This edition of ‘ask the experts’ is all about foxing, and our experts are going to solve your fox shooting queries.
Question: I’ve been waiting for my firearms certificate to arrive for months now, with no joy. Is there anything I can do to speed the process along? I don’t want to irritate my firearms department and see myself put on a black list, but waiting doesn’t seem to be doing much good.
Stuart’s answer: You’re not along in your predicament. Among the biggest frustration for both new and seasoned shooters are the delays they face in licensing. For new shooters, with some areas taking up to nine months to issue a license, it can mean they give up altogether, while for those trying to renew their certificates, the delays can cause huge problems.
In the short term, there’s no harm in engaging in polite dialogue with your local Firearms Licensing department if you are waiting for your certificate to appear. Further on the horizon, we could – fingers crossed – see improvements come about to the overall situation.
First, these could come from the NPCC’s training programme for licensing staff, all of whom will be expected to complete an accredited course which will teach good practice. This should help in achieving consistency in the application of the Firearms Acts. An online program for certificate applications and renewals, currently being tested by the Met, will help speed up the process too.
The situation is grim, and something of a postcode lottery. But improvement is possible, as demonstrated by Essex constabulary, who halved their waiting times after they were singled out as the slowest in the country in 2016. They are now in the top five for turnaround times.
Question: I’m a bit old-fashioned and have always preferred going out at night with just lamp and rifle, using a .22 Hornet. However, I’m seriously thinking of getting a spotter to use in conjunction with the lamp – but I am uncertain whether it should be a night vision or thermal type. What would you suggest?
Mike’s answer: Firstly, despite the undeniably large role modern technology plays in night shooting, there is no need for you to feel old-fashioned or inferior. Let’s not forget that extremely large numbers of foxes were shot after dark long before night vision was even heard of for civilian use. But without a doubt, a decent spotter, whatever type it is, will help when you’re out with the lamp.
Cost comes into it, but without a doubt thermal would be your best bet. With a thermal spotter you will see every fox that’s there, whereas with NV it’s relatively easy to miss one especially if it’s got its back to you. Having said that, years ago – before thermal was available – I used a Starlight Archer to good effect as a spotter in conjunction with a lamp.
When using a spotter with a lamp, I suggest you don’t use the lamp at all until you are about to take the shot. By doing this you can almost guarantee that the fox, when you turn the lamp on for the first time, will stand long enough for you to take the shot.
Question: I’m in the market for a new bipod for all-round hunting purposes. Is it worth shopping around or should I just get a Harris and be done with it?
Mark’s answer: Shopping around is rarely a bad idea. On my part, I’ve used several types of bipod over the years.
For a long time the benchmark for bipods was always the Harris bipod in a 6-9in model. This remains an excellent bipod, with its sprung legs and available in various lengths, some models incorporating pan and tilt features too.
The downside to these has always been that they are not easy or quick to adjust when it comes to setting the leg length, especially from a shooting position. I often found I would under tighten the locking wheel when adjusting legs from a prone position, causing the leg to slip down under the weight of the rifle. The other annoying feature was when you released the extended leg by the button and it sprung back and punched the end of your finger.
Though I still use the Harris bipod on my .223, on my custom rifle I now use an Atlas bipod. These are not cheap but are extremely well made and designed, offering a multitude of different leg angles and heights as well as a lockable pan and tilt feature. The Atlas bipod can also be fitted with various different feet and leg extensions if required.
Question: I’ve always assumed that 30mm-tube scopes are inherently better than their one-inch counterparts, but I recently read online that it’s mostly a matter of taste and 30mm tubes don’t actually transmit more light. Can you tell me what the difference really is between them? Not to mention 34mm and 36mm tubes…
Chris’ answer: Tube diameter is a compromise between two main optical factors after the mechanics have been designed. A larger tube allows greater diameter lenses, meaning more light can pass through, and given the comparative size of the internal erector tube within the outer body, more or less physical angular movement to allow for zeroing and long-range adjustment versatility.
Some cheap one-inch tubed Chinese optics have far more mechanical range than entry-level European optics, often dismissed as an impossibility. Well, technically, a tiny tube with a tiny erector tube within will indeed have vast angular movement – but it also has a tiny lens, and we all know the effect that will have on image quality!
Nevertheless, tube size does not correlate exactly with adjustment range. For example, a Swarovski X5 is touted as a long-range scope with a 30mm tube, 5-25x magnification and huge turrets, whereas a Schmidt & Bender 3-12x T96 Polar has half the magnification and less mechanical range in a 34mm tube.
The X5 has a 56mm objective, yet the Schmidt, with a slightly lesser 54mm, is noticeably brighter and sharper in a range of conditions, including low light. At this price point, it’s not that the manufacturers can’t manage to do any more – in fact it’s a super example of how the big players really ‘focus’ their design capability. It’s easy to see how the two scopes embody the completely opposing goals of long range versus low light.
Patents and competition can vie for attention, too, with larger and smaller tube sizes and some, like the 26 and 35mm, quickly going out of fashion. 40mm tubes on scopes have pushed long-range mechanics with large lenses, but I have been generally disappointed with their other design attributes like critical exit pupils or simply a bulky appearance.
So, to round up, bigger is better. Larger lenses (within reason) are easier to handle, align and machine for the simple fact that a machine with a given tolerance applied to a larger component shows a smaller percentage of variation around perfection. But many factors can play a part, and no single scope offers the perfect solution to all scenarios.
My advice? Choose the specifications you want from an optic, then compare similar items from alternate brands. You will notice that very few top-end sporting scopes have exactly comparable specifications. What matches your needs? That is where your decision will become clearer.
Question: I am about to get my first rifle, which I am going to set up specifically for foxing. I am confused as to which make to go for – I have read so many conflicting opinions online as to which is the best. What do you think?
Mike’s answer: Having tested a considerable number of rifles over the years, my personal view is that the make doesn’t make a great deal of difference! Modern rifles have almost all reached a level of quality that virtually guarantees you will be able to shoot all the foxes you want out to sensible ranges, by which I mean 200 yards or less. Cost will more often than not decide your final choice.
If you want specific recommendations, one make that certainly has proved itself over the years at the lower end of the price scale is CZ. Another slightly more recent arrival that offers excellent value is Howa. I have rifles from both of those makers and have found them excellent.
Higher up the price ladder there are a wide range of makes that will serve you well: Sauer, Blaser, Schultz & Larsen, Anschütz and more. As I said earlier, there are few really bad rifles these days, so it will generally come down to personal choice and what you can afford.