Early one evening in November 2008 – whilst catching up with some emails, my peace and quiet was interrupted by the doorbell. On answering it, I found a rather despondent gentlemen waiting outside. I’d only met him a couple times before, but knew that he lived on the outskirts of my mid-Devon village. He explained in somewhat desperate tones that his parents had a big fox problem, and that all but one of their extensive chicken flock had been killed in the previous weeks. He gave me their ‘phone number and said that they’d be most grateful if I’d be kind enough to go over and look into the matter.
Although I was saddened to hear about the poultry, I was delighted to receive an invite since I knew the farm in question was about 600 acres of remote upland pastures and woodland. Not only would it have a large population of foxes, but its location meant that it was only a couple of minutes from my house.
I ‘phoned straight away, and after a brief chat was invited to visit – I printed off a satellite map of the place so that we could confirm the boundaries, and also took along with my proof of BASC insurance, FAC, etc. Once the formalities were over, I went off with my trusty Sauer 202 in .22-250, on which was mounted a dedicated D480 night vision riflescope.
On this occasion, the night was very wet and muddy. Although the air was cold and clear – with the wind in the west, the humidity was high, making the NV very susceptible to fogging-up. Consequently, I made sure that my lens drying cloths were easily accessible. On setting off for my first session, I thought I’d start in a field behind the farmhouse and work out from there. In spite of several attempts with the caller I had no response, and apart from a couple of bunnies, I saw no wildlife at all.
Deciding that it would be prudent to move to the top of the nearby hill, I set off through the rough vegetation until I was satisfied that I’d reached a suitable location. Whilst reviewing the layout – checking for safe backstops and dead ground, I found that there was a wooden gate a few feet away. This was not only in the right position relative to the wind, but it was the perfect height to shoot off.
Checking quickly that no foxes were in sight, I carefully counted out 75 paces and put the caller next to a tall clump of grass. The field had a large stack of bagged bales along one side arranged underneath a stand of tall pine trees, presumably planted many years before as a windbreak. After another quick landscape check, I started the caller on the ‘Distressed Rabbit’ soundtrack – about five minutes later, a fox came running out from between the bales straight towards its intended victim. It paused briefly at about forty yards out, whereupon it took a soft-point in the chest and went straight down. It was a very well-fed, healthy vixen – probably one of that year’s offspring.
I kept the caller going for about another ten minutes, but as nothing else showed I then moved the dead animal to the gateway for easy collection – as requested by the farmer, and made my way across the field to the farm track on the other side. A few yards along it I found that another gateway was ideally located, so I placed the caller on one of the large supporting posts and set it going. About five minutes later a set of fox eyes showed in the NV. This individual was a bit more cautious, skirting along the bottom of the hedge to get downwind of the distress call before approaching. I watched it come in, and when it stopped momentarily to sniff the air at about fifty yards out, I gently squeezed the trigger and down it went. Again, it was a fat, healthy vixen.
I went back to see the farmer and his wife – they were amazed that I’d shot two so quickly, and were very pleased indeed. I was immediately invited to shoot the deer too, which was a major result! I said I’d be back again as soon as the weather was suitable.
It rained consistently for the next few days, but five nights later I went back for my second session. After all the rain we’d had it was no surprise to find that the ground was sodden, with thick glutinous mud everywhere. This resulted in very slow progress, with every footstep being accompanied by loud squelching and sucking noises – hardly the ideal conditions for making a covert approach!
The sky was clear, but the bitterly cold wind was now blowing hard from the north-west. This meant that I had to vary my approach route from the previous visit if I was to get into the prime fields without spooking the foxes. The complete lack of a moon worked in my favour though. It turned out to be a very hard session – I tried the caller several times, but nothing was interested. In the end I reverted to ‘stalking’ – creeping about with the NV to see if I could find any foxes going about their business. I wasn’t holding out much hope as the conditions made it very hard to move about quietly, but I was determined to do my best.
On coming out of a gate opposite a big field, however, I spotted a fox coming more or less straight at me. Its eyes were very bright indeed – this is usually a good indication that the animal concerned is a male – the vixens eyes don’t generally glow so fiercely. There wasn’t the time to hide myself, so I quietly put the sticks up and got myself as steady as I could. When he got to about 80 yards out, I placed the reticle mid-chest and fired – he went down instantly.
As is often the way with working in the dark, I lost my bearings as I climbed the fence and set off in slightly the wrong direction – it took me ages to find the body! When I finally located him, I was taken aback to find that he was almost certainly the biggest dog fox I’d ever seen. Although he was a good length and in superb condition, it was his body mass that made him so impressive. Sadly, I didn’t have any scales to hand so I don’t know what he weighed. He was considerably larger than the ones I’ve shot which weighed around the 22 lbs. mark, so I would think he must have been at least 25 lbs. or more. Laid out, he was longer than my Sauer 202, which with its Wildcat Predator moderator measures 47 inches. His canines were enormous – if ever there was an creature capable of wreaking havoc with poultry and lambs, this was it; I now wish that I’d kept him to be mounted by a taxidermist.
I went on to shoot several more foxes at this farm, and was particularly pleased to hear from the owner that within six months he was seeing a massive increase in the amount of wildlife – more hares, rabbits, skylarks, woodcock, and so on. It just goes to show that conservation and predator control go hand-in-hand…