Country: The best way of dealing with rodents is to pick them off with a .22 rifle

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The Independent Online
A few Sundays back, in the middle of the morning, I got a call from county police headquarters, asking if I would put down a deer which had been hit by a car on the M5. Grabbing a rifle and a few bullets, I was on the scene within 20 minutes.

A patrol wagon had pulled up on the hard shoulder with its lights flashing. Warning signs had been switched on, limiting drivers to 40 mph, but none was paying the slightest notice, and cars were roaring past at 80 or 90 mph. The crippled roe doe was lying with her head up on the central reservation. I could see at once that her back was broken.

There was nothing for it but to wait for a lull in the traffic and scuttle across the three lanes. Then, having put a bullet through the back of the deer's head, I had to wait again for a suitable moment and drag the body back. As I loaded it into my vehicle, the sergeant thanked me for turning out, and remarked that the police had neither the weapons nor the training to finish off an injured animal.

I mention the incident to illustrate why, even after the disaster at Dunblane, I think it essential that sporting guns should be kept at home, rather than in police stations or shooting club armouries. There are numerous occasions on which I need a gun quickly, and the having to drive into town, fill up a form and draw out a weapon would be intolerably slow.

Call-outs such as the one described above are mercifully rare. I may get only three or four a year; but when one does come, it comes without warning, and often at night or in the early morning. Since our local police station closes at 5pm and does not reopen until 8am, I could not sensibly keep my weapons there. They would have to be stored further afield - and that might easily add half an hour to my reaction time.

It is true that a humane killer would have sufficed to finish off the deer on the motorway. Yet often, after such accidents, the victim is able to lurch to its feet and stagger off, maybe with one leg broken, so that a rifle is indispensable.

Other kinds of emergency are always possible. If one of our own cattle or sheep were to break a leg - as has happened - I must have the means of quickly putting it out of its misery. At this time of year our worst nightmare is that stray dogs may attack our new-born lambs. In that event, I want instant access to a shotgun, so that I can at least fire a warning shot to scare off the marauders, or, at worst, shoot one of them dead. The same applies if a fox gets a taste for killing lambs.

On any farm, targets of opportunity are constantly appearing. We ourselves do not have any arable crops, but other farmers ring up and ask me to defend their peas, beans or wheat against pigeons. On one memorable occasion I received an urgent appeal to shoot a steer which had gone off its head and was charging everything in sight.

At home, rats are difficult to trap, and I do not like to poison them, because of the risk that our cats might eat contaminated corpses. The most effective way of dealing with the rodents which invade our chicken house is to pick them off with a .22 rifle when they venture out into the yard.

The same applies to rabbits, which in summer breed so freely along our hedges that their excavations make the field positively dangerous for horses. Squirrels are another menace, especially when they start bark- stripping in early summer. A .22 is also good for thinning out magpies, which otherwise play hell with the eggs and chicks of songbirds.

I do not wish to make it sound as though I am constantly putting down a hail of lead all round our house. The bombardment is intermittent, to say the least. Nevertheless, if you live in the country and own sporting weapons, you really do need to have them to have them within easy reach.