Years ago, when I first started shooting foxes, it was really only the preserve of gamekeepers and a few like myself who sold fox pelts to the fur trade. More often than not we used shotguns, as the damage to skins was minimal.
Since then, things have moved on rapidly and today foxing is looked upon much more as a sport in its own right and, with the fur trade’s demise, rifles are now the preferred weapon of choice. There are myriad suitable rifles to choose from, and the multitude of accessories available are good evidence that fox shooting has now become big business.
There has been a great deal of debate regarding which rifle is best suited to fox shooting. A run through the vast number of threads on the various shooting websites will demonstrate that this subject is hotly debated, with many shooters having a firm favourite that obviously works for them. These personal views may well be helpful in steering you toward your particular rifle purchase.
All centrefire rifles are more than capable of killing a fox, but normally the calibre choice lies between the diminutive .17 Remington, up to the 6.5×55 Swedish – for the newcomer, choosing a calibre can be bewildering to say the least. Between these two extremes is a vast range of credible calibre possibilities to choose from.
Many sportsmen, especially keepers, will also use their foxing rifle for corvid control. Members of the crow family are very wary indeed and often require a long range shooting solution. Under these circumstances, the high-velocity, flat-shooting, lighter calibres come into their own. The .17 centrefire has its admirers, but the extremely light (usually 25-grain) bullet travelling at around 4,000fps is extremely frangible, and will fragment far too easily, rather than having the ability to penetrate and inflict deep-seated trauma – essential for quick, clean kills on larger quarry. Rifles in .204 Ruger, .220 Swift, .222 Remington, and the very popular .22-250 Remington are lethal on small vermin and foxes alike. For those who require a foxing rifle alone, the .223 has been the rifle of choice for many shooters for some time now, and a number of Scottish stalking enthusiasts use this calibre for roe. However, in England, a move up to and above .243 is necessary to stay within the law for roe, although recent legislation allows .22 centrefires to be used on muntjac and Chinese water deer. The .25-06 also has many enthusiasts, as does the 6mm, but personally I am inclined to look upon these two options more as a deer rifle than an out and out foxing tool.
Recently the old .22 Hornet has seen a bit of a resurgence, it is a proven fox round out to about 200 yards, cheap to reload, and appeals to many who remember it from years gone by. Interestingly it now has a smaller sibling, the .17 Hornet, which is very fast (3,600fps) and good for all vermin, including fox out to around the 200 yard mark, and rather more for smaller vermin. The downside to this calibre is if you are using it for both fox and rabbit you would have to consider the cost of the ammunition. Reloading, though perfectly possible, is debateable if large numbers of rounds are used for rabbit control.
My personal calibre of choice for foxing has long been the .223. As with all conversations about calibre there are a multitude of choices and preferences. I settled a long time ago for the 223 as I found it did the job required perfectly, there was a wide choice of factory ammunition available and reloading was easy for this round. My fox rifle of choice is a Sauer 202, which shoots 55-grain Hornady V-Max extremely well. I have to say it is a really excellent rifle, highly accurate and beautifully made. I still take pleasure in the appearance of a rifle and the woodwork and overall design are very good indeed. I would like to add that the service I got from Steve Beaty at Ivythorn Sporting Guns in Somerset, a Sauer Master Dealer, was second to none.
For about eight months of the year I have it set up for night shooting with the Longbow night vision unit. This piece of equipment has the advantage of being a true day/night scope, which removes the need for scope switching. For the midsummer months this is usually replaced by a Leupold or Swarovski scope.
The Sauer has a light fluted barrel as I now need a much lighter rifle – age dictated that my faithful H-S Precision had to stand aside – and the Sauer has already proved its worth. There is little doubt that heavy barrelled rifles have the edge over their lighter brethren when it comes to accuracy, particularly when one has the opportunity to use it from a secure rest. However, carrying such a heavy rifle when a large area needs to be covered on foot, by day or night, can reduce the pleasure of the outing considerably. And, in truth, the gain in accuracy can, in many cases, be academic at most. Modern rifles, irrespective of their weight, are more than capable of hitting a target the size of a beer mat at the ranges the majority of shots will be taken.
Talking about range, the average distance I have shot the majority of my foxes over the years has been approximately 120 yards. I seldom take shots over 250 yards. This is down to both safety factors and ethical considerations – I know my limits. Although there are a few shooters out there who are capable of taking safe, accurate shots over 300 yards, the vast majority of us will look to take our shots at much less than this.
The experienced fox shooter reading this will doubtless have already formed his or her own ideas on which type of rifle, ammunition and other equipment they should use. Much of this will have been by trial and error, which can be a costly exercise. The idea of this introduction is, in the main, to guide the newcomer as inexpensively as possible to their choice of calibre and rifle. There are, as previously stated, a bewildering array of choices and an equally massive amount of advice as to what is best. Remember this – an expert’s particular point of view will not necessarily be taken so by others, but with careful consideration you will be able to choose with confidence – the old adage
‘buy in haste and repent at leisure’ is extremely relevant.
During my shooting career, I have tried all sorts of rifles and have come to the conclusion that it really does come down to personal choice. We are all built very differently, so what fits one well may be a different story for someone else. It is imperative that you are comfortable with your rifle. Aesthetic qualities may not be a practical priority, but if you don’t like the look of your rifle in the first place, you will be unlikely to do well with it. Fine walnut looks nice and would be my choice, but it is vulnerable to scratches and can occasionally warp, causing problems with your zero. If the rifle is going to be used from a quad, pick up, or 4×4, synthetic is the way to go as its resistance to damage ensures it will still look good after years of use and will never warp or shrink.
My personal choice is for the .223 – if for foxes and long range vermin shooting only. This calibre choice is freely available in most models of modern factory-built rifles as is the ammunition. Police authorities usually do not have a problem with this calibre when applying for a firearm certificate variation for foxing. That said, if deer are also on the shooting menu on the land on which you have permission, then the .243 Winchester would have to be my rifle of choice. Again, it is freely available in wood or synthetic in most brands and there is a range of ammunition from 55-105 grains, covering all eventualities from fox to stag.
Most modern rifles are well made and accurate, providing you select a brand of ammunition that suits your particular choice. Of course, home loading has become a hobby in its own right and does help the enthusiast wring the very best out of the rifle accuracy-wise. But quality factory ammunition bought in the same batch numbers are equally as effective at killing foxes. A three-shot cloverleaf group will kill a fox just as well as a one-hole group. Mike Powell