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.

 

A Foul Night

The weather has been so bad that I’ve not been out for two nights. Paul briefly visited one of the chicken farms on Monday night, but only spent about forty minutes there as he was playing skittles that evening. He did see a fox, but it was some way off and unshootable because of the bad conditions.

Tonight the forecast was for heavy rain, but the Met Office’s radar map showed that there would be a few breaks in the clouds, so we decided to head out and chance our luck. We revisited the chicken farm, but saw nothing except rats. After that we went to the local game estate where I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Whilst in a stubble field, I saw a large heat source with the thermal – it looked like a roe deer, and inspection with the NV spotter showed that my diagnosis was right.

Shortly after that – whilst experiencing a short deluge, in amongst the rabbits I saw another heat source – it was the head of something that was just the other side of a rise in the ground. Whatever it was, it was coming up the track towards me. Suspecting a fox, I had the rifle up on the sticks and ready in moments. Unfortunately, the rain somewhat hampered my view, and because it was moving fast I had some trouble in locating it. A few seconds later, however, I was on it, with predictable results.

Having checked that it was down, I slung the rifle over my shoulders and set out to pick up the carcass. While using the thermal to locate it, I was somewhat thrown when it seemed to jump up and run off across the field. As it did so, I thought – hang on, that fox is running more like a rabbit. And it was – a bunny had obviously been lying in the stubble near the fox, and I assumed the heat source was the carcass. Looking back, my fox was still lying exactly where it fell. Trudging through the rain, I walked over and put the torch on it – a vixen.

Picking it up, I took over to the gateway so that the keeper would be able to find it for disposal. I knew that the next few yards would be tricky to negotiate in the dark as the steep slope is riddled with loads of really deep tractor ruts. Since the mud there is more like grease, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and used the torch again – which is something I rarely do.

Having made it back onto safe ground, I checked around with the thermal. Something fox-like was making its way through the nearby cover crop. By then, however, the rain was so intense that I realised that any attempt to go after it would be futile – my kit had got so thoroughly soaked that I wouldn’t be able to see through the optics to shoot. So – I began the long trudge through the mud to get back to the warmth of the truck. The cold, wet wind was really biting at my face, so I was glad when I finally got there.

Paul was already waiting for me – he’d had no luck, so had sought shelter when the heavens opened. We saw nothing else when we stopped to check the last couple of spots before we made our way back home, but considering the appalling conditions, I think we did well!

Three More

Last night, we were asked to visit a farm where a fox had been seen trying to get at the geese. On the way over, we pulled in at two gateways, but saw nothing. At the third, we decided to stop for a few minutes and use the caller.

As we were getting out of the truck, however, we realised a fox was already calling just over the hedge, probably less than 200 yards away.  This gave the deployment of the caller a bit more haste – I was determined to ensure that we had the upper hand though, so insisted that we go up the hedge-line until we had a sufficiently good view of the moorland before us. Since there was a marked dip in the ground about forty yards out, it would have been only too easy to have positioned ourselves where we couldn’t see a fox until it was too late.

I placed the caller about 35 paces out – I’d have preferred it to have been a bit further, but a thick stand of reeds along the brow made this impractical. With that sorted, I started with a few fox squalls (communication howls) – I’d only given it two short sequences when our thermal imagers showed that a fox was on the bank by the road looking out towards us.

I then switched to vole squeaks, but it didn’t seem to want to move. Luckily for us (for once) a car came along at just the right moment, and the fox jumped down into the field to avoid being seen. As soon as the car was gone, I re-started the vole squeaks – our fox then reappeared about twenty seconds later right in the middle of the reeds, about ten yards from the caller. It was Paul’s turn to shoot, so he dropped it with a good solid chest shot. On inspection, it was a mature vixen.

At the next farm – where they were having trouble with the geese, we split up. Paul saw nothing where he went, but I heard a fox calling down in the valley below me, so tried the same call sequence – squalls, followed by vole squeaks. This brought in a large dog fox – it was clearly hiding just out of view, because the moment the vole squeaks started, it broke cover and came out into the open. It then trotted up the field towards the caller – unusually, it didn’t stop when I muted the sounds.

Luckily for me, I’d chosen to locate myself deep in the shadows of a tall piece of hedge, because the moon was so bright that it’d have otherwise easily seen me. Since there was no way of knowing whether it would stop before it scented human, I carefully tracked it in with the reticle hovering over its chest. When it got too close for comfort, I put a bullet in the engine room and it was another one down.

When I got back to the truck I could hear Paul’s caller a few hundred yards away, so I climbed up on the roof platform where I found I could see him through the thermal. When it was clear that nothing was going to respond, he packed up and started walking back up the hill. At that point, I climbed down, turned the truck round, and drove up to collect him.

As we headed home, he suggested we stop and check out a gateway on our left – this leads to the top end of the main part of the farm we started on. He very quickly spotted a fox, and returned to the truck for his rifle and sticks. I moved the truck back out of the way, a couple of hundred yards up the road, then climbed up on the roof once more. From there I could see him, but not the fox. He tried calling it for about twenty minutes, but as it simply wasn’t interested in responding, he tried to go after it.

Unfortunately, the moon gave him away, and the fox ran into the next field – the one I was parked next to, where it glowed strongly in my thermal imager’s viewfinder. It was just on the far side of a brow from me – meaning I could see most, but not all of it. There, it obviously thought that being some 200 yards out meant it was safe, because it then sat back to see what Paul was up to. This was a mistake, as he was able to see it from where he was standing – I heard the bullet hit, and saw it fall; on examination, it proved to be a small vixen.

So – having had three sessions, we ended the evening with three foxes down, which has made the farmers’ concerned very happy.

One Up

Well – Paul went out last night on his own, but although he saw two foxes, he wasn’t able to shoot either because the moon was so bright that he couldn’t move to do so.

Tonight conditions were a little better – we went to a friend’s farm where I brought in a large dog fox to a young rat distress call. I spotted it deep in the hedge with the thermal imager – it was trying to navigate through the thick brambles. Since it found its way blocked, it snaked back over the bank and disappeared. About two minutes later it suddenly ran out about fifty yards further up the hedge.  It was very nervous though, and appeared unsure whether to turn tail and run back into cover. Before it could decide, a ballistic tip walloped it in the chest, and it was end-ex* for him.

So – that puts us one up on 2013’s total (now 253).

*Military slang for ‘end of exercise’ – i.e., it’s all over.

Last Year’s Tally Equalled

Paul and I drove over to a local free-range chicken farm this evening. We parked up by the yard, and I put the caller out in the field immediately next to it. There were bunnies all over the place, and although it felt really foxy, I saw nothing for nearly an hour. Then, just as I was beginning to think I was mistaken, a fox wandered out of a gateway a few yards up the hill from the caller. I was on the rifle straight away, but it’d vanished. I kept calling though, and about ten minutes later, I saw the fox walk past the gateway and disappear again. About five minutes later, the bunnies near the gate suddenly scarpered, and the fox calmly walked through and surveyed the scene. Before it could do much more, a .204 round knocked it flat.

Paul – who had gone to the field with the chicken sheds – what should have been by far the best place on the farm, saw nothing in spite of repeated calling. We then drove to another farm about half a mile down the road where he stalked a fox that we saw when we went into the first field. Unfortunately, however, it moved away and he didn’t get a chance of a shot. A bit further on up the lane he then saw one quite close by – it was moving fast though and in the end he asked me to shoot it as it was too far out for him. I did – it was a very large dog at 220 paces.

Tonight’s tally has brought us up to the same number as we shot over the whole of last year – and we’ve still got the rest of the month to go!

One & Two

Last night we drove about 40 miles each way to help out a chicken farmer who’d lost a load of birds to a killer fox. He’s a friend of a friend, so we got the invite. Paul brought his mate, Kevin, along with him. When we got there, we had a quick word with the farm manager, and then split up, going in opposite directions. Paul saw a fox, but didn’t get chance for a shot. I called in a small scrawny vixen, but she saw me due to the bright moon. Unfortunately for her, having run about a hundred yards from the caller, she paused briefly by the gate into the next field. A gentle squeeze on the trigger and she fell on the spot. We saw another three foxes over the next few hours, but none were shootable. We’ve said that we’ll go back when the moon is no longer a problem.

Tonight it was Paul’s turn for some success – we stopped in two separate areas on a local game shoot, and split up both times. He called in a dog fox and shot it, and then saw another as he was picking up the carcass – it ran before he could do anything though. In the second place he brought in a small vixen. The only things I saw all night were some bunnies, a red deer, a woodcock and two hares that ran to the caller. Lovely as a nature watch, useless as a foxing session!