An interesting incidental

Rimfire aficionado Byron Pace sets out on a bunny-bashing foray with his .17 HMR, and at the last minute ends the depredations of a feral ferret

The quarry might be out of the ordinary, but the HMR proved more than up to the task

When I first applied for my firearms licence, the first .17 HMR rifles were just reaching British shores. I had grown up seeing every man and his dog using the faithful .22LR. This was the first firearm most people used when they started out – but being a bit of a radical, I was hankering for the feisty .17 HMR. Back then, the faster, flatter, harder-hitting rifle appealed to my teenage self, even if it was a plunge into the darkness. The decision was made. I did a now long-forgotten deal with my dad, and the rifle was soon on its way thanks to him and his credit card.

The rifle impressed from the start and is still in regular use, taking a variety of quarry and proving an important vermin control tool. I usually take the .17 along with the centrefire on our regular foxing forays, and more often than not the little rimmy is put to good use.

I remember one such outing, on a shooting expedition at Glen Trusta where my buddy Edan’s brother was the keeper. As we set out in the estate Land Rover, the mist was as thick as treacle, but the tide soon turned on the luck front with the lifting mist exposing the steep sides of the glen in the greying darkness. The intense beam pierced its way through the gloom, and multiple sets of eyes lit up the grassy banking 100 metres away. From our elevated position we were perfectly placed to set up a long-range fire point with the .17 HMR.

Killing the front headlights, Edan focused on a rabbit just past the 100-yard mark. Unmounting from the Landy, I took up position on the bonnet with the gun slip rolled up as a rest, giving a very steady shooting position. With the MTC mounted optics set at 10x mag and the parallax wheel nestled at around the 120-yard mark, I unleashed the 17-grain Remington. A satisfying thud told its own success story.

Clear sight: Edan puts the crosshairs on another bunny

The warm-up over, it was time to start pushing the distance. The beam found another target of unknown distance further along the valley. This called for a quick range check with my Leupold RX-1000, a very clever piece of kit that can calculate MOA adjustment and holdover. The reading flashed back at 130 metres and 0 holdover. I had zeroed a little high at 100 yards deliberately, allowing me to drop the tiny terror of ballistic magnificence bang on at 150 yards.

The moderated report echoed through the dead of night as another bunny was consigned to the cooking pot. I was enjoying every squeeze of the modified CZ trigger, and began clocking up a sizeable number of kills.

The conditions were spot on – but it wouldn’t do to be greedy, so I soon swapped roles with Edan. He too dispatched several rabbits in a matter of minutes. After suitably reducing the population within a 150-metre radius of our position, it was time to move on. Dropping further down the glen, we rounded a corner. Once again the flicker of eyes sparkled through the gloom.

Shooting from the cab was a little cramped, and at the steep angle required, achieving the desired steady rest from the window frame was not exactly comfortable. That said, shooting from a static vantage point still had its advantages. It allowed me to open the Landy’s door and wedge myself beside the foot well, with the seat forming a steady butt-rest and the door frame a solid fore-rest. With the sling stud slotted into the window glass crevice, this was as solid a shooting position as one could wish for.

The wind had picked up to a gentle breeze now, requiring some consideration at the more extended ranges. Ranging the furthest shot of the night, I clocked 166 yards (153 metres) through the rangefinder, with the breeze at full value left to right. Nestling the graduated crosshairs level with the base of the bunny’s ears, I compensated for the wind drift by holding in line with his nose. In an instant, my judgement was proved correct, as the distinct thump of my round hitting home sang back to us through the darkness. We both went on to tally a good number of kills before the mist began to roll back in.

A last-minute shot adds the ferret to Byron's species list

We had had a very good night, and decided to head back to base in a slow, circuitous trundle, retracing our route out. It wasn’t long before we crested the last hill and began descending towards the estate buildings. Halfway down, we were greeted by a temporary clearing in the mist, which allowed us to see at range again. An area of a few hundred metres or so had long been harvested, pushing the tree line back from the road for a good distance.

We flashed the light among the strewn limbs of timber. Two strange, piercing eyes shone back. This seemed a little odd – it appeared to be a small, white animal sitting among a pile of brash. Getting Edan to take over the lamp, I focused in with my Kahles binos to discover a feral ferret starring back at me. This was an opportunity not to be missed, and given the proximity to the pheasant pens, it would be a welcome addition to the bag as far as the estate keeper was concerned. Friends had told me of feral ferrets in the area, but I hadn’t ever seen any myself until now. People releasing these unwanted pets can become a major problem for keepers – they can have a devastating effect on game birds and other wildlife.

This bright white ferret seemed calm as it posed in the spotlight, giving me time to deploy the .17 HMR once more. The little rimfire was most appropriate for the 70-metre flight path. Trust me – this was one little critter I didn’t want to miss. On getting into a comfortable position on the bonnet, I carelessly knocked the butt of the rifle on the door, simultaneously making the ferret vanish into the tangle of timber all around him. Cursing to myself, I waited patiently for him to reappear, but to no avail.

Thinking the moment had been lost, Edan tried a few whistles on the wigeon call he usually enlisted for calling up Charlie. I fixed down the scope at the area the ferret was last sighted. Suddenly he appeared once more over the top of an uprooted tree stump. That was just the window I needed, and a second later I slammed the .17 round through his chest, flipping the white ball of fur to the ground.
It was indeed a night to remember, and one of the most enjoyable nights of lamping I have had in many years. Cleanly shot rabbits and good company aside, it had definitely been a bonus to add a feral ferret to my list of quarry species, and it proved once again what a versatile rifle the .17 HMR is.

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