Gary Green had some catching up to do. On top of the usual demands of Christmas and New Year, he’d spent a few days away in Orkney shooting geese. With all that and the need to protect the turkeys at the local free-range poultry farm, he hadn’t spent as much time as usual at his other permissions. He just knew that the foxes would be taking advantage, especially at the time of year when the dog foxes are on the move.
So it was no surprise when he learned that a fox was causing trouble on the farm where his chiller is located. He stopped by for a chat with the farmer, who told him that this particular fox was taking too much interest in his waterfowl collection. To add insult to injury, it was making a mess of the farmer’s garden, scratching things up and defecating all over the place.
You can’t blame the fox for its territorial behaviour, Gary points out. It’s just doing what comes naturally. But this isn’t about crime and punishment – it’s dealing with problems as necessary. To the farmer, this fox has become a problem and he expects Gary to remove it.
Gary already has a permanent high seat set up overlooking the field next to his chiller. It’s built into the hedge that runs alongside the farm track. The front of the seat follows the hedgeline, and there’s a tree in front that helps hide Gary when he’s inside. It looks out across the centre of the field to a narrow spinney on the far side, about 140 yards away.
The entire field is within range of the seat, but Gary prefers to make extra sure so he plans to draw this fox to a bait point 70 yards out, directly in front of the seat. That will allow him to place the shot with pinpoint precision, making absolutely certain of an instant kill.
It’s also close enough that he can check for grass or weed stems in front of the quarry. Gary is using fast, light bullets in his Geco .223 ammunition. They fragment on impact, giving superb knock-down power and eliminating any risk of ricochets – an important consideration in this densely populated part of Essex.
The flipside of the coin is that the bullet will start to disintegrate if it hits a stem in front of the target. That could mean a miss, or worst-case scenario, hitting the fox with fragments of the broken-up bullet. Shooting down from a high position helps reduce that risk, and Gary regularly strims the grass down in his bait area, but it’s good to be able to make that last-minute visual check.
Today Gary has only a brief window before he has other business to attend to, but it seems worth a go. He can try for the fox late afternoon, and wait until daylight fails. If that doesn’t work, he’ll have to think again – but he reckons it’s worth grabbing the brief opportunity to try to deal with this problem fox quickly. If it works, the farmer will be impressed and it will take a bit of pressure off.
The plan is to use a combination of sound, sight and scent to bring the fox out. Gary sets up his Foxpro electronic caller, set to his favourite call: ‘cottontail distress’. The caller allows him to select the front and back speakers individually, and today he elects to switch them both on – the fox could come from any direction today, and with Gary up in the high seat it won’t matter if it comes from behind. “Foxes certainly seem to sense the direction of the speaker,” he comments. “Wind direction is important too, of course, but often they will line themselves up and come straight in line with the speaker. You can use that to bring them along a tramline to give you an easier shot.”
With the caller set up and checked, Gary turns his attention to the ‘sight and scent’ part. He’s brought a leftover turkey carcase that’s been festering in the bin for a while. It certainly hums a bit, even to a human nose, so any fox downwind should find it interesting. Plus it’s going to stand out like a white beacon in the field, which will give the fox something to focus on.
“Foxes are curious creatures, and they are fascinated by a bit of white in a field,” Gary explains. “They’re always keen to check it out. I sometimes use a bit of white fur or feathers in conjunction with the caller. It’s even better if you can give them a little movement, perhaps tying them to a springy stick so they jig about in the wind.”
This turkey carcase is quite a lump so it won’t be jigging in the wind, but he has brought a hide pole so he can set it up above the height of the grass. It’s important to remember that the fox’s point of view is much closer to the ground than ours. Placing the carcase on the stick at about 18-inches high will ensure the fox can see that intriguing white object from the edge of the field. Combined with the scent and sound, that should pique Charlie’s curiosity and keep his focus on the bait point rather than any tiny sound or movement in the high seat.
Gary takes one last look round to check everything is right, then heads back to the track and climbs into the high seat. After a minute or two to let things settle down, he begins calling – quietly at first in case there’s a fox nearby. The remote control allows him to stop and start the call at will, as well as changing the volume. That’s important when a fox appears, because he will want to use it subtly depending on how the fox reacts.
“It’s down to experience really,” he says. “I can tell by the way a fox acts whether it’s a bold one that will come rushing in, or one that’s shy and cautious. Some don’t need any more encouragement, but with others I’ll need to call a couple of times to persuade them out into the open.”
As the sun sinks in the sky, the magpies and jays beyond the spinney start to kick up a racket, and Gary goes on alert. The rasping alarm calls probably mean a fox is on the prowl. Blackbirds raise alarm calls too, and it’s looking promising. Gary calls again, but nothing appears.
Gradually the light fails and still the fox hasn’t shown up. Gary is confident it will come eventually, but he deliberately didn’t bring his night vision because other jobs are pressing and he didn’t want to be tempted to hang on. He calls it a day, collects the caller and leaves the carcase in place. “Next time I’ll try an early morning stint, I think,” he says. “If that doesn’t work I’ll come in the evening and bring the night vision – then I can stay out as long as it takes.” One thing’s for sure: Gary won’t give up until he’s got this fox. It can only be a matter of time.
Other demands take their toll on his time, and Gary can’t get back to the spot for a couple of days. But he wants to keep the bait topped up. He spots a roadkill muntjac at the side of the road – just the job. He throws it in the back of his Land Rover and drops by the field on his way home.
“Would you believe it?” says Gary. “I pull up at 3.30 in the afternoon, in broad daylight – and there’s the fox in the middle of the field looking at me as if to say ‘Where’s my dinner?’”
The fox trots away to the hedge as Gary pulls up, but it isn’t going far. Gary sets out the muntjac bait and retreats to the vehicle. The fox is still skulking in the undergrowth at the far side of the field, and Gary’s sure it won’t wait long. He slips into the hedge by the track, and creeps along to the high seat using a well-worn deer run inside the hedge.
Climbing into the high seat from the back, he gets into position and makes ready. Within seconds the fox is boldly trotting across to check out the new bait. As he stops for a sniff, the crosshairs are already on his chest. Bang, job done.
“That must be one of the easiest foxes I’ve ever shot,” Gary laughs. “There will be more; there always are. But at least I’ve got one to show for my efforts and that will reassure the farmer that I’m on the case.” Gary Green