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