By Gert Sørensen (Mauser)
The first step
The beginning was many years ago, when the gamekeeper of the estate asked me about my interest in pest control of fox population on the estate. The number of foxes has been growing, following many years during which the fox scab had kept the population low. The gamekeeper was particularly worried because he could see the effect of foxes on the released pheasants. As we began to see more and more foxes on the estate, we saw more ewes there throughout the summer that lost some of their lambs. It was from the beginning, pure and simple pest control. We started shooting the pups in August. Later, from September and further on, we hunted the older foxes.
Waiting with Rifle
In our form of pest control we where placed on some strategic places where we know there was fox activity, and then we just waited. We might wait for many hours, but it was seldom if ever boring. In this magnificent area there was always something to look at. It might for example, be a bird of prey, a ewe with her lambs, or an old six -point roebuck, that kept himself hidden all during the hunting season, but now with the season closed he shows himself. The climax, of course, was when a fox showed up, and died from a well-directed bullet.
The hunting challenge
For me, this sort of predator hunting was a bit of hunting distraction after the buck season. Before the autumn season it occupied me more and more. Gradually, as I started knowing the hunting ground and the fox movements, I felt a new kind of challenge. The sly fox is absolutely the same great challenge as it is to hunt the old roebuck, … maybe even greater.
I have on several occasions watched foxes when they come across a fresh human trail. The reaction is almost always the same; they stop, turn around, and then quickly return to where they came from. Bucks will often just cross a human scent trail without any sign of fear.
When I first started, I used the same rifle on fox shooting as I did on buck hunting. It was a “Mauser 98” in caliber 6.5 x 55 Swedish. I have taken a lot of foxes with this rifle, but a couple of years ago I choose to build a new rifle. I decided that it should be in a smallbore, high velocity cartridge, with extreme accuracy. I had the fox in my mind as I considered this new rifle, because it is a small target, and the shot is often at a long range. My project started from an old target rifle, with a “Mauser 98” action. The calibre was 6.5 x 55, as it is in nearly all rifles at rifle clubs in Denmark I changed the barrel to a brand new one, chambered in .220 Swift.
The .220 Swift is known, (or have a doubtful re*****tion) for its extremely high muzzle velocity (around 4000 fps). I produced a new stock, and changed the trigger to an adjustable “Timney” trigger. I mounted a “Leupold” Vari-Xlll 6.5 - 20 x 40mm scope. I must acknowledge that I got my inspiration for choice of caliber and scope from American Varmint hunters. The Varmint hunting where the targets may be prairie dog and coyotes puts great demands on accuracy, because of the (often) long-range shooting at small targets. I have always been of that opinion that it should be me and my shooting ability (ore absence thereof) that determines the limit for me to make a justifiable shoot. Its must never be because of my equipment.
The right bullet choice
I went through a longer experiment, where I tested several different bullet types, and powder charges to determine the best accuracy. When I went to the shooting range I often heard a lot of comment that I got plenty of practice in different firing positions, instead of the one (prone with rest) that I always used. For me, it was not the shooting positions, but the shot variations, that were important.
The biggest problem with the rifle was that, because of the high velocity, there was a problem with copper fouling inside the barrel. After quite a few shots it influenced accuracy. At last however, after a lot of tests I found a bullet, and a load that satisfied my demand for accuracy.
The bullet, a moly-coated 50 grains “Hornady” V-Max, reduced cupper fouling in the bore. The V-Max bullet is a specialized Varmint bullet, made with a thin jacket for violent expansion. This type of bullet would not be suitable on deer.
Using both the bullet’s ballistic coefficient, and velocity (measured at 3950 fps), I made a “drop table” to use for correcting my hold for long-range shots.
How far, is too far?
That is a good question. In my opinion, the answer depends on the circumstances. One of the circumstances is the shooting position. I would never take a shot at a buck, for example in a freestanding position at a range of more than 50 meters. If, on the other hand, I were shooting in the prone position, with a rest, under optimum conditions, I would shoot at that same buck at 200 meters without thinking twice about it.
I tested my .220 Swift at different distances out to 300 meters. With a zero at 240 meters, I compiled the drop chart below.
One thing I learned from my testing was the great affect wind deflection has on a light bullet. If it’s possible to estimate a distance, and know the bullet’s drop at that distance, it is a simple job to compensate for this drop. On the other hand, it is much more difficult to estimate wind speed and angel, and then afterwards compensate for the wind deflection. Because of that I decided not to shoot at long range on game in cross wind.
A fox stalk
One morning near the end of November, I climbed op in the high seat (stand) at the end of the “north meadow”. The high seat leans against an old oak tree. Thirty meters on the right side from me a creek meanders through the meadow, and on the other side of the creek, I have a view over a grass field. Earlier in the year there have been caws on the field, so the grass has been cropped. Right in front of me and to the left, the meadow stretches, 500 – 600 meters. The “North meadow” is a huge grass area, and it’s been cut late in the summer. A few spots have not been cut, though, and stand out like small “islands” with high grass as hiding places for game.
I had been sitting in the high seat and watching for an hour or so, when my eyes catch a movement in the grass field on the other side of the creek. It is a fox, in the characteristic jog-trot, crossing the field. I got my rifle ready, and took rest on a strong oak bough, on my left side. Range was about 150 meters. The fox continued it’s jogging. Stand still, darn it! Then the fox stopped to sniff something on the ground. The scope was set on 20 power, the reticle catch the heart region of the fox, the sight was steady, when I squeezed the trigger BOOM!!! The fox collapsed, and lay still, not moving a limb. I remained sitting in my stand. A half an hour later the sun rose up above the beech trees on the hill behind me, and spread sunbeams over the meadow. Shortly after that another fox appeared about 500 meters away on my left side. The fox was very busy by catching mice in the cropped grass. The wind was perfect, coming toward me, so I claimed down from my high seat, and started a stalk. I was quite sure that I have a fair chance of getting closer to the fox while mouse hunting absorbed it. I followed the edge of the meadow while I kept cover behind the beech trees. When at last I was on line with the fox I saw that it had disappeared into one of the high grass “islands” I crawled forward to a bank of earth, from where I would have a clear shot, if the fox appeared again. Suddenly, I saw the fox, standing between two grass tufts just like a pointer in front of a bird. Clearly the fox got the scent or sound of a mouse in the grass in front of him. I got my rifle into position, estimating the range at about 150 meters. This one died like the fist one, instantly when the bullet hit him.
A long shot
It was the last Saturday in January, and I was sitting in the high seat in the “North meadow”. I have shot only one fox from this place since I shot the two in November. One of my friends had seen two foxes earlier in the morning from this spot, so I went out about noon. There was snow on the ground from a light snowfall the night before. Now it was sunny weather, with the wind blowing weakly from the south. I have been sitting and enjoying the good weather, watching two herons with my binoculars
The herons strutted around in the meadow, and as I sat studying them I suddenly spotted a fox. It came out from the high grass on my left side. Quickly I got my rifle up, and caught the fox in the scope. It was a considerable distance away, about 300 meters by my estimation. The fox continued a jog trot in the direction of the fox’s den in the hillside on the other side of the meadow. Stalking was out of the question, so now I had to make a quick decision.
Should I fire? The rifle had a stable rest on the left side of the high seat. I was wedged firmly in my sitting position as I pressed myself back into the seat. The wind was weak, and coming right toward me, so I wouldn’t have to worry about wind deflection. The only thing I have to compensate for was the drop. I looked at the drop table on top of the scope and it said there would be a 10-centimeter drop at 300 meters. But the problem was that the fox was moving. I made a decision! I decided to fire if the fox would stop while I still had it in sight. The fox continued jogging, but at last it stopped, nearly 300 meters out in the meadow. I kept the scopes reticle 10 cm. above the place I wanted to hit the fox. The rifle was complete steady, as I increased pressure on the trigger. At the very moment the shot went of, the fox was down. I reloaded the rifle, but there was peace and quiet in the area, with the exception of the two herons; they were in the air now. I remain sitting in the high seat for another hour, before I walked down to the fox. I counted my steps, and by step number 280 I stood by the fox. It was a young vixen, and it was dead with a clean heart shot. That reminds me of what one of my friends, an excellent marksman, said.
“It is not difficult to make a perfect shoot!
The art of shooting is to abstain from making a bad shot!”