Time’s Up

5th August 2011

Less than a mile from my house is a farm where I’ve shot many, many foxes over the years. One of the main issues is that the place has had real problems with very young lambs having their tails chewed off. This allows an infection known as ‘joint ill’ to set in, from which they never fully recover, leaving them semi-disabled for life. Consequently, the farmer was anxious for me to deal with any foxes I could find. I’d seen two in a particular field, but due to problems with my NV riflescope, I’d shot at and missed them on a couple of occasions. I therefore wanted to sort them out once and for all.

I knew that these foxes liked to come into the field from the far end as it got dark, and then work their way along it towards the road. I therefore planned to get there before them. That way, if the wind was blowing in the right direction and I could get to a suitable vantage point, I was hoping they’d come to me. I set out from the house about twenty minutes before last light, and was pulling into the lay-by opposite the gateway less than a minute later. I was travelling light, with only my rifle, sticks and NV mono, so I was on my way in moments.

Before I climbed the gate I wound the gain right down on the mono and checked the field. About 200 yards out there was a fox – it was silhouetted against the fading sky, and snuffling about in the grass. As I watched I could see that a short distance away there was a herd of cattle – they seemed to be rather unimpressed at having a predator so close by, and several were standing facing it, looking to see what it was up to.

The fox, in its turn had stopped foraging and was now checking them out. I decided that this distraction was a perfect opportunity for me to climb the gate without being seen. Seconds later I was ensconced in the shadows of the tall hedge, where I rested the mono on my sticks so that I could get a better view of what was going on.

As I watched the fox, it seemed to be sticking its snout in the grass, and then after a few seconds it would jump into the air and snatch at something. Clearly it was catching some kind of insect – in the end, I came to the conclusion that it was hunting ‘daddy long legs’ crane flies.

A minute or so later, it suddenly stopped what it was doing and ran about a hundred yards or so up the hill. When it came to a halt, it appeared to be very nervous, and was anxiously looking down the slope towards the stream, on the other side of which is some thick woodland. I checked the area over carefully, and sure enough – there was another fox partially hidden in the long grass. ‘Aha’, I thought to myself – ‘That first fox shouldn’t be there – it’s clearly trespassing on someone else’s territory’.

I was now faced with a bit of a dilemma. I could try to get closer to them by going along the stream bank, however, the moon was coming up, and although it was sporadically being covered by clouds, I daren’t rely on their cover. To make matters worse, the wind was moving around, and there was the risk that the foxes might scent me, in which case they’d be gone in a flash.

A further complication was that the cows were now too close for comfort – if they spotted me, there was the chance that they’d go rushing madly about all over the place, and that would completely screw things up. My only other option was to backtrack to the gateway, and then cut up through a deep gully which ran parallel to the lane. This would put me out of their sight until I reached the top of the hill, but then I’d be dreadfully exposed. Not only would I be skylined if I wasn’t careful, but if any cars drove past, I’d be lit up like I was on stage.

I considered both routes and decided that skirting back and up the hill was more likely to pay dividends. If I could make it to the big hedge that ran along the top of the field, then I’d not only have good cover behind me, but the wind would be completely in my favour.

I took my time retracing my steps – unless something untoward happened, the foxes weren’t going anywhere in a hurry. Not only that, but the area I was crossing was a treacherous mix of marsh and thick tussocks. I didn’t need to be giving away my presence by sploshing about or tripping over. Eventually, I made it to firm ground whereupon I checked what the foxes were up to – they had moved a little, but not enough to be concerned about.

I made good time climbing up the gully, but did need to catch my breath at the top – this was worth doing as I didn’t want to be blowing hot breath all over my NV’s optics. A few seconds was all it took, and I set off once again. Before long, I was in plain view of the foxes, however, as they were about 250 yards away – and heavily preoccupied, I managed to make it to a clump of brambles without being seen.

I checked them again and started to move forwards, but before I’d covered more than a few yards the area in front of me lit up, and a strong shadow of my profile appeared. ‘Oh, jolly damn and blast’, I thought to myself. Or words to that effect. A damned car had come over the top of the hill and I was caught in its lights. I crouched down and waited until things got dark again. As it drove up the opposite side of the valley I looked to see what the foxes were doing – but I couldn’t see them. No matter, I thought – they’re probably just in the dead ground halfway down the hill.

I took the opportunity to scuttle along the fence towards the cover of the hedge, but before I’d got there I did a quick spot-check with the mono. I still couldn’t see either fox though, so I stopped and did a thorough scan – both had completely disappeared. ‘Blow me’ (it may have been ruder than that), I thought. Did they see me? Had I been skylined, or was it the car that had given me away? While I was pondering all this, a set of eyes suddenly came flying across the field. They were going so fast that at first I thought it was an owl, but then I saw there was a fox’s body attached to them.

There were only two reasons I could think of that a fox would be travelling that fast – one was to get away from danger, the other was to chase off a rival. Having seen the reaction of the first fox to the arrival of the second one, I figured the latter was the more likely explanation. Sure enough – when I looked across to the other end of the field, there was another Charlie diving into the bushes in a frenzied rush to get away.

Although I hadn’t reached the cover of the hedge, I knew that this was a good opportunity to get a shot in, so I set my sticks out and settled the rifle on top. I found the nearest fox quickly enough – it had gone back to foraging more or less directly in front of me, just short of a hundred yards out. Perfect! I took my time to get the focus right, and when it turned sideways on I squeezed off a shot. A loud ‘Thwump’ told me all I needed to know. It just rolled on its side, and that was it.

I spent a couple of minutes looking to see if I could spot the second individual, but other than the herd of cows, there was nothing to be seen. Still – getting one fox was a definite result, so I walked down and checked it over before photographing it. It was a small dog fox that had a distinct oddity with its teeth – the upper right canine had a second smaller fang growing down alongside it. I’d never seen that before! There was also a hole where another tooth was missing a bit further back. Its markings were slightly unusual too – it had a series of white speckles across the upper part of its body. Whether it was a cub from an early brood that year, or a late one from the previous year, I couldn’t say.

The arrangement on this farm is to leave any dead animals in the main gateways so that they can be found easily. I therefore carried the carcass up to the top of the hill and left it in the usual place. Happy with my work, I had a quick check around with the mono before leaving for home, and to my surprise, found that the other fox had gone around to the far side of the stream and then come back into the field again. Clearly whatever they were eating was enough of a delicacy to risk getting beaten up over!

My positional situation couldn’t have been better. I had a high hedge behind me, and the wind full-on in my face. A huge black cloud was obscuring the moon, and my intended target was not only distracted by the insects it was chasing, but was clearly still trying to avoid being seen as it was hiding in a large patch of tall thistles.

I slowly made my way towards it, checking with the mono every few seconds. I’d only gone about twenty paces when I decided that I was close enough – from there on the ground sloped away much more steeply, so I was worried that I’d find it hard to make the sticks stand up properly.

By now the fox was weaving in and out of the thistles, making towards the open field, so I got myself ready and as soon as it came out, a GameKing hollow-point smacked it in the chest with a resounding thud. I measured the shot at 105 paces – this time it was a small vixen. Since it had very similar speckles to the first one, I suspect it was probably its sister. I went home a happy man – not only had I sorted the fox problem, but it also seemed that my riflescope was working properly again – Hooray!

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