Fox flood

Mark Ripley is faced with a surprisingly large number of foxes on his patch. But no matter how many he brings to book, there’s always one that gets away

Since the cattleman was Polish, I was sure there must have been a translation problem when the farmer relayed the message to me that five foxes had been seen together in the field where the cows were grazing at first light. On another occasion he had seen two in the same area, again at first light. I figured either way he must have seen foxes about, so it was definitely worth a look.

Mark’s fox box was conveniently placed for a view over the fox entry point…

Normally I would pay the field a visit at the same time they had been seen. This has often served me well in the past based on the theory that foxes are creatures of habit. However, as I had planned to get out that evening to try out a Fox Pro caller I had on review, I thought this would be a good opportunity. There were also several fields of maize that had recently been cut, so much of the farm that had been obscured was now visible, meaning there was more chance of getting a shot on a fox rather than have it slip into the cover of the maize at the first sign of danger.

That afternoon I headed back up the farm armed with the .223, as I needed to re-zero it with the Drone Pro nightscope. I had recently been reviewing the Pulsar Ultra N355 night scope, supplied by Scott Country – an excellent little scope for the money with lots of good features – but I’d recently given the unit back. I always keep a note of the zero setting numbers for the Drone Pro for any rifles I put it on, so if I re-zero the scope again on that rifle, I should be pretty near to where it wants to be.

As it happens, I always zero my rifles from my fox box, which has one of SSS Steel Targets’ 6in steel gongs permanently set up in the same field, which conveniently was also the same field the fox or foxes had been seen in. Re-mounting the drone back on the rifle and dialling in the previous zero settings, I was pleased to find the scope went straight back to a perfect zero. With the rifle zeroed for an inch high at 100 yards, it equates to a 200-yard zero with a drop of around 7in at 300 yards. Just to confirm this, I loaded the magazine with four rounds, gave the scope a little holdover on the 300-yard gong, and despite a little horizontal drift from the breeze coming across the field, put all four rounds on the target. I was pleased with this given that I was shooting with a nightscope.

…as well as for some
pre-shoot target practice

The next evening I headed back down to the farm, parking in the yard before slipping quietly through between the farm buildings out into the field behind. A quick peek through the XP38 thermal spotter showed nothing but cattle in the grass field to the left of the fox box, and nothing more than a couple of rabbits out on the freshly ploughed field in front of the box. I wandered out on to the ploughed field and placed the Fox Pro caller out at around 80 yards before climbing up into the fox box and getting set up. I also placed my jacket on the shooting platform so it would muffle any sounds of adjusting the rifle position for a shot or putting down the thermal or caller remote if a fox was in close.

The caller got going with a baby rabbit call, and it wasn’t long before two foxes appeared from the edge of the slurry pit that separates the two fields for the first 50 yards out from the farm. Both foxes headed out towards the caller at a steady trot, keeping pace with each other side by side and 10 yards apart. Then the closest fox peeled away to cut across the earth toward the caller and directly in front of me. I muted the caller before lining up on the first fox around 70 yards in front of me, making for an easy shot and dropping it in its tracks.

A quick check with the thermal showed the second fox further out on the plough, still looking for the caller and showing little concern about the previous shot. At around 100 yards and broadside, this one also presented an easy shot, and a second fox slumped onto the freshly turned earth. I left them where they lay, and again started up the caller.

Two more foxes must have been close by; they appeared among the cattle in the next field. This time only one showed any interest in the caller, and wandered towards it. It seemed reluctant to come on to the ploughed earth, and instead trotted away down the field. I had already muted the caller, and so gave a couple of mouth squeaks. The fox stopped several times to look back, still intrigued, yet each time with cattle behind it.

Mark picks out a fox using the Drone Pro

Eventually the fox sat down with a clear backstop, but a good 150 yards out. It was sat facing me, so I aimed at its neck, giving me little margin for vertical error. There was a crack then a delayed reaction from the fox as it slumped sideways, stone dead.

I scanned around again to find that the fourth fox was still there, and had in fact been joined by a fifth. I couldn’t believe the number of foxes suddenly in the area. Amazed, I put the caller back on. One fox decided there was something more interesting it needed to be doing on the other side of the hedge, and disappeared. The other, however, decided to investigate the caller, and headed between the cattle to my left. Before it got that far, I saw an opportunity as the fox wandered into a clear area of the field, and at around 120 yards I rolled it over dead with a solid chest shot.

A fruitful first night’s foxing, but Mark wasn’t done yet…

Despite calling for a while longer, nothing else showed, so I unloaded the rifle and climbed down to gather the fallen foxes. I collected the first three, easily visible through the thermal, but the fourth was proving more difficult to find among the cowpats and warm spots where the cattle had been lying, now disturbed by my presence in the field. I wandered among the cattle, cautiously using the thermal, as cows tend to get jumpy and charge about if spooked with a lamp – not a good thing when you’re stood in the field. Without the use of the torch and the cattle now following me with others trotting over, I decided it would be safer to come back and look for it the following day. I left the other three in the farmyard so the farmer would see them and know I’d been doing my job.

The following afternoon, I headed back to the field to find the cattle conveniently in the collection yard and the field empty. I soon found the missing fox carcase, and decided to have a walk along the hedgerow to see how many rabbits were out to get an idea of numbers for a later sortie on those too. Oddly for a sunny afternoon, there was hardly anything out. Then I discovered why: a fox bolted from the hedge 20 yards in front of me, running off up along the edge of the field before going back through the hedge a couple of hundred yards further up. I kicked myself for not bringing the shotgun with me and decided that another visit at a later date would be called for.

…and even after he mopped up another, there was still another one at large

As I keep a regular check on the fox numbers here, I was pretty sure that this lot had just moved in, most likely a litter of this year’s cubs moved on by the vixen, arriving from a neighbouring farm.

A week or so later I was decoying pigeons on the maize stubble, and despite the occasional shot I was surprised to see a fox trot along the same hedge line, only this time on the other side of the farm some 500 yards away and around the same time in the afternoon as previously. This was most likely the same fox.

I’ve sat out twice since during the late afternoon, but as yet I’ve still not been able to come to terms with this last fox. Obviously the cattleman had indeed been right: there had been at least five foxes in the area. This last fox clearly seems to have taken up residence in the area so it’s just a matter of time I’m sure until our paths cross again. To be continued…

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