The Weather Hasn’t Got Any Better…

I haven’t shot a single fox since my last post on the 7th. Out of the last eight nights, I’ve only been able to get out twice due to the appalling weather we’ve had. On the Saturday (Jan 10th) I saw a pair of foxes tied. However, by the time I’d ‘phoned the farmer, checked out who the field they were in belonged to, how one gained access to it, and made it there, they’d gone.  I heard several foxes calling, and even saw another one near the chicken sheds – which at the time were some 500 yards away. Sadly though, nothing came close enough for a shot, and I got home wet and freezing cold.

Last night Paul (who has been away in South America on a fishing holiday) and I tried a session. The Met Office’s weather forecast told us the skies would be completely clear right across Devon by 9:00 pm. It lied to us – we were out for three hours, and it didn’t stop raining, sleeting, hailing and/or snowing the whole time. There was even forked lightning in a nearby town, although we didn’t see it ourselves. We heard one fox calling, and Paul briefly caught sight of something off in the distance that might have been vulpine, but that was it.

This morning I tried again – I was called by a local lady who owns a farm with some holiday cottages to say that a fox was on the opposite side of the valley. In spite of spending some time stalking across to the area and then carefully scanning with the Leica binoculars, I saw nothing except a hare basking in the brilliant sunshine and a few pheasants. At one point some magpies started shouting just over the hill, so it might have headed off that way, or, more likely, it’d gone to ground to sleep off a hard night’s exertions.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather holds long enough for us to get out tonight!

A Poor First Week

Well – it’s been four days since I last posted, and it’s been tough going. On the Saturday night I checked out some fields near my village. I started out by parking up at the side of a lane and examining  a field that looks over a small valley. I’ve heard a fox calling in there recently, but there was no sign of it, in spite of my being really patient and waiting for it. The bright moon didn’t help, so I did my best to stick to the shadows.

After some time I decided to move on and visit a field where the same farmer had been experiencing problems with his lambs. A fox had been chewing their tails off, which is not only highly unpleasant, but the open wounds lead to severe infections that are known as ‘joint-ill’. This gives the poor things a painful disability for life.

Although I was determined to get to grips with the culprit, the reason I’d not gone there first was that I thought I’d wait for a while in the hope that the cloud would build up a bit. With the moon a touch less bright I drove over the hill and down to the scene of the crimes. With the truck safely off the road, I surveyed the field before me with the thermal imager.

As there was nothing about, I climbed the gate and looked for an area with some decent shadows. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to choose from, so I tucked myself into the hedge and tried the caller. When nothing showed, I tried scanning the opposite side of the valley by walking slowly along the edge of the field.

I’d only gone about a hundred yards when I spotted a fox skulking about some three hundred yards away. There were trees between us, so I tried to close the distance in the hope of finding a gap where a shot might be possible. I tried attracting it with the caller, but it wasn’t interested. It slowly made its way up the field and disappeared from sight through the far hedge. Once again, I tried the caller, but there were too many trees to see properly.

Heading back to the truck, I kept stopping and scanning – it’s a good job that I did, because a fox suddenly came through the hedge from where the sheep were. I was badly exposed by the moonlight, but I was ‘in the zone’ – I had the rifle up and on the sticks, the NV on, the illuminator on and the safety catch off in one smooth movement. By then the fox (a vixen) – some 80 yards out, had turned to look at me. It was the last thing it did, as my bullet knocked it off its feet before it could react. I was pleased that my bad night had ended so efficiently, especially as it was almost certainly the one responsible for attacking the lambs.

The next night – Sunday, it was misty, so nothing doing. Monday night saw me on the local game estate. The keeper asked me to check out a certain area, but after two fruitless hours, I began heading back across the fields. As I did so, I heard a fox screaming way off in the distance. Guessing where she might be, I drove over and parked up overlooking some moorland. Sure enough, there was a fox running from my left to my right.

Retrieving my sticks, I put a bullet in it without moving more than three feet from the Land Rover. As I was confirming it was dead, another fox ran behind it, another fifty or so yards out. I watched it circle around on the wind and approach, sniffing carefully. That one took a bullet too. The first was a huge dog fox, the second also a male, but a little smaller – still a big boy though. I can only assume the vixen I’d heard had been through the area shortly before, and that the males were trying to find her.

Last night I headed off up onto the edge of Exmoor, but the three hours I spent up there were completely wasted. On my walk up to my target area I heard foxes calling all over the place, so I was looking forward to a good session. Sadly, however, the moment my caller was out the clouds parted and the full moon just lit the entire area up. There was no way that I could conceal myself, so I spent an hour standing in one place, hoping for some aerial cover. By then I was frozen through, so I headed home. The foxes obviously didn’t like it either, as they stopped calling as soon as the moon appeared.

Tonight was even worse – it was raining, but I thought I’d give it a go to see if I could find the vixen I’d heard on Monday night. Big mistake – I should have stayed at home, as the kit all got soaked – the thermal imager was next to useless due to the amount of cold water in the air, and the NV could only be used pointing downwind or else the illuminator immediately got covered in raindrops, making it impossible to see anything. Fingers crossed the weather improves soon!

And So 2015 Starts

One of the downsides of being so committed to our shooting is that we have very few foxes left in our area. Consequently, we have to work like mad to find them – last night, for instance, my friend Joe and I went onto farms that must total about 2,000 acres, and only saw two foxes the entire time.

One of those was about 500 yards out and was hiding in the bottom of a hedge when the other one approached. It then spooked and ran away, so we didn’t get a chance of a shot at it. After spending a minute or so trying to track the runner, the fox gave up and continued on towards where it’d heard my caller.

Joe and I watched it walk out onto a public road, but it then went behind a hedge and was lost from sight. Try as we could, we were unable to see it anywhere. It then suddenly appeared in our field, immediately downwind of us. The moon was very bright in a clear sky, and as we were in the middle of an open area, we were completely exposed. Before I was even able to get the rifle onto the sticks, a car came up the little-used road – just when we could have done without it, and our adversary ran into the nearby hedge to hide from the headlights.

We tried a few vixen calls then waited and watched, but as there was no sign of it, I suggested that we climb the hill a bit and look from there. Sure enough, as soon as we’d got high enough to see over the hedge we found that the fox was sitting out at about 200 yards, watching to see what was going on. Luckily for me, it sat just long enough to take a .204 round in the chest. Getting to it was a bit of a challenge, however, as it was on one farm, and we were on another – with no gates or anything connecting the two.

In the end Joe walked down to the road and made his way through into the field, while I went back and got the truck then drove round to the bottom of the hill. From there I worked my way up the steep gradient. By the time we got to the carcass we were both thoroughly overheated, which caused our thermals/NV spotters to mist over in seconds.

The fox, when we reached it, was a very large and stinky dog – whether the other was simply a vixen that didn’t fancy him, or a smaller male that didn’t want to risk being beaten-up, I can’t say. Still – Joe enjoyed himself and I started the account for 2015, so it wasn’t a wasted trip!

A Look Back At 2014’s Foxes

So – we’re now into 2015, which means it’s time to look back at how we did in 2014. This is what my records show:

January: 24 foxes – 15 were dogs, 6 were vixens (one of which was heavily pregnant). Unfortunately I have no record of what sex the other 3 were (I’ll have to check my photos to see if that helps).

February: 16 foxes – 7 were dogs, 8 were vixens (again, one of which was pregnant) and one of unknown sex. Paul spent some time away fishing in India.

March: 15 foxes – 8 were dogs (one had an injured back leg and a patch of mange on the back of its head) while 7 were vixens.

April: 17 foxes – 8 were dogs, 8 were vixens and the sex of one was unrecorded.

May: 17 foxes – 11 were dogs, one of which I shot at 293 yards (with the NV), 5 were vixens and the sex of one was unrecorded.

June: 10 foxes – 6 were dog foxes, 2 were vixen cubs and 2 were dog cubs. No adult vixens shot.

July: 25 foxes – 10 were adult dogs, 4 were dog cubs, 7 were vixens (one of which had a broken front right leg) and 3 were vixen cubs; the sex of one was unrecorded.

Paul was away in Europe on holiday for two weeks. When he got back he shot 2 small wild boar which were accompanied by 3 adults and about 8 other young.

August: 9 foxes – these were 1 dog, 3 adult vixens, 3 dog cubs (one at 255 paces), 1 vixen cub and the sex of one was unrecorded.

September: I missed two weeks of the month due to being away on holiday in Brittany. We still managed 38 foxes though – 11 were adult dogs, 5 were adult vixens (one of which had half her right rear leg missing as well as most of her teeth), 5 were probably sub-adult dog cubs and 3 were vixen cubs. Paul also shot 14 other foxes while I was away – since he doesn’t record their sexes, I don’t know what they were.

October: 30 foxes – 18 were adult dogs, 2 were sub-adult dogs, 9 were vixens and the sex of one was unrecorded.

November: 45 foxes – By this time of year it is very difficult indeed to differentiate between last year’s adult and this year’s sub-adult animals. We had 24 dog foxes, 15 vixens and 6 foxes of unrecorded sex.

December: 19 foxes – these were made up of 9 dog foxes (one with only a short stump for a tail), 9 Vixens and the sex of one was unrecorded.

So – that means we had a total of 265 foxes in 2014. If you take out days when the weather was too bad too shoot, that works out at about one a day, which isn’t too bad when you consider that we almost always shoot from ‘on foot’. Still – there’s no peace for the wicked – lambing has already started around here, so it looks as though we’ll be kept busy for the foreseeable future!

Last Fox Of The Year

I wasn’t able to get out on New Year’s Eve due to commitments made by the long-haired general. The evening before, however, I ventured out briefly to check the local area as the farmer has already started lambing. Fortunately, I was able to avoid the bright moon by tucking myself into the shadows cast by a hedge which looked out over a deserted pasture.

I’d chosen to put myself there because I’d heard a fox calling a few hundred yards further out where there was no access. When I was ready, I began by playing a few brief bursts of fox squalls, and then after a short break so two or three vixen mating calls. A few minutes later a large vixen came in to see what was going on – a .204 round at about 120 yards saw her fold on the spot.

As I was collecting the carcass I heard the village clock strike 9:00pm – fortunately, that meant I had time to get home to watch most of part 2 of the BBC’s superb wolf documentary!

Xmas – My Worst Foxing Of The Year

Looking back over the last two weeks I can say that this has been the worst fortnight’s shooting of the year. First – as per the last post, we had a night of thick fog, followed by three nights of heavy rain. After that I did manage to get out, but blanked.

The Saturday night I drove over to an ornamental gardens where the owner was distraught about losing so many of her exotic birds – mostly these were various rare ducks and geese, but what really upset her was the loss of her treasured black swans. Sadly, the local farmers – all of whom are fox hounds people, pretty well laughed at her. I was therefore asked to visit. To cut a long story short, I called a large old dog fox out of the gardens and put a bullet in it.

Since then, however, I’ve not shot a thing. Granted, I lost three evenings to rain, and stayed in one night, but I’ve worked really hard on the five nights I have been out, and not seen hide nor hair of a fox.

I have to admit that I sacked it and went home early last night, possibly the first time I’ve ever done so. The sky was completely clear, which meant the temperature was very, very low and the moon very, very bright.

The ground was so covered in sheets of ice that it was like walking over panes of glass; covert movement was simply impossible. This, in turn, meant that you had to move even more slowly than usual, so almost no body heat was being generated. Within minutes my fingers – under an inner pair of cotton gloves which were then topped-off with a pair of new Sealskinz, had turned to blocks of ice.

Although there were quite a few bunnies about, there wasn’t the slightest sign of any foxes, unless you count the one call I briefly heard about a mile down the valley.

In the end I realised that my trip was utterly futile, so I headed home. Even that journey through the back lanes wasn’t easy – there was black ice all over the place and to make matters worse, fog started developing in thick patches. Fortunately, I was home in time to watch Part 1 of the excellent Snow Wolves documentary!

Blank Night

After four nights of awful weather, I finally managed to get out last night. It was my Good Lady’s birthday, so it started when I gave her a pile of presents (including my first ever attempt at casting silver jewellery!) and then we went for a lunchtime meal at a Very Special Place. Fortunately, they do a lower price during the day, or we’d have left the establishment bankrupt…

She was kind enough to give me some time off for good behaviour after it got dark, so I started out at the local chicken farm. As soon as I got there I heard a commotion in the hedge ahead of me, but after inspection with the thermal I realised that it was only some cat-sized rats running for safety. Sneaking carefully into the area where the birds are housed, I checked around, but only saw more rats. This year has been a good one for them, and I’ve seen the nasty blighters all over the place.

I’d not gone more than two paces before a fox called about 400 yards away. To cut a long story short, I tried every trick in the book to bring it closer, but to no avail. I ended up with using the ‘chicken in distress’ call, but the only response was from a very cold farmer. He’d just got back from a pub meal with his wife when he heard the sound.

Jumping straight onto his quad bike he came steaming up the hill thinking a fox had got into one of the houses. Instead, he found me! Being in his smart clothes, the poor bloke was freezing – he apologised for not checking his ‘phone (where I’d left a message telling him I’d be on site) and for screwing up my session.

After that, I drove over to the local game estate. I’d already discussed my plan with the keeper, but sadly, that also came to nothing. After five hours of really hard work, all I saw were the aforementioned rats, as well as a couple of bunnies, two pairs of hares, and a red deer stag that looked decidedly odd due to the fact that it had only shed one antler. The other was still in place making it look very unbalanced!

I got back in the small hours with nothing to show for all my efforts – still, you can’t win them all the time. Let’s hope tonight is more productive…

First Fog, Now Rain

I’m going up the wall – last night the fog was so thick that I could barely make out my truck in the yard. Tonight, it’s raining. And to make matters worse, my Good Lady is trying to get stuff done around the house in time for her birthday later this week – and as I can’t get out, I’ve got nowhere to hide…!

Stumpy

Last night, Paul and I went to visit the local chicken farm in an attempt to nail a fox that has killed quite a lot of chickens lately. Unfortunately, we saw nothing except some rats, so we moved on. A couple of miles up the road we parked up on another farm, with Paul going off to the left, while I went off to call on the ground to the right.

Using the track labelled as ‘Red fox pup distress call’ – which I think sounds much more like subordinate foxes fighting, I called in a large dog fox. It came in from the far end of the field but was very wary, constantly looking out for trouble. It ran around until it was downwind of the  caller, some 150 yards out and then sat back on its haunches to see what was going on before coming any closer. That was good enough for me, and a second or so after it stopped moving one of my .204 rounds knocked it flat. When I got to it, I was surprised to see that it only had a short stump for a tail. What caused the injury – which must have happened a long time ago, I can’t say.

Paul and I then drove about half a mile onto a third farm where I brought in two foxes using the same ‘fighting foxes’ call. Both came in from different directions at the same time – Paul shot one which then disappeared over a rise in the ground, while I dropped the other. When we realised that nothing else was going to come to the caller, we went out to collect the carcasses. Mine was lying where I shot it (another large dog), but we never found Paul’s. Presumably it expired in the deep undergrowth which borders the field we were in.

On our way home, we called in at the first farm again, but there was still no sign of Charlie. Sadly, I don’t expect to get out much this week as it’s mizzling now and the forecast is for rain every evening until Friday…

Four More

After missing last night due to foul weather, we drove over to a large chicken farm on the outskirts of Exeter this evening, following an invite from a friend who is a mate of the owner. We don’t normally go that far, but they were keen to reduce the number of birds they were losing to foxes, so we agreed to see what we could do.

When we parked up in the first field, we saw almost straight away that there were two foxes on the other side, some 250 yards away. Since it was Paul’s turn to shoot, I suggested he go after them while my friend and I tried the meadow on the other side of the track. Unfortunately for Paul, both his foxes ran off before he could get close enough to shoot them. Possibly he was given away by the bright lights from the adjacent industrial estate.

In the meantime, I put the caller out and tried a few distress calls. Nothing showed up, but some roe deer that were feeding nearby were a little spooked. I then switched to a track that features two foxes fighting – a minute or so later a vixen came in from upwind and took a bullet.

We met up with Paul again by his truck, and then walked down the hill to inspect some fields beyond a large pond. As we approached, we spotted a fox out in the field. This time luck was on Paul’s side, and he dropped the large male without it ever knowing we were there. Shortly afterwards, I dropped another large dog in the next field. Both were out foraging, so there was no need for the caller.

Returning to the truck, we drove about a mile to another part of the farm – we saw a fox crossing a field towards some sheep, but in spite of using the caller for some time, we never saw it again. There was one, however, in with some other sheep when we drove for about half a mile and stopped again. Paul shot it, and we climbed over the gate in readiness for another session with the caller.

Before I’d got it ready though, Paul whispered that another fox had come over the brow, about 150 yards out. I set the rifle up on the sticks and got a perfect alignment with the reticle. It was in some light undergrowth, but I had an excellent view of it. When I fired I expected it to drop on the spot, but instead there was an odd crack and it ran off.

When we got to where it’d been, we realised that there were quite a few thin trees spread about, one of which must have got in the way. I’m sure that if we’d looked hard enough we’d have found one with a bullet strike. What we did see though, was that the fox had recently caught a rat – this was lying nearby with fresh bite marks on it. By then we’d covered all the ground we’d been cleared to shoot on, so we called it a night. Tonight’s 4 means that we’re now on 261 since January 1st.