Most of us who have anything to do with foxes will have heard stories or even witnessed fox behaviour that doesn’t always ring true. For instance, some 20 years ago a local farm manager used to drive around the fields in his Subaru Estate, with his son stood up out of the sunroof shooting rabbits and the odd fox with the shotgun. That is, if they happened to be out in the middle of a field where they could give chase before they reached the safety of the hedge.
I’d speak to him on a regular basis and he was always keen to let me know how many rabbits they had shot, and of course it was a red letter day if they had shot a fox. I often wondered how many were getting a lesson in avoiding both vehicle and lamp beam. But he looked after his own ground and was happy, so it wasn’t for me to say.
One particular harvest, the pair shot over 20 foxes in a period of four weeks. This may not have seemed unusual except that they were all within a couple of fields of each other and three quarters of them never moved while the farmer drove up to within shotgun range.
It was apparent they were not familiar with their surroundings, and soon he had come round to the idea that they had almost certainly been dumped.
Of course, the societies and organisations believed to be involved in this stupidity deny such acts. I can remember in my later school years, rough shooting close to home. We would see covey after covey of grey partridge, and a couple of us could shoot up to 10 brace in a morning. I know modern farming has not helped the grey partridge, but releasing vermin like the fox into any area is bound to have a massive impact on certain wildlife, particularly the partridge. Last September I walked my dogs on the same farm stubbles, and flushed but one covey of eight greys.
Four years ago I had been out for a drive with the lamp for a few rabbits on a local farm. As I returned down the lane towards the farmhouse, a fox came onto the track from the direction of the house – only 100 yards away. The fox turned and headed directly towards me. The vehicle was running and the side lights were on, but the fox was oblivious to the mortal danger he was in. I ended up shooting him with the .22 at 15 yards.
Apparently the dumped vulpines are more educated nowadays. The latest info I have heard concerns practices before release. They are allegedly placed in a dog cage in total darkness, and a beam is then passed over them while someone clatters and bangs the cage to condition the captives to associate light with danger. If this is indeed being carried on, it is a shocking state of affairs and must be ruthlessly stamped out.
I remember once being out foxing around a couple of farms towards the coast and close to my home. Apart from a couple of standing bean fields, the harvest was over.
During the previous few weeks I had shot a dozen or so cubs and foxes from this farm, but on my last visit I hadn’t seen a fox over the whole 100 acres. But I just assumed I was on top of the fox population, especially as the cubs were breaking away from the family unit and dispersing.
I arrived at the first field around 10 o’clock. Picking up the Tikka .223 and the new Lightforce Xenon HID lamp, I locked the 4×4, grabbed the stalking sticks and quietly moved into the wind. I had opted for the red filter as I had used a green one on the last two visits. Perhaps a change might bring me a bit of luck.
The farmer had no objection with me driving around the headlands as long as I stayed off the drilled rape, but sometimes Shanks’s pony is best. I lamped the whole bottom half of the farm in this way without seeing a fox. The Xenon HID Lamp was impressive – perfectly balanced, light but toughly built with extreme light penetration.
The only stubble field actually left on the farm was a rape stubble. Being on foot is definitely best on a cut rape field, as the chopped stalks make a lot of noise under the vehicle. As I entered this field I picked up a fox in the lamp. I was at the far side of the stubble to me at around 200 yards, and it seemed to be in no hurry. Placing the rifle in the v of the stalking sticks, I chambered a V-Max round. As I picked up the fox in the scope, it decided to move along the hedge and out of the beam.
Lifting the rifle once more, I corrected the sticks and swung the lamp beam back onto the fox, placing the crosshairs on the fox’s chest in one swift movement. The same thing happened again – the fox moved out of the beam, went 20 yards up the hedge and stopped. So once more I had to alter both my position and the Xenon HID lamp.
Although going solo is an excellent way of lamping foxes, there are obvious limitations – like on this occasion, when you get on fox that won’t stand still long enough for a shot. The process happened once more, and by now the fox was edging out towards 250 yards. I was getting more and more frustrated, and I’m sorry to say I rushed the shot and did not connect.
Disgusted, I decided to lamp the rest of the farm before changing venues. It was quieter than expected until I went over an old railway line, dropped down the embankment and spotted a pair of eyes in the far hedge. As there was a safe backstop, I took a look through the Schmidt & Bender. It was definitely a fox, but it was obscured by the hedge bottom.
Taking the Mini Colibri from my pocket, I tried to use the electronic call to lure him out of the hedge. ‘Distressed rabbit’ was already programmed in to the call, and I soon set it going on low volume. After a minute or so, I turned off the volume and had another look with the lamp. The fox was en route towards me, so leaving the lamp on him, I increased the call volume and made ready with the rifle.
He was picking his way through the long rape stubble, when another appeared: both were easily visible in the lamp. I quickly shot the closest and instantly reloaded, picking up the second fox, who was stood looking at his deceased companion. I settled the Schmidt crosshair onto his chest and took him cleanly. The caller soon brought in another fox to the left of the first pair, and that made it a trio for three shots in less than three minutes.
Believe it or not, two more came strolling down the field at around 80 yards out, and I shot that pair within five yards of each other. I kept the caller going on for a further 10 minutes, but it was to no avail. I collected my spoils, marvelling at this surprising result from such a small area in so short a time. The farmer always informs me of any fox movement he had seen, and he had only seen activity post-harvest. Judging from the size of the foxes, he would definitely not have missed seeing them.
Once back at base, I had a good look at the vulpines, and I could not get over the size of them. They were certainly that year’s cubs, but I would say they were bigger and heavier than most foxes I’d shot that year. The five foxes had displayed no fear whatsoever. Even when the unmoderated .223 dropped the fourth fox, his companion just stood a few yards from him, totally unperturbed. Furthermore, all five were dog foxes, shot in a 15-acre field and all within five minutes of each other.
It just didn’t ring true to me. They seemed to have been fed well and had little exercise. You may argue that they came to the call, but I believe it’s an instinct that the fox has, similar to the young ferret whose instinct is to home in on a rabbit even if he has never seen one before. But these foxes, I am sure, were expecting a bowl of cat food and a pat on the head. They got a lead pill instead. I am convinced that this despicable practice of releasing foxes is going on, and it should be stamped out, as there is nothing that can justify it. Mark Nicholson