Dinnertime Disturbance

Howard’s TOP TIP: Traps and snares are patient hunters that work 24 hours a day

Some days it seems I’ve hardly sat down for a brew after work when the phone rings with a farmer or landowner on the other end frantically relating how he’s just seen a fox take a lamb or chicken and can I go immediately to nab it.

If only it were that simple. You are now faced with a dilemma in these situations. You may have other shooting commitments or a night out socially planned, but, on the other hand, you have to keep the people who allow you on their land happy and prove you serve a purpose. Nine times out of 10 you do have to drop everything and rush over there – and the experience gained over the years has you 99.9 per cent certain there will be nothing around when you get there. The fox will be well away, back in the den or wandering off somewhere else to cause problems.

You can’t really explain this to the majority of people who have just seen a fox up to no good. So make the best of the situation and use your visit to try to gain some insight into the problem, either by waiting for the fox or going to the spots you’ve found that could hold clues as to its route and intentions. Some clues are obvious, others not so obvious.

Golf courses are the most difficult places to weigh up tactics and successfully target foxes. Any animal that visits could be opportunist, transient or nosing around because it’s part of its territory.

Smallholdings and farms with free range hens and other such birds are the most basic as you know the fox is coming to dine on the fowl, but again, if called to such a place, assess the area. Some birds will be penned in, some will be so free range they’re allowed to walk on the farmhouse garden and spill on to the private road or track leading to the farm. It’s these birds a fox will grab. No netting for it to dig under or gaps to squeeze through, just a quick dash in, then cut and run once it has got one. This kind of fox is often seen during the warmer months because at that time more people are pottering around the garden or looking out of the window at the countryside surrounding them.

The fox-shooting textbooks often say that if you see a fox at a certain time more than once, you can be pretty sure it has got a routine. The books add that if you are there half an hour either side of this time you’ll be in with a chance of catching it out. Foxes don’t read books and I think it’s about time this supposed truism was revealed as the misconception it often is.

Tracks and gaps underneath fences are tell-tale signs of fox ingress

Sure, a fox with a small territory will regularly visit areas where it has previously found food, but no situation is the same. On some land, the fox will turn up around the same time two or three days running but then the pattern can change dramatically. It can come anytime, day or night.

One reason for change is that a fox has come across something tasty on its way there, so doesn’t need to go to its favourite diner at the same time as its usual booking. In the warmer months I have found foxes to be the least predictable. The reason for this is there’s so much more daylight for it when people aren’t around at sunrise, and there’s much more food in the ‘natural larder’ so it doesn’t need to come close to farms for easy pickings. More often, they haunt the farm area when times are hard – keep those basics in mind as I relate the next stage of this tale.

I had a call from a farmer. I went to look. Nothing. I had another call. Another visit. Still nothing. This went on for a while. As the losing of birds continued I then began getting calls at work. The fox had been seen at midday and again ducks or chickens were taken. When this happens the all-round fox man knows it’s time to set snares or bait live catch cage traps. These devices are the patient hunters that work 24/7. The only time you’re needed is to check them daily, reset any knocked snares and put fresh bait in the trap.

As this was an area the chickens roam and badgers are regularly seen I couldn’t use snares, so I set out two live catch traps. One was in the wood near a well-used fox track I’d found and the other right at the back of the farm itself against a boundary wall. Within the second day I had one in a trap; two days later I had another in the trap placed at the edge of its woodland route. As you can see, there’s no pattern to this supposed timed visiting, and it’s not just one fox doing the dirty work.

If the taking of stock continues, the traps will become less successful. If this happens then move them around, and vary the bait. If they want chicken, then if you have a dead hen use it. Put it in a cage trap and you might catch one out, but you still need to go and wait with the rifle day and night.

Strangely, I’d never glimpsed anything
at night on this farm, either by lamp or
night vision, so the penultimate part of the job had to be done very early morning or in the evening.

By now I’d spent a lot of time sorting these foxes, not only watching and waiting in ambush but also advising on repairing netting and fencing and checking traps. All time-consuming but necessary jobs.

Anyway, getting back to the shooting part of this job, the area was still being targeted by local foxes and their timing coincided with my meal times. There was nothing else for it but to go up to the farm straight after work, first of all stopping off at home to pick my rifle up and then going back up to patiently sit up and wait for the foxes. Due to my previous searching for signs of fox activity I knew where the animal could come from.

For once this was a little more cushy for me as I parked the Jeep up near some farm machinery with a view of the steep rising field the fox has to cross to get to the farmyard
and hens.

A baited live catch cage trap did the job on this occasion

The first, second and third evenings drew nothing. Then on the fourth, as if it’d read all the books, the fox came ambling out of the wood at the top of the hill, stopping every so often to sniff around, then it trotted alongside the wood to my far right, I presume to sneak down the hedge line.

However, it would at some point still have to cross the field as it headed for some chicken supper and this was my opportunity for getting the shot. Though I’ve made the waiting up sound easy, I had only a few windows of shooting opportunity to stop the fox or take it moving as, in front of me, there where three large trees. Their trunks did obscure some of the field but they also helped me be partly hidden from view from my intended target.

A good pair of binos are a must, so my Meopta 7x50s were getting a lot of use on this job as I scanned the top of the field and the edge of the wood. From my shooting position to where the fox could first appear was over 250 yards. I mention this as for once, though shooting near the farm, I decided to use my latest acquisition – a synthetic stock Tikka M595 with a 1-8 twist custom barrel in 6mm BR calibre. It was safe to use as I was shooting away from the farm into a solid backstop on this steeply rising field. The rest of the rig comprises a Schmidt & Bender 8×56 scope with a Wildcat Predator 8 sound moderator up front.

You might think this a bit OTT but, believe me, I wanted stopping power and range as the fox could get wise and stay quite a way out or keep moving so it might be a long range shot or ‘one on the hoof,’ so to speak.

As it was, the fox began crossing to my left between the first two trees to my right and, due to my careful scanning, I was already behind the scope rested on the large window-mount shooting bag from Dog-gone-good shooting bags for the shot.

A quick squeak on the back of my hand and the fox stopped to look up. Without hesitation I put an 87-grain Hornady V-Max Ballistic Tip bullet using a recommended home load using Varget Powder straight into the boiler room, and boy what a mess that 6mm round made of Charlie at a little over 140 yards.

I knew that I’d be able to eat my tea in peace – for a short while at least. Howard Heywood

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