Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Tale of the Ghost Rat

Gather round the campfire and I'll tell you a ghost story, and don't mind that red-tinted flashlight shining under my chin... In a previous post, I told of how I had perfectly centered a large rat in my scope, had fired, and upon going to look for his carcass, realized that I had somehow completely missed him. The eerie part was that the strike point of the pellet was right behind where he was stretched out. Either this was some sort of Jules Winnfield "Divine Intervention" or that was one lucky rat.

"We just witnessed a miracle, and I want you to fucking acknowledge it!"

As described in my previous post, I had bagged a couple of rats over the following nights, but when the ghost rat reappeared, by the time I got my gun up and ready -- he vanished and did not return. So I camped out on a subsequent evening and saw him again. How did I know it was him? Well, he was a fairly large rat, which helped him stand out from some of the others I had seen. Plus he had this very distinctive approach to the bait station -- an approach that no other rat duplicated.

This time I waited for him to come all the way down and sit on the bait station. He did. I lined him up and took the shot. The pellet thunked the wood but again I was astonished to find there was no dead rat. In fact when I went over to look for him, I could hear him angrily scolding me with a gravelly chattering from somewhere back in the bushes. The sound continued as he made his way back along the fence line going deeper into the brambles. He was pissed. So was I. The ghost rat strikes again.

I decided to give it one more try. Several nights later I baited and waited for the phantom to appear. He showed up early and started taking the bait. I quickly shouldered my gun, lined him up and fired again -- and again I missed. I was speechless, but the rat had more angry chattering for me as he faded back into the bushes.

I was completely flummoxed. At this point, I had zero confidence in my shooting. I thought I was doing everything right -- I was replicating my loose hold each time, slowing my breathing, taking shots that were perfectly lined up, squeezing the trigger slowly and evenly -- all the tactics that are key to accuracy. And yet I was missing.

The next day I took a closer look at my rifle. With the two-way recoil inherent in spring guns, it is not uncommon for the screws that hold the scope mounts to the rifle to become loose and for the scope to actually shift position, with accuracy suffering. When I checked them, all screws on the scope and mounts were perfectly tight, and the position of the scope relative to the rear scope stop had not changed at all. Then I looked at the screws that hold the metal portion of the rifle inside the wooden stock. Aha! I found that both of the forward screws had become loose. When the screws get loose, it can change the way the gun moves/vibrates on each shot (the gun is now able to move erratically within the stock). Any variance in that movement will result in inaccuracy. That's why it is so critical to establish and repeat the way you hold the rifle, and to hold it loosely -- to allow the gun to vibrate the exact same way with each shot. Tom Gaylord calls this "the artillery hold". So I tightened the screws and went out to shoot some lemons. Replicating my nighttime position and hold, I was pleased to see that I could again put pellets where I was aiming.

That night I placed a little more sun butter and some Cheerios on the station and just stayed inside all night. I wanted the rat to start to feel like it was safe to come out again. The bait was gone the next morning.

So that evening, I went out again, determined to make the ghost rat into exactly that. Right at 9 o'clock, I spotted a rat on the fence peeking out from the edge of the vines. He was about two feet away from the bait station, staring at the sun butter, but he was looking out in my general direction trying to tell if the crazy guy with the gun was out there. He disappeared for a while, but showed up again about a half-hour later. Again he ran along the top of the fence before going behind it, out of view. He followed his now familiar routine, poking his head over the top of the bait station, stretching down to reach the food and finally just hopping down to sit on the surface. I carefully raised the rifle into the open palm of my hand, centered the cross-hair on his head and squeezed the trigger. I heard the thump of the pellet as it connected with the rat. At long last, that was that. The beast never even dropped to the ground -- he died right on the bait station.

A most satisfying kill

The pellet went in the top of his cranium and exited over his right shoulder. I hope this accuracy is a sign that my marksmanship is on the mend. Only time (and more rats) will tell. But for the time being, this is one ghost that has been busted.

I ain't afraid of no ghosts

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