We all react differently to the roar and thump of a high-powered rifle. My wife says that I am not an overly sensitive fellow – I think that’s what she means – but I know that many people do have a problem with recoil and muzzle blast.
And since rifle shooting is supposed to be enjoyable, it’s only sensible to reduce the offensive side effects.
One of our reader’s own words graphically describe many people’s first experience of firing a powerful rifle: ‘The ground shook, the grass smoked, the noise was deafening; there was muzzle flip, flash and felt recoil to excess! It might have been a black-powder experience.’
I am not, as I said, a sensitive man but even I can pick up that he probably didn’t enjoy it. From the smoking grass, I think we can assume that our reader was shooting from the prone position which also increases felt recoil; and from his description of the sound effects, he may not have been wearing hearing protection.
His problem could be fixed instantly in Scotland by recommending he try a .222, but our reader lives in England where, because of the asinine incompetence of our legislators, the .222 is not an option for roe. So we need a rifle firing a cartridge of at least .240 calibre, which produces a minimum of 1,700 foot/pounds of energy at the muzzle. And it mustn’t kick, make too much noise or set fire to the grass!
To shoot usefully flat out to 200 yards means close to 3,000 feet per second muzzle velocity. If we then zero the rifle one inch high at 100 yards, the bullet will be about an inch and three quarters low at 200 and a hold on the top of the back will slot the fox very nicely.
Much less velocity and we have to start judging range more accurately and allowing for the correct bullet drop. And if we zero higher at 100 yards there’s more risk of shooting over the top of a small target at short range
1. A calibre that’s legal for roe in England.
2. A cartridge that can propel a bullet at sufficient velocity to enable confident hits on a fox at up to 200 yards.
3. As little muzzle blast as possible.
4. Ditto for recoil.
We can address numbers the muzzle blast and recoil at a stroke by fitting a sound moderator. Moderators do absolutely nothing for the appearance and handling of the rifle but they certainly do get rid of most of the recoil and muzzle blast. And one of the reflex types, which only increase the barrel’s length by about four inches, doesn’t make the rifle too unwieldy.
As far as a calibre legal for roe that can hit a fox at 200 yards is concerned, most readers will probably be screaming .243! And even though I am not a great fan of the .243 (and have just been talking to a mate in Germany where they also don’t like it) a lot of people here in the UK think the damn calibre is the best thing since sliced bread.
I presume they can’t all be wrong… so maybe it’s just me? And the Germans?
Anyway, with a nice little .243 fitted with a sound moderator our reader would have a brilliant fox rifle which, with suitable bullets, would be adequate for deer. But could he do better? To be honest, yes, I think so.
Remember the priorities outlined above? We are looking for a deer rifle that is also suitable for fox, rather than a fox rifle that can also be used for deer. As such, there are a lot of better deer cartridges than the .243. An anoraky, rifle crank might go for a .250- 3000 or .257 Roberts, but sticking to more conventional cartridges with easily available ammunition, my own choice would always be the 6.5×55, sometimes known as the Swedish Mauser.
I used one for 10 years on everything from roe to Red and never found it wanting. Bullets are available from 85 grains to 160 grains, so there’s something for everyone, but I tended to use 140-grain bullets for everything, which saves having to re-zero the rifle all the time. If fox were a regular requirement, then perhaps 120-129 grain bullets at higher velocity would be a better all-round choice.
There are also a couple of cartridges based on the .243/.308 case which are serious contenders for this job.
First is the .260 Remington, which has similar ballistics to the 6.5×55 and would be an equally good choice were it not for the fact that I have heard reports, both here and in America, of accuracy problems.
Maybe that has been overcome now, but I haven’t tried one myself and don’t know anyone who has still got one, so unfortunately I can’t ask to find out more.
Then we come to the 7mm-08, which is deservedly popular and a most excellent deer cartridge. It drives bullets of 140 grains at around 2,900 feet per second – and lighter ones even faster!
Very similar, and a good choice for the more traditionally minded, is the 7mm Mauser, also called the 7×57 or .275 Rigby.
Any of those cartridges should give our reader his required performance with minimum trauma when fired in a properly designed rifle of sufficient weight and fitted with a sound moderator. So that’s it then!