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!