Quietly Confident

A good night’s work for Mark and his team

Over the last 10 years, my main tool to keep fox population down in my area has been a Heym SR30 straight bolt in .25-06, loaded with Hornady 75-grain V-Max pushed out at around 3,600fps by VarGet powder. I knew if the fox presented itself at 300 yards it would go down. However, hot loads have taken their toll on the barrel, and its accuracy isn’t what it was, so I invested in an Antonio Zoli rifle in .243 Win.

I immediately had it screw-cut for the T8 moderator, and with Leupold base and rings mounted a Zeiss Duralyt 3-12×50 illuminated scope. Once I was happy everything was screwed up tight and aligned, I took it to the range. The first two shots from 50 yards showed the windage 5cm left and the elevation slightly low. After turning the windage dial 5cm right, I moved back to the 100-yard mark where I attained a sub-one-inch group. This was from a rifle straight out of the box, so letting the barrel cool and tweaking the zero, I repeated the process. Happy with a three-shot group of less than an inch and one inch high of the target, I unscrewed the bipod and shot off the sandbag to confirm no difference in zero. This is always worth checking as some rifles do change.

Eager to try the set-up in the field, I headed to the farm that night and deployed the vehicle overlooking a muck hill frequented by foxes. I placed the rifle on the bonnet, supported by the bipod; I had the lamp close at hand and soon chambered a round before flicking on the safety. Beyond the muck hill was a grass banking littered with rabbits about 100 yards away. My plan was to call a fox, and if nothing showed I would take the test to the rabbits.

Switching on the illuminated dot on the Zeiss, I checked that the variable magnification was on 8x. While looking through the scope, I pressed the minus button to decrease the brightness and size of the illuminated dot until the glare had gone completely, leaving a minute dot that could accurately be placed on a rabbit’s chest. Even in the red filter, the clarity was exceptional.

At the end of the field is a marsh from which I often call foxes. Trying a manual distressed rabbit call on the back of my hand brought a fox in after 20 minutes. Keeping the main beam on the fox and continuing the squeaking, I took hold of the rifle and lined it up, tracking it through the Zeiss. I stopped calling, as the fox slowed to a stop at 80 yards or so. With the illuminated red dot fixed on its chest, I squeezed the trigger of the Zoli and dropped the fox with a sound bullet strike.

Reloading, I put the lamp back on the fallen fox, and to my disbelief, it was moving off slowly but looking rather worse for wear. I rushed the follow-up shot, missing completely, and it disappeared behind the muck heap. Reloading, I changed position, hoping the fox would reappear in the expected quarter. I readied the lamp, and seconds later the fox showed, still struggling – but I missed again.

The vulpine was now getting close to escaping into a thick hedge. With round number four in the breech, I tracked the maimed fox and took my chance as it stopped momentarily before entering the thorns. This time I connected and he was fortunately dispatched. On closer inspection, the first strike had been high across its shoulder, causing a flesh wound only.

The following day, I checked that all the screws were tight on the rifle, took it back to the range and shot a sub-1.5in group just above the point of aim at 100 yards. Putting the previous night’s performance down to pilot error, I took the rifle out on a serious foxing foray that very night.

This weekly excursion around arable farms would allow me to give the new set-up a fair test shooting from a solid rest. My regular driver Pete and lamp man H turned up about nine o’clock and we headed off. Turning off the road, I climbed into my purpose-made shooting box and powered up the Lightforce 240 Blitz lamp covered with a red filter. After stocking up the .243, we made off, scanning the open fields.

Initially events were unremarkable until we tried a couple of pastures running alongside some woodland. Sweeping the red beam across the grasses, we spotted a fox laid down only 100 yards away. With my lamp man pressing the in-line button to signal Pete to stop, I readied the rifle and got into position to shoot as H kept the lamp on the fox. However, it thought it better to make haste rather than wait for a 75-grain Accutip. I tracked it through the Zeiss, and as it reached the far fence it did as expected and stopped broadside to us. The report of the .243 was answered by a thwack of the bullet dispatching the fox at 200 yards.

After collecting our quarry, we proceeded onto another farm, lamping both sides of the track. As Pete carefully drove on at around 10mph, we spotted a brace of foxes in a field to our left some 500 yards away. The track direction would close the distance, so turning off the lamp, we drove on until we were well within range and pulled up. I chambered a round and got ready before the lamp went on.

Mark’s TOP TIP: If you zero your rifle on a bipod, unscrew it and check again afterwards to make sure it hasn’t shifted in the process

Spotting one of the two foxes right away, I drew a quick bead and confidently took him out before homing in on the second, reloading in an instant. It gave a sideways glance as it searched for its mate before disappearing over a ditch at the top of the field. Leaving the shot fox for now, we carried on to the end of the track, but to no avail – the fox had gone.

Collecting the fox on the way back, we now had two on board. We lamped the ground back towards the farm for a second time. As the end of the final sweep drew near, H spotted some eyes in a wild bird mix conservation crop opposite the farmstead running along the edge of a wood 180 yards away.

Stopping, I had a closer look through the scope, confirming it was a fox. I chambered a bullet, focused back on the fox and waited for a clear shot. I could see it mousing about in the crop and showing no concern towards the lamp. As I was debating whether to give it a call, the vulpine began to move back towards the wood and paused, giving me a wonderful opportunity to take him out, which I gladly took.

Our last call was a smallholding at the bottom of the village. As we turned through a gate, H caught the flash of vermin eyes in his initial sweep of the lamp. Pete stopped straight away, but this fox seemed to know the score, disappearing into a dip in the field. As H tried to keep the lamp on the fox, which was now lost to sight, I covered the dead ground with the rifle.

The fox came back into view, but he was mostly covered by the contour of the land. I carefully followed the fox through the Zeiss. Knowing that it was 300 yards from the gate to the field corner, I knew I would have good range on it if it did stop. Keeping silent, we watched and waited, willing the fox to stop for that last look back. Our wish was eventually granted as he turned just short of the fence. I immediately steadied the illuminated dot high on his shoulder before squeezing away the round. He reacted to the shot by jumping forward even before the sound of the bullet strike reached my ears, and completely disappeared from sight.

Opting to walk across rather than drive, I grabbed the HID Lightforce and began a diligent search for the shot fox. I soon found him at the side of the fence, hit slightly low in the chest but dead nonetheless, taken well at 290 yards. Confidence had been redeemed in under two hours without a call being made, and a successful alliance with a new foxing tool had been formed. Mark Nicholson

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