CZ452 HMR Festive rabbit hunt ends with a damp squib.

January 2, 2015 at 8:16 pm


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With the rivers flooded and lakes frozen, fishing had to take a back seat as the days were counting down to Christmas, heading 30 miles  north into South Buckinghamshire to a farm neglected by me this year, not having visited since the spring. Although totaling 90 acres, over the years of shooting, I’ve managed to restrict the rabbit population to a small copse that borders the land. Each year the rabbits spread along the hedge line, only for my .17 HMR to knock them back into the woods, where I have no access. In days past, there were several large warrens and it was worth the fuel money to harvest the abundant rabbits on regular visits, a neighbouring property owner once complaining that it sounded like the Wild West whenever I turned up, but these days, courtesy visits are the name of the game.

Driving into the yard, I parked up and waited in the van, as the three farm dogs came rushing round the corner; there is a mild natured German Shepherd, but the other two are black hounds of mixed heritage with severe social problems, one of which caused me to make a hospital visit for a few stitches, a couple of years back. The farmer emerged from the pig shed and called the dogs off, coming over for a chat, while I unloaded the rifle, saying that he’d seen a dozen rabbits in the top field, plus a previously cleared area now had a few bobbing about. I apologised for the lack of attention to his land and promised to start at the top, then drive over to the other side to have a look at the other area.

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It’s a half mile, uphill walk to the top field, the farm cresting the Chiltern Hills and I made a bee-line for the highest point, which gives a clear view over 300 yards of the hedgerow, crawling the last 50 yards to keep my outline low on the horizon. Setting the tripod on the rifle, a quick scan through the scope revealed at least six rabbits feeding on the lush grass at the base of the trees, while more were almost invisible in the dead grass. I readied my spare five shot magazine, as once I began shooting, even at over a hundred yards away, the rabbits would soon get the message, that it was not going to be too healthy to stick around.

The first couple toppled over two seconds apart, the third lifted it’s head into the cross hairs and jumped three feet vertically, running in the air. I brought the sights onto the fourth and “click-pop”, the bullet had misfired. Smoke was coming from the breech, but not from the muzzle. I withdrew the bolt to reveal the cartridge case, still partly full of powder. Taking out the bolt, the bullet was still in the bore. Game over. In the field there is no way of knocking the bullet out. This was going to be embarrassing, having happened on one of my recent visits to this very farm. These tiny .17 bullets are notorious for this, the necking down process on the .22 magnum case to .17 causing work hardening and splitting of the cases at that point. The crack allows damp to enter the cartridge and so causes a misfire, hence the term damp squibs. I’d changed from Remington bullets due to misfires and two bullets stuck in the bores and was now using Hornady, which in the previous few hundred rounds had fired perfectly, although cracks had been visible on some cases, after they had been fired.

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Making short work of  gathering up and cleaning the rabbits. I headed back to be met with “You were quick. Run out of bullets?” When I told him the problem, I got “Again! You want to get a new rifle mate!” These farmers are a hard bunch. With tail firmly between my legs, I drove over to the other side of the farm to observe another half dozen rabbits feeding undisturbed, where there were none last year. Big slap on the wrist. Must do better. The butcher was happy to take these three, even at Christmas, people like to have a different dish on the table, wild rabbit has been promoted from humble to exotic fare these days.

The next morning was spent in my shed knocking the bullet out through the barrel, it only having travelled two inches up the bore. Using plenty of gun oil down the bore, I have three lengths of 5/32 dia brass rod, which I protect with PTFE tape to avoid any damage. Fortunately my shed houses a well equipped workshop, with a kitchen worktop bench and a good quality vice to cover most needs. This was a simple case of sitting down cradling the rifle and taking my time, the bullet only moving about 0.010 of an inch per tap. I have a radio and a heater, what is there to rush over.

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A couple of hours later it was out, fortunately the boat tail blunt end resisted any spreading.

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 The split can be clearly seen on the right hand spent case, while the unfired cartridge on the left has a hair line crack from the bullet to the neck.

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This has been a blow to my confidence in using the original Hornady .17 HMR bullets and will inspect all rounds for cracks, before I take them out in the field. Having checked twenty fired cartridge cases in my shooting jacket, three had cracks, that totals to 15%, unacceptable in a commercial product, that has been in use for over ten years.