As an air rifle hunter (and prolific writer on all things ‘airgun’) I need lots of shooting permission to be able to vary the subject matter for my readers. Living in Norfolk, I enjoy some great land to shoot over. Mostly arable, with lots of both coniferous and deciduous woodland. As most readers know, I’m not a professional pest controller. I hold down a high level management job and my hunting / writing is my hobby. Until recently, much of my voluntary pest control for farmers was rabbit management but this year has seen the lowest number of shot conies’ in four decades. Not because I haven’t been out there after them but because they simply aren’t there. The warrens are empty. Not that I can claim that as being down to my efficiency. The rabbit dearth is mystery and I can only presume it is down to disease (VHD?) and badger predation of nursery stops. On all of my permission (some three thousand acres) badgers have reached epidemic proportions. Many copses and spinneys hold setts. One wood holds what I would suspect is possibly the largest labyrinth of setts in North Norfolk and this farm holds a large beef herd. I fear the inevitable soon. Attempts at woodland management in this wood have been futile. Old Brock simply tears up the pathetic plastic shields put around planted saplings and helps himself to the contents. But, I digress.
In favourable weather conditions I can enjoy hunting squirrels, corvids and pigeons. All of these are a problem for farmers. I’m not precious about my rifles to the point where I shoot ‘fair weather’ only. Indeed, some inclement weather conditions invite opportunity. Roost shooting wood-pigeons is an example. Foul weather drives the birds to roost and into my sights. As I like to eat what I shoot, this is one of my favourite shooting methods. Yet there are times when it is impossible to shoot an air rifle comfortably outdoors. High winds don’t lend themselves well to the path of a tiny projectile like an airgun pellet. I used to overcome this by satisfying my hunting urge ‘indoors’.
The legal-limit (sub 12 ft/lb) air rifle is the ideal tool for farmyard pest control. Used with caution and attention to safety of stock, machinery and infrastructure the air rifle is very safe. It can reduce pest presence in livestock sheds, grain silos and food stores. Feral pigeons, wood pigeons, collared doves, magpies and jackdaws steal fodder and foul stored produce with their guano. All of these species often take up residence in sheds and barns during winter, while there is food available. Then, of course, there is the brown rat. I don’t need to elaborate too highly on the damage rats can cause to grain, animal fodder and even machinery or wiring. I used to love just sitting in a dark corner of a farm shed or barn on a wild, winter day picking off rats and avian pests.
Alas, I have no such permission available now. The farmer whose buildings I most enjoyed sold his beef herd and went into contracting. The sheds now store agricultural vehicles and hold no interest for vermin. The one beef farm I do shoot over is run by a tenant. My permission is from the landowner but the tenant farmer declines me permission around the farmyard and barns.
So if you read this, Santa Claus, top of my Christmas list this year (and I’ve been a very good boy) is a good old Norfolk barn to keep me occupied on a wet winters day.
©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2015