Getting Started in Rough Shooting: Firearms
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- Last updated: 04/10/2017
I constantly get asked the same question at shows and talks and that’s: “How can I get a rough shoot and how lucky you are to have land to shoot over?” True, I come from a farming family on my mother’s side, but I still had to do the hard work to keep it and now have shoots near my own home. Unless you are financially buoyant and can buy a shoot, land or forestry, then good old fashioned leg work is still the best way.
Whether it is for a trip with your air gun after rabbits, a shotgun over stubble for pigeons or help with controlling foxes, the basic premise is the same, do your homework. In this, I mean research your subject i.e. not just rifles but land use, crops, forestry, cattle and the law, as these are invaluable tools when chatting to a land owner.
It is always best, if possible, to look locally, as if you find land, say an hour or two away, believe me, after the initial excitement of going twice a week, it soon wanes to once and then longer. This has the perception to the land owner that you are not around much and they will offer other shooters a go. Most land owners want a reliable, honest and trustworthy person on their land and if you show commitment, then you are more likely to keep a shoot.
Always produce an A4 sheet of who you are, your experience, insurance details, vehicle registrations and contact details and any relevant skills that might help a farmer. Farmers are always looking to save money and if you have carpentry, electrical or building skills, as well as mechanical car skills and offer to help around the farm with maintenance or help around harvest time, you will stand out, as opposed to the countless other shooters.
I also produce an authorisation document that states the farm/land, land owner, boundaries and details of what quarry species and gun types you are allowed to use. We agree together what is relevant and we both sign it and date it with contact details of both of us. This is very handy, as the farmer has a permanent document to view and is not just word of mouth and also you have proof of rights to shoot.
This is always an arbitrary figure and there is really no hard or fast rule. Sometimes, if the farmer is grateful of your help, no money passes hands but you need to show willing and be regular with your shooting/help, otherwise a paying shot can steal your shoot. Some payment or exchange of help also cements the relationship between you and the land owner.
I would also seriously pay for some insurance, as this will not only cover you against liability if an accident happens, it also gives the farmer piece of mind.
Check how many other people are allowed to shoot on the land. If it is many, then walk away, as accidents can happen. Another good entry into the shooting world, is to join a syndicate and get to know the people in it and from there often other doors open. Young farmers, woodland trusts and even wildlife conservation groups are good opportunities to meet like-minded people. I was giving a talk on Roe deer to a local Wildlife Group, all nonshooters but after the talk, two people, land owners approached me and asked if I could manage the roe population!
Shooting schools, rifle training courses, etc. are also excellent places to learn your skills and a certificate is good proof to a prospective land owner as to your experience or references. I would also strongly advise joining the BASC or British Deer society, as this further endorses your commitment to the sport and they also offer very good insurance as part of their membership.
A lot of the ‘kit’ needed for rough shooting is covered elsewhere, so I’ll concentrate on choosing the right tool for the job
Assuming you have an FAC, before you do anything, I would strongly advise you buy the book ‘Law and Licensing’ a concise guide for shotgun and rifle owners by Bill Harriman. This gives excellent advice for the rifle owner with regard the relevant laws, advice on carrying a certificate, falling shot, shooting near roads, carrying knives. Having this with you and showing a land owner you have read and under stood the law will stand you in good stead.
Cartridge-wise, the .22 Rimfire is your best bet for vermin control but all .22 rimfires are not the same however and you have a great variety of loads to choose from. I use .22 rimfire cartridges from the squib BB caps to .22 WMR loads, each having its own unique use.
BB and CB caps are single shot only due to their diminutive size in a T/C Contender or BSA Martini action but are very handy for troublesome mice, rats or ferals in very confined spaces. Max range is 10-yards really, as they are not that accurate but they shoot a 15.5gr and 16.0gr Bullet at 880fps and 950fps for 27- and 33ft/lbs energy respectively.
Better, are the .22 Shorts, these can be reduced velocity at 710fps, as with the CCI CB load, or you can have standard load that shoots a 27-grain bullet at 1105fps, these are great in a pump action Winchester 61 for squirrels on the ground.
The CB Long loads from CCI feed through a standard magazine bolt action rifle and send a 29-grain bullet at 705fps for 32ft/lbs, so basically a rimfire version of an FAC air rifle in some respects. Range on test is 20-yards at best but are very quiet with a sound moderator fitted.
First choice for all-round use on rabbits are the .22 LR subsonic loads; here, hollow point bullets ensure maximum expansion of the bullet and delivery of the bullet’s energy into the vital area, head shot. 40-grain subsonic bullets from any of the manufacturers, such as RWS, Eley, Winchester or CCI will deliver approx. 95ft/ lbs. No manufacturers are better than any other, the rifle chooses the bullets it likes, not you!
.22LR high velocity (HV) have their place, I guess if you really have to use a .22LR for foxes but keep these ranges very short and head shots only. Velocities of 1245ps to 1650fps can be achieved but with lighter bullets that lose velocity quickly. If you have a semi-automatic .22 rimfire, then reliability is very important and the new RWS Semi Auto cartridge or Eley Contact are superb.
At short ranges, .22LR HV ammo can be sufficient but head shots only; the problem is as the range passes 50 yards, the odds of a humane shot are stacked against you. I have called in and baited foxes in barn areas and used .22 rimfires to good effect but better is the .17 HMR if you don’t want a centrefire.
The 17-grain V-Max bullet is the most common and is certainly capable of dispatching a fox humanely but at sensible ranges with correct shot placement. I prefer the CCI 20 grain Game Point load, as I have always found these very accurate and the extra weight and slower expansion helps penetrate the fox’s exterior, before delivering up its energy, whereas a more fragile .17 HMR 17-grain bullet could fragment on a bone going in.
Alternatively, the older .22 WMR (and inspiration for the .17 HMR) is still a good fox cartridge. The new Hornady 30gr V-Max load is very effective at closer ranges, with a velocity of 2200fps and striking energy of 322ft/lbs.
Staying with the .17 calibre, and better still, is the new .17 Hornet round. This new round is actually very similar to the old .17 AK Hornet but it lets you use a lightweight rifle with the availability to reload your ammunition to suit your needs and game species. Here, a 20-grain bullet can be pushed at 3650fps for 592ft/lbs energy, a very good flat-shooting bullet for rabbits, crows and foxes.
This brings you nicely to the .22 Hornet, old but still a cracking little round and a favourite of the Editor. The advantage here is that you can up the bullet weights over the .17 and there are a lot of ammunition or reloading choices. RWS make a good factory loading, whilst I have always liked a reload recipe of 35gr V-Max bullet with 11gr of Vit n110 for 3050fps.
The newer .204 Ruger delivers a blend of higher ballistic coefficient bullets for better down range performance and accurate shot placement. Either a 32- or 40-grain factory load is effective with velocities of 4225fps and 3900fps respectively. The 32-grain bullet zeroed at 100-yards is still within the kill zone of a fox at 275-yards.
Next up are the old stalwarts, .222 Rem, .223 Rem, .22-250 and the .220 Swift rounds. The .222 Rem is sweet to shoot, low recoil and intrinsically very accurate. With a sound moderator fitted it’s a quite effective fox round to 250-yards. I like the Norma 40gr V-Max factory load at 3051fps and 1137ft/ lbs, it’s a very accurate round with reloads like the 55gr Sierra soft nose bullet on top of 25gr of Varget powder for 3095fps and 1170ft/lbs. It’s a good Scottish Roe load as well.
If you want a tad more range, or want to use heavier bullets, then the .223 Rem is a very good choice. Slightly bigger than the .222, the .223 is great for small game or foxes, the .223 Rem does everything the .222 Rem does but just that little bit better. A good load is 40-grain V-Max bullets and 25-grains of RL10X for 3750fps for smaller game, giving accurate longerrange shots if necessary and safer, more frangible bullets. A load of 23.5gr of Vit N 133- and a 50-grain Berger Varmint gives 3400fps plus and is excellent fox medicine. I having been using .223 Geco 56gr Express factory ammo, with excellent results on small game and foxes.
Next, you have a big leap in size to the .22-250 round and you can look at the .22-250 two ways, a superb flat shooting long range small vermin round, where a 40-grain bullet travelling at 4100fps delivering 1493ft/ lbs energy is superb for wary crows at long-range. Then load a heavier bullet like the 55 gr V-Max and you have a very good short or longer-range fox load.
The extra speed of the .22-250 over the smaller .222 or .223 rounds means a flatter trajectory, so less sight adjustment and less wind drift, so more chance of a good hit. The downside is more noise and a little more recoil, both of which can be reduced by fitting a good sound moderator.
Also, if you reload a .22- 250 you can reduce the load to a .223 level for shorter or smaller game if necessary but you can never load a .223 to the velocity of a .22-250. Similarly, the big .220 Swift is an oldie but goody, delivering a 50 grain bullet at 3950fps for 1732ft/lbs energy; I like it but a .22-250 is more practical, as more rifles are chambered in it.
This is a rough overview and your own needs and wants will apply, as will the farmer’s expectations of you and your abilities. The primary goal is research, ask advice and shoot safely whatever the size or location of the rough shoot area. Be polite and always call before you arrive and park in a designated area and I always give feedback on the quarry I have shot and show pics to prove it, this keeps you as the primary shooter on the land.