Chicken Protection

Mark’s TOP TIP: Snaring is an effective way of taking a fox that has previously escaped the rifle

Although the rifle is one of the most effective tools with regards to controlling foxes, sometimes you’ll have to deploy other methods to catch up with them. I recently had a flustered visit from the manager of a local chicken farm who was experiencing some vulpine trouble. 

Apparently he had been going about his regular rounds and found evidence of where a fox had dug into one of the sheds. These sheds hold several hundred birds. After investigating further, his worst fears were soon confirmed: the culprit had committed mass murder.

I followed the manager back to the farm for a scout around to see if there were any signs of which direction the fox was going. The hole dug into the shed had been blocked, but I told the manager to leave a couple of dead chickens outside, both as bait and to deter the fox from excavating back in. Trails of feathers led away from the poultry housing, across a field, under a hedge and away over the boundary. Clearly the fox had taken at least one victim away to feast upon later.

The farm manager agreed to leave some of the dead birds out as requested before the end of the day. I soon picked my spot for the evening vigil some 150 yards from the shed, but with a full view of where I expected the fox was travelling in from. I guessed it was a dog fox feeding a nursing vixen. Unfortunately, beyond the farm boundary was serious hunting country, so a search for the earth was a no-go for fear of upsetting the huntsman. It was therefore down to catching Charlie in the act, but owing to work commitments, I could not get out with the lamp until 9pm.

The hour hand soon sped forward, and armed with the .243 and my Lightforce lamp, I was soon in position and scanning around the shed and the neighbouring fields from the truck. After checking the immediate area and confirming all was clear, I parked up in my chosen spot overlooking the field and towards the shed where the fox had last done its damage. A couple of hours quickly passed without seeing a glimpse of any marauder. Eventually I began to nod off as the time approached 1.30am, so I decided to call it a night and accepted a blank outing.

A report from the farm manager the following morning revealed the fox had been back, but thankfully only to take some of the carcases left over from its previous antics. That night I was on a similar time schedule, and another blank was the result. Deciding on a change of tactics, I set the alarm early the following morning and made it to the farm a good hour before dawn. Parking the truck well away from the chicken sheds, I opted to sneak round on foot with the lamp and battery pack hooked up along with the Tikka .223 supported by the shooting sticks. I lamped the whole area over the next hour or so, but once again the elusive fox was not to be seen.

Almost in desperation, I picked a good vantage point and waited for the fast approaching dawn. The darkness receded and it soon became light enough to see without the lamp. I then started calling using the palm of my hand on my mouth to imitate a rabbit in distress. This went on intermittently for well over an hour to no avail. Another blank.

Making my way back to the chicken shed, I met the farm manager, who informed me the fox had again been back and took a couple more of the dead. This puzzled me – I could only guess that Charlie was coming in the very early evening. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get back out until the weekend. This did not fill the manager with confidence. I assured him that I would arrange for a foxing companion of mine to have a look out after dark that very night, and I also promised to set a few snares before the weekend if the culprit stayed at large.

On my way home, I called in on Steve who would take over duties in my absence. We discussed the situation and he agreed to have a look out that evening. I am sure he saw his chance to get one up on me, so I had no worries about his diligence regarding the task.

After work, I called at Steve’s house and was met at the door by his huge grin. He had seen the fox and called it in. It all sounds good so far – but that’s when things went pear-shaped. He suffered two misfires and then a complete miss. The result of all this was a further educated fox.

On closer inspection, the cause was proved to be a cracked firing pin. Our only consolation was that the fox had made its way in over a footbridge across a large ditch, betraying its entry route and offering me a superb snaring scenario. That being so, I set off the next morning at first light, armed with a dozen snares in the wiring bag as well as the rifle. I deployed six snares in total, two at either end of the footbridge and four on other likely spots. I then informed the landowner where the snares were set, to avoid the embarrassment associated with any unlucky individual suspended upside-down from the bridge by a snared ankle.

The beauty of snares is that they work 24 hours a day. Set correctly in the right places, they can be very effective. So with a couple of days off work and with the back-up of several snares, I was totally committed to bringing the culprit to justice. With the Lightforce Xenon HID lamp and battery pack fully charged, I was in position by the following dusk. I opted for a conveniently placed round bale as my ambush point.

The snares caught two further foxes to the one Mark called in. Credit: Nick Latus

I assessed my current position. With the aid of the lamp I could see the chicken shed to my right. Across the grass field running down from the hedge to my front was the entry bridge just less than 150 yards away. I scanned the field at 10-minute intervals for an hour or more with the filtered lamp beambefore I spotted a fox behind the chicken shed.

Keeping the main beam of the lamp below the fox, I watched it as it went about its business, totally oblivious to the lamp. However, at 300 yards away, I would have preferred it to be closer for a sure kill.

I watched as the fox quartered across the field from the shed. As it came closer, I guessed that this was a different fox to the one Steve had encountered the previous evening – either that or it was bulletproof. As it came in to around 200 yards, I took hold of the rifle and spied the fox through the 8×56 Schmidt & Bender scope. Easing off the safety, I anxiously awaited my chance.

At 130 yards, the dozy fox suddenly stopped and stared straight into the lamp, almost as if it had come to its senses. However, its undoing was already complete as I touched off the trigger and sent a 55-grain V-Max into its vitals. Although I
was happy at the result, I wasn’t convinced that this was the villain who had eluded me all week. Thankful for small mercies, however, I retrieved the dog fox and retired from the field.

The following evening I checked the snares and approaching the footbridge, I could see that the brashing on either side of the snare had been demolished. As I got closer, the culprit turned out to be a small, barren vixen that was still very much alive under the bridge. She was quickly dispatched. I found another fox in the next snare, and a well-aimed tap completed the trio.

To make sure the fox that had dug into the shed was one of the three I’d taken, I kept the snares running for another week, checking them daily. With these efforts proving fruitless, it seemed that the threat to the chickens had finally subsided.

The rifle is often the best answer for fox control, but it is well worth remembering that it isn’t the only option. It had taken me nearly a week to outwit the marauder, but that’s what makes fox control so addictive and rewarding. Mark Nicholson

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