Lit Up In The Fog

Monday 31st Jan – Thursday 7th Feb. 2011

At the beginning of 2011 I worked out that I’d conducted 30 hunting trips over the previous 33 days. Quite how my lovely wife puts up with me is one of those unanswered mysteries… Anyway, one Monday night I followed up a request to go after some foxes that had been chewing the tails off some new-born lambs. While these tiny bundles of joy have rubber tail-docking rings in place, it seems some foxes can’t wait for the appendages to drop naturally, and have to get in and rip them off. This nearly always leads to the lambs getting tissue infections that then cause severe joint trouble. Since this horrible affliction is with the poor creatures for life, the farmer is obviously keen to see the culprits dealt with. He’d seen a pair of foxes in with the sheep, so I had a job to do…

The farm in question is only a minute’s drive from my house, so it’s nice and easy to get to. Having said that, it is very hilly indeed, and hard to work for a number of reasons. Some nights, for instance, the local sports ground has its floodlights on. This illuminates the whole damn valley, and makes it impossible to move about covertly. Other nights, the damp air from the two little rivers that run along the bottom of the hills forms a thick mist that blankets all the lower fields. The landscape is also very lumpy, resulting in lots of dead ground for foxes to move about in unobserved. Oh, and to make matters even more difficult, the hills drop away so quickly that for most of the time you can only see about a hundred yards. If that wasn’t bad enough, the barbed wire fences are mostly just too high to get across without risking severe damage to one’s intimate regions, and all the gates clatter if you go near them.

Still – there are compensations. At this time of year there quite a few woodcock and snipe about, and it’s lovely to see them feeding, often at very close quarters. Likewise, having kept the predator numbers in check for some time, the farm is now home to several hares. If the wind is right, they can come right up to you. It’s good to see that my efforts to reduce the local fox population are having tangible benefits to these lovely creatures!

I set off and before I knew it pulled up at my chosen parking spot. Once there I got out as quietly as I could and turned the NV monocular on – almost straight away I saw a fox. It was in one of the sheep fields, right on the brow of the hill, about 300 yards away. I set off after it, but something in the far valley – presumably a vixen, suddenly caught its attention and it sat up and looked over into the next field. The next moment, with a quick bound, it was off. I spent the next two hours trying to find it – in spite of my best efforts, it was impossible to be anything like covert. The ground was so icy that it sounded like I was walking on broken glass, and in the end I gave up and went home.

The next night – the Tuesday, I headed out of the door for another attempt, but was met with a wall of fog right outside the house. I nearly gave up, but decided to see if there was enough wind on the farm to give me some visibility. Driving down into the steep valley behind the village didn’t make me feel any better – I could barely see where I was going. My missus – in the way that women do, had ‘had a bad day at work’ though, so I wasn’t keen on going home quite yet…

I parked up and got myself all kitted out. When I was ready, I climbed the gate and had a quick scan around with the NV monocular. The fog was so thick that I could see about ten feet. I tried all manner of different combinations of laser strength and NV tube brightness, but it was no use – I had to find better visibility, or the whole exercise would be futile. The slog up the steep hill seemed to take ages. With each step a little more clay stuck to my boots, and every now and then I’d sink into an unseen quagmire. I didn’t let this deter me though, and I did my best to make like a ghost. With my full camo kit, face veil, near-silent boots (Le Chameau wellies) and everything in my pockets wrapped in foam, I didn’t do a bad job.

The problem, however, was that the sheep knew I was there, and because they couldn’t work out what I was, they were very nervous for the safety of their youngsters. Consequently, every damned one of them started bleating loudly. This then started a mini stampede of frightened lambs running back and forth, each desperately trying to find its own mother in the dark. Once I’d reached the fence and crossed over things settled down, so I continued on my way.

As I was now near the top of the hill there was more of a breeze – but the fog was still too thick to use the NV in the usual manner, so I decided to start experimenting. Since the main problem is that the laser causes the fog to flare up right in front of the objective lens, I undid the mounting and removed it from the monocular. By holding it at different heights and angles, I found that I could see a lot further. It worked best when I positioned the laser as low as I could hold it, so I set off to check out the remainder of the farm. At this point I discovered that the floodlights in the farmyard – which was some 400 yards away, were illuminating the fog such that there was a sort of artificial daylight. This made it even harder to stay unseen, and I therefore had to stick tight in under the cover of the hedges – as if my job wasn’t hard enough already…

At one point I came up to a gate that leads into a very steep field which runs down to the river. As I leant on it, I scanned the area in front of me – the fog was much clearer, so I could see properly for the first time all night. There were several sheep and lambs, but no foxes. That was until I turned the tube right down and looked a couple of metres beyond my feet – there was a fox, and it had just started running like hell. I must have almost stood on top of it… As it made for cover, another one sat up from some dead ground about fifty yards out. The shot would have been safe, but although I got the rifle up, I didn’t have time to slot it before it too disappeared. Again, I spent an hour or so looking for them, but with no luck.

Not to be deterred, I went back again on the Wednesday evening. I chose a different parking spot, in case my Land Rover was spooking the foxes, and made my way towards the sheep fields. The wind was just right – in the south-west, and blowing hard enough to ensure that my scent trail would be consistent. The problem, however, was the aforementioned sports field – once again the damned floodlights were on, and the whole area was lit up. I quickly abandoned any idea of working that side of the farm, and made my way to the cover of the far valley. Nothing was about though, and after a couple of hours I’d checked out most of the property. I was not impressed when they turned the lights off more or less as I reached my truck. As if I needed another reason to hate football…

Four days later I tried a morning session, but once again, with no luck. Determined to catch up with the miscreant foxes and put a stop to the injuries they were causing to the lambs, the next day I returned for another after-dark patrol. This time, after much hard work I eventually found my quarry and shot them both. Even though I’d been told several times that the trouble was down to a breeding pair, they turned out to be both male – and judging by the markings, probably brothers. This story is told in full in my book ‘A Foxer’s Year’ under the title ‘Ee ain’t going to be beat, I’s sure ’o that’.

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