By Harold Chambliss
“When It Was Too Cold to Fish We Hunted in Rat Season”
When our fishing club shut down for the fall and winter months, several of us turned our attention to rat season, which opened usually during the Thanksgiving holidays and lasted on and off through February. Rat season was not recognized by the State Game & Fish Commission, but we recognized it, and there was no rodent limit, until you ran out of .22 caliber ammunition.
Instead of lakes, ponds, and creeks, we made our way to the killing fields of the city dump on Old Sandy Ridge Road about three miles north of the city limits. The dump was sort of like an old Indian mound being flat on top, which connected to the road on one side and very steep down the other where the city trucks would unload an avalanche of trash, garbage, refrigerators, and old tires.
At the bottom of this 50-foot mountain overflowing with rubbish were natural rat stands (as opposed to deer stands) of tree stumps where we rat hunters would get comfortable and off the ground to avoid any contact with irritated snakes. Facing the mountain of trash, we would become very quiet for an almost unbearable amount of time for teenagers (sometimes as long as nine minutes.) Rat hunting, as opposed to fishing, had a self-imposed limit of two maybe three boys at the most, because of gun safety concerns. The exception to this was if one or more of us had brought dates. Nothing more fulfilling or manly than firing rifles and killing rats at a garbage dump, in cold weather, with smoke-like poison gas floating over the trenches of France in WWI… in front of your date. (See what you big city girls missed?)
A after being quiet and patient for whatever the unbearable wait was, you would hear a scratching among the tin cans and boxes about halfway up the mountain but you couldn’t see anything. Wait 30 seconds and suddenly there was a rattling flash between a cardboard box and a Maxwell House coffee can. Game on. You adjusted your sights on the can and waited “patiently” until the rat, decided to return to the box…and he always did, sometimes like a flash, other times like a Sunday stroll, sometimes with a congregation in tow. That’s when you jerked the trigger even though you knew one of the major rules in shooting was to squeeeeze the trigger. Who had time for that? Especially when you were startled and you shot instead of screaming and embarrassing yourself in front of a date.
If you hit your target the rat would roll down the mountain like a sniper casualty from a WWII war movie. If you didn’t, there would be 25 to 30 more rats to take his place within a matter of 45 minutes to an hour. But you really did have to get your kills in quickly as sometimes our dates had had enough within 20 minutes. Strange thing though, once a girl accompanied you to shoot rats, they seemed to lose interest in the sport and in you. Some of my buddies noticed that, too. The girls all ended up marrying guys who weren’t from around there. We never did quite figure out why though…