It can be hard to tell one fox from another at distance, but I felt confident I would recognise one my neighbouring keeper described to me a few years ago.
“Dog fox. Fat as a mole,” he said. This one had been seen during a pheasant drive on the next shoot to mine as he slipped away through the open gap between the line of beaters and the guns. He was last seen heading towards my ground.
I had a sneaking suspicion he would stay there, probably having a go at my partridges. They are vulnerable because they jug down in the fields at night instead of going up to roost in the trees like pheasants. On shoots where there are a lot of rats owing to an abundance of food – especially in maize cover – partridges stay out in the middle of the field, away from the hedges. On my farm the rats are controlled heavily so you’re more likely to find partridges near the edge, which means a fox is more likely to find them and trap them as some flee into the cover.
Going round at night, you can always tell if the partridges have been disturbed. If a covey is huddled together in the field, all hunkered down facing outwards, then all is well. But you know something has disturbed them when you see one here, one there and another wandering across the road looking bewildered. An owl or badger might have moved them, but much more likely a fox will be the culprit.
We’d had some foul, wet weather that had restricted fox shooting. With the ground saturated, you can’t cross the fields in an ATV, never mind a truck. That means sticking to the roads and tracks, or heading out on foot – and with the weather so unpredictable you’re bound to get caught in a downpour sooner or later. That’s when you’re glad you spent a few extra pounds on Butler Creek flip-up covers to protect the scope lenses.
Knowing this barrel-shaped fox was likely to be on my patch, I decided to take a drive around in the truck. I would have to stay on the farm roads, but that gave me a chance of spotting it and at least I would stay dry.
The first time round I saw nothing, then the heavens opened and I returned home for a coffee and a bite to eat before heading out again a couple of hours later. At least the rain had ceased. This time I was in luck – there was the fox, or a fox anyway, out in the middle of a field. I couldn’t get a safe shot, however, as it was in line with someone’s house. It moved off directly away from me, and I thought it might stop within range of the track near this farm.
Driving round to the other side, I realised I would be no more than 60 or 70 yards from the very bedroom window that had prevented me shooting earlier. It was 2am by now and the lights were off, so I was confident the occupants would be asleep. I pulled up on the other side of the farm barn that would help shield the report left over from the use of a Jet-Z moderator. They would probably never even hear the shot.
The fox was still there, sitting on the ditch line at the far side of the field, a range I knew to be about 200 yards. Sure enough he looked rotund, although without putting the HID lamp full on him I couldn’t be sure. The ground is flat here, but knowing the land, I was confident the backstop was good, especially taking into account the drop from the bullet’s trajectory. If I did miss, it had 40 acres of muddy wheat to land in and a good clear mile behind that.
I lined up on the white chest; the bullet would be an inch low out there. The wind was coming in over the left shoulder, but not enough, I thought, to move the bullet too far. Tight hold – don’t hang about. I squeezed the trigger and a fraction later heard a good solid thump as the bullet hit. In case the gunshot had disturbed the neighbours, I switched off the lamp immediately and waited 10 minutes before walking out.
All was quiet, so I set off to find the fox with my Global Rifle head torch. At 220 paces I reached the ditch – no fox. I looked round to the left in the direction it had been heading. Fortunately there was no cover out there and I could see a body in the distance. It had run exactly 107 paces before dropping dead. If it had been near a hedge or wood, I might have doubted the evidence of my own ears and wondered if I had missed it altogether.
On closer examination I found that my bullet had struck the fox’s chest at a slight angle and exited just to one side of the backbone. An inch left and it would have dropped on the spot, but the slight quartering breeze had pushed my bullet that vital fraction sideways. The fox was as good as dead when my bullet struck, but it was a useful reminder of how far a ‘dead’ fox can run.
The fox fitted my neighbour’s description perfectly. It was not especially big but plump and round, “fat as a mole” indeed, and with its fine winter coat adding to the bulk. It’s a shame to waste these pelts. You can understand people objecting to the idea of breeding foxes just for their skins, but if the fox is going to be shot anyway it seems such a waste.
This one was a reasonable weight for a dog fox, probably 17-18lbs. Its teeth weren’t in good order – there was one canine missing and the rest were yellowed and worn down to three quarters of their original length. It had been around a while, but was clearly able to feed itself well. Perhaps it had been hanging around the town three miles away and this was the first time it had been shot at – and the last. Robert Bucknell