Sticks and Tones…

One evening I set off with the intention of checking all the fields along a lane where I have several permissions in a row. The little old lady who lives there had been losing chickens – to her they’re her babies, so she gets really upset when any of them get killed. As things went, however, I spotted a fox at the third gateway, and set off after it, so never completed my mission. In order to complete my quest, I set off again the next night. This time, I made it past the first farm, and stopped at the next gateway. This leads into a massive field that runs along the top of a big hill. Unusually for this area, it is relatively flat, so you can see a long way. Thinking that I’d have time to look things over at my leisure, I left the rifle in the truck and switched the NV monocular on. Blow me, if there wasn’t a fox stood watching me about fifty yards in…

A frantic dash to the truck saw me back in about ten seconds, but by now the Charlie had moved out to a distance of about a hundred yards, and was trotting away looking back over its shoulder at me. When he got to about 150 yards, he stopped to see what I was up to. Big mistake – the moment he did so, a Nosler 55gr BT smacked him in the chest, and down he went.

I scanned the rest of the field, but as the only other creature to be seen was a hare, I climbed the gate and went out to retrieve the carcass. After that I moved on and checked out the pasture below – this is very steep, but because it has several ridges, there is a lot of dead ground. Features like that tend to hide any lurking foxes, making it all but impossible to see them. I specifically didn’t want to be drawn into another long foot-slog, however, so decided the best thing would be to go back to the big field and set the caller up. I did this, and the moment the ‘Vixen on heat’ call started, the hare I’d seen earlier came belting in to see what was going on. Apart from this confused individual, however, nothing showed itself. After fifteen minutes or so of fruitless attempts with different calls, I gave up and walked back to the truck. On my way I flushed a couple of feeding birds – probably snipe, but they might have been woodcock.

Before firing the Disco up, I had a quick look in the field opposite. Whilst doing so, I heard some toads croaking around a small pool – this was to be expected as, like with the foxes, it’s their mating season. I wondered if I’d be able to see them with the NV, so wound the gain right down, set the laser to its lowest power, and refocused the objective lens. Sure enough, there were several frogs and toads sitting around the water’s edge.

Foxes like to eat frogs, so it’s always handy to know where the possible food sources are. I doubt they’d tackle the toads though, as their warty skins carry acrid poisons that would make them most unpalatable. Recent scientific research has shown that some of the chemicals involved have the potential to be very useful in medicine for fighting things like heart disease, cancer, HIV and ever as painkillers. Isn’t nature a wonderful thing!

After enjoying the spectacle of the amphibian get together, I cranked the NV back up and had a scan across the ground in front of me. About 400 yards away, I could see several eyes close together right out in the middle of a field. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing though – was it a group of bunnies, I wondered? Resting on a handy fencepost, I was able to steady the NV and adjust the focus for a better look. It was hard to be sure, as the animals concerned were lying in a shallow gully, but if I wasn’t much mistaken, I was looking at a pair of foxes coupling.

Since the wind was behind me, I didn’t attempt to stalk in on them, but instead jumped in the truck and drove down past the next gateway to an area of hard standing. I knew this would put me well downwind, so I pulled in and parked up. Doing my best to be as quiet as a mouse, I crept up to the gate and switched the NV on. There was nothing in front of me, but when I scanned to the right, instead of seeing foxes, I got a massive glare through the scope. Unknown to me, there was a massive bramble in the way, and the laser had caught it – the reflection made it impossible to see anything, so I moved to the left and tried again. Sure enough, out in the middle of the field there were two foxes in mid-hump.

They had chosen the location for their coital bliss very well – the shallow gully almost completely hid them from view, and all either of them had to do was raise a head every now and then to check that the coast was clear. I got everything set up – rifle on the sticks, scope focused and ready, and waited. About thirty seconds later they shifted position, and I got a clear view – I chose the dog, and released a round. There was a loud ‘pop’, and he fell backwards. The vixen jumped in the air and ran like hell. She stopped momentarily, but I snatched the shot and missed. Oh well, you can’t expect to hit everything every time. She jinked left and then right straight into some woods. A few moments later she climbed a bank, and turned to look at me for a millisecond – then disappeared.

When I checked the distance to the carcass, I was surprised to find that it was 180 paces out – the field was so featureless that I hadn’t been able to tell what the range had been. After photographing and retrieving the remains, I had another look to see if I could find the vixen. She was nowhere to be seen, but instead I picked up some eyes in another field further around to my left. From their brightness I thought they probably belonged to a fox, so I got the riflescope up for a better look. The mono I use as a spotter only has three times magnification, where as the one on the gun has a six times lens. This gave me a positive ID, so I set the FoxPro out and hid in the shadows in anticipation of calling it in.

I started out with the ‘Vixen on heat’ call, but all my intended quarry did was look up every now and then. It appeared to be hunting worms, which would make sense as the evening was relatively warm and the ground was soaking wet. After a few minutes, I swapped to a fox yell, then some squalls. I got nothing more from it than an occasional glance, so I tried various tempting things like screaming rat, distressed bunny, etc. None had any effect whatsoever. I even tried a mouth call – I was recently given an ‘Best Fox Call’. It makes an excellent sound – but I still didn’t get a response.

I think the problem was that when I’d retrieved the last carcass, I’d gone upwind of the fox I was now trying to bring in. Consequently, it knew I was there and so wasn’t interested in coming anywhere near me. After about twenty minutes of wasted effort, I decided that as nothing else was working, I’d see if I could get close to it instead. There was a large hedge in the way though, and I was dubious as to whether I’d be able to see across or through it. The other issue was the ground I had to cover – this was little short of a bog, so I would be making a lot of noise, squelching and sploshing all the way.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained though – so I set off, doing my best to avoid doing myself an injury as I went. Once I reached the hedge, however, it was quite obvious that not only was it too high, but there was also far too much vegetation for me to have any chance of finding a gap. Hacked off at this, I made my way back out into the field to see where the fox had gone. As expected, it had been spooked by my progress, and was now much further up the hill. As I inspected it through the riflescope, I realised that it was head on and sitting on its haunches watching me. This gave me more than two feet of body to aim at, of which about a foot – i.e. the head and chest, was a viable target.

Since the .22-250 round only drops about 1.5 inches at 225 yards – roughly what I estimated the range to be, I knew the shot was possible if I was up to it. The fox appeared to be in no hurry to move, so I took my time. When I was completely satisfied that the reticle was sitting nice and steady – with the aim point just above the eyes, I gently squeezed the trigger and the Sauer took over. I heard the bullet singing its way through the damp air, and then a dull ‘doof’. The fox simply fell over. I saw its tail twitch briefly, and that was it. I walked out counting the distance as I did so – even allowing for a conservative guess at the width of the hedge, I made it 250 paces. By anyone’s standards, that has to be considered good going off standing sticks, so with that and three dead foxes to show for it, I went home satisfied my night’s efforts!

10th February 2011

2 thoughts on “Sticks and Tones…”

  1. Great reading Paddy.. I also sent my father a link to your site and I’m pleased to report he found your tales thrilling.. Probably as he’s a retired sheep farmer from West Wales who’s lost more lambs to foxes than he’d care to remember!
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks – the last few months – the lambing season, have been a bit of a blur. We’ve now had 151 foxes since Jan 1st, and I’m pleased to say that very few lambs have been lost on my patch during that period. As the ewes have more or less finished producing offspring now, I’m hoping to find the time to catch up with my blogs…

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