Clean kills when foxing – best practice in the field
Patrick Hook talks about best practice in the field, with especial regard to clean kills
Top tips for clean kills
- Never shoot with a rifle that hasn’t been accurately zeroed. If either I, or my shooting partner, Paul, experience a shot that we can’t explain, we’re straight off to the permanent 100-yard range at his house to see what’s going on. (Read how to zero a rifle.)
- Never shoot with unknown ammo – if the powder type, load weight, bullet construction or anything else that could affect the point of impact has been changed, get onto the range and check it. (Read what are the legal calibres for foxes and rabbits.)
- If you are unable to get onto a fixed range do a field test – a tin can, cardboard box or some other make-do target is fine. A rangefinder will help you to establish your chosen zeroing distance accurately.
- Always have a solid aim – if you’re shooting off a vehicle, turn the engine off for the shot. If you’re using sticks, make sure your arms and legs are firmly locked, or your aim point will wander all over the place. In my experience, loose scope mounts cause more accuracy issues than anything else.
- Confidence is everything – if you aren’t happy with the shot, don’t take it. Pick your point of aim carefully. I like to hit my foxes in the area of the shoulder – if I get it wrong and the bullet strikes an inch or so off in any direction, it’s still a clean kill. Some people like to aim at the centre of body mass, but I don’t like doing this.
- Within reason, the closer you are to your quarry the more likely it is that you will get clean kills, so stay patient if it’s heading in your direction. (Read long range foxing – would you take the shot?)
- You should enjoy what you do or you’ll never give it your best. So if something goes wrong – the fox outwits you, you miss a shot, or whatever, don’t brood on it. Think about why the mistake happened, work out a remedy, and move on.
Best practice when foxing
For those of us who target foxes, the primary concern should be to implement the tenets of best practice. In other words, doing everything we can to ensure we get clean kills. Anyone who claims never to miss is either kidding themselves or hasn’t shot much. Even with the best preparation and care it still happens – the quarry moves at the last moment, an unexpected gust of wind shifts the point of impact, or an unseen twig deflects the bullet. The result can be either a clean miss – which, while frustrating, is OK – or a wounded animal, which is not.
When this happens it’s our job as responsible shooters to do everything possible to minimise any suffering and administer a coup de grâce as soon as possible.
The quickest way to do this is to put a second shot into the animal. Circumstances sometimes make this impossible, however, such as when it falls into a rut or a flock of sheep moves into your line of sight. It is deeply upsetting to see an animal run off, especially when you know that you hit it well. Fortunately, this is usually just the result of an adrenaline rush and they’re dead by the time you reach them. I can honestly say that I have yet to shoot with anyone who would willingly leave an injured animal out in the field. If I met such as person, they would never accompany me again.
No matter the circumstance, I like to check with the thermal spotter the moment I’ve taken a shot. That way, whether or not the quarry goes straight down I can usually pinpoint where it is. Sometimes it falls into a hollow or behind some vegetation, in which case it can appear to vanish. The first thing to do then is to establish some kind of marker – preferably more than one, so that you can ensure you start looking in the right place. This is made much easier if you have someone with you who either has a spotter or a lamp – if they stay where they are and keep an eye on the zone where it fell, then they can guide you in if you stray off target.
Should I be unable to find my quarry, then I get my dog out of the truck – the magic words “Find the fox,” will see him rocket off on a perimeter sweep of the area. The moment he scents it, he runs over and stands next to it so that I know where it is. I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s located a fox that I would never have found, so he’s a valuable part of the shooting team.