Sunday, 27 October 2019

Muntjac - Mini Deer With FANGS!

The Northern Monkey calls me from his way home from a building site just to the north of london. “I’m at some traffic lights and there are two little deer just standing on the grass staring at me, look a bit moody, they’ve got fangs!”

Muntiacus muntiak reevesi aka Reeve’s Muntjac are our smallest and soon to be most prolific deer. Regular readers will know I’ve hunted these 30 lbs mini deer a few times, seen them, and heard them, all without ever firing a shot.

It’s still called Hunting, it’s still not called shopping.

They bark, not unlike a dog but not quite as loud, they’re skittish, they never really seem to stand still even when nibbling, they are aggressive and armed to the teeth. Or at least armed with long curved canine teeth. They may only be the size of a Labrador but only the most aggressive kinds of terrier would stand a chance against them.

Introduced into the substantial gardens of his ancestral home, Woburn Park, by serial wildlife scallywag [this isn’t the only invasive he released] the Duke of Bedford in 1894, Reeves Muntjac have spread a long way since then. Up and down the country and even ‘swimming’ the Irish sea to appear in Northern Ireland. Of the six species of deer we have they are the most successful. Increasing not only in distribution but at 8.2 percent a year, population has soared from a guesstimate of only 2,000 in 1963, to more than two million today, a Muntjac doe will mate within days of giving birth and will give birth again every seven months. Their diet, the tender shoots of woodland flora like; bluebells, oxlips, native orchids, and the wood anemone, means that they are seriously unloved by the conservation organisations. Rose gardeners particularly hate them, apparently they can, and will, eat a grand’s worth in an evening. They are yet to develop any road sense, of the 42,000 road accidents a year involving deer, resulting in 20 human deaths and £10 million damages, they are about 9,000.  A cull plan of 25-30% would stabilise the population, it would take 50+% to reduce their numbers and that would mean taking a shot at every one you ever saw, which just cant happen.

Where the culinary solution falls down is they might be the best eating deer but they are poor value in the amount of meat you get for the amount butchery it takes to get it. The front legs are scrawny and often bullet damaged, the delicious loins are one per person rarer than a row of steaks, leaving only the haunches which ain’t that big. For not a lot more knife time on even a Roe you’re getting a far greater return for your butchery efforts.

As part of the Adult Onset Hunting program I’ve promised to take a few club members and foodies hunting, this time its The Sailor [yeah I know I've kind of run out of steam with the TLA's]

It's traditional on these pages to start with a description of how hard it is to actually leave town and the snide remarks made by my fellow traveller regarding my time keeping. But you’ve heard it all before. I travel to the far side of london thought he rush hour, then we drive back around london through the second hour of rush before heading not very far north, next time I’m going by train, it literally takes 45 minutes.

There are two schools of thought on which rifle to take: They’re legal to shoot with a .22 centre fire as long as it makes 1,000ft/lb of energy at the muzzle, and delivers a expanding bullet of 50 grains and up. Or in the other school its anything up to a .308, moving at a sedate pace, to reduce meat damage.

The thought of lugging my 15+ lbs Precision rifle across london, let alone across muddy fields doesn’t appeal so I’ve chosen the CZ527, that perfect expression of the mini Mauser. Even with its suppressor up front its only xxxx long and it doesn’t weight a lot. For now mine is chambered in .223 and has a perfect balance just in front of the magazine. I don't know about you, but I was taught to clamber in and out of the highseat with an unloaded rifle, so I’ll always favour a magazine-fed stalking rifle to all that fussing about dropping rounds into my hat and re-stuffing the rifle at each end of the ladder. While I have other favourites the CZ527 is nearly the perfect ‘woodland’ rifle.

We spend a pleasant evening in the ‘spoons gossiping about the other members of the club, slagging off the owner of the chain, and drinking cheap pints.

The Sailor has done us proud finding a hotel even cheaper than the one I stayed in last time and we saunter back for a brief nights kip before hitting the road before dawn. For October its positively balmy even at night its comfortably double figures [centigrade]. All of my stalking trips of late have been by electric vehicle and we whirr though the night past the gallops and stable yards of horse country.

Although I’ve not seen him in an age, it was good to have Mr 7mm as our host and guide; he’s safe, kind to newbies, and has thousands of acres of excellent stalking.
Handshakes dispensed with we clamber into Mr 7mm’s truck and head off into the farmlands. To give the newbie the widest possible introduction to stalking I’m dropped off at a highseat where a spinney abuts a track leading into a block of forestry. Even in the dark it looks proper promising. Mr 7mm produces one of those night vision monoculars that would have been black-ops ten years ago and there are three small deer and a couple of Hares glowing bright green out in the fields.

We walk over to the highseat. “if you shoot a deer, stay in the seat, where you shoot one there will most likely be another a few minutes later”.
A note for new stalkers: please stay in the highseat, I know you want to go and see that deer you shot, but it adds all sorts of unnecessary complications to the enterprise and as Mr 7mm says you might be blowing your chance of deer number two.
As Mr 7mm walks away into the gloom I drop the mag; sling the rifle on my front, clamber up, last quick check that the moderator is screwed on nice and tight, mag back in, chamber a round and settle down to wait. There must be a pen near by as within a few moments pheasants start to appear. Some of the hens are so white I’m compelled to check if they’re albino. At the 87m feeder they mill about and warm in my coat I start to feel a little drowsy. A Hare bounds out of the cover crop and I watch it though my binoculars until it goes back the way he came, my eyes are getting seriously heavy by this time. I’m in that half trance place where it could go either way, the swaying of the boughs behind me, the indistinct first light, a pheasant I made eye contact with earlier stands at the bottom of the highseat and creates me until i’m fully awake again. Out at the 87m feeder the pheasants are having her breakfast interrupted by a Muntjac doe. She circles the feeder and as she drops her head to snaffle a few grains I send her 55 grains of my own. She takes off like a scalded cat, I know I hit her fair and square so I try to suppress the nagging doubts about; myself, the bullet, the scope, the rifle, the shot placement, and how Artemis has abandoned me.

The Brugger and Thommett  moderator is obviously really good, the pheasants flap about a bit and then go back to eating. My brain is replaying “if you shoot a deer, stay in the seat, where you shoot one there will most likely be another a few minutes later” when not 90 seconds later a Buck turns up. he too circles the feeder and as soon as he settles in the crosshairs I give him a round, or so I thought. With a crouching gait he makes for the cover crop never to be seen again. No pins [pieces of shot-off deer hair], no blood, he literally disappeared.
I go back to waiting for a while I sit and think, for a while I just sit. There’s a gun shot in the distance and my hopes rise that The Sailor has closed the deal on his first outing.

It fully light when a third Muntjac appears at 57m a juvenile pre-antlered male, stoops to look around, and catches a round, dropping like a bag of wet sand right on the spot. If I recover them all I’m now out of freezer space so I pop the magazine and await the chaps arrival.

The feeder at the edge of the crop field is a measured 87m the furthest pale dot on the track is Muntjac No.3 at 57m

I took all the measurements with the nicest affordable range finder I've seen so far. Its by Pro Wild and is now under a 100 on both sides of the pond.

20 minutes later the boys appear. Yes they saw deer, no they didn’t shoot any of them, they too heard the shot, but they didn’t hear my shots. Mr 7mm pulls his ghillie face when I tell him the first one has vamoosed, so I get to pull my told-ya-so face when I recover her from the first gap in the hedge she could have chosen. With no ‘pins and paint’ on the ground its all looking a bit inconclusive for shot number two. There’s nothing. We spend most of an hour having a good tromp around, the cover is very thick and my doubts are growing by the minute. We gralloch and set off for the traditional stalkers breakfast

There is little to report from the afternoon session, my arrival startled a herd of Fallow does in a field Mr 7mm doesn’t have permission to shoot over, and with a .223 I didn’t have the necessary firepower for them. Hare weren’t on the list so i watched a medium sized one bound around through my binos and trudged back across the plowings glad once again to have bought the wand-like mini Mauser.

From the car I message our Alaskan corespondent, the blogger known as Hodgeman, telling him I’d finally been able to close the deal, Alaska is well outside the top of the Muntjac’s northern range [its probably Northern Ireland] so he’s interested to hear about our 365 day a year season and their petite size.

‘Moose birth calves bigger than that!’

On the way home:
I’ve struggled the sports bag full of deer on to a station trolly and with my rifle across my back I’m pushing it like a fat boy with sciatica though the station when I’m hailed by one of a posse of teenage boys.
“Is that your gun? Have you been shooting?”
There’s no ignoring him and his out of town accent means he’s unlikely to be too much of a problem.
I laugh “No its my boss’s Bass, I cant even play”
“You ain’t dressed for playing the Bass”
I catch sight of myself in a reflection, I’m wearing muddy wellies, and blood splattered stalking clothes.
He has a point. I put my finger to my lips, wink and waddle away a bit faster.

Your pal

Saturday, 5 October 2019

How To Start Shooting In The UK

Tika Tac A1 in 6.5mm creedmoor at Bisley

So you fancy shooting? As I guess is obvious from this blog I started shooting to have a more personal relationship with my dinner, but these days I shoot paper targets much more than I shoot Rabbits, Squirrel and Deer.

I've read lots of 'how to get started' articles, most of them written by people who have got newbies of the ground and to be fair they were clear as mud, so I thought I'd have a go.

Here in old Blighty we have fairly strict firearms laws which utterly defy common sense, but for the most part the system works well and people who hold firearms are rarely involved in crime of any kind. I say defy common sense because they are a vast expense to administer and pointlessly inconvenient to comply with. Using the driving licence as a model the whole thing could be massively simplified. From banger to bugatti one licence to drive them all, with rifles its an application for every rifle.

You must have Good Reason:
There are two kinds of good reason to have a firearm, you have Land [or access to land], or you are a member of a Gun Club.  "I wish to bring justice to the unworthy" isn't considered acceptable. There are some exceptions but unless you're a veterinarian, farmer, or live in Northern Ireland they're not really important.

A Ruger 1022 in 22LR accurate AF at 25 yards. 

Club membership:
You cant just book a session and turn up to shoot to see if you like it. You must apply, be vetted by the cops, then you can shoot under supervision, then you can become a full member. It takes about three to six months.

Some specialist target rifles in .308, used in the competition known as Fullbore in the UK.

The NRA and Bisley:
Not all clubs are affiliated to the NRA, in fact its less than would be helpful, but there are some advantages. The NRA controls the national shooting ground which is in Surrey just outside london and has ranges from 25 to 1200 yards you can rent fairly cheaply. On the upside its super safe, on the downside its not very good if you want to practice shooting at various ranges within the same string of ten shots. The NRA is staffed by well meaning people, bogged down by tradition and endless complex rule structures, which are usually described in a verbal shorthand largely incomprehensible to the outsider or new comer.
You need to be a member and have a range competency card. There are two ways to get one.
The NRA run courses - not cheap.
Your club [if affiliated] will run days at Bisley and once they're comfortable that you are safe they'll issue you with one. The competency card has individual sections for each kind of shooting, so it can take a while to evidence all the kinds you need.

Apart from the hundreds of pounds you'll save on training there are other reasons to be a member of a club. The pool of knowledge that will help you get better, and buy better. There are people who have learned to shoot and clean their guns almost solely off the internet, I find it easier to be shown one-on-one. I walked away from an auction at £500 for a rifle that later sold for £1600, a friend of mine bought one almost the same, but with a nicer scope, for £450 from a guy who was retiring from the club.

A very Sticky club Savage in 22LR

Getting your own guns:
Club rifles have hundreds, if not thousands, of rounds put through them a week, and it shows. They are also 'one size fits no one' Every club has an example of someone who shot a perfect score with a club gun that hadn't been cleaned in weeks. You never know, it could be you, even if it is the chances of repeating the feat are even slimmer.

Back to 'good reason':
Every firearm you own has conditions attached to your ownership. They fall into two main categories Target Shooting and Pest Control. All rifles can be shot at targets, but only some rifles can be shot at animals.  Each rifle you own will have conditions attached to your owning it.

Storage Restrictions.
To have a Fire Arms Certificate you need to have storage at home, you could have club storage, but that would only let you shoot at that premises, so you wouldn't be able to take your rifle anywhere else for stalking or competition. I know a couple of people who have membership of two clubs so they can store rifles at each. I've heard of people who have an additional stalking rifle kept at a gun shop in Scotland. Its all far from convenient. You're going to need a gun safe.
Listen carefully. There are loads of secondhand safes on offer, for a reason. If its listed as a ten gun safe, it will hold four. Never mind the width, be mindful of the depth.  Only buy a safe that can take scoped rifles. Do as I say not as I have done. I'm looking for my third safe, this time I will get it right.

You need to have the safe on the wall, and ideally obscured from casual view, before you have your Fire Arms Enquiry Officer visit.
The internet is full of new shooters getting their knickers in a twist about the visit, pointlessly.
The person who comes to interview you is a civilian who works for the cops, they are trained to ask you questions, they're not an expert on guns and ammo, they might never have fired a gun in their life.
Once again the internet is full of anecdotes about their misunderstandings of calibre and legislation.
I spent a pleasant two hours chatting with he chap who came to see me, a pensive two weeks waiting for him to hand deliver my certificate, then another week waiting for corrections to it, before it finally arrived in the post and I could make that first over enthusiastic purchase.

Probably the silliest thing about our licensing system is the way its 'licence the gun', not 'licence the person'. So you're in the ridiculous position of having to choose something that may or may not suit your needs before you can buy it. As you want to practice a lot, you'll need that 22LR for club shooting, but as there are dozens of different types of target shooting there's no one rifle that does them all. Then you're going to want to shoot at ranges beyond 25 yards and your shooting career could go in literally any direction, all of which require slightly different equipment.
There are myriad choices and combinations on offer, every one of them wonderful in some way.
Here's a sample battery working on the assumption that you're going to be shooting both with your club, then at Bisley [or wherever] with your new friends from your club.

A super rare full custom all steel clone of a Ruger 1022, made by AMT & Theoben

22LR your rimfire rifle
The indoor rifle, £5 buys you 50 shots, will slay Rabbits out to 50 yards, loads of competitions, and a brilliant way to practice. They cost anything from £20 to £2,000 - and more for the super specialist examples for world class competition. Barrel life is almost endless.

.223 your small deer / short range centre fire rifle
Cheap to keep and can be shot at nearly every rifle range. There are plenty of 22 CF's but some of them are too wonderful [fast] to be shot at some ranges, and the faster the bullet goes the shorter the life of the barrel. With 223 there's plenty of cheap ammo, long barrel life and a hooj choice second hand making the .223 the ideal club/plinking calibre. They all shoot out to 300 yards and some, with a faster twist rate barrel, will shoot a lot further.
Legal for Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer in the south and for Roe in Scotland.

A very nice CZ in .308, bit heavy for staking but proven to be very accurate. 

.308 or better yet 6.5 Creedmoor your all deer / longer range centre fire rifle
Since the 1950's the 308 has been the default target round, and its the do everything hunting round. From Alaska to Zimbabwe there's nowhere you cant buy ammunition for them. Barrel life is long, 800 yards + in a short barrelled gun - longer in a specialist target rifle, and there are more of them on sale at any time than any other calibre. Ammunition runs from cheapo NATO surplus to super performance, from lightweight to personal artillery.  .308 The default setting.

BUT, hold on just a minute.

In the last 10-11 years the 6.5mm has come into its own. Scandiwegens have been shooting the 6.5mm bullets at targets and massive moose for a hundred years with great affect. Recently the 6.5mm has appeared in a new cartridge that grows in popularity every year. Fads come and fads go, but the Creedmoor is now established. A 1200m cartridge that's gentle on your shoulder and cheaper to feed than most, its also available in bullet weights and designs suitable for everything from  Foxes to Moose, and low drag target rounds that have hit steel out at 3000m.
If you do shoot at Bisley the NRA are supporting CM by selling them at £17 for 20 which represents something of a bargain these days.

A Lee Enfield Mk4 with Vernier Sights calibrated to 1200 yards 

303 Lee Enfield.
Everyone should have a .303. The historic rifle. It's a bit galling having to listen to the old boys at the club tell you about the Enfield they bought for a tenner back in the day, but inflation is what it is.

And on to your stalking rifle(s)
You could have a 223 and a 6.5mm that would slay every kind of deer in the UK no problem, but in order to be a really efficient target shooting rifles they need to be too heavy to be really handy stalking rifles.
For years the default setting for an english stalking rifle has been .243 (6mm) but unless you have one made or re-barrelled  they often don't have the twist rate for the heavier bullets needed for the bigger deer.
Then there's pigs, the UK has a growing number of excellent Wild Boar shooting opportunities and the guidance is 7mm and up, that 308 (7.69mm) would have been perfect. Your second Creedmoor would do it fine if you made some heavier rounds for it, but not all guides will let you use less than 7mm.

Did I mention Gallery Rifle? A sport your club probably shoots...... TBC

more soon
your pal