14th October 2012
The next night Paul and I went back for another go. We arrived just as it started to get dark, and hadn’t even got halfway down the lane before we spotted a fox on the track ahead of us. We baled out in short order, but it was gone by the time we were ready. We tried to find a spot that would be suitable for the caller, but once again the severe ground curvature defeated us. In the end we had to go some way further on and position ourselves on the side of a steep hill looking down into a small flat area below.
In spite of repeated attempts, however, we didn’t manage to bring any foxes in, even though I tried a wide variety of both prey and fox calls. The lack of success was probably because I’ve used the caller a lot on the farm next door, and the foxes in the area now know what danger sounds like… As we packed up and made our way back up the hill, however, Paul spotted a large fox moving quickly across the opposite hillside. As this was both directly downwind of us and a long way out, it was quite clear that going after it would have been futile, so we left it for another night.
We decided that instead we would revert to stealthily creeping about and watching for likely targets. I was after one fox in particular – the one that had come out of the farm buildings the night before and made it to cover before I had got myself ready. We checked the relevant areas carefully with the thermal, but this was very difficult as there was an extensive dung-pile in the way. This was putting out a significant amount of warmth, thus making it very difficult to distinguish any nearby animals. There was, however, no mistaking the fact that there was a distinct white heat signature sitting on the top of it.
Switching to the NV spotter, I could see it had eyes, so it was definitely an animal of some sort. The question though, was whether I was seeing Monsieur Le Reynard or simply just a large cat or a dog. There was no doubting that the farmer’s family wouldn’t be impressed if we shot one of their pets by mistake. Just as we were debating its identity, a car came down the drive and pulled into the yard. As it did so, the animal dived for cover. Its actions were very suspicious, but it was now out of sight.
About thirty seconds later, however, we spotted a fox out in the field just to the left of the buildings. This was almost certainly the same individual – and as it followed pretty well the same path as the one we’d seen the previous night, it was odds-on that is was my intended quarry. I already had the sticks out and the rifle on top, so all I had to do was to get the scope’s focus sorted, and I was ready. I could see that the fox had to come towards us before it could curve off and disappear into the undergrowth, so I waited my moment and then dropped it with a resounding thump.
Since the carcass was now lying at the bottom of the hill, we decided it would be smarter to retrieve it from the other side. We knew the ground we’d be covering was often frequented by foxes, so we hoped there might be the chance of another shot. We could hear a quad off in the distance in the direction of the other part of the farm where we’d shot the foxes the previous night. I wasn’t sure if it was the farmer – but then I heard the crack of a small rifle, which sounded very much like an HMR. That meant it was probably Andy, the chap who had initially given us the introduction to this permission. Not only would it be diplomatic to stay out of his way on the main part of the farm, but since he’d have been lamping rabbits for his hawks, everything else would have been scared off. That gave us further incentive to carry on where we were.
We decided to drive up the farm lane so that we could park next to the gate that gave access to the area we were interested in. A quick check with the spotter revealed there were some bunnies about, but at first we couldn’t see any foxes. I then opened the gate, and went through on foot, scanning about with the thermal. One of the downsides of using this equipment is that you get almost no sense of perspective, so a bunny at thirty feet looks about the same size as a cow does at four hundred yards. Consequently, as the bunnies were dashing about in response to my approach, I had some trouble working out just what was going on.
In amongst all the hopping shapes, however, was a silhouette that appeared to be much more vulpine than the other creatures, so I got the rifle up and double-checked – yes, it was as I thought, another fox. It was trotting towards me – luckily the wind was slightly off-axis, and it hadn’t scented me. Just as I was getting ready to take a shot though, Paul – who didn’t know that I’d spotted anything, decided that he’d bring the Land Rover into the field. This completely threw the fox, which first ran one way, then turned and ran the other. I was doing my best to track it in the NV riflescope, but it wasn’t until Paul parked up that the fox sat back to survey the scenery.
Since the truck was well behind me there were no safety concerns, but just as I got lined up, my intended quarry suddenly made a break for the hedge to my right. Frustrated by its nervousness, I followed it – the moment it paused, I whacked it. Walking over I found that my bullet had blown a large chunk out of its back. It was clearly a good humane kill, but all the same it was far too messy to be included in my foxing book, so I took a couple of quick snaps with my pocket camera for the records, and dragged the carcass – that of a young vixen, back to the gate.
After checking the terrain again, we drove down the hill to the next gate. From there on we would go on foot, so I decided it was Paul’s turn to take over the shooting. I therefore climbed over the gate while he got himself sorted out. A quick scan with the thermal revealed that there was a fox on the hill above me, about eighty yards out. I tip-toed back to the gate and hissed at Paul that there was a fox waiting for him. He handed me the sticks and rifle as he climbed over, then followed my instruction as to where it was. He got himself lined up, and then ‘click’. He’d forgotten to load a round into the chamber…
By now the fox had realised that there was something going on, and it kept looking nervously between us and its intended exit route. Meanwhile Paul was trying to cycle the bolt as quietly as he could. Each time he made a noise, the fox jumped and ran a bit further away. Somehow, he also managed to drop an empty case – it clattered on the stones at his feet. Both of us were doing our best to suppress the giggles. Eventually, he was ready to take a shot – all the while I was watching the fox through the thermal. When the bullet hit it, I saw an impressive spray of hot tissue come out of the other side. There was no doubting that this one was out of action. Once again, it was a vixen. I was, of course, thoroughly sympathetic to his pre-shot fumblings, sensitively grumbling such things as ‘Mr Covert strikes again’…
We then continued down the hill to retrieve the first carcass – which also turned out to be a vixen. After checking the carcass over we dragged it back up the hill, picked up Paul’s one, and returned to the truck. We were happy with having shot a further three foxes. Taking five over our first weekend on a new permission would not only earn us loads of Brownie points with the farmer, but also with John who rears free-range organic chickens next door (who I also shoot for). Then there’s the bloke with the duck farm two fields away over on the other side of the lane, and Andy, who rears both pheasants and partridges just up the road. Hoping they’d be pleased with the fruits of our hard work, we headed home.