Fox hunting with Mark Ripley

Some foxes manage to defy the odds, much to the frustration of seasoned shooters. Mark Ripley tries to take his chances with one particular adversary.

Anyone who regularly undertakes fox-control duties, particularly on farms, will have at some point come across a very worthy adversary that no matter how hard you try, the said fox always gets lucky for one reason or another.

However, I believe in the adage that you only have to get lucky once with a fox, whereas the fox has to get lucky every time. It just so happens that for almost three months on and off I’ve pitted my wits against a fox that has frequented a particular farm and managed to elude me or survive by the skin of its teeth on numerous occasions.

I’d first seen it about during the early morning lambing sessions and sat out one cold morning, at first light, to try and catch it heading back to a small wood where I was sure it had an earth.

A couple of hours after dawn, I spotted the fox coming down the edge of the field towards the wood as I’d expected it to, and watched through the binoculars as it neared the predetermined corner of the wood, which was exactly 150 metres away and exactly the range my rifle is zeroed. Just as it neared that point, I slipped behind the rifle, ready to shout to stop it and drop it in textbook style.

What I hadn’t realised was that in the cold morning, bringing the rifle from
the warmth of the truck had caused condensation to build up over the objective lens, and I could see nothing through it! I clawed at all my pockets and found a tissue to wipe the lens just in time to see the fox slip into the cover of the wood.

I sat out again one early morning, and again it headed back to the wood, but this time from the opposite end, and came all the way on the brow of the hill with no backstop.

As there was no immediate issue with this fox, I would only visit this farm once a week or so, thinking I would get it before the pheasant poults arrived, so it wasn’t really a problem just yet. I had several blank mornings, and also tried sitting out from late afternoon until the small hours one night – all to no avail.

I saw it early one morning as I drove along above the wood out on the opposite side of the valley, some 500 yards away. I had no other place to shoot from where I could see over the vegetation, except off the bonnet of the truck. I lined up and took a long shot, but the wind was slightly stronger than I anticipated, and the round kicked up a splash of dirt just left of the fox as it sat in the sun, sending it bolting for cover.

This fox was quite distinct with a dark back, and looked like it was probably a small vixen, but it was also quite unique in its habits, as I began to find. It seemed to regularly travel from the wood, up a bank and through some farm buildings, as well as the farmer’s garden and the adjacent field.

Laser rangefinders (often built-in) are handy for planning your next move

One night I was coming back from the neighbouring farm, and checked the front field from the road with the thermal to see a fox walking up the field towards the farm with no safe backstop. Combined with the fact I’d not cleared it with the farmer to be shooting there anyhow, I had to leave it.

I then saw it one night down in the valley below the wood, again from the track, but spooked by the engine, it first ran up the mound in the bottom
of the valley bowl, and then back up the bank towards the farm. Quickly turning round, I drove back to the farm, parked the truck, and came down the bank from the other side in an attempt to cut it off.

In doing so I bumped into it on the edge of the wood, and just managed to get it into view in the night scope before it again slipped into the wood. This fox was quite distinct, with a dark back, and looked like it was probably a small vixen, but it was also quite unique in its habits, as I began to find

Another night I had the exact same thing happen, and I reacted in the same way, but this time the fox went up the bank further from the wood and past me, leaving me to cut around it and follow it across the field.

I caught up with it as it entered the wheat field below the farmhouse, and for a moment it stopped to look back at me, but again I had no shot, with a neighbouring cottage directly behind it!

With various other sightings by me and the farmer interspersed with more blank evenings and mornings, it was becoming quite the challenge to me to get this bugger. As there are very few foxes on this ground generally, I was quite confident I was seeing the same fox around with its distinct dark back.

No two foxes are the same – expect different behaviour

More recently, the farmer decided to get a trail camera, so I sorted him out with the Spypoint Link Micro-LTE from Scott Country. These are great little cameras, which instantly take a picture then send it to your phone when triggered.

The farmer set the camera up in his garden, and was rewarded with several pictures each night of a dark backed fox nosing around, always at random times between 11.30pm and 4.30am.

In early August, they cut the wheat below the farm house where I felt
pretty sure they would flush a fox, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there waiting with the shotgun due to work commitments. A few of the farm lads, however, did follow the combine along, but surprisingly nothing was seen except for a few rabbits.

I did, however, have the evening free the day they cut the wheat, so decided it would be worth a look at last light to see if anything visited the stubble to cash in on the now exposed mice and other goodies that had, until now, enjoyed the thick cover of the crop.

As this is a pretty large field, and it was a fairly windy evening, I opted for
my 260 rifle, as it would be better for long shots from a static position. I had also just upgraded the scope to one of the new Nexus scopes from Element optics, which was proving to be an excellent scope, so I was keen to see how it would perform at night. I’ll be reviewing the Nexus in more detail in the next issue!

Although I always prefer a dedicated night scope when shooting after dark,
I felt this would be a better option for shooting at dusk, and I could always use my night vision add on with it once it was too dark to see.

Setting up on a bale in the middle of the field, I sat and waited for a couple of hours. As day turned to dusk, a few rabbits appeared, followed by a couple of badgers hunting the stubble, one of which I squeaked to within 10 yards of me before it saw me hiding behind the bale.

Once it was properly dark, I put out my fox pro caller and set it going with several different calls, pausing for a few minutes between each. It got to around 11pm, and I was beginning to think about getting home for something to eat and a cheeky little nightcap or two when a heat source caught my eye through the Pulsar Accolade. Probably only 60 yards to my right, a fox sat looking towards me, that could only have come from the farm garden.

It looked a little suspicious, so I carefully set the caller going again, which was further down the field, in the hope that it might draw the fox towards it and away from me. Sure enough, as soon as it started, the fox’s head spun round towards the caller, and it confidently trotted out towards it.

The Element Nexus scope did the job in a large, windy field

At about 70 yards I gave it a shout and it stopped side on, making for an easy shot off the bale, punching a small hole in the chest of the fox and taking an array of working parts out the other side. I could clearly see through the scope that the back on this fox was definitely dark, and
I quickly hurried over to check if I had finally dealt with my nemesis.

The vixen was indeed very dark backed, but what puzzled me was this was one of this year’s foxes, and wouldn’t have been around when I first saw a dark backed fox during lambing. Could this perhaps be an offspring from the one I’d seen previously that had inherited its parents’ coat markings?

My fears were confirmed the next morning when the farmer forwarded a picture from his trail camera of a more adult-looking dark-backed fox from the early hours after I had left the farm…

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