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...

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