Ask the experts

Our team of experts solves five more of your burning questions, from calibres to cleaning


Q: I’m thinking of getting a custom rifle for fox shooting. What would be your opinion on this?

Mike says: I think there are pros and cons on the whole question of custom rifles. I am sure that if you have unlimited funds and know for certain that you will keep that rifle for many years, a custom rifle built by one of the top gunsmiths such as Mike Norris, Neil McKillop or one of the other highly reputable names would be a very exciting venture.

We shooters can be a bit fickle when it comes to our rifles, and should you decide in due course to change your custom rifle, be prepared to take a real hit price-wise.

Most factory rifles today are more than capable of dropping a fox humanely at sensible distances, so getting a custom rifle probably wouldn’t add to your kill tally substantially.

So as with many things, it all comes down to how much you want to spend. Personally, I would have loved to have had a rifle built for me but whether it would have been a sensible move I really don’t know.

Apart from the money it also depends on the individual. I’ve been more than happy with most of my rifles and have had some for years.

Would I have been happier with a custom job? I’ll never know!

Mark Ripley’s custom job has served him well over the years


Q: What rifle cleaning routine and products would you recommend?

Mark says: This is one subject where if you asked 20 people you would probably get 20 different answers. Speaking from my own perspective, I generally clean the barrel after each shooting session regardless of how many shots I’ve ended up firing.

All I do is soak a brush in KG1 carbon remover and pass the cleaning rod back and forth through the barrel around 10 times before passing a dr patch through.

I will then soak another patch in carbon remover and push it through the barrel, followed by a couple of dry patches. I may repeat this if the barrel is particularly fouled.

I’m not a fan of removing copper fouling unless I notice a deterioration in accuracy, as I feel this is better for consistency in the end.

I also use a bore guide to align the cleaning rod properly with the barrel so the rod doesn’t damage the chamber, and I wipe the rod down regularly between mopping the barrel to prevent any debris that may stick to the rod and potentially score the barrel, Finally, it’s worth using a .410 wool mop to clean the chamber.

Don’t underestimate the importance of cleaning – get your routine sorted (Credit: Byron Pace)


Q: What’s your opinion on the current fox population? Do you think numbers are dropping?

Mike says: I think this is one of the questions that crops up that can be answered in a couple of words: It depends! All I can say is that in my own area fox numbers appear to be relatively stable.

Within my own parish boundaries and shooting only foxes that are causing or likely to cause problems, for years we have taken about the same number annually, which is around 100.

Then there are those outside the parish, but that is such a varied area I couldn’t comment on fox numbers there. I know from speaking to keepers and shooting folk from various areas that without a doubt, in some parts, fox numbers have plummeted. Almost certainly this is down to the amount of shooting taking place.

Fox populations can vary wildly from area to area (Credit: JMrocek / Getty Images)

Foxes are not prolific breeders and many cubs never reach adulthood, so unlike rabbits there is not an unlimited supply. Certainly when I was keepering, we reduced the local numbers to a low level.

Surrounding shoots were also on top of the fox population so there were never many about. I have said before that in areas where it isn’t essential to reduce numbers drastically and they are only shot for sport, it may be an idea to give them a break during the breeding season.


Q: I’ve noticed more and more optics manufacturers bringing out apps so you can adjust the settings of your scope, binos or rangefinder using your phone. Have you got any tips for using these? Seems like it would be a bit fiddly and time consuming in the field – but I probably just need to be shown the right way to do it.

Chris says: Apps are great tools, just like smartphones, if you concentrate on using them as tools to solve current problems in your head before the hunt. Don’t let them drive or inspire your shooting.

In essence, don’t run before you can walk. Apps help you understand ballistics and know where advances lie – yet pitfalls do exist, so don’t
believe all the hype.

The apps introduced by the optical manufacturers are often more simplified approaches according to the individual company’s opinion of what ‘long-range comprises. These apps can be focused on specific equipment, more like a proprietary instruction book rather than a pure mathematical ballistics tool, so do not confuse the two.

Be careful of overcomplicated, arty layouts on the screens that are easy to misinterpret and lead to you accidentally changing settings you don’t want, or even need to.

In my experience, specific apps like Ballistics AE are far blunter in their approach toward hard data (Strelok is commonly discussed, though not a personal favourite of mine).

Chris’ weather meter is his favoured bit of tech

Top ballistic apps, software and hardware on things like Kestrel Elite using Applied Ballistics definitely work at a higher level, able to reverse-calculate factors from known results (a process called ‘trueing’) for example.

Applied Ballistics also provide more accurate, Doppler radar-measured ballistic coefficients for many popular bullets rather than purely mathematically derived figures from the manufacturers themselves.

With any app, putting poor, un-researched and badly measured data in generally yields similarly poor data output. It doesn’t matter what the box of ammunition or a low-end chronograph says, muzzle velocity needs to be checked empirically with all other outputs on target before you can trust it on anything live.

Finally, never ever assume Bluetooth connections between smartphones and hardware will be 100 per cent reliable. Setting up under pressure is a recipe for failure, so just don’t do it.

The only tool I ever use in the field is Kestrel 5700 Elite. It is 100 per cent proven, reliable at all times and can be operated in wet conditions with gloves on, unlike pretty much any pocket-sized smartphone.

On the other hand, If I’m using the Kestrel, that means I’m shooting and not stalking or hunting – situations for which you should have realistic ranges and capability working real-time in your own brain.


Q: I see various shooting bodies have been trying to launch a judicial review against the ban on shooting on public land in Wales. What does that actually mean?

Stuart says: Judicial review is the process by which the courts review the lawfulness of a decision or action taken by a public body. They are a challenge to the way in which a decision has been made, not right the wrongs of the conclusion reached.

The court adopts a more supervisory role to ensure fair play. Commonly, they are used in human rights cases but the range is pretty diverse and can include planning matters, decisions of regulatory bodies as well as arbitrary decisions taken by Ministers “on the fly”.

Judicial review is a grossly under-used tool. In 2017 around 4,200 applications were made for judicial review which, compared with the millions of court proceedings and the multitude of decisions which emanate from public bodies, is tiny.

However, JRs are useful where, as in the above example, the processes have not been followed, such as an arbitrary decision by a public body without proper information or consultation of other parties.

They aren’t for the faint-hearted because they require swift action to be taken within strict timescales. But, a serious and properly reasoned threat of one can often be sufficient to force a U-turn on a decision.

In the context of shooting and the gun trade as a whole, invoking judicial review requires a coordinated and collegiate approach not least because they cost money. It should not be left to the auspices of one or two better resourced organisations to utilise its income to bring legal challenges off their own bat.


or post your question to: Sporting Rifle, Future Publishing Ltd, Units 1-3, Sugarbrook Court, Aston Road, Bromsgrove B60 3EX.

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