Patrolling the fields to keep the lambs safe, Mike Powell experiences a number of quickfire foxing encounters – and a bonus buck too.
As the year drifted into May, reports started coming in of foxes taking poultry. The growing cubs were becoming more demanding for food. As I’ve said before, I try to avoid killing vixens this time of year – until the cubs are fully weaned – then we get to work.
But, the exception to the rule occurs when determined and regular raids are being made on poultry or lambs, then the raider has to be removed, whatever the situation. The first call of the week came from a farmer I know well, who said he had had a lamb taken by a large fox that flatly ignored him when he spotted it a day later.
It was hanging around the flock and quite clearly had its sights set on another easy meal. I promised that we would get up there that evening and see what we could do. Callum turned up around 7pm, and as the farm is only a mile or so away, we were soon in position. Callum had his .243 Howa and I took the .22LR.
After about half an hour a rabbit appeared, at the 80-yard mark, I thought it was worth a shot. After a quick word to Callum to keep an eye out for a fox, I took the shot… and missed! Seconds later there was a whisper from behind me that the fox was in the field.
Turning around slowly, I saw the fox making its way towards the smallest lamb in the field. We were in full view but either the fox hadn’t seen us, if it had it didn’t worry. A few moments later Callum’s .243 sent the 75gn V-Max on its way and the job was done. All in all we had been in position for about 45 minutes.
The following day another call came in from the local poultry farm where a fox had turned up at midday and killed at least nineteen birds. Callum went to the scene at around 5pm and tied three of the dead birds together and put them out as bait.
Settling down for what promised to be a long evening it was only a matter of 10 minutes before a fox showed up, proving it was the guilty party by taking a fast and direct route to the scene of the killing. It arrived at the bait point and was dispatched on the spot. Both the foxes concerned turned out to be large dog foxes.
To round off what had turned out to be a really successful week a friend of mine who has had a substantial area of deciduous trees planted had spotted a roe happily feeding on the tips of the growing whips, a far from ideal situation, as this sort of attack can render the trees useless as if the leader is destroyed normal growth of the tree is prevented.
I know this spot well and on a warm spring evening we set off. Walking along the hedge line towards a small valley where the deer had been spotted the day before, we arrived at the brow of the hill and looked down the incline into the plantation.
It’s here that a thermal imager can prove invaluable – immediately a roe was spotted browsing along a line of saplings some 100 yards away. Setting up the sticks took a moment and we waited for a clear shot to present itself. Eventually the small buck turned and stared up the hill towards us, whether it had spotted or scented us was impossible to say but once more the Howa .243 sent another V-Max bullet on its way, this time a 95gn offering.
The result, as is usually the case when Callum is behind a rifle, was the same. The quarry, in this case the roebuck, dropped to a perfectly placed shot. At the shot a doe that we hadn’t seen ran into the nearby woodland, and hopefully will keep away from the plantation in future.
The buck was still in velvet and possessed a poor head – all in all a very good animal to get off the ground as it wasn’t the sort you wanted spreading his genes around the local does. After bleeding out the deer, we took it home and used the Napier Apex Truck Click to gralloch and skin the deer.
This piece of equipment has proved invaluable and has made dealing with deer so much easier.
It had turned out to be one of those periods of time when everything had turned out far better than one could have hoped for. All three, the two foxes and the buck, had been shot literally within minutes of arriving at the chosen spot.
So often, particularly where foxes are concerned, you can spend considerable lengths of time waiting for them to turn up, and often removing a particular fox can take days and occasionally weeks to sort it out. My record was six weeks to finally come to terms with an extremely wary, and on several occasions, lucky, fox.
In the end that one finally virtually gave itself up by coming into the same squeak I had used so many times before with no effect. It was finally stopped with a shot from my Hornet no more than 10 yards away, and it was still moving in. As a rule, fox control where specific foxes have to be dealt with fall somewhere between these two extremes.
As I have said before, if you are carrying out fox control as a business there is no point in just going out and shooting every fox you come across. True, you may well get lucky and get the guilty party along with any others you come across, but in my experience, more often than not you won’t.
You are then faced with the inevitable phone call telling you the poultry/lamb killer is back. Not only is this frustrating for the controller, it also doesn’t do a lot for his reputation. Of course you do get occasions when more than one fox is doing the damage; this can happen particularly when the cubs have just started out hunting on their own account and often a couple of the youngsters will hunt together. However, some time spent on observation should let you know what’s going on.
Unless I know exactly what is happening I will, more often than not, spend an evening with the thermal if its winter, and an early evening wait followed by some thermal use in the summer.
Particularly during May and early June, adult foxes will start hunting well before dark, in fact if there’s a big litter to provide for they will be out on and off at almost any time day or night, these are the ones that can prove really difficult to deal with as there is no fixed time schedule to their hunting activities.
The way I deal with these daylight hunters is to start waiting for them about 11am, I have found over the years that when there’s a litter of weaned cubs to be fed it’s about that time that they start clamouring to be fed. You can assume that the adults have almost certainly brought back food during the night, so by dawn the cubs will be sleeping off full stomachs.
However five or six hours later they will once again be looking for something to eat, so the old foxes will have to be on the hunt again. Although I start at about 11am I have noticed that the busiest hunting time during daylight hours is, more often than not, between midday and 2pm.
Unfortunately these times coincide with chickens, ducks and the like being out and about and vulnerable. The only way poultry owners can prevent losses is to contain their birds in a secure compound; however, and I can to a degree understand it, most smallholders and poultry owners much prefer to see their charges out and about.
As, of course, does a hunting fox. This of course can be its downfall as it would be fair to say that most summer foxes I have shot over the years have been around the hours mentioned above. The least successful time is, without a doubt, 3-6pm. On a different subject altogether, I have been trying out some lead free ammunition in my .243.
Edgar Brothers sent me some Hornady 80gn GMX Superformance to try out. This is the first time I have put some lead-free ammo through the Sauer and I was really interested to see how it performed. As I have said before, I am no long-range shooter, with most of the foxes (and deer) I shoot dropped at certainly no more than 200 yards, and more often than not much closer.
With a muzzle velocity some 100fps less than my usual 75gn, the point of impact was very slightly lower at my usual 100- yard zero. In fact I left everything as it was, as for live quarry the difference between my usual SST Hornady and the GMX was negligible. I found the lead-free ammo did the job really well and I am hoping to do some further tests in due course. With all the hype surrounding lead ammunition it’s nice to know alternatives are there.