Intro into Rough shooting
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- Last updated: 21/02/2018
I became aware of Michael Ivor courtesy of my shooting buddy, Simon. He had already been out with Michael but seemed to struggle recounting his adventures. He kept using phrases like “You won’t believe it ‘til you see it” and “it’s a different world” etc… I’ve long been of the opinion that hard-core foxers are basically nutters, I’m proud to report I was absolutely right! Certainly, not in terms of safety in Michael’s case. Bolts are always open, Safeties are on, boundaries and backstops are strictly adhered too but a nutter nevertheless.
On arrival at Michael’s place in the suburbs of Bangor, we were greeted by the man himself. The obligatory cup of tea was offered and gratefully accepted. On the kitchen table lay a mountain of permission slips. Michael was in the process of re-applying for his license and was busy gathering evidence. Most of the places I could barely read, never mind pronounce but there was a hell of a lot of them. Farms, shooting estates, entire valleys, some had three conjoined farms listed as a single permission. I asked how much acreage he had, “I’ve not idea”, he said.
Okay, well on average, how big would you say per permission? “It varies, really, I’ve got a few little ones,” he said. What would you call a little one? “Oh about 500-acres”. At that point I knew it was going to be a long night.
I explained I’d needed some shots for the article. “I’ll take you over to the Island, I’ve got a nice place overlooking the sea.” The Island in question being Anglesey, so off we went. On route, Michael spent most of the time pointing out the window and repeating, “That’s mine, oh and that one.” He may not have the entire Island sown-up but he certainly seemed to have most of it.
We arrived atop a small mountain overlooking the sea as promised. Which bit is yours then Michael? “Well, all of it really, from here down to the sea.” The shore looked to be at about three-miles away, It was stunning, an entire shooting estate. The ground was literally covered with pheasant and hare but I was assured very few foxes.
I was amazed to discover that Michael had amassed this immense amount of land in just five-years. Prior to that, he was a life-long air rifle shooter and spent most of his time keeping the greys at bay. Only after repeated ribbing from his shooting buddies did he pick up a ‘bullet gun’.
The obvious question was, how he’d manage it? The simple answer was “Get the job done!” Farmers want their fox problem sorting quickly and safely. They don’t want promises; they definitely don’t want to hear “I’ll try and pop around next week sometime.”
They particularly don’t like you turning up with three or four buddies with dogs, unannounced strangers wandering through the yard, or rabbits being shot or ferreted when foxes are the real problem. You can ask for favours when you’ve earned them.
When farmers are propping up the bar at the local county fair, names are mentioned and numbers are exchanged. That’s pretty much it, according to Michael. Do a good job, or keep coming back until it’s done, and the permissions will come to you. You’ve got to be determined and you’ve got to put the hours in.
Putting the hours in is something Michael certainly isn’t afraid of. On average, he’s out 5/6 nights a week, from early evening until two or three in the morning. That’s a minimum of 40-hours a week chasing Charlie.
Add to that a full-time job, a wife and three kids and you’re talking about real dedication to the cause. I’m not sure what’s more impressive. The dedication, the permissions, the 200-plus head-count or the fact his missus hasn’t upped sticks and buggered off!
After our little photographic excursion, it was back to Michael’s. A quick brew and a takeaway and we’re off back over to the Island. It’s 8pm and we start hitting the permissions. The format is familiar but the pace is blistering.
Quietly out of the pick-up. A few mouth squeaks at the gate, a scan with the thermal, a gentle blast on the SS caller if additional range is required. Another scan with the thermal, more squeaks then a sweep of the hedgerows with Night Sabre and if nothing shows it’s off to an adjoining field or back to the pickup and on to the next perm.
If nothing turns up in 5-10- or, at most, 15-minutes, it’s time to move on. About three or four perms in and there’s nothing. Not an eyeball. I can tell Michael is getting a bit frustrated as the already brisk pace increases to a level any squaddie would be proud of.
At the next perm, we enter the field. The search pattern repeats itself but this time Simon whispers, “fox”, tell tail red reflections of the Sabre about 150-yards away in the next field. At this point, Michael’s friendly demeanour changes instantly. I’ve seen this look before but it’s usually on the face of my Jack Russell when she spots a rat in a stable. It’s all business from here on in. Simon briefly flashes the lamp at the fox’s feet to confirm, Michael deploys the bipod and gets ready. Possibly unsure of our lamping talents, he opts for the lamp on the gun. The second the beam touches the fox it bolts along the hedge line. At this point I’m thinking “Ah well, better luck next time.” A split second later Michael’s back on his feet, slaps the bipod back in place and says “I know where that bastard’s heading”, turns and starts sprinting (and I do mean sprinting!) across the field.
Michael’s go-to foxing gun is his much-loved Browning X-Bolt in .243. Now on it’d third barrel but still going strong, it’s responsible for 90% of the foxes taken. Atop sits a Swarovski Z6i plus an accompanying IR with the excellent, if rather enormous, Wildcat Predator 12 moderator at the business end.
The second working gun in the collection is a CZ in 17 Hornet, used primarily for bunnies but also employed to take the occasional fox that’s reckless enough to wander in range. On top of this sits a new Yukon Photon RT 6x50, which Michael is quite a fan of, as am I.
Pride of place in the collection is a newly acquired 6.5x55 Sauer stalking rifle. A beautiful shooting iron, if ever there was one, with a grade 5 walnut stock but alas lacking a scope during the visit.
While we were out and about, I asked if he used Strelok, or any other ballistic calculator. His puzzled expression spoke volumes. “There isn’t any time for that kind I thing,” he explained. One-inch high at 100-yards and let experience do the rest, was the basic message.
In terms of additional kit, the collection was pretty sparse. A Best Fox Call SS for long range squeaking and a ICOtec GC500 electronic Caller. He also has on ongoing love-hate relationship with his Quantum Thermal spotter, which can be invaluable if he gets the picture he’s after. His final secret weapons are all his own, an impressive fox and vixen bark plus squeaking skills that can only gain from experience.
Given the amount of shots fired, Michael opts exclusively for handloads. The round of choice for the .243 being a 65-grain Vmax, driven home at 3800fps courtesy of 42-grains of VIT N140 power.
At £1500 for his initial home load set-up, it was a serious investment, a figure which has roughly doubled with subsequent upgrades but the long-term savings are significant when you subtract the 50% saving over commercial ammo.
I was always under the impression that the whole point of taking guns was to avoid having to chase critters across the bloody countryside in the pitch black! Not the way Michael does it. I turned to Simon, “What the hell’s he doing?” With a wye smile Simon replied: “I told you, we’d better keep up, he’s not for stopping.”
I’ve never seen a happy jogger, so I generally avoid running at all costs. Michael is clearly a man on a mission and will do whatever it takes. Being nine stone wet-through and as fit as a butcher’s dog is probably just a by-product of his obsession. About 300-yards later, two breathless Englishman discover a little Welshman atop a dyke, squeaking like a rabbit in a snare, trying in vain to grab the attention of the vanishing vulpine. Michael actively hunts foxes; he certainly doesn’t just go out hoping for the best.
Clearly there’s no ‘fast food’ foxes in this part of the world, they’re as wild and wary as they come. Having access to huge tracts of land obviously doesn’t guarantee success and it’s his dedication to the cause that perhaps impressed me most.
Thankfully, it’s not all running and gunning. Occasionally, we do pull up at a permission and deploy the caller, either at our feet or out in the field. Michael makes an interesting point regarding electronic callers. Being a member of the Prostaff team, he often fields questions from shooters who aren’t always getting the results they expect.
According to Michael, the biggest problem isn’t the caller but its application. It’s vital to use the right calls at the right place and at the right time. Using mating calls out of season isn’t going to generate results. Knowing your quarry, its habits and what it’s after at a particular time of year is the key.
We finally end up back on the mainland, in the other half of Michael’s domain, which runs all the way to the foot of Snowdon pretty much. It’s now 5.30am and we’re on the side of a valley. Across the valley floor there’s our third and final fox of the evening roughly 250-yards away. Michael readies himself for the shot. Ker-boom… the report echoes like thunder along the valley walls and the fox drops. What can I say about Michael Ivor? Okay, so madman maybe a little harsh. Obsessed? Certainly! Generous with his time, advice and permissions, he’s a real credit to the foxing community, regularly taking fellow shooters out to experience what most of us can only dream of.
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