Foxing in the countryside is one thing. But foxing on the boundaries of your land, or near a nosy or fox-hugging neighbour, is quite another. Robert Bucknell shows you how to make it work in close quarters
Let’s face it: fox poaching isn’t a huge problem in the countryside. Pheasants certainly, deer, even hares, but foxes? Why would anyone want to poach a fox? You can’t eat it, and there’s no money to be made from a dead fox. Not these days anyway. Go back a few decades, when there was a big demand for fur clothing, and winter fox pelts were worth a pretty penny. In the 1970s you could get a fiver for a dead fox with the pelt on, and maybe £12-£15 for the pelt if you took the trouble to skin it yourself. I think the top price I ever heard for a fox pelt was £20. That was good money in those days, and some people actually made a living from it.
Nowadays, of course, everyone is wearing woolly hats with a furry pompom on top, or parkas with fur round the hood, but it’s fake fur. Or at least that’s what they want to believe. I gather there’s a problem with unscrupulous manufacturers using real fur instead because it’s cheaper than the fake stuff – and millennials are outraged they’re being duped into buying the real thing.
Anyway, back in the 1970s there was an incentive to poach foxes for the money – and it certainly happened on occasions. People would sneak onto someone else’s land and set snares to catch ‘their’ foxes, or go poaching foxes with a quiet firearm like a subsonic .22. I even heard of people shooting them in places like municipal parks. Back then there was no night vision, of course, let alone thermal, so the poacher either had to sneak about in daylight or risk giving the game away by shining a light to shoot by. Being out at 2am would have helped them avoid detection, of course.
The market for fox fur has dwindled to next to nothing now. If you scour the Game Fair you might find the odd fox fur hat for sale, but you certainly couldn’t make a living selling the pelts nowadays. Nevertheless there’s still an incentive to want to kill a neighbour’s fox now and again – usually because the blasted thing is using their land as a sanctuary and marauding on to your patch to attack gamebirds, wildlife or livestock.
If your neighbour is the right sort, the answer is simple: Explain the situation and get their permission to go after the troublesome Charlie. The problem is that not all neighbours have the same attitude to foxes. I’m relatively lucky in that most of the neighbouring ground is keepered, but inevitably there are places where we’re adjoining the gardens of houses in the village, or railroads run through the farm, allowing foxes an easy path into the middle of the ground.
Other people have much greater problems. Perhaps they’re next door to a wildlife reserve run by one of the charities that believe nature should be left alone to find its own ‘balance’, or their land backs on to a town that provides a steady supply of foxes reared on fast-food leftovers from a 24-hour McDonalds. Even miles from the town you might find yourself suffering at the hand of those caring souls who ‘rehabilitate’ orphaned cubs and road casualties, then release them ‘back into the wild’.
It might be tempting to do a spot of ‘fox poaching’, or at least bend the rules a little – but don’t. The consequences don’t bear thinking about. So what are your options? Well the good news is that foxes don’t belong to anyone. The moment one steps over the boundary, it’s yours to deal with as you see fit. If your neighbour won’t control their foxes, all you have to do is persuade Basil to pop over to your side, and you can do the job for him, completely legally and above board. Any beast or bird that is classed as wild and not domesticated can be caught or killed over land you have the ok on. The law says it is at the point that it comes into your hand when it is “rendered into the possession” of that person and becomes their property.
Actually getting the fox to come across to your land is easier said than done,
of course, but not beyond the wit of a competent fox shooter. Maybe you can’t let your bullet stray over the boundary, but there’s no law against letting an alluring scent drift on to your neighbour’s land, or the seductive noise from a call to tempt ‘their’ foxes to come over to where you can safely deal with them. A good bait point of scattered peanuts and dried cat food – containing fish if possible – will bring any fox in front of your trail camera. Not only will you get an idea of how many foxes are there, but also the timing of their arrival. A visit over the appropriate time and your troubles are dealt with.
Modern night vision aids allow you to be far subtler than before. A typical scenario might be on a farm behind a row of houses, where one or two of the householders are fond of foxes, putting out food for them. With thermal and digital night vision, you can sit quietly, biding your time, without attracting the unwelcome attention that comes from you shining a light around the place. To be really stealthy, choose a suitable calibre that will do the job without excessive noise. At short ranges, the .22 subsonic is a popular choice, but the .17 HMR is also worth considering. If you use an effective moderator there’s little muzzle blast, and the sound isn’t like the ‘boom’ people automatically associate with a rifle.
If you’re shooting near the boundary of a sensitive location, you do need to consider where the fox might end up. For instance, I’ve heard of people living in a row of houses that want to quietly knock off the odd fox in their garden, perhaps because they keep chickens. With a bit of care and planning, they could do the job unnoticed and perfectly safely – baiting the fox into a safe spot, then using a night vision scope and shooting down into the ground from an upstairs window. A patio light left on all night allows Charlie to get used to a light so he can be easily seen – but if you can see the fox, so can any neighbour. Better to use an infrared security lamp and night vision, but again, check that the people next door’s cameras can’t record what you have just done to ‘their’ fox!
Trapping may be a better option, but word can get out that a fox has been seen in a cage. Shooting and instant retrieval may be the best option. If a whole litter is involved, it is also quicker and with a lot less fuss to sit looking out of an upstairs window with your .22LR. My record is vixen, dog and five big cubs in the same night from a back garden right in the middle of a large town. The only comment from the neighbours was that those nice foxes must have all grown up and moved away. And the garden owner’s only comment was that his pet bantams were much safer.
The problem comes when a mortally wounded fox manages to make a last- minute dash over your boundary to finally expire on your fox-loving neighbour’s patio. Everything you have done is legal, but it is still likely to cause a serious rift in the neighbourhood! A good answer is to be patient and only place rounds into the brain. At relatively short range of under 50 yards there’s very little ‘crack’, so it’s possible to use it without undue disturbance. With .22LR the most noise will come from the bullet strike; I have used CB caps occasionally, in a bolt action, to avoid this sound. At a few yards the little solids will still do an excellent job, it’s safer, and the light doesn’t come on from next door’s bedroom window.
Putting the victim into a dustbin liner at the earliest opportunity is also a good idea, along with some warm, soapy water and a brush to remove the inevitable bloodstains before they set. Never leave anything until the morning; thermal vision is brilliant in surreptitiously finding the bodies, and will even pick up fresh bloodstains. A good head torch can also be handy as it only shines light directly to where you are looking. I have found Sniper Systems torches to be excellent for the job; my first one has been going strong for four years now.
Contrast all that with a story I heard some time ago, of a farmer who is a fan of long-range shooting with a .50 calibre. He phoned up his neighbour who lived half a mile away and said, “You’ve got a fox in the back paddock – do you mind if I shoot it?”
“No problem at all, when are you coming round?” was the reply. “No need, I’ll do it from here – it’s only 760 yards!” With a .50 cal, of course, there’s little chance of any fox being hit and rushing off before it dies.
That’s all well and good when your neighbours take the same view of foxes as you do, and are happy to give permission for you to shoot foxes on their land. Whether or not that is the case for you, always use your patience and skill to solve the problem. Never give in to temptation and go breaking the law or risk upsetting the neighbours – it could all too easily end in you losing your certificate, and what would you do about marauding foxes then?