Varmint is an American word and we Brits tend say vermin to cover the various pest species that prey on crops, forestry and livestock in the UK. The list of quarry is a long one; rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, hares, mink, foxes and even Muntjac deer who are the only species that has no off seasons and can be shot all year round; male or female! There is also selective culling of badgers due to their potential to spread the disease Brucellosis in cattle. On the bird list we have pigeons (ferals and woody) doves, all the corvids – crows, rooks, jackdaws, jays and magpies etc.
The why of it is not simply to stop pests destroying crops and ruining the livelihoods of farmers, which was the original reason. Consider this if one cow eats 5 kilos of food a day so can 12 rabbits in one night. And you only have to open up a pigeon to see its crop packed full of corn, equally foxes predation of ground-nesting game birds and young lambs has to be seen to be believed! Do you get the idea?
So arable and livestock farmers, owners of commercial fruit and flower orchards etc along with game shoots are all keen to keep the vermin down. However, it has also become a lucrative industry in its own right! First are the professional pest controllers who make their living from it. But it has also morphed into a sport with many shooters literally doing it as a hobby, with many specialists companies offering product to suit; camo clothing, decoys, animal calls, traps and lures, rifles, shotguns, optics, moderators and accessories.
Not just guns
There are many approaches to pest control and the popular image of people marching around with guns shooting up the vermin is not the whole picture. This is mainly how the sport shooters do it, but the professionals make use of traps and even poisons. Consider this – a trap is working for you 24/7, whereas sitting in a field all night waiting for a fox that might or might not appear is wasteful of time and resources; though great fun!
But it’s really the guns, gear and optics that gets people excited. One aspect of vermin control both sport and professional is the growing use of night vision (NV) equipment. In the old days we would use lamps for night shooting on all the pests, but they have wised up over the years. Shoot at a fox with a lamp and miss and it won’t hang around for a second shot and it will never stand for one again. So we use tubed NV along with digital and thermal devices for shooting and observation.
Electronic calls are also popular that can mimic animals in distress, females calling or males challenging. On the bird front decoys are the main tool along with camo hides to shoot from. With pigeon shooting, which is now the most popular form of live shotgunning in the UK patterns of plastic and mechanical decoys are set up and the shooters are fully camoed up and inside a hide. Corvids can be enticed with owl decoys and bait too.