Cub clean-up

There might be a drought in the countryside but there’s no drought of foxes. Mark Ripley makes the most of a still morning to take care of a few of this year’s cubs…

The sun wouldn’t rise for another two hours, but it was already light enough to see anything moving on the yellowed grass. With so little rain of late, the whole valley had taken on a yellowish golden colour, with the exception of the hardy gorse bushes.

The creak of the old wooden five-bar gate’s latch seemed ridiculously loud in the still morning air. I’d already checked the wind speed on my Kestrel wind meter, as I always do at the top of the hill – it showed a calm 3mph. So close to the coast, wind speeds here rarely drop below 7mph, so a weather forecast of anything less than that is an opportunity not to be missed.

Wind is the biggest cause of a miss when you stretch out the shooting ranges, and the shape of the valley sides mean I often need to take shots across the valley, so ranges can often be 300 or more yards. On the plus side, the sides of the valley cause the wind to be directed between them, so as a rule it’s a 90-degree crosswind or ‘full value’ as long range shooters refer to it.

As the sun rises, Mark is already ready in position, waiting for a fox

I wandered along the top of the hill, pausing every now and then to glass ahead and across the valley. I headed straight for one of my favourite shooting positions, which overlooks a good area for spotting. I hadn’t been on this ground for a while so I was optimistic there would be some out hunting the hillside on what promised to be a warm sunny morning.

I reached the crater on the hillside made by German bombers on their return journey back from London. Apparently rather than risk landing with any undelivered bombs on board, the bombers would shed their cargo before they reached the sea.

This spot makes a good shooting position on the steep bank as the sides of the crater create a reasonably flat base to shoot from. Shooting from the hillside across the valley sometimes makes it difficult to get the height to take a shot without resting on a backpack or similar item.

As always I laid out my kit in front of me – wind meter, ammo, binos and small rear bean bag so it was all close to hand. When a shot presents itself, it’s not typically for long. Foxes seldom hang around as they move systematically checking each rabbit bury, so every second I can save may make the difference between getting a shot and missing an opportunity.

The Digisight N355 and PBIR illuminator got a first blooding in the field

I spent the next hour watching the opposite bank, in which time I spotted two foxes. The first appeared mousing around in the grass at the very top of the hill – it was over 600 yards and too close to the brow of the hill to even consider a shot. The second was again on the brow of the hill, but slightly closer and moving quickly across the bank. I watched as it began to cut down towards the prime area of gorse and closer to 400 yards from me.

I constantly ranged the fox as it moved, adjusting my Nightforce scope accordingly in the hope that it might pause long enough to make a quick final elevation adjustment and take a shot. But it didn’t pause for a second and reached the gorse in no time. I thought it would most likely hunt around the cover after rabbits as they often do, but instead it simply slipped into the cover.

I watched the edges of the bushes, knowing if it left cover I would see it from this angle. Half an hour or more passed and I was considering having a wander around the opposite bank to look for signs of fox activity to try and get an idea of what level of fox traffic was around. Just then, I spotted movement out in the open.

The same fox had left cover and was now working the edge of the gorse after the rabbits. I picked a spot further along the edge of the cover ahead of the fox where there were a few rabbit holes. I knew the fox wouldn’t be able to resist a sniff around the area so I ranged the spot and dialled in for elevation and an adjustment for windage.

Setting up on the edge of the crater provided the best shooting point from prone

Quickly getting behind the rifle, I tucked the small bag under the rear of the rifle and squeezed it in my hand to lower the crosshairs onto the area. Levelling the crosshairs, I slowed my breathing and waited for the fox to wander into my view.

Almost instantly it was there. It paused short of the burrows and turned back in the direction from which it came, turning to offer a perfect broadside shot.

I settled the crosshairs on its chest, maintained my grip pressure on the rear bag and glanced at the small bubble level on top of my scope for a final time before taking up the pressure on the trigger.

The Jewell trigger broke as crisp as an icicle at 1.5lb, unleashing 143 grains of bad news towards the young vixen. Half lost in the echo of the rifle’s crack across the valley came back a solid thump, but I’d already seen the fox go down in the scope. The sound of the impact just confirmed it was a good solid hit and it wouldn’t be ‘resurrecting’ itself anytime soon.

It had gone over on its side with just its tail held in the air, quivering for a second with the last of its nerve endings coming to terms with what had just happened. I chambered a second round and covered the fox just to be sure, but the bullet had passed perfectly though it’s chest and done its job.

Pleased with the morning’s result, I packed up my gear and walked the 421 yards to collect it. Having a quick look around the area showed bits of bone and fresh fox scats everywhere. There were clearly several foxes working this area so I decided to return the next day for a look when the sun went down.

One grown cub on day one…

The next evening I headed back out to the same area, armed this time with .223 rather than my custom Remi 700 in .260. This time I had a couple of bits of test equipment to use. Scott Country international had lent me an XP38 thermal spotter and N355 Ultra night scope, both from Pulsar. I also had with me a PBIR infra-red torch to get the most from the Ultra, and an electronic fox caller from Best Fox Call, the Icotec Outlaw.

I headed down to the bottom of the valley below the gorse where I had a good view all around me, and set the caller going. It didn’t take long for a young fox to appear in the long grass beside me. I set up on my shooting sticks and, using the caller’s remote, muted the call. The fox continued to work its way casually forward until it reached about 80 yards and paused side-on. A quick shot and the fox went down.

I recovered the fox in the grass before again setting the Outlaw caller singing its tunes. After 10 minutes of on-off calling a second fox appeared, coming down the valley towards me, confidently bounding in. The rabbit distress calls from the Icotec certainly caught this one’s attention.

…and two more the following night

This fox was downwind of me and began to sense something in the air wasn’t right, backing off down the valley. I flicked the caller back on for a couple of seconds, then muted it again. This was enough to encourage the fox to come back in, edging cautiously around me in a wide semi-circle. After a little game of cat and mouse, it finally paused sideways and again offered me a perfect broadside shot. Wasting no time, I got steady on the sticks and planted another 53-grain Superformance bullet on target, dropping this one cleanly again around 70-80 yards.

The grass was a little longer on this bank and it took me a few minutes to find it. Like the others, this one turned out to be another of this year’s cubs, this time a dog fox. With three foxes in the bag over this weekend, I was pleased – this would mean fewer foxes breeding later in the year and fewer I’d be needing to deal with in the coming lambing season.

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