It would be fair to say that there are three main ways of going about controlling foxes: walking the fields, driving across them in a vehicle, or waiting in one particular spot for them to arrive, either by accident or design. All three methods can get results, but much depends on your own particular approach to fox shooting, together with the type of ground you are covering. There are a few other methods of fox control such as driving, trapping, and snaring, but compared with the ones above these are rather more restricted to keepers and professional fox controllers.
Over the many years I have been involved with fox control, I have found more and more that shooting from static positions can be more productive, and certainly uses a lot less energy, than some of the other methods! I will confess that as I get older the thought of covering the vast acreages on foot that I did many years ago really doesn’t have the same appeal that it did back then. In truth however, I have found that providing you are blessed with considerable quantities of patience, waiting for your fox to come to you is a highly effective way of dealing with, in particular, specific foxes (those causing disruption to livestock) which is what brings them into conflict with us humans.
I will take an in-depth look at the various ways of shooting from a static position and how it can help get on top of the fox population, particularly where it’s necessary to remove specific animals. Today there are a lot of people who just want to shoot foxes no matter if they are causing damage or not; I am not about to pontificate as to the rights or wrongs of this, it’s entirely up to the individual. In my own case I am kept extremely busy dealing with foxes that are causing problems, so chasing about the countryside after any old fox is not for me!
One method of static shooting you’ll often read about is high seats. Certainly, an easily portable high seat can have its uses, and for years I have used this method when there are no alternatives on offer. As with all types of static shooting, positioning is critical, and the slight problem with a lean-to high seat can be not only finding the ideal spot that covers the most likely location in which the fox may appear, but locating a suitable tree to set the high seat against. More often than not, locating the ideal spot to set up a high seat can be frustrating. Another downside to the high seat method is that sadly, today there is an ever-increasing tendency for such items to “walk” if not secured. Of course, the big advantage a high seat affords is that they offer far more in the way of safe shots, particularly in flat country, and there are times when a high seat can prove useful.
Perhaps the most obvious method of static shooting is from a hide, located more often than not in cover, in the area the fox is most likely to appear. This has the undoubted advantage of allowing you to be in exactly the right place. This is ideal, particularly when mopping up early season cubs when the weather is generally kind, but in the depths of winter there are definite disadvantages.
As with any shooting from a particular spot, safety has to be first and foremost. A study of the shooting area during daylight hours is essential, not only to ascertain the likely directions your fox may appear from, but also to check out buildings, ditches and other features that after dark could be invisible. I well remember someone I knew many years ago that didn’t check out the extremely rough smallholding he was shooting over, and unfortunately managed to put a .243 round through not only a rough old rusty pig ark that was deep in the nettles, but also the pot bellied pig that lived in it – not quite the outcome the smallholder was looking for! The rules of safety when static shooting apply whether you are in a temporary hedge hide or similar, or a vehicle.
Temporary hedge hides can be simple in the extreme. I always carry a piece of camo netting and three hide poles and this is quite adequate to conceal yourself behind, particularly if you can back into a hedge or place yourself against a tree. Of course, if you are likely to use the same spot on a regular basis you can go a bit further and make a decent semi-permanent hide. Comfort is essential as you may well be in situ for a considerable length of time. One of the cheap, three legged, fishing type stools can come in really useful, and I also carry a shooting stick, which again can help make life that little bit more comfortable. I personally use hedge hides when the vehicle option isn’t available.
Turning to the vehicle “hide”, as time passes I find this method getting more and more productive. There was a time years ago when a vehicle parked in a field would have any fox heading for the horizon, and I have little doubt there are places where that still applies. However, in much of our countryside today foxes tend to completely ignore vehicles as for most of them, apart from on the road, vehicles present no threat to them whatsoever, and to a degree that also applies to human scent as well. I think I have mentioned before that it is quite commonplace these days where silage or corn crops have been cut, and the tractors, trailers, cans of diesel and other items are left out overnight, to see foxes examining them at close quarters and even scent marking them, something that would have been a very rare sight not too many years ago. Fox habits change over time, and it pays to understand these changes and make the most of them.
I now shoot most foxes from my Hilux; not only does it make life a lot easier, it really works! As I said earlier, I have no doubt there are places, particularly where isolation means the foxes are not used to vehicles, where shooting from a parked vehicle would not be a good option, but compared with suitable sites these are few and far between. Many of the rules that apply to shooting from hides and high seats apply to shooting from your vehicle. Reconnaissance of the ground is important, again with safety in mind; buildings, backstops, rights of way/footpaths and so on must be located and remembered. It’s all well and good going out in daylight but it’s a very different world after dark, and safety must be paramount.
The sort of place you will look for is where, obviously, you have a safe field of fire, one which covers the area you are likely to spot your fox in. The vehicle (preferably not a light-coloured model) should be parked against a dark background, such as a hedge or large tree, anything that slightly masks it. If you are shooting from smallholdings or farmyards then just park where other vehicles are. Assuming you are out in the countryside, the best time during the summer months to be out is an hour or so before first dark, but get in position at least half an hour before then. It’s always better to be in position before foxes become active, as if you arrive too late there’s a fair chance you will be spotted and your chances of success will be reduced.
Dark clothing should be worn, and without a doubt a face veil is almost essential, especially if there’s any moon showing. Moonlight reflects from our faces and can be seen by foxes from a considerable distance. Foxes will tolerate vehicles to a remarkable extent, but not if there’s a highly visible human head bobbing about inside.
I always shoot from the passenger side back seat with the spotter sitting in the front passenger seat. If you are left-handed you will want to shoot from the other side. Slide a piece of polystyrene pipe lagging over the window glass and adjust the window height so that it’s ideal for the area you are likely to shoot over. Do remember that if you are going to switch to night vision as the evening wears on, you will need to adjust the window height to allow the IR torch to be used. Most of my set ups allow the IR to be side mounted. Turn the interior light off and, if you are going to have the radio on (low volume of course), unless you are able to turn off the illumination (I can’t) a piece of heavy cloth will keep everything dark.
As I said earlier, movement and light reflection are the biggest obstacles to success when shooting from a truck. This can be a problem when mounting the rifle, should a fox suddenly appear from nowhere (as they do), and struggling to get the rifle mounted on the window and lined up with the fox will, all too often, alert the fox and it will be off. Clearly, if you are sitting in one position for some considerable time you won’t want to be physically holding the rifle for several hours on end. What I do is to rest the rifle on the padded top of the window and use a length of baler cord tied to the front headrest post forming a loop that the stock fits into. Should a fox suddenly turn up all that is needed is to slip the rifle forward out of the loop and you’re ready to go with the minimum of movement.
Just recently I was sent a bottle of “fox lure” spray from Best Fox Call to try out. Without a doubt it works well but, as in all matters fox, not every time! On a nearby smallholding that attracts foxes like bees to a honey pot I have sprayed the somewhat dodgy-smelling liquid onto a gatepost and three out of the last four foxes stopped to sniff the post, giving the opportunity of a shot. If you do use the spray, pick an obvious place that a fox would naturally use as a marking point. As mentioned, gateposts are a good choice, as are large boulders, isolated bushes, ditched farm machinery – in fact, any spot that stands out from the surrounding terrain. It will be interesting to find out if it works better at any particular time of year, such as after harvest and during mating time.
Using a caller can also give excellent results; digital callers can be set up in a safe spot at a known distance and used sporadically. Try to place it away from cover as foxes will often approach cautiously, particularly during daylight, and will often be reluctant to leave the shelter of undergrowth. If calling in daylight constantly check field and woodland margins as foxes will often sit, partially concealed there, often for some considerable time before deciding to approach the caller. Calling from static positions, wherever they are, is generally more successful with a digital caller set some 80-100 yards away. Mouth calls, although they work well, will often have the fox appearing right beside you as their ability to locate exactly where the call is coming from is remarkable.
There is no doubt in my mind that shooting from a fixed point works, and works well. When I started out all those years ago it would have been laughable to expect foxes to come anywhere near what vehicles there were in those days – today things have changed, and certain things that foxes would have shunned are now part and parcel of their everyday lives. Static shooting is not for everyone, as considerable lengths of time may need to be spent just waiting. However, with the arrival of thermal imagers, night vision and the like, there is always something to watch and the buzz I get when finally the fox I am after suddenly appears never goes away, and I doubt it ever will.