Fox shooting is generally a night-time activity, and most of Gary Green’s work is done in the dark. But foxes don’t keep strict hours, and you can find one up and about at any time of the day or night. That’s a good job, because there are some places you simply can’t go letting off a gun in the middle of the night – places like the smallholding I visited recently with Gary.
The owner here has a real problem. His chickens and geese are regularly raided by marauding foxes from the surrounding farmland. He does what he can to protect them, but there are limits, both financial and practical, and sooner or later the foxes always find a way through his defences.
He would love to give Gary free rein to tackle the foxes 24/7, but he simply can’t. There are other houses nearby where folk wouldn’t take kindly to being woken by gunfire in the middle of the night. Plus there are horses stabled in the yard, and the farmer’s own dogs need their regular exercise. At least the land isn’t criss-crossed with public footpaths, although like many places there are a few locals who consider it their birthright to wander where they damn well please without regard to those who actually live and work on the land.
It all adds up to a very restricted window for Gary, but he does his best for the farmer, visiting when he can. That explains why we find ourselves climbing into a high seat under a scorching mid-afternoon sun – hardly ideal fox-calling conditions!
Gary sets great store by his Foxpro FX3 electronic caller. He ordered it direct from the US and was one of the first people in the UK to get one. He is particularly keen on the range of sounds built into the caller, his favourite being No.15, a ‘cottontail distress’ sound that seems to work very well on British foxes. The unit is rugged and reliable, and has the power to throw the sound well. Best of all, it is operated by a hand-held remote control. He places the caller unit at ground level – or in this case on an old upturned bathtub in the middle of the field, about 80 yards from the high seat which is built against the wall of a brick and tile barn.
This directs the attention of any approaching fox away from Gary himself and towards the caller, which is controlled via remote. Gary can switch sounds, change the volume, or stop the call mid-flow if he judges it might put the fox off.
With the call set up, Gary climbs into the high seat and gets ready, filling the magazine of his RPA rifle with Geco .223 Express 56-grain. He chambers a round and sets the safety catch. It feels a little stiff, but moves into the ‘safe’ position. The safety on this rifle is a lever with a knurled knob that sits just in front of the trigger. When it’s on ‘safe’ you can’t attempt to pull the trigger without your trigger finger encountering the safety, which saves the embarrassment of forgetting to release the catch. It also avoids the need to change your hold on the rifle to release the safety, keeping movement to a minimum.
He checks the picture through the scope, then looks all around, taking in the view from his commanding position. To the front, the field is rough pasture, with a few small patches of nettles and thistles. It rises gently towards the hedge about 200 yards away, beyond which is an arable field. Leading off from the top-left corner of the field is a wood, with an area of thick bramble where it joins the hedge up the left side of the field.
Before long the wildlife has forgotten the minor disturbance of Gary’s arrival. Rabbits come out to graze, and a woodpigeon swoops across the field to drink from the water trough near the high seat. Gary smiles as he notices goldfinches feeding on the downy-headed thistles beneath his feet, but quickly remembers why he’s here and reaches for the remote control.
He starts at low volume, in case there’s a fox close by. In similar situations, he has had foxes appear almost underneath the high seat, and he doesn’t want to alarm a nearby fox with a full blast of distressed cottontail.
After a few minutes at low volume Gary is convinced there is no fox nearby. If there had been one in the hedges, or lurking in the bramble thickets, it would have shown itself by now. Time to crank up the volume and reach out to the wood and beyond.
The call sounds unnaturally loud in the stillness of this baking summer’s day, but perhaps it is working. From the wood comes the alarm call of a single cock pheasant: “K’kok!” The call is repeated regularly. “If it’s every three seconds, it usually means there’s a predator about,” says Gary, and counts. “Yup, three seconds precisely. We could be in business.”
He keeps up the calling, his eyes scanning rapidly around the perimeter of the field but always returning to that top left corner by the wood. “Here we go,” he whispers. A rabbit has rushed into the open, then stopped bolt upright, looking back into the bramble.
Seconds later our fox appears, stepping nonchalantly on to the edge of the field, then lying down, stretching and yawning. It sits up, gives the rabbit a sideways glance, then has a good hard scratch behind its ear. It’s doing its best to look uninterested, but it’s clearly curious about the sound of the call and sets off across the top edge of the field at a trot.
Gary is using all his skill on the call to try to draw the fox in, but it’s not having it. It scampers past the call without stopping. Gary doesn’t want it to keep going and reach the cover of the hedge on the other side. “Oi!” he shouts, pushing off the safety catch.
The fox stops and looks about, searching frantically for the source of the sound. Gary lines up the crosshairs of the Swarovski scope, squeezes the trigger, and… nothing! The trigger is locked solid.
Time to think fast. Quickly he works the bolt and aims again. The fox still stands, staring. Bang, and it’s done. The fox drops on the spot, a clean kill.
What happened with the misfire? Gary isn’t sure. “I’m sure it was my fault, not the rifle,” he says. “I probably hadn’t chambered the round properly.” Still, he’s happy the job is done, and the farmer will be relieved too. The fox turns out to be a mature vixen, not one of this year’s cubs as Gary had first assumed. He measures out the shot at 171 yards, and notes the solid hit with satisfaction. “She never felt a thing,” he muses.
The farmer’s problems don’t start and end with a single vixen. Over time, though, his efforts pay off in the area. Not only are livestock losses down generally, but the lapwings are nesting again on the hill above the farm. “That’s a real result,” says Gary. “It shows we’re doing some good for the wildlife round here.” Gary Green