Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Humble Origins: Episode I - The Rodent Menace

Let me start off by wishing a Merry Christmas to all. Like a gift from ol' Saint Nick, things have been wonderfully quiet in the back yard. So for this post, I thought I'd reminisce about how my air gun pest control adventures all started. Please bear with me as I wax nostalgic for a post or two.

Now clear your mind as I set the Way Back Machine. Our next stop is the Summer of 2005...
War raged on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here in America, Intelligent Design (which, ironically, evolved from Creationism) was creeping into public schools and grabbing headlines. Meanwhile, in metroplexes across the country, whiny Anakin Skywalker was improbably transforming into James Earl Jones.

Darth Crybaby

That summer found my wife and I in a new house in the California Bay Area having recently moved from New York. We had been amateur birders in Manhattan's Central Park, so we were interested in getting to know the variety of birds around our new home. To that end I had placed a bird feeder in the cherry-plum tree at the back of the yard and the wife and I enjoyed watching the goldfinches, chickadees, wrentits and the occasional woodpecker that came to partake. Gone were the hectic days of NYC, the crowds of shoving people, the hot, humid subways. The West Coast days were long, warm and golden. Life was good.

But the halcyon days were soon to be disturbed. One afternoon I was horrified to see a large rat -- like some refugee from the tracks of the C train -- running out from the ivy at the back of the yard and helping herself to the birdseed that had fallen from the feeder. Ugh. I was happy to keep the neighborhood and migrating birds fat and happy, but I'd be damned if I was going to nourish a generation of rats around my home. This demanded action.

Rattus norvegicus

In addition to being big, the rat (later determined to be a Norway rat) was as bold as could be. She would come out in broad daylight, sometimes accompanied by a smaller companion. She seemed perfectly comfortable to be out even when my wife and I were 15 yards away. She'd come loping out, hugging the side of this 4 inch high wooden rail which marked where the original owners' vegetable garden had once grown. She would then camp out next to the rail directly under the bird feeder and help herself to what seeds the birds knocked down. Occasionally she'd hop over the rail to gather whatever morsels had fallen on that side before shuffling back into the ivy. She did this off and on for 20 minutes.

The cherry-plum tree, feeders and wooden rail

So I marched into the house, went into the closet and got out my thoroughly beat up Crosman BB gun. I pumped it 10 times (the max you are supposed to pump it) and sat about 20 yards away waiting for the rat to return. When she did, I lined her up as best I could. The gun's rear sight was broken, but from some target practice I'd done, I had a fair idea of where the BBs were going. My heart beating a mile a minute, I let fly the BB. I watched it travel downrange and smack the rat in the ribcage. It's never a good sign when your projectile is moving slowly enough that you can watch it fly, but she jumped up about a foot in the air and immediately scampered into the ivy at the back of the yard.

My $5 garage sale special
Now my heart was red-lining. I wasn't sure if my shot was lethal, but I felt certain the rat had been sufficiently persuaded to avoid the birdseed in the future. I remember feeling a mixture of exhilaration and guilt (was it dying or suffering?).
Five minutes later I added 'disappointment' to the list when I saw the rat come right back out there again. So much for the persuasive power of my tired old BB gun.

Now I was really pissed off. I muttered a few choice words at the rat, and saved a few for the gun as well. But I figured that if I could close the distance, I could increase the oomph on my shot. So I crept over to another part of the yard where I could get a closer shot from a better angle. This time I pumped the crummy gun up to 12, and at the next opportunity took another shot. Exact same results. It was at this point that I had my Chief Brody revelation.

We're gonna need a bigger boat

Stay tuned for part two of the saga in which we will see how a moron with a piece of junk, garage-sale BB gun began to transform himself into a passable air-gunner...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Wide World of Wratting

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports... the thrill of victory...

and the agony of defeat...

It's been a little slow in the back yard lately, so my Jim McKay intro is simply a way to say that in this entry I'll be bringing you some of the rat control happenings from the larger world.

Folks, I have a real treat for you today. I found the video below on YouTube and just had to point to it. This is some incredible footage of high-octane ratting. This makes my backyard adventures look like an evening spent at the library. Now let's send it down to Howard Cosell for the tale of the tape...

The shooter in the video is using an Air Arms s410K Pre-charged Pneumatic (PCP) which uses a 10-shot rotary magazine and has variable power that can push .22 caliber pellets out of the muzzle at over 900 feet/second. That's around 30 foot-pounds of muzzle energy! And from the look of things it must be whisper quiet - not one rat appears to get spooked. He also has a Yukon Digital Night Vision Ranger 5x42 scope which he has somehow affixed to the back of his normal rifle scope. He is using an output from the Ranger into some recording device to capture the video. And he's set the whole thing to Killswitch Engage's cover of Dio's Holy Diver. You gotta love it!

Be forewarned - this video is graphic and not for the faint of heart

Wow. The kill at 2:40 alone is worth the price of admission -- the bindi dot shot to the grape that anchors the rat on the spot, his tail shooting out stiff before going limp and the half-beat pause before the blood spills out and down onto the sack he's resting on. That's just pure poetry.

But there is a lot here to be proud of - not least of which, a damned accurate rifle. That's about a thousand dollars worth of fine English-made air rifle, never mind the scope, the digital night vision and the rest of the A/V assemblage. On top of everything else, he has a seemingly unlimited supply of Norway rats. I've never seen anything like it outside a horror flick. I sincerely hope this isn't anywhere near a human habitation. And there are several more posts from this guy on YouTube, so feel free to explore.

The Air Arms s410 rifle in walnut (top) and beech (bottom) stock

A closer look at the 10-shot magazine in the loading port

I have asked the guy if he can post video or images of his gun/scope/night vision set up so I can better understand how he connects everything. I'll let you know if he does so.

The Yukon Digital Ranger 5x42 Night Vision Scope

The latest toy I'll covet but never actually own

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Trench Warfare

Fall is here in all its glory. Autumn near the northern California coast is nothing like what we used to have in the Northeast, but it is very pleasant just the same. October is usually a month where we enjoy an extended Indian Summer. This year has been no exception.

But about a month ago, I was unpleasantly surprised to find a series of conical mounds rising out of the lawn in the back yard. In fact, I actually watched some of them being raised. The dirt would be pushed out in a little core from the center of the mound, like an erupting volcano, then fall off to add more dirt to the rising sides. Some research online told me that it was the tell-tale sign of a mole. So each day, I would take a shovel out and redistribute the dirt to other needy areas of the yard. Then usually by the next day, there would be more dirt there or at a new location.

I wanted to stop the mole before he ruined the lawn

I camped out one night early on with my rifle and a flashlight casting red-tinted light over the active mound. At one point, I saw a subtly moving silhouette at the top of the mound, raised my rifle and centered it in my scope. In the darkness, it was hard to see what exactly the creature was. Just before I took the shot, I realized that it was actually just a large clump of dirt standing vertically as it was being pushed up out of the ground. That's when I did more research and realized that moles seldom go above ground. I knew that my rifle would not be the likely solution.

So one afternoon I was out back, taking a break from some wood chopping I had been doing when I saw the dirt being pushed up out of a nearly flat spot in the grass. So I swiftly grabbed the axe, strode to the spot and with a hefty swing, buried the entire head of the axe deep under the surface of the grass. There was no blood on it when I pulled it out, and the chances that I would have happened to strike the mole were one in a thousand. What I do know is that the mole activity only occurred once more after that, and hasn't resumed since. Go figure.

If I could have gotten this view, I'd have definitely killed him

Then yesterday, I saw new digging at a different spot in the yard. Under the tree where I place my bird feeders at the back of the yard I saw a little hole, flush with the ground, and some fresh dirt spread around it. I didn't know what had made it, but I knew it was not a mole. I went outside late last night to see if I could spot the culprit with my binoculars and the flashlight, but had no luck.

He couldn't have picked a less fortunate spot - right under the shooting tree!

Then this morning, as I watched a bunch of sparrows out enjoying some seeds on the ground, I saw that there was fresh dirt out there. So I walked out to get a closer look. The birds all flew away at my approach, but sure enough, there in the hole was a little brown furry head poking out! It definitely wasn't a mole, but I couldn't tell if it was a gopher or a vole. As quick and as low to the ground as I could, I slunk back into the house to get my rifle.

I loaded it with a .20 Field Target Special (FTS), snuck out and sat myself in one of the patio chairs about 15 yards away. I went with the FTS instead of the Crow Magnum this time because I felt I could pinpoint the shot a little more reliably with it. I thought that level of precision might be needed on a small target that was quickly darting in and out of his hole. I placed my left elbow on the arm of the chair to brace and steady the rifle, and brought the opening of the hole into scope view. Once the birds came back and were again enjoying seeds all around the hole, I watched the rodent pop his head back out. He did this several times, coming out and pushing a little dirt onto the growing pile at the back of the hole. The next time he came out, he turned to the right, giving me a profile of his little head. It wasn't a clear shot, there was intervening grass that slightly obscured him, but I could tell where his head was. He paused just long enough and I squeezed the trigger.

The birds all scattered, and there was no sign of anything above ground. I walked over and there he was. He had dropped himself back down into the hole but his head was plain to be seen. And he was as dead as can be.

Taking a dirt nap

I used a couple of sticks as forceps and pulled the little digger out of his hole. An investigation revealed that the pellet had gone in right behind his ear...

...and had come out opposite at his cheek. The Beeman Field Target Special does not mess around. That pellet could not have flown any more true.

A case of terminal lead poisoning

Having never seen one up close, I was uncertain, but believed it was a gopher rather than a vole. From my previous research online, I knew that voles were much more mouse-like in appearance than this little guy was. After disposing of him, a quick online search proved that this was indeed a pocket gopher, most likely the Botta's Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae) which is the common variety in California.

After the frustration of the mole debacle, it was satisfying indeed to have dispatched this little varmint before any major damage could be done to the lawn or the tree.

In the words of the immortal Carl Spackler, "Au revoir, gopher"

Monday, September 3, 2007

The curious incident of the mouse in the nighttime

With Fall looming, things have gotten very quiet in the back yard. There hasn't been any recent daylight activity under the bird feeders, which is where I get most of my shooting opportunities. So two nights ago I decided to see if anyone was home. I put a dab of peanut butter on a wood plank and set it out in the grass near the blackberry bushes where I've heard some rustling in the past. I placed the plank a couple of feet away from the brambles and got ready.

PB on a shingle

I cut a piece of flexible red-tinted plastic (from a bag of red potatoes) and taped it over the end of my flashlight. Conventional wisdom amongst those that dispatch rodents at night is that red light tends not to spook them. Apparently they don't process red light the same as light of other wavelengths, so they either can't tell where the light is coming from, or don't see it as light from an unnatural source.

I use the lantern to prop up my flashlight and keep it trained on the target area. I've been using this set-up (without the red plastic) since the first time I shot at night. It works great

With the light trained over on the plank, I waited with a .20 caliber Crow Magnum pellet loaded up in the ol' Beeman R1. Minutes later, I watched a tiny little rodent make her way out to the plank and start helping herself to some of the peanut butter. If it was a rat, it was one of the smallest I'd ever seen. Even at 12 yards, she was small enough to be a really challenging target. I didn't take a shot right away, however, because I was hoping the PB would coax out a more impressive specimen. So I waited for about an hour, all the while watching the little one run out and partake six or seven more times.

It was at this point that I became aware of something else stirring on the other side of the yard. I heard a soft noise over at the wooden fence opposite my bait station. It's amazing how heightened your senses become when you are outside at night in a stalking situation like that. You are so 'at attention', the smallest sounds seem amplified. Using a second flashlight which I had also covered with red plastic, I searched for the source of the noise. Sure enough, there was an opossum the size of a small cat meandering across the grass. I have no beef with opossums, so I'd never try to shoot one. I certainly don't view them as a pest like I do with rats.

As I watched him, I was amazed that despite at one point being only 15 feet away, the opossum seemed completely unable to see me while I had that red light on him. He just went about his business as if I weren't there. At one point I deliberately made a small noise to see if it was just indifference, or if he truly couldn't see me. When I made the noise, he stopped dead and looked back in my direction. Then he ran a few feet away and looked back again. All the while, I had the red light shining right on him. He absolutely could not see me and didn't seem to be aware that light was illuminating him. It seems the red-light legends were true!

Well that opossum made his way right across the yard, straight over to my bait -- they must have an incredible sense of smell. He lapped up every trace of the peanut butter from the plank in about 30 seconds and then disappeared back into the brambles in the back corner of the yard. With my bait gone, and no sign to be seen of an adult rat, I packed it in for the night.

This isn't the opossum in question, but I thought a visual reference was in order. Kinda looks like a giant rat

Perhaps it was frustration at watching my bait get pilfered, but over 24 hours, I decided that I was going to take out that little rodent if she came back again. So last night, I duplicated the entire set-up -- placed more peanut butter, trained the red flashlight and sat waiting again with my loaded R1.

About ten minutes into my new vigil, I saw through my binoculars that the little rodent was back there in the brambles, and was sniffing out the PB. A few minutes later, she was back out at the plank, thanking whatever rodent gods she prayed to for a second night of manna dropped seemingly from the heavens. Seeing her again, I was more convinced than ever that she was a mouse.

She was so tiny, that she was essentially invisible moving through the grass until she reached the wood plank. But because she was so small, and because the PB was dolloped in the center of the wood, she had to climb entirely on it to get at the creamy goodness. I let her have one helping and watched her scoot back to the safety of the brambles. A second later, she made another run out onto the plank, giving me a perfect (albeit tiny) broadside view. She was so small, I just put the cross hair dead center on her and let fly. I heard the pellet rip through the grass and leaves, and I lost sight of her. As small as she was, I thought I might have completely missed her.

Blown away - literally

A closer look confirmed that the pellet had indeed caught her right through the middle. The force of that .20 caliber hollow point on that tiny body knocked her back a foot and a half from where she'd been on the plank and opened her belly wide.

She was so small and delicate, I'm now almost certain she was a mouse. Her coloration, with the brown on top and clean white on the belly seems like it's a classic mouse pattern. But I was confused. If there are in fact rats back in those brambles, I would be really surprised that they would co-habitate with a mouse. I figured a mouse would get eaten, or at least bullied away by rats. Maybe there aren't any rats in residence right now. Regardless, there was one less rodent in the yard this morning.

Clean up on aisle three

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Harvest Time

Blackberries are ripening all over the back yard. Soon I'll go out and pick a few pounds worth for my wife to make jam. I've been going out periodically to grab a few of the ripe ones to enjoy myself. A couple of evenings ago, I was over on the side of the back yard grabbing a few berries when I heard a rustling back in the brambles not more than a couple feet in. It sounded like something was struggling to get through the sharp tangles. My first instinct was that it was a bird -- there are many that frequent the yard and they love the berries as much as me. But after a few seconds, when nothing flew out of the bushes, I had a strong suspicion it was a rat.

It has been a few weeks since I last saw a rat in the yard. Several weeks ago I capped a roof rat who was nonchalantly enjoying seeds under the bird feeders in the middle of the day. I put a .20 hollow point pellet right in his snout. It traveled in through his face and exited through his back about halfway down the length of his body. My wife was out of town and had the camera with her so I couldn't get any good pics. I actually took a few shots with my cell phone camera -- but they are terrible quality.

A quick side trip in the Way-Back Machine:
The scene from three weeks ago

These pics suck, even for a cell phone camera

The pellet punched a clean hole right next to his nose...

...went through his head, neck and chest and then out his back

A couple of days after that I popped another roof rat -- this one in the boiler room, but she had enough juice in her after the shot to escape back into the ivy where I couldn't find her. That's the peril of gut-shooting a rat -- they don't die instantly and can sometimes motor off. That pisses me off so much. It's only happened a couple of times but it drives me nuts -- I want the rats dead but I don't want them to suffer. I think I'll do a separate post to elaborate on this and my other feelings when I shoot. At any rate, the end result was a rat that was going to expire, but without a chance for me dispose of it (or to get photos for that matter).

At any rate, the movement in the brambles told me that there was more action to be had. But there had been no conspicuous action under the feeders, so I figured the rats had gotten too wary to come out during the day. I decided to try a little baiting to see if they were out there at night. We had some really nice (and stinky) cheese left over from when some friends visited us recently. So I cut off a bit of the rind and set it out under the feeders before sunset. I had no intention of stalking the rats and trying to hunt them, I just wanted to see if they were out there. I checked the cheese with binoculars and flashlight before turning in at around 11:30pm, and it was still in place. When I checked again at around 6am the next morning, it was gone. I repeated the process for three nights -- all with the same result. The last night of this was last night (Friday).

So this afternoon (Saturday), I was looking out the window and saw the unmistakable form of a rat under the feeder. And this was no roof rat. This was a big Norway. So out came the Beeman R1. I watched from inside the house for a few minutes to watch his pattern, so I knew where my best chance to get a clear shot would be. He was concentrating around the base of the tree -- and man was he big. Maybe I was used to seeing those last couple of roof rats, but he looked like a chihuahua! When I had the gun on him, he filled up the sight in my scope (set at around 7x). I also noticed that there was a second, slightly smaller rat that was shuffling around as well. But the biggun was what I kept my focus on.

I decided to try a shot from the sliding glass doorway since it was already open. I silently slid the screen door open about a foot and put the gun out, resting the back of my left shoulder against the door frame. There he was, just to the left of the tree, scavenging amidst a few birds and in no apparent hurry. When I brought my eye to the scope, however, I saw that the rat was just behind a sparrow on one side and a towhee on the other. There was a slight window between each bird but it wasn't worth taking the shot and accidentally clipping one of the birds. So I waited for a better presentation. That came moments later when he ventured out again, this time in front of the tree.

With nary a bird in sight, I flicked off the safety and put the crosshair between his head and chest (my strategy being that if I missed slightly one way, I'd put it in his grape, and if I missed slightly the other, I'd put it through his heart/lungs. In this instance, the pellet flew straight and went right through his neck. He rolled straight over onto his back and kicked weakly a few times. He was dead within ten seconds.

The R1 comes through again -- he died right where he was hit

I can't say enough about the knockdown power of the Crow Magnum. I've seen how it tears up the lemons I sometimes use as targets. Round nose pellets (particularly the exceptional Beeman Field Target Specials) are extremely accurate, but they penetrate so well they tend to 'pin-cushion' the target without imparting most of their energy. The CMs can still pass through the target, but the broad face (and forward expansion cup) really bring a lot of blunt force and leave it in the target where it does terrific damage.

The pellet severed his jugular and who knows what else

Boy was he big! Seeing him up close confirmed that this was one of the biggest I've yet shot. He had large feet and a thick scaly tail. I brought out the tape measure to see the tale of the tape. He was just over 16 inches long from stem to stern, and quite robust. If there were such a thing as a trophy rat, he would have qualified.

His head+body was just over eight inches -- his tail another eight

Putting him in the bag I could feel his heft. This was bigger than the last two Norways I got back in May. The very first rat I shot (Summer 2006) was a big Norway. But I'm not sure she was as big as (and certainly not bigger than) this rat.

How much to have him taxidermied?

After disposing of him, I kept a watchful eye out that way for the rest of the day, but the smaller rat never appeared again while I was looking. I'll wait a week or two then use the baiting technique again since it seems to have gotten the rats comfortable with coming out into the shooting range. I have a friend that wants to come over for a night shoot, so I'll bait for a few nights again with some stinky cheese right before he comes to increase the likelihood that we'll get some action. I can't wait to see his reaction when that first rat comes shambling out of the night with beady eyes reflecting the beam from the flashlight. Hopefully it'll be one of these big Norways. Then it will be his turn to tell a tale.

I wonder if he has a big brother

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Norway Rats vs. Roof Rats

Pest rats in California come in two varieties - Roof and Norway. Around my house, they are 'dead' and 'deader'

I was recently skimming through some of my old kill't rat photos when something that had been in the back of my mind for a while finally took shape.

After spending more time looking at the photos and doing a bit of web research, I now think that the rats I had been identifying as 'adult' Roof rats (Rattus rattus) are actually Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus). Have a look at the following side-by-sides and see if you agree that these are two different species: the first is the one I now believe is a Norway, the second I still think is a Roof. The most commonly-referenced distinguishing characteristic is the tail. The tail of the Roof rat is longer than the body and head combined, while the Norway rat's tail is shorter than the body plus head.

Norway Rat?

Note the long body and lighter color. The tail seems on the long-side for a Norway, but is likely just short of the length of the body+head

In the mug shot, you can see the smaller, "Norwegian" ear-to-head ratio

Roof rat?

Smaller overall, longer tail than head+body, more grayish color

The ear (what's left of it) is larger in proportion to the head

I had always thought it strange that the coloring was so much lighter and browner on the big'uns, but just chalked it up to variation. Plus, I had read somewhere a while ago that Norways and Roof rats tended not to be found sharing the same territory (see quote below). And since I knew I definitely had Roof rats -- they are very agile climbers and have been seen (and shot) in my tree -- I assumed that they were the only ones I had.

Basically, I did a lot of assuming -- and I know what happens when I assume.

Have a look at the details/specs on the following site (Anne's Rat Page). Heck, while you're there, take the quiz:


As mentioned, Roof rats (a.k.a., black rats, ship rats) are excellent climbers, often living in nests above ground. Norway rats (a.k.a., brown rats, sewer rats) more often tend to be burrowers. Regarding overlapping populations, I found this quote on the Internet (source is unclear):

"The present distribution of the Norway and roof rats appears related to two factors, competition between the two species and the reaction of both to different climates. When the aggressive Norway rat and the roof rat compete for the same areas, the Norway rat frequently becomes dominant, and the roof rat soon disappears. Only under special conditions do both species live in the same area. In one eastern seaport, roof rats live in the top of grain elevators and Norway rats live in the bottom. This is probably because roof rats are better climbers than Norways. It is generally only in such situations as these that roof rats are found living in Norway rat territory."
-- http://www.angelfire.com/tx/mariorios/norway.html

So based on my new assumptions, I now see my backyard as a melting pot of rodentia, where rats of all races and creeds come to live. It's my job to welcome each and every one of them with a .20 caliber handshake.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tales from the Way Back Machine

Close your eyes. Clear your mind. Allow me to take you back to the Summer of 2006...

(Cue "The Time of the Season" by The Zombies, slo-mo footage of chopper blades over a Vietnamese jungle, and -- wait. It was '06, not '66. Never mind.)

It was the first Summer with my Gamo Hunter 440 in .177 caliber, which I had already used to dispatch a handful of rats that were brave (and foolish) enough to come out during the day. I had a 4x fixed power scope on the rifle at that point, with a 32mm objective lens. It wasn't great in low light situations, but it worked well in the day for shooting at my range (17-22 yards). So after many target sessions, and the occasional pest control shooting, I had grown very confident with the gun. I felt that what I put the crosshair on, I was going to hit.

The original rat thumper

As mentioned, my shooting had always been confined to daylight hours. But there was activity going on at the feeders even after the lights when out. I found that out one night when I went out back to watch for the space shuttle re-entry with my binoculars. As I stood out in the middle of my lawn, I heard some scuttling at the feeders which were about 20 feet away. Since my eyes were adjusted to the dark, I was able to put the field glasses on the feeder and see a couple of rats pilfering seeds right from the source. Up to that point I had naively assumed that the rats were confining themselves to what food dropped to the ground. But these were roof rats -- exceptional climbers -- and making their way through the tree to the feeders was no problem at all.

So more than a little ticked off, I camped out the next night with a flashlight trained on the feeder. Even with the illumination, it was a dim sight picture through that small scope. But I could see enough.

At right about 9 o'clock I was jolted out of my quiet surveillance by the sight of a dark brown shape in the branches of the tree. Those little bastards had come back for more free dinner. They seemed wary of (but not deterred by) the light. The first rat ventured down onto the feeder, but kept himself behind it with the feeder shielding him from the light (and my gun). Occasionally, he would peer around from behind the feeder on the right side with just about 3/4 of his head appearing in the light -- clearly he was curious about what this spotlight business was. The next time he did this, I put the scope on what I could see of his head, snicked off the safety and took the shot. I heard the pellet go into the vegetation at the back of the yard, and I couldn't see the rat any longer. As tricky as the shot was, I still had strong a feeling that I'd gotten him.

I didn't want to spook the second rat, so I stayed put, hoping he'd come back. As quietly as I could, I loaded up another .177 Crow Magnum pellet and continued the stakeout.

The always reliable Crow Magnum hollow point pellet

Within ten minutes, I caught a glimpse of some shadowy movement above the feeder. I then watched rat #2 dip down and grab some seeds -- this time from the front of the feeder. In fact, he balanced himself directly on one of the perches that the birds use, giving me a perfect profile. But I was leery of taking the shot for fear of the pellet over penetrating and damaging the feeder. So I kept watching him as he took the seeds and moved back up to a branch about a foot above the feeder, where the illumination from the flashlight was much less bright. From what I could dimly make out, he seemed to be happily eating his loot up there. So again, I lined him up as best I could, pushed off the safety and squeezed the trigger. Another sound of the pellet passing through leaves and branches, and no sign of the little bugger.

I was certain I had missed this time. After another ten minute vigil, I realized he'd been spooked and wasn't coming back this night. So I went out to retrieve the one I felt sure I'd hit. Much to my surprise, there were the lifeless bodies of both rats laying in the grass directly under the spots they'd dropped from.

Surveying the carcass of the one I shot off the feeder I saw that I had indeed put the pellet right in his crankcase (really that was all I could have hit without somehow passing through the feeder). The force of the pellet into his melon had somehow knocked a perfect half of his brain out of his skull, and it lay neatly some few inches away from his body. It was really bizarre and a bit unsettling. I wish I had gotten pics to document it, but at the time, it didn't even occur to me.

I have always been particularly proud of that shot -- nighttime, sliver of a target, and using that 4x scope. I put that pellet exactly in the one spot I could have to hit the target and miss the feeder, and he was dead before he hit the ground.

The second rat had gone down without a twitch due to a well-placed heart/lung shot. I disposed of both rats and packed it in for the night.

The scene of the night's action, shot during the day

After that night, I curtailed my elevated shooting because I realized that my backdrop was questionable at that height with a neighbor directly behind me. The sound of those pellets going through the rats and into the vegetation was enough to convince me of that. It was at that point that I started occasionally baiting on the ground to try to lure targets back down to safer shooting. But that's a future "Tale from the Way Back Machine". Excelsior!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Mayhem

The action continued in the back yard today. After the twin killing on Saturday, I figured it would be quiet for a while. The rats had other plans.

On Saturday I killed two good-sized rats (over a foot-long each, head to tail), and watched a scrub jay carry off a mouse-sized third. Today I was out watering plants in the back when I spotted a juvenile helping himself to sunflower seeds next to the rail under the feeder. I broke out the R1 and took a seat about 20 yards away. As I was waiting for the rat to come back out, I noticed that the blue jay was also watching from his perch in the tree above. Clearly he was hoping for another steak dinner, but this rat (juvenile though he was) was much larger than the little guy he’d gotten before. So when the rat ran back out for another helping of seeds, the jay hung back. No worries blue jay, I’ll get this one.

The rat was running out of the ivy at the back of the yard towards my position, so my shot was almost exactly head-on. But my line of sight was partially obscured by the intervening grass, so I had to do a little bit of guesswork by aiming slightly low (through the grass in front of him). I squeezed the trigger and let fly the .20 Crow Magnum pellet. There was a thump, and I could see that there was some movement, but the rat was still in roughly the same spot, so I knew I must have hit him with a critical shot. Walking up to the spot, I saw what had happened. The pellet had gone just over his head and hit him through the spine. His hind legs were no longer functioning but he was not yet dead. He had turned around and was very slowly trying to make his way back into cover alongside the rail. He had made it about 6 inches before fading but I could see that he was still breathing. So I loaded up another pellet and put him down like Gene Hackman went down in Unforgiven.

See you in hell, William Munny

After disposing of the carcass and putting the gun away, I went back to finish watering and sure enough there was another juvenile doing the exact same shtick as the first. So I got the gun back out, went back to my shooting position and waited for her next approach. I had to guess again for exact placement, but this time the pellet flew true and the little lass went down without a fuss. In fact, it killed her so quickly, she still had a sunflower seed jammed in her mouth!

Lights out

After that, it was genuinely quiet, and I was able to enjoy the rest of my Memorial Day without further interruption. I had time to smoke a rack of baby back ribs over some applewood chips, and sip a couple of cold ones. I hope everyone else’s holiday was as enjoyable.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Double Dip

Since my last post about a month ago, it had been a near shutout in terms of rat sightings. As you may recall, I had dropped a juvenile rat that day, leaving her with a rather oversized pierced ear. In the subsequent weeks, I saw one rat -- a good-sized bugger -- but he dissappeared almost the instant I was able to get him in the sights of my R1 .20 caliber air rifle. I thought he'd come right back out, but frustratingly, he never showed his whiskers again.

Then about a week ago, I noticed several good-sized piles of fresh dirt hidden under the ivy at the back of the yard, in the vicinity of where I know the rats to hole up (near the bird feeders). I have never seen excavation like that in the yard before, so I was unsure if it was related to rats or some other vermin (actually, I'm still not 100% sure it was from rats, but I'd have to guess it is). Regardless, the signs of life were encouraging, and put me back on alert.

Then this morning came, overcast and cool here near the coast in northern California. Watching the birds at the feeders, I noticed the tell-tale sight of a rat scurrying swiftly from the spot under the feeder back into the ivy. And even from the half glimpse, I could see he was a full-sized adult. So I broke out the R1, snuck out into the back yard and sat waiting about 20 yards away. Having regretted not taking a quicker shot on that last rat a few weeks back during the half-beat I had him lined up, I resolved to take the shot right away if I got it. So as soon as he ventured out again and paused next to the little wood railing, I put the crosshair on his shoulder, flicked off the safety and took the shot. I heard the distinctive sound of the Crow Magnum pellet connecting, and when there was no subsequent scurrying, I knew the pellet had dropped him on the spot. A closer inspection showed the rat had flipped over on his back. The pellet had gone in just over the shoulder and exited just opposite and there was a little dab of blood under him in the grass. I moved him and snapped a few pics before disposing of the carcass. He was easily twice the size (maybe more) of the last rat I killed. A worthy notch for the stock of the R1.

Rat #1 - for scale, glove is 9 1/2 inches from the cuff to tip of the longest finger

It was after breakfast when I looked out again and saw (to my surprise) that there was another rat streaking from under the tree. So I got the rifle back out and got set up again. This time the rat (another adult) was coming around from behind the tree and eating seeds near the trunk rather than over by the wooden rail. That meant she was able to be lower in the grass where there is a depression covered by dirt. From my shooting angle, it meant that I had a very poor sight of her when she was down in that dirt area -- the grass growing around the edge of it acted as a natural screen. I could catch intermittent glimpses of the very top of her, but she was completely hidden from view for much of the time. Then I would see her haul ass back into the ivy. So I waited to get a sight of her where I could determine where her head was, aimed a little low into the level of the grass, and squeezed the trigger. Another thump, and I saw a leg and a tail twitch up out of the grass. This time I took the camera out to the actual spot where she died and got pics. She was as large as the first. The pellet must have gone in through her right ear. There were no other signs of entry and a trail of blood was slowly dropping from that ear onto the dirt. When I turned her over, she had blood coming out of her other ear, and a little from her nose. And her left eye had been blown out of its socket. It was a gruesome sight, but that .20 hollow-point pellet got into her brainpan and anchored her on the spot.

Hit them in the ear and they'll listen - Rat #2

The chalk outlines - #1 and #2

There is an epilogue to this tale. Later this afternoon, I was out in the backyard and saw a scrub jay (they are mean SOBs) swoop down under the tree and go back into the ivy. There was a high-pitched squealing, and then the blue jay jumped back out. He had a tiny little rat by the scruff of the neck in his beak! He shook it a few times to stun it and then flew off with it. I could not believe it. Still can’t. But it confirms that the two I killed today must have been the parents of a relatively new litter. Without the folks around to bring food, the little one must have ventured out and paid the price at the beak of a scrub jay. A strange end to an eventful day. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

First Rat of the Season

This is my first post here, so it may be a little long-winded as I introduce myself and my circumstance. I hope some of you will bear with me and hear my tale. I've been in my house for a year and a half now, and almost from the beginning realized there were rats in the back yard (though thankfully, not in the house, attic, garage, etc.) Roof rats are what we have here, and there is generally a steady (although not overwhelming) supply of them that appear under -- or sometimes on -- the birdfeeders at the back of the yard. They must nest back inside the short retaining wall that runs along part of the yard, covered by ivy and blackberry bushes -- perfect rat terrain. And my newly placed bird feeders must have been just what they were looking for.

I bought a new scoped Gamo 440 Hunter in .177 about a year ago, and have used it to dispatch eight or nine rats, some at night, and some bold ones in the full light of day. I enjoyed the hobby of air gunning so much, I recently upgraded to a second-hand scoped Beeman R1 in .20 -- it's a beautiful (and big!) rifle.

The new Beeman R1 .20 air rifle -- pure shooting pleasure

So after a long winter with no action (well, as long as a winter can be in northern California), I spotted two juvenile rats in late March. They were so quick, and crafty, that I could never get off a shot. They would dart out, grab some food and dart back. If they were ever stationary, it was when they were low in a depression in the grass, or in some way placed just well enough as to not give me a decent shot. I shoot very conservatively, only wanting to take a shot that I am sure will kill quickly, and it was like the rats knew it. Many were the curses I laid down on those lucky little SOBs.

Anyway, after about a week, they dissappeared and I never saw them again, or anything else until this morning. A new little rat, even smaller than the mysterious pair was out scavenging under the feeders. She was quick, but she also had the unfortunate (for her) habit of sitting stationary for a few seconds up on the little rail of wood that borders the back corner of the yard under the feeders.

The feeders, tree and 'rail'

So I broke out the R1, snuck out into the back yard through the garage, sat myself at the patio table and loaded a Crow Magnum pellet. The rat would only come out when the feeders were packed with birds, as this provided a means for seeds to get knocked down to the ground, as well as an early warning system for any potential danger. As soon as the birds were back, so was she. She paused on the rail in her customary spot, and I pushed off the safety, leaned my elbows on the table, lined her head up in the crosshair and squeezed the trigger. I heard a thump as the pellet hit the wood of the retaining wall behind her, and when I got my sight picture back, the rat was not to be seen. I went out to the spot to investigate and there she lay, immediately on the other side of the wooden rail, exactly where the force of the pellet had knocked her.

I put on gloves and used plastic bags to transport her to a more picture friendly spot and got some pics. I was amazed to see that the pellet had punched a nearly perfect hole through her ear on its way to entering just over her right shoulder blade. The pellet passed almost the full length of the body and exited through the side of the lower abdomen near the left hind leg.

Will the style catch on?

It's the first time I've given a rat a pierced ear, but she wasn't around long enough to adorn it. Well, that's my tale. I hope some folks enjoyed it.