James Marchington joins pro-foxer Gary Green on the hunt for a fox family plaguing the farmer’s chickens.
Gary Green has a number of foxing permissions within striking distance of his home in Essex. They range from the huge free-range poultry farm featured in last month’s issue to a couple of smallholdings with just a handful of birds each. The numbers may be different, but the smallholders care every bit as much about their birds – indeed, the loss of a single bird is far more significant when you own 12 rather than 12,000.
One of those smallholdings is a constant problem for Gary. It seems that every time he turns his back, another fox moves in. Recently, the farmer called up at the end of his tether. Since Gary’s last visit a fox – or perhaps foxes – had been breaking in and taking his chickens.
The farmer had lost a handful of birds, at which point he called enough and shut the birds in their coop. They hadn’t been allowed out since. It was a temporary solution, but not one he could use indefinitely. The birds needed to get outside and scratch about, like chickens are supposed to.
Gary applied his fox-detective skills, honed over many years of controlling foxes in all sorts of situations. He quickly found a gap in the hedge where he thought the foxes must be coming through. There was plenty of fox scat in and around the hedge, which supported his theory. It looked like a family with cubs was to blame.
Next step was to sort out a firing point that would give him a clear view and a safe shot. With the lie of the land not in his favour, Gary moved one of his high seats into position using a big, mature oak tree as support. Its branches would give him a bit of cover, supplemented by a piece of camouflage net draped from the shooting rail to hide his lower body and legs.
He used his favoured method of rigging up a small floodlight to cast a light out across the area where he expected the fox to appear. The light is very dim, but just enough to see a fox moving in by the glint of its eyes. As the fox approaches the bait point, at 100 yards or so, the light is enough for a proper identification and an accurate shot through his Swarovski Z6i scope, without the need for any extra lamps or night vision gear. This spot was some way from mains power, so Gary had to chain together a few extension leads to reach the farm buildings and plug it in. The light is a security lamp from a DIY store and comes with a built-in day/night sensor. That saves electricity during the day, but turns on the light before darkness falls. The foxes soon learn that the light is always there, and get used to ignoring it as they come and go.
On the first night Gary got into position and a fox showed itself within ten minutes. This could be the quickest fox control job he’s ever undertaken! What Gary assumes to be the vixen appears at the top corner of the field. He can see her clearly through the scope but the shot isn’t safe. Even though the high seat, lamp and bait have been in place for a few days now, this fox seems very cautious of the additions to the scene, and melts back into the wood. Gary waits, knowing there’s every chance she will reappear before too long.
Sure enough, she does, this time a bit further along where the safety margins are good. Gary is ready and eases the RPA .223 into position. The illuminated aiming dot of the Z6i is already switched on and Gary quickly lines up and fires. The reassuring thump of impact is missing but Gary can see what’s happened. The bullet has broken up on a piece of grass just in front of the fox. She jumps and spins, but falls dead just a couple of yards away from where she was hit.
Gary reloads quietly and waits. There’s no point creating any more disturbance, as there could be other foxes in the area. Another 40 minutes pass before the dog fox appears, very close to where the vixen lies still. He seems less cautious though, and moves towards the bait. Gary lets him come – no point in making this any harder than necessary.
He tracks the dog through the scope as it trots in towards the bait. When it reaches the halfway mark he gives a small squeak. The fox stands broadside, offering a perfect shot, and as the bullet strikes he falls dead on the spot.
With the dog and vixen dealt with, Gary’s attention turns to the cubs. By now they should be fully coloured and look like small adults. Perhaps they will come out later. Three hours pass, and as the clock strikes 2.45am Gary decides to call it a night, surprised the cubs haven’t shown.
Gary knows there are no guarantees with foxing, but he’s as confident as he can be that there are cubs about at the smallholding, and they will appear at some point the following night. Wanting to give his brother some sport, he puts him into the ‘guaranteed’ spot and takes himself off to sit in another high seat at the other side of the farm.
Three hours later they’ve both seen nothing. They head home empty-handed, but determined to come back the next day. Surely the cubs will show then. But they don’t, and it’s the same story over again – and Gary’s brother can’t try again because he’s back to work and doing late nights.
Gary can’t afford to leave the job half done though – the chickens are still locked indoors and the sound of them scratching at the door is preying on his mind. Back he goes on Monday for his fourth night in a row.
He’s been in the seat for close to two hours when, at 8.40pm, a fox strolls in like it owns the place and walks boldly up to the bait point. Bang – it’s down. Gary reloads and waits. An hour and 20 minutes later the next one comes; down it goes. Another hour passes, and the same thing happens. Gary waits a while longer, but by 1.15am he is starting to see shadows of foxes that aren’t there, and decides to call it a night.
That should be it, thinks Gary, but he wants to make sure. He returns the next evening expecting to see nothing – but to his surprise he shoots two more in a couple of hours. Surely that’s it now!
He’s back again on Thursday and Friday night to be quite certain. Nothing stirs, not even an alarm call from the ever-vigilent local owls. It’s looking good, and the farmer confirms that the bait hasn’t been touched. Fingers crossed!
Two weeks later, the chickens are enjoying sunshine and freedom. Gary is even enjoying the odd early night himself, although for him ‘early’ means anything before midnight. It seems his week of perseverance has paid off, but he’s confident it won’t be long before a new fox moves into the area and the farmer is back on the phone again!