Sporting Rifle’s Mike Powell finds that despite the plethora of calibres on the market today, there are some occasions where the humble .22LR is still best
As I have said so often, the choices of calibre for fox shooting can be many. All centrefire rifles are capable of killing the top predator humanely, from the tiny .17s up to the possibly over-the-top .308. There is much discussion as to which is the best one for the job, but I think it just comes down to a matter of personal preference.
In times gone by there was precious little choice – most of us during the post-war years stuck to the .22, either rimfire or Hornet. Those days are past, and the present day shooter has a bewildering array to choose from – too much, some would say.
Turning attention to the rimfire calibres, the two that we all know are the .22LR and the .17 HMR. It is the first of these that this article concentrates on.
The .22LR is not my first choice for taking out foxes – though it is capable of doing so at sensible ranges, a lot of care has to be taken when placing the shot. Most .22s are extremely accurate, and most users should be capable of a one-inch group out to 75 yards. If they can’t do that, a bit of practice could be needed, particularly if the fox is the target.
Over the years I have shot a fair number of foxes with this calibre. In my opinion, although many are shot at greater distances, I reckon 60 yards must be about the maximum. Although they will very often die eventually from a long range .22 hit, foxes do not drop on the spot at 70 yards unless hit in one or two choice spots (brain, heart). At sub-60 yard ranges, most shooters should be able to deliver an accurate enough shot to either drop Charlie on the spot or at worst traumatise it enough for a swift second shot to finish the job.
My choice of rifle for normal fox control is a .223 Anschütz fitted with the Longbow night vision scope – or, during the summer months when longer-range shots are on the cards during daylight, the H-S Precision .243 WSSM. However, I recently got a call from a client asking for some help with a fox that had taken a dozen of his best (it’s always the best ones) chickens. I arranged to get up and see him later in the day, and when I did, the usual scenes of carnage were plain to see. The usual puffs of feathers and sad remains of the slain, together with the traumatised and injured victims, were everywhere. Having had the same problems myself in the past, I could only sympathise, and promised to do what I could.
I knew this ground from years ago, and had a pretty good idea whence the fox had come. Sure enough, the chewed remains were found well out in the neighbouring field, which lay between the smallholding and the nearby woods.
Walking round the perimeter of the smallholding, which only covered about an acre, I spotted several runs, both badger and fox. The main problem was a footpath that ran outside the boundary. Although this is a relatively quiet spot, people do use it, and clearly I wasn’t about to put myself in a conflict situation with Joe Public.
There was one spot where a bank about four feet high presented a safe backstop stretching about six or seven yards down the hedge – it was the only place a shot could be taken. From here, the land dropped away to the hamlet below, so there was no way a centrefire rifle could be used. Silence, too, was important, so the only option was the good old .22LR.
Sorting out the spot where I would park, I pegged out a couple of the dead hens in a direct line between me and the backstop. Rangefinding the hens showed them to be about 40 yards away – ideal.
Having warned the owner I would be there as the light started to fade and asking him to carry on as normal, I arrived at about 5.30pm and settled down. Within half an hour the moon rose directly in front of me, illuminating both the target area and myself. In situations like this I wear a dark veil and gloves, as foxes will instantly see any movement from uncovered hands and faces. I had also discarded the night vision as it was quite easy to see through the MTC Genesis scope I was trying out.
After about half a freezing hour, a fox showed briefly at the far end of the field and was gone. I suspected from its behaviour that it was a casual visitor. The grass was by now white as the frost tightened its grip and the moon was almost dazzling me. The thought of getting home by the fire was pretty appealing, but I knew that the best chance of getting the killer was that night.
Suddenly it was there. Coming in from the right, it never hesitated as it trotted up to the first carcase. This behaviour was typical of a fox that knew exactly where the next meal was coming from. The first visitor had not picked up any scent in the cold, windless night, but this one clearly was returning to the crime scene. The Weihrauch I was testing was resting on the tube of pipe lagging clipped over the window, so a minimum of movement was required to get the scope on target. I have to say, I was surprised just how clearly the fox stood out. A moment later the fox was down and motionless, the bullet catching it just behind the ear.
I decided to hang on for another half an hour. In that time saw another three, none of which approached the safe shooting zone. It was pretty clear evidence that I had got the right one.
Speaking to the landowner, who was more than happy, I mentioned that I had seen four others, and did he want me to deal with them. Both he and his mother were amazed that I had seen so many, both of them saying they had only seen two in the 30 years or so they had lived there.
The other thing they both said was that wasn’t it such a coincidence that the fox had got into the hen house on the one night they had forgotten to shut it? I gently explained to them that foxes are there every night, and if you make a mistake, they will exploit it. During the next few icy nights I picked up another three foxes with my Anschütz 1710 .22LR, now with the Genesis on board. The son told me he had seen several more with his torch – it’s amazing what you can see when you look for it.
Doubtless I will be called back, but this little episode shows how useful the .22LR can be in the right situations. Of the four foxes I shot, only one needed a follow-up shot to finish the job. I am no wonder shot, but as I said earlier, if you can get a one-inch group at 50 or 60 yards, you should be able to humanely dispatch any fox out to that sort of range.