By Day And Night – Part One

13th October 2012

Following an invitation to shoot over a farm that lies next to a large patch of existing permissions, my mate Paul and I went over the other night to meet the owner. He was very grateful for us taking the time to do so, and got a series of maps out to show us where all the relevant boundaries were. It wasn’t time wasted as far as we were concerned – it’s great to be able to get onto land that previously we could only look over. Besides – it was raining, so it wasn’t as though we were losing valuable shooting time…

The next night it was also chucking it down, so we were both champing at the bit to escape into the countryside. We’d decided to get there with a couple of hours before dark so that we could check the ground out as well as cull a few of the hundreds of bunnies we’d been told all about. Sadly, the weather let us down again, and just as one cloud had finished lashing the place, another took over. Consequently, there wasn’t a rabbit to be seen. We did, however, take the opportunity to drive down all the tracks to see where they went. It was a good job we did, as one of them led to the edge of a freshly-dug quarry. Had we not known it was there, we could easily have driven into it in the dark!

About an hour before the light started to go we were getting seriously bored with sitting in the Land Rover waiting for the rain to stop. We’d already put some smelly pheasant bits out as bait – spread across one of the big fields where we felt it’d do the most good. Casting my eyes skywards, I decided that it looked like the last of the rain clouds were going to pass overhead in the next few minutes. I therefore suggested that we have a go with the Foxpro caller to see if there were any foxes about. As Paul is addicted to calling, he thought it was a great idea, so we got our face veils and gloves on, then as the pitter-patter of raindrops began to die away, I got my .204R Kimber Montana out.

We started by inspecting an area that runs alongside some old stable buildings – we found that this gave us a good view over the adjoining meadow, so while Paul set off to put the caller out, I got myself properly organised. A minute or two later and he was back – by then I’d unhooked some electric fence tape from a couple of its securing eyes to give sufficient clearance for the barrel, and I was ready.

I began the session with the young rat distress call, and within moments a kestrel came zooming low over the field to see what was going on. As it did so, a Hitchcockian mass of rooks and jackdaws descended from the skies in a murderous swirl of black wings – all determined to knock the poor little falcon to the ground. It was outnumbered about a thousand to one, but pulled some amazing twists and turns in its attempts to evade its pursuers. It was a close run thing though, and Paul and I felt completely helpless standing there watching it all happen barely a few feet away. Afterwards we agreed that it was a damned shame that we didn’t have a pair of semi-auto 12 bores with us, as it’d have been lovely to have blasted a few of those horrible corvids to pieces. The kestrel seemed to get away though – possibly because the rat call was distracting the croaking hordes. In the end I had to mute the caller, as there wasn’t a chance of a fox hearing anything with all the cawing that was going on. After thirty seconds or so of silence, they lost interest and moved on up the valley. Each time I switched it back on, however, they came back for another look.

While all this was going on, I kept a close eye on the reeds – both those that were downwind of the caller, and those that bordered the nearby woods. About ten minutes later, I spotted a pale red object lurking deep in amongst them over towards the trees. At that point I raised the rifle and focused it on the area in question. There, creeping forwards stealthily was a fox. I waited until it’d come in a bit closer, then as it paused for a sniff, I put the reticle on its chest and released a round. There was a convincing ‘doof’ as it hit home – the fox’s legs simply buckled and it fell on the spot. I do love the .204 Ruger!

It was now Paul’s turn, so he had his rifle ready while I watched and scanned with the binos. In the end the light started to fade though, so we had to accept that it was time to pack up and move on. At this stage he only had daylight optics, so once it got dark he was only able to watch – that situation didn’t last long though as he was thoroughly hooked on using night vision equipment. Before heading off, I retrieved my Nikon DSLR and tripod from the truck and went over to record the demise of my latest quarry. When I got there, I found that the fox I’d shot was a medium-sized vixen – although she wasn’t particularly heavily built, she did have a very good body weight. Since her teeth were quite worn, I suspect that she had some age to her. I took some tooth samples to see if I could later determine exactly how old she was, then carried her carcass back to the yard for the farmer to dispose of.

After checking that nothing was anywhere near the bait, we drove back to the main part of the farm, and had a good look around there. At one point I pulled over and we jumped out to see what was about. No sooner had we done so than a set of fox eyes appeared in the light from the NV’s illuminator. I frantically tried to get my sticks and rifle out, but by the time I’d done so, it was disappearing into a hedge. We did our best to find a suitable place for the caller, but due to the way the land dives down into steep goyles (small ravines), we weren’t able to do so. We tracked it for a while as it meandered its way along the hill on the opposite side, but as this was off-permission, we had to let it go. We think it came out of the farm buildings, so presumably it goes in for a regular fill of cattle feed before setting off on its nightly travels. If it does this every evening, we’ll be waiting for it next time we go over…

As time went on, it got darker and darker. The black rain clouds combined with the complete absence of a moon to shut out any starlight. While this is normally a good thing for a foxer, the problem was that the humidity kept rising too – eventually a light mist formed, so our visibility was considerably reduced. Having satisfied ourselves that we couldn’t do any more where we were, we returned to see if the bait had brought anything in.

We coasted down into the yard on side lights, and cut the engine at the first opportunity. Gathering our things, we tip-toed over to see if anything was there. We’d placed the bait about a hundred yards from the gate, but the field we’d put it in was enormous, stretching out about a quarter of a mile. Pretty well all of it was within sight – a rare luxury in this part of the world, so we gave the area a thorough scanning with the thermal imaging kit. There was nothing close in, but a strong heat signature revealed a fox trotting towards the far hedge. Within seconds it had disappeared from sight, so I wanted to try and call it back. Whether it’d found the bait or not I can’t say – I’d have thought not, as you’d have expected it to have stayed for a good feed if it had.

Instead of risking waking the dead by opening the screechy steel gate, I climbed the wooden fence next to it. Thanks to all the rain, this was as slippery as hell, so it was a good job that Paul was holding my rifle for me. Having regained terra firma, I counted out 90 paces and stuck the caller’s mounting spike into the soft soil. I’d switched the unit on as I’d walked out, and while I was doing it set the aerial into the vertical position. This minimised the amount of time I spent in the calling zone, thus reducing the risk of any scent persisting.

Retreating back to the gate, I retrieved my sticks from Paul and then set myself up under the nearby hedge. I was now using my night vision rifle – a Sauer .22-250, so when I was satisfied that everything was adjusted to my satisfaction I started the caller going on ‘screaming rat’. As I looked around with the mini-thermal I could see that there were several rabbits out, but nothing else showed up on the viewing screen. Within seconds, however, an owl landed nearby and started shouting in protest at the rodent sounds. I ignored it and carried on scanning.

Around ten minutes later, I picked up a white blob some three hundred yards or more away. It was bouncing up and down as though it was in a real hurry, and heading straight for me. That could mean only one thing – it was a fox, and I needed to get my act together very quickly. The first thing was to mute the caller – that way the fox would have to stop to look around rather than run straight onto, with the consequent risk that it’d scent human and run away.

That done, the next thing was to switch the NV riflescope and laser on to get a positive ID. Sure enough, the fox was now about two hundred yards out and closing fast. Happy that my quarry’s identity had been confirmed, I eased the safety off, and waited for it to get a little closer. At about a hundred and fifty yards it sat back on its haunches to review the situation, but as I lined the reticle up, it jumped forward, clearly unhappy with things. It then paused sideways-on in mid-step. That was my cue, and a ballistic-tip round whacked it hard, knocking it off its feet.

Before going over to check it out, I ran the caller for another few minutes in order to satisfy myself that nothing else was going to show. With no sign of any other vulpine attendees, I walked over to the area where my quarry had fallen, but it was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, the thermal eventually located it, lying in grass that was just long enough to hide it from view. It was a large male, and, like the vixen from earlier in the evening, it had a good few years behind it. Once again, I took some tooth samples and then dragged it back to the yard.

All in all, although we’d spent some time sitting around waiting for the rain to stop, it had been a productive session, and we returned home satisfied that we’d done a good job.

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