Fifty years of foxing

01_Out on the stubbles1

The world of night shooting is changing fast.

Gone are the days of the lamp alone, and in its place stands an array of high-tech night vision devices for every possible need.

I first delved into the mysterious world of night vision eight years ago, and in the 50 years previous had never dreamed of a day when I could shoot in total darkness with the aid of just one small torch.

The biggest change in the ever-growing choice of equipment for fox and rabbit shooters is cost.

There was a time when most equipment was homemade, with the money brought in from selling the shot animal more than offsetting the cost of its parts. As night shooting has become more ‘fashionable’ the range of apparatus has grown, as has the sums of money spent on it.

On the up: Mike’s BSA Ultra Multishot has come a long way from the BSA Cadet 177 he used as a boy, and taken just as many rats

On the up: Mike’s BSA Ultra Multishot has come a long way from the BSA Cadet 177 he used as a boy, and taken just as many rats

I am as guilty as any when it comes to equipment. So many goodies pass through my hands that I sometimes have no choice but to give in to temptation and add to my growing collection.

This was brought into focus when a local farmer asked me to rid him of an infestation of rats that were after his stored grain.

I cut my shooting teeth on these undesirable creatures as a lad, although back then it was a BSA Cadet .177 air rifle and a torch that inflicted mass slaughter on the rat population of the local dump.

A friend and I spent countless hours among the piles of refuse, and would shoot well into three figures. Those days are long gone, but the resilient rat will always be there – and the pleasure of putting a pellet into one never fades!

So off I went to the farmer’s grain store with a shooting friend for some ratting. With a few dozen down, the outing was a success, but what really made me smile was the comparison of the tools I had taken that night with what I had used as a boy.

Airgun, pellets, torch – I suppose 10 quid would cover the lot. Even taking inflation into account, that pales into insignificance beside the cost of the gear we used that night.

Firstly there was the BSA Multishot, a brilliant little rifle for ratting, topped with one of Minox’s finest scopes. A Sirocco sound moderator finished off the rifle set up.

As spotter, I was clutching my Pulsar Quantum thermal imager, great for showing up rats at close range.  To finish off I had my Archer night vision monocular attached to the rear of my scope, plus a Night Master IR torch to get it going at full steam.

Numbers game: For the recreational foxer, large numbers are not a necessity

Numbers game: For the recreational foxer, large numbers are not a necessity

Even ignoring the outlay on pellets, my equipment added up to a grand total of around £7,500. Clearly I didn’t spend all that solely for shooting a few rats, but it does make you think.

Now, certainly in the above case the costs could never be justified, but what about foxing? Have I seen a significant increase in my success rate since the advent of night vision?

This is difficult to measure, as my situation has changed since those far-off days with lamp and 12-bore. We shot a considerable number of foxes, but then, as it was a source of income, we spent a great deal of time doing it.

I have little doubt that, had I been in possession of all the gear I have today, I would have shot many more. Night vision equipment has made life much easier, and enabled me to dispatch problem foxes quickly instead of shooting all and sundry.

Night vision has been a revelation to those who use it, myself included, although whether someone conversant with night vision would do better than a lamp-only man is open to debate. I suspect that those who go out exclusively on foot with a lamp are becoming a minority.

The use of a vehicle in conjunction with a good handheld lamp is becoming the norm, and has the advantage of being able to cover in 10 minutes the sort of acreages that would have taken us all night to walk.

I have always been surprised at the way night vision and more conventional lamps have become mixed.

Night vision equipment has made life much easier, and enabled me to dispatch problem foxes quickly instead of shooting all and sundry

Night vision equipment has made life much easier, and enabled me to dispatch problem foxes quickly instead of shooting all and sundry

I often come across people who tell me they use a lamp to spot their fox and then go after it with night vision. Surely this is the wrong way round!

The whole point of night vision is to be as covert as possible, and considerable effort is put in to making sure the fox doesn’t know you are there.

In fact, Scott Country has recently brought out a new totally covert infrared LED for the Night Master 800. So why would you alert the fox with a lamp then set of after it with NV?

The same equipment used the other way around is a different matter. Before I got thermal imaging I used my Archer to spot the fox in the first place then, when it was within range, I would switch on the lamp and shoot it.

The fox was usually unaware of my presence, and in the glare of the lamplight would stand long enough to allow a shot to be taken. Used in this way, the mix of lamp and night vision can be very effective.

While I was at the CLA Game Fair I met up with Rob Crampton from Best Fox Call UK, who showed me a couple of new items.

Call me: Mike puts the Faulhaber to use

Call me: Mike puts the Faulhaber to use

Rob, as most fox shooters will know, has been retailing his Best Fox Callers for some time now and they have proved very successful.

The stainless caller, which is based on the well known Australian Tenterfield call, is a useful long-range caller once mastered and one of the four calls I always have with me when out at night.

The one that really caught my eye, however, was a little yellow number called the Faulhaber Hen Call.

This is what you could describe as a ‘close in call’, as the sound it produces is akin to vole or mouse squeaks. There are one or two call sounds that work better than others, and mouse squeaks are certainly one of these, particularly in grassy areas where small rodents tend to lurk.

Calling is an imprecise science, and it is interesting to note how far it has progressed from the days when calls were done by hand.

Such experts as Pat ‘The Warrener’ Carey must sometimes wonder how they ever managed when they look at the huge array of callers on the market, some costing several hundred pounds. But manage they did and extremely successfully too.

Hot stuff: Thermal imaging has been a revelation for professional foxers and gamekeepers

Hot stuff: Thermal imaging has been a revelation for professional foxers and gamekeepers

Shooting sports have progressed at a rapid pace, and while the numbers of quarry shot may not have vastly increased, the enjoyment of trying out new equipment certainly has.

We can’t all afford to lavish our money on the latest technology, however, and it is good to see that the old ways still work just as well.

There is a lot more effort to be spent – and perhaps a great deal more satisfaction to be had – by going down the lamp-only route, and learning true fieldcraft skills should be the basis of every shoot.

After all, shooting is more than just a numbers game.

Mike Powell

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