Get your equipment ready and sharpen up your fieldcraft, says Mike Powell – things are about to get busy…
Late summer is a really busy time for me and my shooting mate, Callum. In the past three years or so he has become an extremely efficient member of the team, and has picked up the tricks of the trade remarkably quickly.
Over the years I have had various ‘helpers’ – some have been better than others, but as a rule they have all been keen, though lacking in certain essentials that are necessary to succeed when dealing with foxes on a fairly large scale.
Perhaps the biggest virtue is patience, and Callum has this, which is relatively unusual in a young man. Ferreting can be the acid test where young people are concerned, as this particular field sport can, on occasions, test the patience of a saint!
I have found that few young people want to spend considerable quantities of time standing outside a rabbit bury in the middle of winter waiting for a laid-up ferret to re-appear. I suppose we live in an age where instant results are the norm; certainly few field sports fit those criteria, fox control being one of them.
As the year moves on, the methods of fox control change. Clearly the biggest change is the fact that the nights start drawing in, and with that foxes’ behaviour changes too. Where the adult foxes are concerned, their daylight hunting begins to slow down as the necessity to provide food for the cubs lessens.
Though foxes can occasionally be seen during the hours of daylight throughout the year, their natural instinct is to hunt as the light fades into night. During August and September, however, cubs can often be spotted during the day, and daylight calling will often have them responding.
When calling cubs during daylight in late summer, there are certain points to bear in mind. Unlike their wary parents, cubs are inclined to throw caution to the wind when they hear a suitable call, and will often surprise you by the speed at which they’ll come in.
In certain circumstances, when I know there are hunting cubs in the area, I’ll leave the rifle behind and use a shotgun, this being more effective when dealing with a cub that approaches at speed. As far as calling cubs is concerned, I almost always use rabbit and similar small-mammal squeals as these are the type of sounds cubs have been accustomed to when being fed by the adults.
As they approach the time when they will start hunting for themselves, the old foxes will bring them live prey, and it is the sounds that they make that will really alert the cubs when they are out hunting on their own.
At this early stage of their development, cubs are not aware of the threat humans present. They are wary, but curiosity is a very strong trait in foxes of all ages, and never more so than when cubs are out hunting for the first few times.
Along with the various calls there are also some ‘lures’ that can on occasion pull cubs in. One of the early ones was the ‘jack in a box’, but for some time now I have used the one from Best Fox Call. It can work in conjunction with the ICOtec digital caller or on its own.
Positioned in short grass, it can really draw the young foxes in. Adults too will sometimes be attracted to the movement, and on a couple of occasions I’ve had them actually grab the lure and try to take it away.
The biggest advantage late summer brings to the fox controller is the clearance of the crops from the field. Not only does it really open up the ground, it also attracts foxes by providing a readily available food source.
Modern farm machinery has come a long way since I started shooting. Massively powerful tractors, combines and the like leave in their wake all sorts of ‘goodies’ for the scavenger to pick up.
Last summer was not too good in this respect, as the extraordinarily long, hot, dry spell encouraged small mammals to stick to the hedges. However, we had some success in one of the recently cut and baled fields locally. We got there just as the baler was leaving and set up behind a couple of the round bales.
As the light faded, a fox appeared from the rough hillside that bordered the stubbles. It was one of a litter of cubs that had been brought up in dense cover adjoining a nearby rape field.
This litter had been fed to some extent on the local farmer’s poultry, but because of the crops covering most of the land, we had been unable to do anything about it, despite spending no small amount of time waiting for them to appear.
Now all was changed, and a couple of squeaks had it moving towards us. At around 60 yards I gave it a shout and Callum did the rest. Hopefully its siblings will be mopped up in a couple more visits.
In the days when I was shooting and trapping foxes for their skins, we wouldn’t start lamping in earnest until the foxes had their winter pelts, usually around late October. Now, people are out after dark all year, mainly thanks to the tremendous surge in the use of night vision.
For the newcomer to night shooting, the choice of equipment is bewildering. Night vision units can vary enormously, and where shooting at night is concerned, some thought really needs to be given as to which equipment will meet your needs.
To arrive at the answer to that question, you need to look at the land you are shooting over, the number of times you are likely to be out shooting at night, and finally if the outlay is justified.
As far as the latter is concerned, only the prospective buyer can sort that one out. Wanting and needing are two very different things, and all of us at times need to decide which one applies to us!
If you are determined to go shooting after dark then the item of equipment that will serve you best in a whole variety of ways has to be the thermal imager. This device allows you to covertly see exactly what is out and about, primarily at night, but it has many uses during daylight hours as well.
The best night-shooting setup available at present would have to be a thermal imager and a good-quality night vision scope or-add on. That said, you can do almost as well using a good quality rifle-mounted torch in conjunction with your thermal.
If using this method, the secret to success is ensuring that the fox is totally unaware of your presence. A decent thermal spotter will allow you to observe the fox you are after without it knowing it’s being watched.
When either the fox has come within range, or you have lessened the gap between you to a shootable distance, you flick on the torch and nine times out of ten the fox will stand long enough to allow the shot to be taken. Be warned, though: should the fox be aware of you, switching on the light will have it heading for the hills.
Another advantage of having a thermal imager is that it is possible, with a bit of practice and some fieldcraft knowledge, to walk out to foxes using just the thermal imager and absolutely no other light at all.
I have outlined this technique before, but basically if you don’t walk directly towards the fox and proceed at a steady pace, more often than not the fox will stand and watch you.
I think this is because he can see you and feels in control, much as rabbits do when a fox crosses the field they are feeding in. They are totally aware of his presence and can keep an eye on him, but unless he makes a move directly towards them they won’t run.
Returning to night vision itself, some is much better than others, but to be honest unless you are endeavouring to shoot foxes out to silly distances (over 200 yards) at night, most of what is available will do the job perfectly well.
Recently there have been some very good add-on units released. The Pulsar F155 is a practical piece of kit, and not long ago the PVS-14C night vision unit became available through Night Master. Both are good units that use your existing day scope.
My own choices for years now have been the Archer and Longbow, and both have served me well. For first-time night shooters I still think the Yukon Photon is a simple but effective and relatively inexpensive night scope that allows foxes to be taken at up to 150 yards – more than enough for practical fox shooting at night.
I have little doubt that there will be more tempting items brought out before long. Having been brought up at a time when such technology was never even thought of, I do wonder where it will all end, if ever it does.
Items that a few years ago were heralded as being the ‘must-have’ equipment now can’t be given away. So it really does behove the newcomer to tread carefully through the NV minefield.
Always consider, if the equipment you have now does the job, whether the newest bit of equipment you’re drooling over will really do the job that much better.
Over 60 years ago I shot my first night-time fox with a setup that by today’s standards was laughable. Soon after that, I got a lamp that was a big step up from the Pifco torch I first used, and for years shot considerable numbers of foxes with it.
On occasions I still use a lamp/torch – it may have a red LED and throw a beam of amazing intensity, but the basics are still the same. The one thing that has changed is the need for true fieldcraft, and that’s a shame, as pitting your own wits against those of a fox is a rewarding challenge like no other.
We live in an age of wanting instant results, such is the pace of life today. Personally I think that being out in the countryside should enable us to become part of it and slow down just a little.
Nature proceeds at a steady yet inexorable pace, and certainly where fox control is concerned, taking your time and proceeding slowly without a doubt pays dividends.
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