Fox control in springtime with Mark Ripley

With the days getting longer, Mark Ripley explains that his springtime fox control has already started in earnest.

Credit: LockieCurrie / Getty Images

Spring is by far my busiest time of the year for fox control, as the majority of the ground that I look after is designated to sheep farming. Most of these farms will begin lambing from 1 April and although we have been hitting the foxes hard since the start of the year, a field full of young lambs and afterbirth pulls foxes in like a drunken youth to a kebab shop.

One fundamental of fox control is understanding what to look out for. Foxes are drawn in to the smell of blood and afterbirth along with the small cries of a young animals.

Although clearing up the afterbirth of those lambed out in the open may be welcomed, it’s not long before a fox’s attention can turn to the young lambs, especially when they are still covered with afterbirth and unable to stand. 

As most ewes will often carry twins, a fox can quickly take the first lamb while the ewe is giving birth to the second, leaving her unable to chase the fox away. If the ewes haven’t been scanned then a farmer may well not even realise he has lost any lambs until it is too late.

A couple of years back my shooting partner had the satisfaction of shooting a fox in the process of taking a lamb. This particular fox turned out to be a small vixen and the lamb was a good size, in fact almost as big as the fox.

Once a fox takes to killing lambs, we have found time and again, that it will continue to do so – sometimes one a night – until the guilty fox is shot. Then sprees of kills will stop as quickly as they started.

Most sheep farmers that have previously seen the damage foxes can do during lambing tend to take a zero tolerance policy with them, meaning any fox on the ground is a potential threat and they will want it removed.

It’s very difficult to reduce fox numbers in our area for very long with an ever abundant supply seemingly coming in to fill the void. For this reason we try to hit them hard from the end of the year through until the end of lambing or at least until the lambs are big enough to be less vulnerable to predation.

Badgers can also be a threat during lambing and can be just as troublesome as foxes, however, as we are all aware under the current laws and general licence systems there is little we can do about that.

Last week I paid a visit to a small farm owned by a friend of mine. The farm is probably only 15-20 acres and from a shooting point of view offers few opportunities, with a road running through part of it and several houses dotted around, making it difficult to find safe angles to shoot from.

For this reason I usually only shoot it a couple of times a year just prior to lambing, or more if he is suffering problems.

Scoping for the quarry – switch on your thermal imaging and they easily stand out

Once, a few years back, my friend witnessed a fox biting at a lamb during the day which he chased away but it was enough for him to ensure I got a phone call before lambing started to “thin out the locals” so to speak.

This came about well before 1 April that year on account of his lust-inspired ram breaking out and getting in with the ewes. Needless to say, there were several “unplanned surprises” early that year!

This year, I called into the farm around 9pm mid-week as a rather token gesture. With the heavy rain we had had the fields were very wet and completely flooded in some areas.

I headed for the top of one field where a fallen tree lies, overlooking a slight dip with a stream and a few trees before rising back up the other side. This spot provides a nice safe field of fire and a good spot to set up with the FoxPro Caller going and see what comes in.

I’ve been using a Savage rifle recently in .223 which I’ve become rather fond of. The rifle is a BA Stealth, a nice little compact rifle that shoots well and I have set up with the impressive Sightmark Wraith day/night-vision riflescope.

Recommended viewing – Sightmark Wraith in the field

Armed with this combo and a Rekon tripod I set up right next to the fallen dead tree in order to hide my outline as best I could. I put the caller out about 50 yards in front of me in a safe shooting area and let it sing out.

Before long a fox appeared from the trees by the stream and came in quickly to the caller. The fox didn’t take long to realise that all was not well and went to run, but hesitated for a second look.

I was already on it at little more than 40 yards and dropped it where it stood. Despite the shot a second fox appeared from further up alongside the stream and came in. This one either spotted me or clocked its dead mate and was smartly off without looking back.

I spotted a third fox wandering around the field behind me soon after. It was taking no notice of the caller and unfortunately was in an area where I couldn’t get a safe shot – with a house at the top of the field behind some trees.

As I watched and waited I tried a couple of different calls. Despite this, the fox was still content to continue to mouse around in the grass. It began to work its way steadily towards me until it was around 50 yards away, still unaware I was there, and finally offered a safe shot.

I switched on the Wraith and lined up on it. As I did so, I noticed yet another fox pass by in the background! I squeezed the trigger taking advantage of the easy shot.

Best foxing kit options

Looking around with the thermal I could see the other fox had taken little notice of the sound of the shot and was simply wandering off into the next field. I decided to stealthily give chase being careful to circle around the sheep gathered around the top of the field so as not to spook them, and in turn the fox, but also so as not to separate the few early lambs from their mothers leaving them more vulnerable.

I soon found my quarry scratching around at the foot of a large oak tree, stood alone in the middle of the next field. I managed to close the distance to around 100 yards although the fox soon became aware I was there. He didn’t seem bothered and instead sat down to watch proceedings, clearly feeling he was at a safe distance.

Looking through the scope I could see I had a good bit of rising ground behind my target, so leaning into the rifle, resting again on its tripod, I rolled this thick set dog fox over onto its side.

With work in the morning I decided I’d have a quick look on the other side of the road before calling it a night. I walked quietly down the track towards the road and over the gate.

There were a few rabbits around the edges of the field, and I could hear a fox calling in the next field over the boundary and yet another further back on the farm.

As I scanned around the field I saw what I was sure was a fox around 80 yards from me and walking away. I quickly went over to the riflescope but couldn’t see anything. Another look with the thermal showed two hot blobs about 200 yards away by the boundary. 

The .223 Savage BA Stealth with Sightmark Wraith day/night-vision riflescope

Checking them through the scope showed them to be both rabbits. I figured that either I’d been mistaken or the fox had gone through the hedge unseen. So I put the caller out in the field again, hoping to pull in one of the calling foxes that were nearby.

As soon as I started it up a fox sat up out of a shallow scrape in the field exactly where I thought I’d seen one, staring intently towards the caller. A quick shot and this one also went over, making my tally an even two vixens and two dog foxes.

I walked over and collected the vixen and was just about to climb over the gate when with a last scan of the field I spied another fox coming quickly towards me along the hedge!

Quick as I was, by the time I got the rifle up and the scope on it the fox was almost walking into me! This last one was somewhat luckier than the others and raced off across the field and into cover. It certainly seems that I will need to give this ground a little more attention before the rest of the ewes give birth.

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