As we move through the busy winter period, foxing aficionado Mike Powell presents his various fox control methods
A heavy snowfall often means the stalking rifle is left in the cabinet, but for those of us with time-sapping work commitments, every opportunity to be out with the rifle and keep up with one’s cull plan must be taken – so let’s look at the practicalities of stalking in the snow.
I tended to ease off the foxes from March, as their pelts are nigh on worthless during the summer. As I relied on the months from October through to March – when the foxes have grown their winter pelts – to produce a year’s income I knew I was in for a very busy time.
I intend to examine the pelts of the foxes I shoot from now on as I suspect the heavy winter skins will be a bit later these days, as we no longer get the clearly demarcated seasons that we had years ago. However, old habits die hard and as we hit October all the old memories come flooding back.
I was keepering through very different times and methods since those far off days have changed out of all recognition; even foxes’ habits have undergone clear changes as humans continue to impact on the countryside – rarely for the better I have to say.
However, looking forward to the ‘proper’ foxing season, I will take you through how we go about using the main modern methods and some of the old ways that worked well then – and still do now!
Mike and the mechanics
Perhaps the most obvious change and, without a doubt, the best one especially as the years pass, is the ability to travel across country in a vehicle. I started my fox and rabbit career before the general public had off road transport.
Farmers did have a few off road vehicles, mainly converted and extremely battered road cars, but in 1948 the first real off roader appeared – the Land Rover.
In this part of the world they were few and far between and it would be many years before I was in a position to take to the fields of Devon using anything other than my legs!
Today we take off roaders for granted but believe me when I say having the ability to get off road in a vehicle was a huge step forward. So putting thoughts of the “old days” behind me how do I and my trusty shooting partner Callum go about our fox shooting activities now?
In many ways it is much, much easier. For a start I can cover an area that would have taken me all night in just over an hour. More often than not I am out half an hour before dark and am home well before midnight. I get almost as many foxes in the first three hours of darkness as I used to during the all night hunts.
Now, the only pressure I’m under is to deal with the foxes that are causing people trouble, unlike the pelt hunting days when, for six months, every fox was a target.
Obviously the most usual call outs are where attacks have been made on poultry, lamb, game and occasionally, pets and exotics; the latter are usually tropical birds in aviaries.
Know your enemy
By far and away most requests for help are where poultry damage has been caused. In those cases the techniques are fairly straightforward involving selecting a suitable spot and waiting for the culprit to turn up.
That may seem fairly basic, but the choice of spot to wait in and ensuring that, as and when the fox arrives a shot can be safely taken, takes some sorting out.
Every case is different and the problems to overcome can, on occasions, be quite complex. Eventually though a pattern emerges and you get a “feel” where the most likely spot will be to get the job done.
As I’ve said before, I see no point in just going out and shooting foxes on a random basis where one has been causing damage. You need to get the right one. I am fully aware that almost every fox is more than capable of taking poultry but in reality the majority of country foxes steer clear of human activity and go about their business causing us no problems.
I take advantage of the fact that once a fox has taken a chicken there is every likelihood that it will return. In almost every case we get called out to I will ask that everything be left as it is, as there is every possibility the fox will return within 48 hours.
I find that poultry killers are the easiest to deal with in some ways, yet the very location of the attacks can cause major problems, mainly involving safety. A choice of guns can often help and sometimes rifles that would not normally be classed as suitable for fox can be the very ones to get the job done.
Protecting lambs is generally far more straightforward than where poultry are concerned. For a start, things are out in the open and you don’t have the constraint of buildings.
When after lamb killers/scavengers, it very often it pays if you are equipped with a thermal spotter to do a bit of survey work before getting down to the serious stuff.
Parking up on a high spot (if you have one) that gives a good overview of the lambing area should give you a pretty good indication of where the foxes are coming from – you can then decide the best place to wait.
Flock, stock and a smoking barrel
There has always been a certain degree of controversy as to just how many healthy lambs are killed by foxes.
There is no doubt in my mind that healthy young lambs can be killed by foxes, and occasionally older lambs too, but much of their activity around the lambing field is base on scavenging.
Nevertheless they put the flock under stress as anyone who has observed ewes’ reactions to foxes when they are amongst the flock will verify.
Once fox activity has been spotted, I know there is a strong desire among shooters to get the rifle out at the first opportunity and go after the predator.
However, in the same way as experienced pigeon shooters will spend time observing flight lines, some time spent just watching fox activity will pay dividends. Incidentally, I’m not suggesting you leave the rifle at home on these reconnoitring items, you never know, a chance may just offer itself!
Hide and seek
When after a fox that’s been bothering the sheep I find that a couple of hide poles and a bit of camo netting can be a very good way of getting into the best position to shoot from.
We set up the very temporary hide and this bit of cover allows you to move around without being seen, which, if the wait is a long one, can make life that much easier – especially on a cold night. I also sometimes take one of those three legged folding stools which again helps on the comfort front.
The thermal will work well enough through the mesh of most camo nets to give you a tip-off when a fox arrives. Then, if your rifle is set up on something like the excellent Rekon sticks, behind the cover of your makeshift hide you can stand up and hopefully deal with the intruder.
Where foxes are used to vehicles then just sit in the comfort of your 4×4 and wait – but don’t discount the small portable hide; it really can make a big difference when waiting out for foxes.
I mentioned earlier another less usual target for foxes are pets and “exotics”. Over the years I’ve had a variety of situations where rather unusual “prey species” have been involved, not always involving foxes.
Mink have caused problems and, whilst I have had some success trapping them, I’ve also shot a few (with a shotgun). These can be highly destructive creatures and seldom present a stationary target, however both mink and foxes will target pretty well anything that’s caged.
I recall one fox decapitating game cocks that were housed in individual small coops with runs attached. His technique was to run up and down outside the run, and for some reason best known to chickens of all types, they have a desire to stick their heads through any hole big enough to see what’s going on.
As this particular fox was coming during daylight (always a situation more difficult to deal with) I spent hours waiting for him to turn up. After probably three weeks of spending many days just waiting, he finally arrived and, after watching his antics for a few minutes, he was finally dealt with by my .22LR.
For some reason I’ve had more trouble with pets being taken by foxes during the winter months than at any other time, perhaps because there are less people about.
Pet rabbits and guinea pigs tend to be sitting targets, as modern shop-bought cages and runs are extremely flimsy and present no obstacle to a hungry fox. Cats too, have been involved from time to time.
Dealing with a pet killer is more of a revenge job from the owner’s point of view, as losing a pet can cause considerable distress, especially when children are involved.
Again, the problem of getting the fox is the fact these are, generally, daylight raids which can entail many hours of just waiting. This is where, if you are getting paid to remove the fox concerned, you just have to stick at it. In no way can a long wait be described as enjoyable, except when the end result is finally achieved.
It’s difficult to say just how effective these methods are but results so far have been encouraging. Winter’s on its way with busy and exciting times ahead. Good luck out there!