UK Airgun magazines (??). Your blood pressure starts to rise, your eyes become distended... hair begins to grow on the backs of your hands. What To Do???

You consider throwing yourself in the river -Yes, that’s it ! do away with yourself, no more disappointments, eh, but wait, life can still be good, snorkelling is the answer and you rip the barrel off your Rapid 7 and wade out into the water, you disappear beneath the icy waves - stuff shooting - there’s a whole new world down here, then you remember the pellet lodged halfway up the barrel - your heart races - your lungs pound fit to burst - your Wellington boots never felt so heavy - everything goes red, the light above begins to fade, a pain like a Texas Chain Saw rips through your head and chest - should you play a last lament ? - again you remember the pellet in stuck up the barrel, Damn !!

Good bye cruel world........

With a shriek and a massive intake of breath you awaken, My god ! it was a nightmare... phew .... you slump back into bed and comfort yourself by stroking your magnum.... Aaah, life’s good.

There’s a moral to this story - take time to prepare and maintain your equipment in good working order, it could last a lifetime !


Buzz Baby Buzz

It was one of those days - it was the day the vet visited along with the mobile blacksmith.

No point trying to do any shooting (the Vet probably would object anyway) so I just try and look useful (mistake number one).

The Vet was inoculating the horses for one or other of the bugs that horses seem to pick-up, one horse in particular seemed to know what that plunger device with a sharp needle was for and didn't want any part of it !

Two things you should know about horses...

1. They are stupid

2. They are stupid.

Make that three things!

The Vet couldn't even get the horse into the stalls and the girls wouldn't go near it while it was in that belligerent mood. So who do they ask for help - yep, you guessed - me. I propped my cased rifle near the next stall door and manoeuvred the horse into the stall, but that wasn't good enough - the Vet wanted me in the stall to hang on while he administered the injection. No way !- no sooner was the horse in the stalls than it started to spin round, then it burst out through the closed swing door, bucking, kicking and stamping on the vets tray of instruments and medicines, scattering them everywhere then knocking three of us out of the way. Worst of all I found my rifle had been knocked to the ground.

The Vets face was a picture ! he looked like he had just put his hand on a Mk IV Fenn trap.

"Good bye folks" says I, and I head off in the direction of the deep undergrowth.

I soon found a quieter corner over near the large beech tree, quiet did I say ?, it was certainly one of those days !

The bees that had made a home in the tree were swarming around in a great cloud, curiosity took me closer - too close, they were swarming around a queen bee and were hanging in a huge bunch from a branch and they didn't want my company !

I made off faster than I had left the stables !

No damage done so I parked myself near one of the fox holes that we have in this area. Plenty of digging activity had taken place around the entrance hole and around the rabbit warrens. Why rabbits live right on top of a fox's den I cannot understand, but that's the way it is. I think the rabbits were there first then the fox moved in, enlarging a rabbit warren for a home.

The landowner doesn't want me to shoot the rabbits, so they are safe (for the time being) and I'm not sure that a shotgun is humane enough for the foxes so they are all left alone.

I scanned the area for signs of vermin only to see a group of starling flying backwards and forwards from a small clump of bushes. I checked that the rifles 'zero' was still ok, then selected the nearest starling and was about to squeeze the trigger when the bird disappeared ?

It hadn't flown off - momentarily a large dark shape had flashed through the sight picture of my scope, I looked up from the scope to see my would-be quarry being carried across the field by a Sparrow Hawk.

Hhuuum, it sure was one of those days.

What do you do on days like this ? Pack up, head for home, put on a CD, check your rifle for wear and rust, lubricate as necessary, clean out the pellet pouch, remove any misshaped pellets and plan your next days shoot.

Maybe the next one won't feel as though I'd intruded on some equestrian festival !!


Rat - Shoot !

"Don’t shoot any pigeons" said the land owner, I didn’t question him as I knew in that immediate vicinity the pigeons weren’t a problem. We have a healthy group of about thirty pigeons that often present themselves as a fine target for the stealthy airgunner, but I have to bid them good day and go about my business - which is the small matter of Rats.

A plentiful supply of horse Nuts, Barley, Beet and Hay is always required at the stables and this food is attracting the rats. There are usually four to five girls around at feeding time and there were plenty of stories of rats climbing into the feed bins and troughs, the rats were also known to come out onto the open floors of the dimly lit pens - even while the horses were being fed.

On one occasion, a bucket had been spilt and left, some minutes later some fifteen rats were out on the open ground helping themselves to the spilt food, at which point the girls made an immediate exit, shortly afterwards my services as an airgun hunter were called upon (thanks rats).

I was first shown the area around the feed stalls during the winter when the nights are cold and long, looking for the signs of the rats by torchlight is an errie business in unfamiliar surroundings and the thought that I might corner a rat unexpectedly is always at the back of my mind. On many recorded occasions rats have run up the arm of a would be hunter who turned over a bail or bin, as the rat passed over the shoulders of the hunter an ear was bitten! I really didn’t fancy a dose of Weil’s disease (the ‘Yellows’).

For my rat hunting I took along my well used Original 45 as it has a 3-9 x 40 scope that is parralax correctable down to 5 yards, I did consider taking my lightweight Webley Omega with open sights as I thought I might be firing ‘point blank’ !

I also took a torch which is very light and has a fine narrow beam, I can hold this small torch below the rifle as I scan for rats. The signs that the rats leave weren’t obvious at first (apart from the holes) as the horses themselves are inclined to cause a lot of damage to the stalls either by biting or kicking, but once I had familiarised myself with the layout I could see that Ratuss Norwegicus was well ensconced and wasn’t planning any vacations! It was also clear that they weren’t bothered by the presence of the girls and in particular had never been bothered by any hunter.

I arrived the following night at the same time that the girls usually feed the horses as I didn’t want the rats to be aware of a singular individual arriving. Once the girls had departed I sat myself down on a chair I had positioned midway between the east end where the hay store is and the west end were the feed bins are kept in a low long store room, in front of me were the feeding stalls.

After approximately 15 minutes in almost total darkness I could discern the slight sounds of scratching and the almost imperceptible high pitch squeaks that seemed to be coming from the far end of the feed store. I flashed the torch in the direction of the sounds and immediately I could see pairs of tiny red eyes at the far end. Turning the torch off I decided to wait until they got nearer, but all seemed to go quiet - had the torchlight frightened them or did they sense my presence ? I turned my attention to the east end, a quick scan with the torch caught a rat in the beam, again I switched off but this time I turned myself fully and raised the rifle in preparation for a shot.

Holding the torch beneath the forend of the Original 45 I aimed in the direction of the rat - sure enough, through the scope I could see him crawling beneath the store door, it only took a moment to position the crosshairs on him and fire. Moving forward I could see the rats head, I pushed back the door and at that moment I got a real fright as the pressure of the door rubbing on the rat’s back made him curl up as if it was about to attack showing an extremely large pair of yellow incisors. I stepped back and took another look - ratty was dead - I used a pair of pliers to pick him up and place him outside of the feed stalls.

I re-loaded and settled down on my chair again, quietly waiting for further sounds. The cloud cover had broken now allowing moonlight to filter through, I could now see my breath in the cold night air.

More time passed as I wondered whether I was positioned in the correct place, then it happened - a slight scratching sound this time very close, too close, then I felt scratching at the edge of my boot, then a rat was on top of my boot!

Had I remembered to stretch an elastic band around the bottom of my trousers ? "Don’t Panic" said a voice in my head, "Start singing" said another, "Wet yourself !" said a third. I shuffled the chair noisily and away it went.

"Oh, What fun" I thought - NOT !!!.

The rat had made off in the direction of the feed store - ignoring the cold sweat that had formed on my brow and neck - I made ready for a another scan with the torch, there on top of a feed bin was a fair sized rat which was sniffing at a hole previously gnawed in the lid, the .177 gave him no time to react, his limp body fell to the floor.

I called it a night shortly after that as frost was beginning to form on my nose, I cursed myself for not wearing my thermal underwear.

Regular sessions at the feed stalls were having an impact on the rats and the girls were seeing fewer and fewer around the stables. But now it was Spring and we all know what happens in Spring (ask your mom!). The reports now reaching me were of sightings of very large mice in daylight ! I knew from experience these were young rats, the ‘greys’ , three to four weeks old, curious and very agile. If ever I shoot any of these greys I always make extra sure they are dead as unlike their much larger parents they have the ability to climb their tales (if held that way) and inflict a very nasty bite on the unwary hunter.

The main nest that the rats occupied was beneath the tack room and the girls had indicated the area that the ‘mice’ had been seen to emerge. Positioning myself on top of one of the larger metal feed bins I sat cross legged over looking the hole that I felt sure our young greys would emerge.

It was still daylight but shortly after the sound of feeding horses had started the first grey emerged, the Original 45 despatched it before it had got two feet from the hole. A few minutes later a second followed the first, it to was despatched, then a third.

Bush telegraph or whatever else rats use to communicate had sent the message back to the remainder in the nest and no more were seen that day. Eager to show the girls the results of my hunt I proudly displayed the three greys, I now told the girls that their ‘mice’ were really rats, that caused more alarm and consternation than the sound of my rifle !

All rats become senile in just one short year so the female rats are able to produce young at a very early age, this ensures that the rat population is kept topped up with young ‘Greys’.

Annoyingly I was still getting glimpses of some very large (and wary) adults, one flash of torch light and they were off and gone to the rear of the bins. Most rats caught ‘full on’ in the torch beam would sit upright and appear to clean there faces - this is sign of fright in rats and it usually allows enough time to position the cross hairs and take the shot.

We were well into summer now and my evening rats hunts were being replaced by sessions of Magpies hunting, but one particular evening I felt that I had left the rats alone for too long and decided to have another late night shoot. My usual chair was put to use and I began my wait at the entrance to the feed store, the lure of the local pub was at the back of my mind and the presence of gnats and mosquitoes didn’t help either.

Darkness set in and my night vision alone wasn’t enough to see down the other end of the long store room, taking my favoured torch from my pocket I positioned it under the forend of the loaded Original 45. Our rats had been feeding well on spilt grain and as the tops of some of the feed bins had not yet been replaced with metal ones they were helping themselves to the main store of horse foods.

The usual scratching sounds started I waited so as to let the rats get nearer and to find the handful of extra titbits I had placed on the ground about seven yards to the left of my chair. When I was sure a rat was nearby I flashed on the torch, nothing had prepared me for what I saw next, there in the beam of the torch not 6 yds away was the biggest rat I had ever seen - if there is such a thing as a ‘King’ rat, then this was it.

Off with the torch - what was I to do?, did I really want to be face to face with ‘that’ again? - take a deep breath (hope that it isn’t any closer), raise the Original 45, torch On - Fire, the huge rat rolled over as the .177 wadcutter struck it hard and high in the chest. I kept the torchlight on it, with my heart pumping hard beneath my shirt I fumbled one handedly to re-load the Original 45, but it wasn’t necessary, the rat kicked a few times then expired.

Using a shovel I removed this ‘King’ of rats from the feed store and placed it on the paving stone path that runs the length of the stalls, an average adult rat weighs about twelve ounces - this one weighed a lot more, its general scabby appearance suggested it had been around for quite some time. Taking a piece of chalk from the notice board I marked out the distance from it’s nose to the tip of it’s thick scaly tail, I then placed it outside in a position where I knew either a Fox or an Owl would find it.

The following day I returned with a tape measure - a total length of 18 inches! - man, that was some rat - and I never saw or shot a bigger one at those feed stalls.

Some time later the stalls were pulled down and replaced by new ones a little further away - but that’s another story !.


The Gathering

After the old stables had been pulled down, the farm was left with an area that became relatively quiet. The rats no longer had anywhere to feast and there seemed little for an eager airgun hunter to hunt. That was until I saw the farm owner at the local garage "What about those darned magpies" he said, "Huh?" said I, "You’d better get down there and sort them out !" He left me with the feeling that I had been neglecting my duties, but I hadn’t seen more than the odd maggie around the farm and I knew he had no luck when he tried to reduce the magpie numbers.

Maybe he was just trying to keep me on my toes as I hadn’t been down to the farm for a fortnight. His wife would often say there were rats as big as cats around the feed bins when I could only find mice and any good ratman knows if you have mice, you haven’t got rats. Rats won’t tolerate any other rodents sharing their food supply.

One of the farmer’s own methods of hunting magpies was to carry an old air rifle in the cab of either his tractor or four wheel drive vehicle. The rifle he uses is an old BSA Cadet (.22) , it is in a sorry state, most of the bluing has been worn off the central area of the barrel as he picks up the rifle up by the barrel. Some rusting had also begun on other parts of the old Cadet, the stock was in an equally poor state. I’d asked him If I could take it away with me and give it complete overhaul but he wasn’t interested - "It was only an old gun" he said, "Not worth the bother". It was worth the bother - I doubt that it was producing much more than 6 ft lbs of energy - and I wanted to give it some very needy maintenance and restoration, but it was not to be.

On my first available free day I went down to the farm to find out the meaning of the farmer’s words - "those darned magpies". All seemed normal near the top end of the track that normally used to access the farm. I parked my car off track on nearby hard standing, uncasing the BSA Superstar I checked the 3-9x40 scope zero on a pile of nearby rubble. I always do this as a slight jolt to the scope whilst in the boot of the car can upset the zero.

The pellets I choose to use for the Superstar are BSA’s own Excalibur as previous testing had shown that these gave the tightest groups and are about the same weight as other popular brands, once assured that the zero was fine I set off to recce’ the farm.

Keeping close to the hedges I proceeded on a circular route which I new would bring me close to the fields that the few Magpies I knew of, favoured. A crow sat high in the lone oak tree that stands to one side of the stream and upon spying me took to the air and circled around, caw-cawing in alarm. I pressed myself into the hedge as if to make myself less visible and vainly pointed the Superstar in the crow’s direction, the crow drifted away and I continued with my quest to find ‘those darned magpies’.

Walking this close to any hedge is sure to surprise many small mammals and birds into the open, this in itself gives me much enjoyment as I am able monitor the efforts that have been made to improve the local wildlife habitat. Many rabbits bolt in and out of cover but they are in no danger from me and the Superstar, we encourage them to live here, it’s the foxes that give them a hard time.

Two fields further on I could hear the frantic chatter of magpies not just one or two, but many! Towards the bottom end of the field I could see them - whow! a single tree seemed to be full of magpies, I crept forward to get a better look at their activities. Peering through a dense part of the hedge I could see that the Magpies were swirling around the tree, into it and down to the ground. I couldn’t see what was getting their attention on the ground as the tree was the far side of a railway embankment.

The best count that I could make was eighteen magpies in the tree at one time and there were probably others on the ground. I have seen this behaviour since (usually in Spring) but I have never again seen so many at one time.

There was no way I was going to be able to get a shot at any of these corvids so in order to get a better view I decided to break cover and boldly approach the embankment at a point where there is a level crossing. My presence stirred the magpies to abandon their gathering. Even when close to the tree I couldn’t see anything on the ground so I retreated to ‘my’ fields. I sat down beneath the tall hedgerow to consider my plan of action against these magpies.

It was a pretty warm day and the shade provided by the hedge gave welcome relief from the sun, the hedge also gave me cover from a returning magpie that settled nearby, no doubt he was looking for his fellow corvids but it was a fatal decision, my .22 pellet struck home a moment later and he fell to the ground, I bagged him up and made my way back to the car.

I had decided upon a plan of action. Using an air rifle to shoot magpies requires stealth, I believe decoying and shooting from a hide is the best way to bag magpies. There are many ways to get the attention of magpies, a plastic decoy Owl placed high on a prominent position usually brings them in (two Owls are even better), but sometimes they are so agitated by the presence of decoy Owls that most shots available are more suited to shotguns. I have also used shiny objects such as Christmas tree decorations with limited success, I have found that Jackdaws are more often attracted to shiny objects.

I favour positioning myself near to any type of food spillage or carrion that the magpies have found previously, but the only way to get in range is to use a hide. Camouflage netting is the obvious means of constructing a hide, but if I can, I always shoot from any hidden position which is a familiar feature around the farm or fields eg; from beneath a hedge, behind unused machinery, from between two buildings, anywhere that the magpies have no reason to fear.

The best hide that I use is a feed ‘wagon’ that can be moved around the fields. On the outside are wire racks where the hay is placed for the animals but the central feature is a storage compartment for bails of hay. This ‘wagon’ (it must have a technical name) isn’t used much in summer, so accordingly I set myself up inside.

A flask of coffee, sandwiches, my Superstar and 3-9x40 scope, not forgetting the essential copious amounts of insect repellent. I had tried the ‘wagon’ in two previous positions without getting near to the magpies but today everything seemed right, light winds and not too warm and the sun to my rear.

There were two pairs of magpies at the south end of the fields, I had noticed that territorial squabbles often broke out between the two pairs and I figured that would be enough to keep them distracted while I set up my hide.

I left the door of my ‘wagon’ half open and settled in for the wait, eventually my patience paid dividends, through the crack made by the hinged side of the door I saw the first magpie land, slowly but confidently it strutted towards a bucket that had been left on the open ground and into my field of view. At approximately 35 yards his image seemed to fill the eye piece of my scope, all I had to do was hope that he would stand still long enough for me to make a clean shot.

I tracked him through the scope, he was very nervous so to gain his attention I made a ‘squeak’ by lightly sucking on the back of my wrist - that did the trick - he halted, half turned and crouched as if to take flight but hesitated a moment too long, a moment later he slumped to the ground. I didn’t immediately leave my hide as I hoped that the fallen magpie might gain the attention of the others nearby. All remained quiet, after waiting some time I left my hide and retrieved the fallen bird.

This new imbalance of numbers now had the second pair of magpies becoming aggressive towards the lone bird of the first pair. As I watched them through holes in the side of the ‘wagon’, they soon ‘shooed off’ the single bird then dropped down on to the ground in front of me. The Superstar sent another pellet on it’s lethal trajectory and a second magpie was added to the bag. The third bird momentarily flew off but soon came back to encourage it’s fallen partner to return to the nearby trees, it was a forlorn hope, it landed on a fence post giving that familiar agitated chack-chack-chack call, the Superstar again lived up to it’s name and despatched the bird in a most efficient manner.

The farmer had often said that it was a good days shooting if you returned home with a magpie in the bag, returning with two was a real bonus. This day I was able to show him three and belay his fears that the farm was about to be overrun with these most unpopular birds.


Magpies Magpies Magpies

The farrier arrived to shoe one of the neighbours horses. I never shoot when there are others on the land so I made polite conversation with him.

To cut a long story short he also had a dislike for Magpies and he was overrun with them on his small holding. He’d been trying for years to rid himself of the Magpies but had no success.

Now after I’d convinced him that I was his wish come true and I wouldn’t shoot any of his ducks/chickens/golden pheasants/cats/horses he invited me to visit and look the place over. When ? that day ! (whoopee !! - I tried not to show my excitement).

Sure enough there were Magpies a plenty, Mick (as my new friend was called) showed me around the buildings and fields. I could see why he wanted an airgunner to do the job - there are five fields in all with a public footpath running along the hedge of the first field, houses over to the right and at the far side of what is known as the ‘top field’ there is a bridle path. I decided that I would start my cull in the courtyard/first field area.

Mick went off about his business and I set up my first ‘hit’ at the gate to the first field. I put out two eggs (one broken) at 35 yds. In no time at all the first Magpies swooped in ‘as bold as brass’, these birds were very confident and were not in the slightest bit wary. The Accupell fired from my Park RH93 cut him down like a laser, still unbothered the next bird swooped in, there was no wind so this was going to be a doddle, smack - black beauty dropped alongside his pal ! Then another dropped in but now they were getting excited - and so was I, as I reloaded I unwittingly shifted my position and the next shot made an almighty CLANG ! on the cross bars of the steel gate (idiot !)

Fortunately the Magpies were still unawares as to what fate had befallen their comrades so I was able to take a third bird, there was the usual ‘smack’ on impact but this shot wasn’t as clean, the Magpie was able to flap about on the ground, a second shot finished the bird. Now the others were in a high state of agitation and a large tree nearby lit up like an animated Christmas tree - there must have been at least a dozen Magpies in there and three crows also joined them to squawk-out their displeasure. My eggs suddenly lost their appeal and the other birds refused to come down so I broke from cover to recover my quarry.

Shortly after I got back to the gate Mick came out to see how I was getting on. I gestured to the other side of my car “You’ve shot three !” he said looking at the birds I’d placed there. He repeated himself “I know, I can see you shot three” , looking in disbelief.

Mick had tried many times in the last couple of years to shoot the Magpies but couldn’t get near to them , he now looked upon Airguns in a new light, and I have a new and regular shooting site.

The point to all of this is that during our conversation (or was it questioning) I was able to show Mick that I had a comprehensive knowledge of my quarry, the countryside and more importantly airgun safety and he felt confident enough to invite me to shoot on his land.


The Next Visit.

I’ve been making regular visits to my new shoot at Mick’s small holding and as this is virgin hunting territory (as far as the Magpies are concerned) and I have been able to conduct a few simple experiments regarding bate.

I was aware that the local residents have been feeding the birds and I thought that the magpies might have preferences regarding ‘titbits’. Since the ‘first’ field had become too hot for the Magpies they now seemed to stay in the ‘top’ field and I could see that they often went towards a large garden of a neighbour who was obviously feeding the Magpies and Squirrels (later,later).

I decided to have some early morning forays, up at 6 am I drove to the shoot and after taking a back path I settled myself in the bottom of the hedge overlooking the ‘top’ field. I was at least 6 feet inside the hedge sitting on my Pizza bag and leaning my back against the rickety fence, dressed in my old hunting clothes (no fancy ‘real oak’ patterns), with my hat on and face covered with scrim the magpies were completely oblivious to my presence and even came in the branches above me.

I placed eggs directly in front of me, crumbled bread to the right of my position and mince meat slightly to the left. The ranges varied from 30 to 45 yds, this is a very steep field and I reduced my holdover for any given range by 5 yds as the amount of ‘drop’ would be less shooting down hill. First in was a Crow who went straight for the meat, I allowed him quite a lot of time to eat as I hoped he would attract the Magpies (also the meat was frozen). Once the chak-chak-chaking started in earnest I swung my rifle across in the direction of the first Magpie who came in for the bread - much to my surprise - maybe this is what they find in the gardens ?

With more than ample time to place the cross hairs I made sure all the shots were all high chest and neck shots. I remove the birds each time I have two on the ground as the other birds become ill at ease and won’t come near. On the first visit I stayed under the hedge for 3 hours and had a haul of 5 Magpies and 1 Crow, remaining still for so long really takes some doing.

The Magpies definitely preferred the bread (white) but I have continued to place out eggs as an added attraction. I shape the mince meat I place out to look like the carcass of a small animal, it works but the bread being a lighter colour seems to get their attention quicker. If the birds have two or three different piles of bait to choose from they seem happier as they can choose where THEY want to land. I had ideas about putting out the carcass of one of Mick’s Black Burmese Bantams (or whatever it was ), a Fox managed to get over a 6 feet high chain link fence and polish off the little rooster, I didn’t have the heart to ask !

I’ve been using my Park RH93 for all of these shoots and as a full power rifle it is extremely effective (10/10). I had reason to remove the bolt before one days shooting, a bright spot had appeared on the front end of the bolt which suggested that it wasn't aligned correctly when seating the pellet. I removed the bolt and carefully straightend it. I refitted the bolt but unbeknown to me I had rotated the bolt a full 180 degrees and replaced it that way, this meant that the air-hole from the cylinder to the breech was effectively blocked. I started my next shooting session with a rifle producing perhaps only 4 or 5 ft lbs of energy !

The sound of it didn’t seem quite right but as I was shooting at ranges around 25 yds I didn’t notice any difference not until I tried a couple of 40-45 yd shots and missed, but before that I had taken two Magpies, one was a clean head shot, the second was a chest shot which dropped the bird cleanly. I couldn't carry on this way though so I investigated and soon had the bolt re-fitted the correct way around.

I have now reduced the Magpie numbers by 15, but there are still more of them around but getting them to come in to the bait is getting harder now there are fewer of them and they know that all is not as it should be! I’ll leave them alone for a while, say a week or so until they ‘settle’.

Anyway, my other mate Bill, tells me “There are bloody dozens of 'em at the stables !! "

Not now though, I shot eight the following week !!


Starlings

(Please note: Starlings have become protected since this tale was written.)

We may consider ourselves hunters but there is a great need for simple pest control.

The pest I'm thinking of now is the Starling, not really a difficult quarry for the airgun hunter, but we are probably the only people that bother to thin out these airborne rats. The vast numbers of these birds mean they can be a serious health nuisance.

Farmers and shotgunners won't bother wasting a cartridge on one (not unless they've had a really bad day), they might also been seen as helpful by sheep farmers, as Starlings eat ticks.

Starlings are always found around human habitation so I cull these airborne rats at every opportunity.

A small piece of material has come away from under the end of one of the hay stores, it ought to be replaced but it is in a very awkward position so it's been left. Consequently in the first year Great Tits nested in the hole and also the year after, but this year it was pointed out to me that a 'black bird' was nesting in there!

I kept a regular eye out for this 'black bird' and sure enough it was a Starling.

The pair of Starlings were well into nest building and seemed to be bringing beaks full of soft materials to finalise the structure.

The shot was inevitably going to be near vertical but sitting on my thermal pizza bag made it a little more comfortable.

The first of the pair was easily taken and I hoped that the lack of a partner would deter the other from continuing the nest building, but less than a week later it had found another willing helper and they were at it again.

Now this time they were flying straight into the hole without settling on the roof edge first .

Out with my 8 metre telescopic roach pole ! I folded a plastic bag over the end and manoeuvred it into position, as I did so one of the blighters exited pronto from the hole. After a little prodding and poking I managed to get the bag into the mouth of the hole.

Now when they returned they had no option but to settle first and consider what they were going to do about the blockage ?

While the first one was giving my plastic bag some thought a .177 wadcutter sent him spinning off the edge.

The second bird was flying by repeatedly to get a look at this strange threat. Eventually it had no choice but to settle and get a closer look, too bad, another wadcutter took out its starboard engine and it came down like a manic helicopter and landed at my feet.

Maybe now the Great Tits will return and nest once more.