Rats are considered pest animals worldwide. They have historically been exterminated by diverse methods including traps, ferrets, dogs, cats, drowning, gassing, bludgeoning, poisons and shooting.
Poisons, bludgeoning and some traps (glue) have, in recent years fallen out of favor and are widely considered inhumane methods, thanks to greater public awareness (and acceptance) of the concept of animal rights.
Poisons kill slowly and horribly; they also pose secondary poisoning danger to non-target animals and children. Traps that do not immediately break the neck or spine of the rat can cause immense suffering to the animal. Bludgeoning usually results in a prolonged, agonizing death. All vertebrate species can and do feel pain, even a pest species does not deserve to suffer needlessly.
A More Humane Option?
Shooting rats is considered more humane than the use of poisons, blunt force trauma and some types of traps.
Of course, how humane shooting a rat is depends on the skill and good aim of the shooter.
The cleanest and most humane rat kill is one that destroys the brain or more precisely the brainstem of the rodent—death is nearly instantaneous. Heart and lung kill zones are also effective and almost instantly lethal.
While rats grow to be huge, they are still relatively small as far as targets go. It takes an experienced air gun user with lots of practice under his belt to kill cleanly and humanely. Hunting rats is not a recommended activity for the novice air gun user, whose skills should be honed by inanimate target practice before attempting to hit small moving targets.
Responsible Air Gun Handling
For public health and safety, air guns must be handled in a responsible manner at all times.
Air rifles and pistols should never be aimed at another human being.
Air guns should only ever be aimed at animals that the user intends to kill; pets hit by intentional or accidental rounds result in the shooter being liable for veterinary bills incurred by the owners. Some states and cities may impose harsher penalties, especially if the shooter is deemed to have been using the air gun in an irresponsible manner. Shooting at non-pest wildlife can also carry harsh penalties, especially if the wildlife is recognized as endangered.
While most people consider air guns to be safer than “real guns”, that is not the case. Significant injury and disability to a person can be caused by a direct hit or a ricochet from an air rifle or pistol. It is very important that all users be trained in proper air gun handling and be familiarized with the local laws governing their use.
In the UK air guns are classified as firearms and there are restrictions on their use which include:
• The use of air guns by anyone under 18 is strictly controlled.
• Highest air rile power allowed by law is 12fpe (higher powered rifles are available only to those who apply and justify their need; and they must pass the same certification as a firearm).
• Ammunition must be purchased by a responsible adult over 21.
• Shooting must be supervised by an adult.
• Youngsters may only shoot on private properties where they have been given permission to hunt.
• Air guns are not permitted to be given as gifts to minors.
• Homes or farms near public highways must exercise extreme caution; the use of an air gun is prohibited in England and Wales within 50 feet of the center of a roadway.
In the United States, it is generally permissible for rats and other pests to be hunted and killed by air guns in rural settings; different municipalities have different laws governing their use in more densely populated areas. It is up to the shooter to know the laws in his immediate area or those where he intends to shoot.
A New Sport?
Shooting rats with air guns has not only become more popular in recent years, it has turned into something of a sport. Groups meet regularly at garbage dumps and waste transfer stations to pick off marauding rodents with air rifles.
Many of these groups have taken to social media such as YouTube; a site search for “rats/ air guns” recently yielded 1900 result there. Some videos are professionally produced, others the work of amateur videographers who have embraced air gun pest control as their pastime of choice.
Here is a small selection of some of the more popular videos on YouTube. This footage can be disturbing to some as a headshot will generally result in post mortem muscle spasms, rats can screech when hit, and there is, inevitably, blood.
Poster: Prohunting1 (En Espanol)
Air rifle shooting rats (Benjamin marauder .22)
This video is in Spanish, but easily followed by those not conversant in the language. The young gentleman in the video is shooting rats in the backyard of his home, at a chicken farm and in a rat infested gym.
His choice of weapon is a handsome Benjamin Marauder .22, which he equipped with a homemade night vision scope. He’s a crack shot, and is repeatedly shown getting good hits: in rat heads, between the eyes, through the eyes.
SportsAir Gun Hunting: Rat Shooting
Two British teens are called out to a farm to deal with the owner’s rat problem. Night hunting is aided by the use of night vision technology; a model called the iScope which also connects to a smartphone for photography and video capture.
The lads are good shots, and at least one kill seemed to be instantly fatal, but several others seemed to wound, with the rats scampering away, though presumably they would die eventually of blood loss. The youngsters claimed to have killed 150 rats all told during this expedition.
Best of rat shooting with Weihrauch HW 100 .22 Air Rifle
This video is comprised of night vision footage and is presented without voiceover; in fact the only sound is of each shot and the rifle refilling with air after the kill.
This video was put together from several of the poster’s other videos; only the brightest and clearest scenes were chosen for inclusion. Of the videos viewed, this was the best example of humane kills; the rats were dispatched without the wounding shots and struggles seen in some of the other videos. This videographer expresses his intention to humanely dispatch the rats and respect for his prey.
Poster: Team Wild TV
Air Rifle Hunting – Night Vision Rat Shooting
This video was filmed at a pig farm in Staffordshire England. A pig farm is the “perfect storm” for a rat infestation due to the way pigs are fed and their tolerance for rodents.
The Team Wild gents are using Daystate Huntsman air rifle and NiteSite NS200 night vision scope. They dispatch well over 40 rats in a few hours using night vision technology. Most kills were clean and immediately lethal.
Poster: Country Pursuits TV
High & Low Power Air Gun Rat Hunting
This nearly ten minute video was shot at a waste transfer station in Britain with the 100fpe Daystate Wolverine .303, the MK4 .177 and Red Ranger air guns showcased. The shooters here are adult males who give good technical background information and demonstrate the penetrating power of the high power air gun using sheet metal.
The high powered Wolverine air rifle shot high and spooked several rats before the shooter could adjust his aim. The MK4 .177 using Barracuda ratting pellets seemed to be the most immediately lethal combination.
Killing Rats: High power or low power?
This last video above brings up an important question: which is better for pest control, a high powered air rifle or a lower power model?
Intuitively it would seem that a high power air gun would be more immediately lethal as the penetrating power is greater –as demonstrated by the County Pursuits TV video above, especially at longer ranges. This can be an important consideration both from the standpoint of humanely killing the rats and collateral damage to surroundings.
Ideally high powered air rifles (20 fpe and higher) are best suited to rural settings (or garbage dump locations) where there is less chance of damage to property and non-target wildlife. A high powered air gun also makes the kill zone less important, with enough power and at close enough range any shot to the rat body should be sufficiently lethal. Much depends on the accuracy of the high powered gun however as was also demonstrated in the last video above the power becomes irrelevant if the gun’s accuracy is not precise.
Low powered air rifles (12fpe) are often considered more appropriate to rat hunting, allowing for greater use in more areas. Given equal accuracy, limited range (30 to 35 feet from the target animal) and the ability of the shooter to concentrate on head shots a lower power air rifle will get the job done very efficiently. Usually in rat killing the body count is more important than technique or firing distance. A high powered air rile is often considered to fall on the side of overkill given the relatively small size of the rat targets.
The caliber of the air gun is also an important consideration. Air guns with .22 caliber firing capacity tend to have eccentric trajectory patterns at 12fpe; the recommended caliber of a low power air gun is .177, again ably demonstrated by the gentlemen from Country Pursuits TV.
Not for the Squeamish!
In addition to having the right equipment and accuracy, shooting rats also requires a certain level of tolerance to unpleasant sights. Vegans, animal rights activists and those with religious beliefs that include the sanctity of all life are not recommended to use the air rifle method no matter how well intentioned they are or however much they wish to solve their rat problems via humane methods. The death of any creature is never easy for the average person to witness, let alone inflict; hitting moving targets problematical at best for most of us resulting in the need for more than one shot to kill the pest animal.
Equally, rat shooting should never be engaged in by those unwilling or unable to handle their weapons responsibly. Pest control utilizing any firearm should be undertaken from a standpoint of skill and necessity, respect for the environment and the safety of others.