Image for The claimed Tasmanian Fox Shooting that didn’t happen in Tasmania

In a recent Tasmanian Times article on foxes David Obendorf has asked me to comment on the dead fox found by Mr Eric Bosworth on 23rd September 2001.

Mr Obendorf asked: Can you please methodically go through (1) the claims of the shooter, who gave a description of the circumstances, that he allegedly shot this fox; (2) the rifle and the ammunition he used; (3) the use of a telescopic rifle sight & spot-light; (4) the range over which he allegedly shot this animal; (5) the recovery of any ballistics from the fox body; and (6) any objective conclusions you can make, as a experienced rifleman, from that body of documented and/or factual information?

Having examined all the written evidence related to this dead fox discovery including the NPWS report, witness statements, police statements, ballistic reports and several newspaper articles in which the shooter was interviewed, it is my opinion, and the opinion of others I have discussed this matter with, that the whole event lacks any credibility and should have been promptly dismissed as yet another dead fox hoax.

It is implausible that an animal claimed to be illuminated by a 100- watt spotlight at 55 meters could have not been positively identified as a fox; it is, in my opinion, irresponsible to shoot at any live animal with the intention to kill it and then not bother to check whether it had been killed; and it is, out of the question, from a ballistic perspective, that this dead fox was killed using the rifle offered as the weapon used. Indeed there is nothing linking the three bullet fragments to this firearm.

Let’s go through them one by one:

(1) The claims of the shooter, who gave a description of the circumstances, that he allegedly shot this fox; In a signed statement given by Mr Eric Bosworth on 27 September 2001, he stated: 
On Thursday 13th of September 2001 I was shooting on the property of Symmons Plains owned by John Youl. At approximately 11.00-11.15 pm we [with Scott Geeves] were driving along and I was shining the light when I saw some eyes. They looked somewhere between white and bluey colour; eyes I haven’t really seen before. I asked Scotty to hold the light while I looked through the scope of the rifle. All I could see were the eyes, and I thought it was a feral cat. I reckon I was approximately 55-60 yards away. I had a shot and then saw the eyes disappear. I said to Scotty, “I think I missed the bastard”. I was aiming for the head region. As I fired it turned its head side ways. I didn’t bother to have a look as I thought I had missed. … On Monday 23rd of September I went back to Symmons Plains with Scotty to get some firewood. We were driving back through the gate and were about to drive off when I noticed something on the ground. It was about 10 meters from the ute. At first I thought it was a hare but then I saw the tail so I got out and had a look at it. I picked it up and said to Scotty: “It’s a fox”.

Since 2001, this alleged fox shooting has been the most critical evidence used by the Fox-free Taskforce and the Fox Eradication Program to claim that free-ranging foxes were in living Tasmania.

Having examined all the evidence including FOI documents, witness statements, police statements, ballistic reports and newspaper reports it is my opinion, and the opinion of others I have discussed this matter with, that the whole event lacks credibility.

It is claimed that the decomposing body of fox was discovered in a paddock on Mr John Youl’s property, ‘Symmons Plains’. It is also claimed that one of the discoverers of the dead fox, Mr Eric Bosworth, had also shot at an animal 10 days earlier but at the time believed he had missed his target. At the time of his claimed shooting, Mr Bosworth didn’t look in the vicinity to see whether the animal he shot at had been killed.

(2) The rifle and the ammunition Mr Bosworth used; (3) the use of a telescopic rifle sight & spot-light; Mr Bosworth (and Mr Geeves) claimed they were out spot-lighting for roos (Bennett’s wallabies) on Mr Youl’s property. The hunting equipment used on the night was provided by the shooter for examination by the fox-free taskforce; it included a 100-watt spotlight and a CZ bolt action BRNO rifle mounted with a 4-times magnification telescopic sight; the firearm used .22 WRFM (Winchester rim fire magnum) caliber. The rifle was a registered firearm to Mr Bosworth.

A written report from Tasmania Police (7 October 2001) on this rifle confirms that it was ‘in excellent condition and capable of discharge’ 

(4) The range over which he allegedly shot this animal; The distance measured off carefully some days later by authorities from where the shot was allegedly fired to where the decomposing fox carcass was allegedly found was 55 meters; this is consistent with the ‘approximately 55-60 yards’ stated by Mr Bosworth in his signed statement.

(5) The recovery of any ballistics from the fox body; Three bullet fragments removed from the fox body were sent to Tasmania Police for ballistic examination. A written report states the bullet fragments were extremely small; damaged from impact and the calibre could not be determined. The fragments were all lead without copper jacketing; no class rifling characteristics were found on the fragments. No further examinations were done and the ballistics officer could not provide any ‘more useful information’.

(6) Any objective conclusions you can make, as an experienced rifleman, from that body of documented and/or factual information.

The distance over which the shot was allegedly taken is a very critical measurement because a fox standing in an open grazing paddock - clear of long grass and without obstructions - should have been clearly visible and identifiable as a fox when illuminated by a 100-watt spotlight and aimed at through a 4 X power telescopic rifle sight. [In my opinion, at that range (55 m), a rifleman with average eye-sight would have been able to definitely identify a fox and through a 4 power telescopic sight even see the whiskers on it’s face!]

At the time Mr Bosworth stated: ‘I didn’t bother to have a look as I thought I had missed.’

Mr Bosworth claimed in an interview with several journalists that he had shot many foxes on the mainland and he would certainly have recognised the foxes unmistakeable eye shine signature and body shape.

Mr Bosworth was also aware that a $5,000 reward was in circulation at the time and stated in the media that “if the Government didn’t pay his reward he wouldn’t show them where other foxes were in Tasmania.”

The reward was never paid.

As an experienced hunter under Tasmanian, Australian Mainland, and International conditions and as a competition marksman using both iron and optical sighted firearms, there are two aspects that in my opinion are troubling. Firstly I don’t know any responsible riflemen that would decide to shoot at an animal that they couldn’t identify. Secondly I don’t know any shooter after aiming at an live animal and discharging a bullet at that target wouldn’t go and check whether they had killed that animal; especially when there was a very high likelihood that the animal had been shot.

The BRNO rifle and bullet fragments recovered from the fox were checked by Tasmania Police ballistics section in Hobart and they could not find any ‘class rifling characteristics’ linking the fragments to the firearm submitted. For this reason no comparison was undertaken of test rifling from the submitted rifle and the fragments.

Mr Emms’ official summary report[1] of this fox incident mentions that the x-rays of the dead fox showed that: ‘the fox had suffered a broken neck, likely through impact from a bullet, and there were fragments of the projectile still lodged in the neck tissue…. I proceeded to collect fragments of lead from the pieces of [neck] that Philip Ladds, [Senior Veterinary Pathologist DPIWE] had given me. I collected three pieces in total, which were kept for ballistics analysis.’ 

In my opinion, there is one critical matter which has been overlooked. A .22 WRFM does not have the terminal velocity (at 55 metres) to disintegrate and fragment a projectile to that unrecognizable state. I presented this technical evidence to the Parliamentary Accounts Committee fox inquiry in May 2009.

At the time media reported that Mr Bosworth had claimed Tasmania Police “had tested his rifle and it was his rifle that shot the fox”. This testing did not occur.

My opinion and that of two ballistic experts (one formerly working with Victoria Police and Winchester Arms Company) is that fox was not shot with a .22 WMR projectile.  The consensus is that this fox was shot with projectile delivered by a rifle with very high muzzle velocity equivalent to a .22/250 Remington or .17 Remington or .225 Winchester rifle - i.e. 3,800 – 4,000 feet per second.

In conclusion, it is not possible and quite inconceivable that fox was shot at Symmons Plains in the manner claimed… end of story.

I gave a signed witness statement to Tasmania Police in 2003 concerning the circumstances of how this fox arrived in Tasmania and the claims made by Mr Bosworth in the company of others, I also gave the details I believed to be true as sworn testimony at the 2009 PAC Inquiry.