Ratting with Airguns

Rats are the enemy of farmers and smallholders across the country, so grab your Airguns and take aim.

Air Rifles can be put to good use controlling rats and here is how to go about it.

An air rifle is particularly suited for killing rats. With sensible use of backstops such as a concrete wall in a farmyard scenario, an airgun for rat control can be safely and effectively used in places where you wouldn’t dream of firing a shotgun or rimfire rifle. In fact, although the limited power of legal limit (sub-12ft/lb) air rifles is often regarded as a drawback, lower power levels and the consequent reduction in risk of ricochet can often be a huge advantage, especially when carrying out pest control in confined spaces or close to livestock.

Rats breed all year long so farms can be quickly overrun. Whilst the farmer will have measures in place, an airgunner can be a useful addition to the rat control campaign.

A productive night’s shooting can yield 40 or 50 rats and often many more, so an airgun shooter’s contribution can be major. Numbers on farms tend to peak during the colder months of the year when natural food becomes scarce.

Which airgun should you use for ratting?

If you’re choosing an airgun specifically for ratting, go for one that is compact, so you can quickly swing on aim without fear of bashing it in a confined space. A rotary magazine loading system is also a help when shooting at night, as it will save you the hassle of blindly fumbling around to re-load.

There is always lots of discussion about the supposed advantage of using the larger .22 airgun pellets when shooting rats at close range, but many shooters prefer to use the .177 and only go for head shots. This isn’t too challenging when you consider that you’ll generally be shooting at ranges of between 12m and 20m.

What’s the best time to go ratting?

Rats start to become active at dusk. So if you’re having an evening session of using an airgun for rat control, arrive at the location an hour before and take some time to look for the runs they use to travel between their nests and the places where they feed, maybe at a silage clamp, feed store or among cattle that are inside for the winter.

Find yourself a place to sit and wait – about 12m or 15m away, then set out your baits where you can easily see them and take safe, unobstructed shots. Baits can be placed outside ratholes if you can’t locate the runs, although the occupants can become spooked and refuse to venture out. You should transport all your kit, which includes bait, torch, headlamp, and gloves in a small backpack that incorporates a fold-up stool. Apart from it being useful for carrying your ratting essentials, this also means that you have a stable place to sit and shoot from.

Where you will find rats

Heaps of rubble
Dilapidated sheds
Stacks of logs
Piles of scrap metal
Log stacks
Animal feed and grain
Around henhouses

If you have permission to shoot on a farmyard or on the ground that’s managed for pheasant shooting, the chances are there will be rats. Rats are smart and will search out easy feeding opportunities and it doesn’t take them long to find them. On a shoot, you will usually discover rats in areas close to feeding hoppers especially if close to a bank or log pile. Rats will sniff out a meal and quickly set up home close to places where they can steal food from troughs and silage clamps. Grain stores are a favourite, and rats can cause major problems when they find their way into places where foodstuffs are stored.

Treat rats with respect!

Rats should be treated with the same respect in terms of swift despatch that a hunter should try to give any quarry. Rats are surprisingly hardy creatures and I try to take them out with headshots, this sounds like a tall order until you consider that farmyard rat shooting is rarely done at ranges much beyond 15m. With practice, most people should be able to group shots within a 25mm circle when using a pre-charged airgun to shoot at 15m from a stable sitting position. The tricky thing, however, is getting rats to keep still long enough for you to get a steady bead on their head. So the best answer is to get them busy with some bait.

The best bait for rats

One of the toughest parts of using an airgun for rat control is getting a telling shot at these fidgety rodents, but it’s much more easily done if you use some bait. A favourite approach is to target rats either as they emerge from their burrows or as they make their way along their runs between their nesting site and wherever they’re feeding. Place a tempting offering where they can’t miss it, and they’ll probably stop to investigate. Liquidised cat food is a good rat bait, Rats can’t resist piles of this smelly, fishy sludge, and the fact that it has been turned into a soup means they have to pause and lap it up if they want to get a bellyful. You can also use fishmeal pellets that you can buy from angling shops, they’re clean and dry, rats seem to like them and, if you buy the really tiny pellets, they have to stop to get a decent mouthful which gives you time to get them on the cross-hairs.


Gun Lamps (torches) designed for airgun shooting seems to be getting more and more powerful, and often boast far more candlepower than you’ll ever need for ratting. Make sure you opt for one with variable power so that you can wind it down to a very soft glow. Rats are often suspicious of torchlight, so the last thing you want is a beam that will light up the hills 400m away. At Just Air Guns we have a number of gun lamps ideal for Lamping – ie. Ratting at night with a low-powered adjustable torch mounted to your rifle or scope.


Farms can be dangerous places, so make sure you get to know the location in daylight and will be aware of any potential hazards you might miss if you go ratting at night.

Rats can also be dangerous. They are known carriers of some nasty, potentially fatal diseases, including Weil’s disease. Infection can be picked up from contact with their urine, which could be literally anywhere. Never take foot and drink on a ratting trip.

Never handle rats with bare hands – that’s why you need gloves in your backpack. And if you’re clearing up the vermin after shooting, move them with a shovel or spade and wear your gloves throughout.

It’s also a good idea to carry a grabber so that you can keep your hands well away from rats when clearing up after a productive shoot, though you should be able to find a shovel on most farms.

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