James Marchington reports on an added challenge for Gary Green as a fox gets a taste for the local farmer’s chickens
Fox shooting is a sport and a way of life for Gary Green, but it’s also a big responsibility. One of his customers is a free-range poultry farm that supplies many of London’s most famous restaurants. It’s where Gary built his luxurious fox box – basically a garden shed with a wide opening to shoot from, on top of a shipping container. Regular readers will have seen it featured in a previous issue of Sporting Rifle.
There’s a steady stream of foxes moving onto the farm; the sight, smell and sound of thousands of free-range hens is an irresistible draw. Gary visits regularly, and shoots well over 100 foxes at this one spot each year. That usually keeps the farmer’s losses down to a bare minimum, just the odd chicken now and again.
Just recently, though, it all went pear-shaped. When spring finally arrived, the grass really took off and quickly grew to nearly 18in high in front of Gary’s hide, with taller tufts and weeds here and there.
Gary restricts himself to light, fast bullets in his .223 rifle at this spot. It’s too close to roads and houses to risk a ricochet, and he knows that the ballistic-tipped bullets are guaranteed to break up at the slightest impact. The bullet will blow itself to tiny pieces even on a blade of grass.
It’s extra safe, but it does mean you can’t risk shooting at a fox through even the thinnest cover. The bullet could easily hit a stalk before it reaches the fox, causing a complete miss or, worse still, wounding the fox without killing it.
So when the grass grew up, Gary had to stop shooting. He explained his problem to the farmer and asked him to get it cut – otherwise the foxes would soon move in on his chickens. “Yes, of course,” said the farmer, but other jobs took priority and the grass continued to grow.
And then one day Gary gets the call he’s been dreading: “Some £@%*! fox has killed 43 of my chickens!” Oh dear. And the grass? “I’m cutting it now!” Gary cancels his plans and prepares to head down to the farm that very evening. When you depend on a farmer’s goodwill for your shooting, you have to be ready to work for it, especially when it really matters to him – and 43 chickens mean a lot to any farmer.
Arriving at 6pm, Gary picks a white chicken from the sorry pile. The birds all show signs of a fox attack, with bruising and puncture marks to the legs, back and occasionally even the head – but nothing has been eaten. Gary shakes his head – all those chickens killed to no purpose.
The white chicken is destined to help catch its killer, so perhaps that one won’t have died in vain. Gary walks to a gap under the fence, plucks out a few white feathers and starts laying a trail to the spot right in front of his hide where he wants the fox to end up. He sets down the white chicken and fetches a big green tub from his Land Rover. The stink is almost unbearable, even before he snaps open the lid. As he lifts it off, the stench seems to knock you backwards.
“Yes, it’s a bit ripe isn’t it,” he laughs, pouring the oozing remains of long-dead rabbits and deer onto the ground. “That should bring the foxes in from miles away!”
Next he sets up a remote controlled electronic Foxpro caller – Gary is using every trick in his book to get this particular fox. He can’t afford a repeat of last night’s massacre, and neither can the farmer.
With the scene set, Gary climbs the ladder to his fox box. It’s a cosy place to wait up as long as it takes. It’s even connected to the farm mains electricity, with an electric kettle and two fan heaters. Gary feels no shame at being comfortable. “You do long hours at this job,” he says. “There’s no point being uncomfortable or making yourself ill – and I’ve done that before, sitting up high seats till all hours.”
As Gary sips on his steaming mug of tea, he is tuning in to the surroundings and fully alert. The rifle is set up and ready, with a round in the chamber. It’s his RPA .223 calibre, shooting Geco ammo. It’s a heavy rifle with a target-style stock and topped with a Swarovski Z6i. The scope has phenomenal light-gathering, so Gary won’t need a lamp.
There’s a 150-watt floodlight that shines out across the field from the top of the fox box. It provides enough light for Gary to shoot by at up to 100 yards, even on the darkest night. The light is on a timer, so it comes on at dusk every night and the foxes have grown used to it.
The blackbirds are kicking off down to the right and Gary peers round. It is probably just a cat prowling round the farmyard that’s set them off, but even in daylight it could be a fox.
A pair of crows have spotted the trail of white feathers. One sits on a fencepost calling loudly, while the other waddles along the trail picking at the feathers to see if there’s any fat left on the quills. It loses its nerve before it reaches the dead bird, though, and the pair flap away to roost.
Darkness falls, and Gary is surprised that no foxes have appeared yet. The farm has been undisturbed, and he’d expected something to happen at twilight or soon after. A badger snuffles around the field 30 yards away, but it’s after midnight before there’s any sign of a fox. A tell-tale glint of eyes appears in the hedge directly across from the fox box, 150 yards away on the far side of the field.
It trots up and down the hedge, glancing across at the bait – or maybe us – all the while, but it won’t leave the safety of the hedge. Eventually it disappears. Gary thinks it has headed off to rummage in the bins of the houses away to our right.
An hour later, and I’ve nodded off in the warmth of the fan heaters. I’m woken by Gary tapping me on the shoulder: “Look, it’s back!” The fox repeats its earlier trick of trotting up and down the hedge. Out of frustration as well as hope, Gary reaches for the Foxpro remote control and gives it a good blast, then another and another.
To his surprise the fox does exactly what it’s supposed to. It trots obediently towards us, rounding one of the chicken sheds and making straight for the Foxpro on the ground just 30 yards in front of us. It stops, hesitates, and bang! Gary is in no mood to mess around and he wants this fox on the floor.
We climb down from the box to take a look at this fox that was so wary to begin with, then changed its mind and trotted in as bold as brass. It’s a youngish vixen. She has already had a litter this year, and they are weaned and away. Perhaps the responsibility of having a family to feed has stayed with her, and instinct has led her to kill more than she could ever eat.
The reason is unimportant. Gary isn’t after retribution, he just needs to prevent it happening again. This vixen is a good result – and Gary has certainly earned one of those.