Unwanted visitor

Fox predation always happens at the worst possible time, as Mark Ripley finds as he’s called to deal with a vulpine raider at the zoo…

With the lambing season about to get under way on the farm, the last thing I really needed was a problem fox anywhere else…

Readers may remember from a previous article last year I dealt with a number of foxes around a local zoo. A few of them had gotten into one of the zoo enclosures and killed some exotic birds, as well as a flamingo the previous year.

Since then I’ve kept an eye on things when I can, as well as the zoo investing in some trail cameras, which they monitor regularly, as well as all members of staff being on the lookout for signs of foxes.

I received an email from the head keeper to say there had been signs of a fox by way of scats in the car park and a pile of pigeon feathers in the field behind the zoo. I agreed to take a look and headed over soon after.

Last year I had erected a double high seat, made out of scaffolding, against the rear perimeter fence of the zoo. The seat overlooks a couple of small fields that the zoo rents to home some of their larger animals, like Shetland ponies and a few llamas.

I placed my Fox Pro caller out in the field one evening after dark, about 60 yards from the high seat, before getting myself comfortable. I had my .223 with me and my Drone Pro night scope. After a quick check that everything was working, I settled down for the evening in wait.

I tried the ‘fox rally’ call and before long a dog fox bounded in from the left in textbook style – it was almost easy.

I muted the caller and flicked on the scope only to find the battery had suddenly gone flat! I always carry a spare set of batteries in my pocket and as quickly and quietly as I could I changed them in the dark.

I thought the opportunity must have passed by the time I had the thing back up and running again, but to my surprise the fox was now moving along the fence line to my right, away from me. Quickly getting on to it, I waited for it to pause to sniff something in the grass before dropping it in an instant at around 110 yards.

I put the caller on for a while longer but nothing else showed so, happy that I’d dealt with the resident fox, I headed on to another farm on my rounds. However, a few days later I received another email to say they had seen another fox on the trail cameras around the zoo for two nights.

With dusk being around 5pm this time of year, I popped into the zoo to put out some bait in the rear field, and decided that as darkness was drawing in, and I was still ‘armed’, I’d hang around for an hour or so.

I often find dusk to be a productive time. Sure enough, as the dusk closed in, through the thermal, I spotted a fox cross a field some 400 yards away from me and heading away from the zoo. I then watched as it trotted around the edge of the field. Next it came back towards me alongside the busy A-road on the edge of the field.

Despite the road being busy with rush-hour traffic, this fox trotted nonchalantly along, just a couple of yards from the cars for 300 or so yards. Soon after, it ducked into the car park behind me out of sight. The whole time it had the road behind it, preventing any chance of a shot.

I decided to better my chances of drawing a fox in the next evening by scattering some dog food around and pegging down a dead pheasant carcase within 100 yards of the high seat.

Shortly after it began to get dark, the zoo’s tannoy announced that any remaining visitors would need to leave the car park to avoid being locked in. But at this time of year even the most die-hard animal lovers had managed to strap down their tired toddlers into car seats and leave. The zoo was eerily quiet, aside from a few keepers left to lock up for the evening.

The scene of the crime from the high seat

Within a couple of minutes of the announcement, a fox slipped from the brambles in the ditch behind the zoo’s fence, stretched and trotted out across the fields. I watched as it went out to the same field as I’d seen the one in the day before (most likely the same fox), but this time it headed out in the opposite direction – towards some not-so-distant farm buildings. Not having a lot of time spare that evening, I had to again leave it.

The next afternoon, I put some more bait out, noticing the pheasant had been taken, leaving only the peg in the ground. I replaced it with another that, like the first, had been badly mauled by an overzealous spaniel on a recent shoot.

Sitting out again as darkness fell, the tannoy crackled to life, seemingly to act as the fox’s alarm clock, and it emerged from the ditch and headed out into the field.

I had plenty of time to line up on it and had a good rest on the platform on the front of the high seat using the bipod. As the fox nosed around in the grass, around 150 yards from me, as it turned sideways I gently squeezed the trigger. To my surprise, instead of slumping in a heap it spun around looking to see what the sudden noise was.

Not your ordinary visit to the zoo! Mark sets up ready to intercept any predators

I quickly chambered another round, wondering what had gone wrong, and fired again. Again the fox jumped, but clearly not hit, decided it had had enough of the strange loud noises and trotted off across the field.

Clearly something was amiss, so pinning a bit of paper to the fence 50 yards away. I fired a three-shot group. On inspecting the paper. it was unmarked, showing the scope was obviously way off zero and must have taken a knock. That, or something had come loose.

Not having time to re-zero the scope. I returned the next evening armed with the trusty .260 Rem and a new bit of kit I’ve been using lately, the Pard NV007. This is a really cheap little add on night-vision unit that was exceptionally good value for money and a very compact and handy little unit, usable out to over 200 yards. Along with this I was also testing the Sirius XT infra-red torch from Lightbuilds, which is also an awesome unit and certainly one of the best IRs on the market.

Arriving at the zoo just before dark, I put out a can of dog food, noticing that the pheasant I had pegged out the day before was untouched. I climbed into the high seat and quickly attached the Pard and Sirius XT to the rifle and sat back in wait. Shortly afterwards, once the last of the light had faded, the tannoy once again came to life – reminding the last of the visitors it was time to leave.

The Pard 007 NV adds neatly to the back of your day scope, giving 200+ yard capabilities

I had already checked the car park and only the familiar staff cars remained; being a windy evening with the first drops of light rain setting in for the evening, even the most ‘value for money’ visitors had long since left.

No sooner had the announcement finished than a fox was suddenly in the middle of the small field, headed away from the zoo. Quickly firing up the Pard, I picked up the fox sniffing in the grass. As I watched, it snuffled out a chunk of dog food and stopped to eat it.

The food never reached its stomach as a 143gn Hornady ELD-X bullet ripped through its chest, killing it instantly. As the rain began to come down more heavily I packed up, content that I had got the fox I was after.

I climbed down and walked out to collect a warm and dry dog fox from the field – this fox had found somewhere cosy to sleep the day away within the boundaries of the zoo. It was almost certainly the same fox they had seen on the cameras.

With the dog foxes roaming around crossing territories looking for a suitable vixen, this void will soon be filled by another fox and I will receive an email or phone call to deal with it. In the meantime I will be doing my best in between lambing duties to keep an eye on things and try to nip any future problems in the bud.

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