Mike Powell remembers what it was like to start out with limited foxing funds, and shares some advice with young shooters who are thinking of taking up the sport
I count myself fortunate that in the course of my writing on shooting matters, I have got the chance to try out equipment that I could never afford to own, particularly when I was much younger and money was not just tight, it was pretty much non-existent. In those days there were few choices for the young fox shooter starting out on his shooting life. Options of all forms of shooting gear were extremely limited – it was usually a case of Hobson’s choice.
How things have changed. Today there is a positive smorgasbord of equipment. Rifles, scopes, moderators and every form of accessory fill the shelves of gun shops the length and breadth of the country. The trade in second-hand rifles and scopes is large, but as with so many hobbies, most people starting off shooting would like to buy new.
I remember my first new .22 rifle, a plain BSA Sportsman Five. It turned out to be a reliable and, for my purposes, accurate enough rifle. I kept it for some years before moving it on for my first Anschütz, a make I have stuck with ever since. However I still remember the thrill I got unwrapping the BSA. I seem to remember it came in a cardboard box with greased paper inside. It was new, no one had used it before me, and I loved it. For some considerable time I used it without a scope, fitting it with the cheaper option of aperture sights. I suspect I was not unique in my desire to own something new, and doubtless there are many potential shooters out there who are agonising over which rifle they can get as their first, and which would be the best make at a price they can afford.
So for the younger entrant who is not exactly flush with cash, what are the options? As I said, there are masses of second-hand rifles and scopes about, but second-hand gear can raise questions about reliability and accuracy. Most of them are fine but there is always a doubt, so the other obvious option is to buy new. There really are some beautiful rifles about but no matter how attractive they may be, are totally beyond the newcomer’s price range. The same goes for the bewildering choice of telescopic sights. A visit to some of the more popular shooting websites tends to confuse the issue even more. A frequently asked question is: “What is the best rifle for me to start foxing, deer stalking or rabbiting with?” You can put money on the fact there will be numerous helpful replies, all extolling the virtues of a different rifle. By now the prospective buyer will probably be more confused than ever.
With this in mind, and taking an overall consensus of opinion from those in the know, I have tried to put together a solid, reliable and above all, accurate outfit that should serve a first-time foxer well. This choice was governed by cost, and I put a top figure of about £1,300 as a budget. I will say now that this is my personal choice and bears no reflection on other makes, many of which are certainly up to doing the job.
I started with the rifle. I know of many friends and acquaintances that use CZ products in a variety of calibres, and more or less without exception they are all more than pleased with this make. A friend uses a CZ American in .22LR, which is extraordinarily accurate and cost a fraction of my own rifle, and to be honest I wouldn’t back myself against him in a target shooting competition. So a CZ would be the rifle of choice. Another plus for this make is the fact that CZ has really raised its game in terms of the overall finish of its rifles – the woodwork and blueing are now up there with some of the best.
For the benefit of this test I decided on the tried and trusted .223, which is still probably the best dedicated foxing round. Flat-shooting and accurate over long distances with readily available ammunition, it seemed a fair place to start. As for the model, I went for the CZ527 as again this is a model that is becoming more and more popular. I will set out a few details of the rifle, although for the newcomer the most important question is, of course, ‘Does it do the job?’
The rifle has a synthetic stock in dark grey, with ‘fish scale’ stippling for grip – ideal for a rough night’s lamping. It is almost inevitable that no matter how careful you are shooting at night, your rifle, if it has a wooden stock, will get a few bumps and bruises. The new American-style stock is of average proportions that will fit most shooters.
The action is in true micro-length Mauser style, features an all-metal three-shot magazine and is mated to a free-floated hammer-forged barrel, which has six-groove rifling and a 1-in-12 twist rate, ideal for this calibre. The trigger is single set. On the test rifle, the normal trigger pull came in at 4lb 11oz, but when on ‘set’ it dropped to 1lb 15oz. I am personally not a great fan of single set triggers, but they do have their advantages. Adjustment is provided for altering the weight of pull if required. The rifle is very light, weighing a modest 2.61kg – even when equipped with the Weaver scope, it felt extremely light. The overall length is 1,025mm and the length of pull is just under 14in.
Now we come to the scope. I went for a Weaver 40/44 series 4-12×44. Why choose this particular make? Weaver has been making scopes for a very long time, over 80 years in fact, and throughout this period it has always produced reliable, well made riflescopes. It also has an increasing band of followers who recognise its reliability and robust workmahsip. Its track record is excellent and the scopes offer great value for money.
This model comes with the Ballistic-X reticle, which for the beginner is simple to understand and match to your own rifle and ammunition. Several scopes use a similar ballistic reticle system whereby you zero about one inch high at 100 yards, and the crosshairs (or other reticle) will then be at 200 yards, the first dot down will be at 300 and so on. These are approximations but some test rounds, once zeroed, will give you the final ranges for your particular rifle.
So how did this set-up work in the field? Zeroing was achieved without any problems, and the rifle functioned well – loading, extraction and ejection were faultless. Incidentally I have been trying out a product used by mountain bikers and cyclists called Fork Juice. This is a spray-on lubricant that dries out quickly and works better than anything I have tried to date. The bolt on the CZ, in common with that on most new rifles, was a bit ‘grabby’ to start with, but a quick dose of Fork Juice worked wonders. Although the rifle is very light, this did not prove a problem with recoil, making it an excellent choice for young or beginner shooters.
Using the Bushnell bore sighter before setting out meant the rifle was on the paper from the word go, and half a dozen shots later the job was done. As expected the CZ’s accuracy was excellent, producing a sub-one inch group, which is more than good enough to deal with troublesome foxes.
The Weaver scope, too, did the job with absolutely no problems. The turrets with their ¼in MOA adjustment had positive clicks, the glass was exceptionally clear for a scope of this price, and while there are those who would argue that more money should be spent on a scope, there are many more who find more economically priced scopes do the job to their satisfaction. In fact, I have used a pretty inexpensive scope on my .22LR for years and see no reason to get a more expensive one – proof that being able to fox on a budget can serve you well for more than just your introductory years.