If I had a pound for every time I’ve been questioned about dealing with difficult foxes I would be a very rich man indeed. The trouble is that there’s no straightforward answer, as every situation is different; many are similar but no two are ever the same.
Shooters who boast they have the foxing job sussed are as often as not outwitted due to their blinkered attitude towards their own ability. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not painting a picture of doom and gloom here that foxing with lamp and rifle is inherently difficult or above the average shooter’s ability. Not at all, the point is that we all make mistakes. But to improve our ability we must realise them and try not to give a repeat performance. Every foxer, myself definitely included, remembers the red-letter days – or should that be nights? Failures are very easily forgotten, but the reasons for the failure should not be.
There are some myths in particular that need to be immediately dispelled by the budding fox shooter and possibly even some of the more experienced ones. It is a common belief that one cannot over-call. This is folly. No two foxes are the same and not all will come in – no matter how good you are at manually calling or how hi-tech your electronic digital gizmo is. It’s not just dependent on the particular fox but also on his mood or how full his belly is at the time. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, please don’t go out with the preconceived idea that it will be just another night spotting eyes, calling up the sighted fox to a sensible range and rolling him over with a good shot before moving on to the next one. If only it were actually that simple.
The fox is a born survivor: it’s top of the food chain in its own environment and we are really the intruders into the fox’s world. A world where there are no convenient supermarkets, central heating or audiovisual entertainment. An environment many of us decide not to venture into when the weather turns nasty. I am like many other shooters – and probably many non-shooters too – in that I enjoy those long summer evenings when I can take a break after work to have my evening meal, put my feet up for a couple of hours and still be up on the fell before the sun slips behind the horizon to let the moon take over for the nightshift. Those evenings are precious and seem to be getting fewer as each year turns.
Despite my warning about over-calling, in summer you are just as likely to call a few foxes out of their lying up spots in suitable cover before nightfall as you are slogging over field after field in search of a sighting during darkness. I’ve done full nights without sleep, far too many to count, and worked the next day in pursuit of a particularly troublesome fox. The irony is that, on so many occasions when you aren’t trying that hard you almost trip over the damn fox and after taking a successful shot it seems so easy it is almost untrue. In fact, tales of the times I’ve just had a casual walkabout with the rimfire and happened across a normally-elusive fox would fill these pages on their own.
Fortunately though, I’ve usually been quick enough to react to the fox while within range with a well-placed headshot and stolen a welcome result. The key point here is not to become complacent, expect the unexpected and be ready to exploit an advantageous position to the full.
What do you suppose a fox actually sees when it looks at the glare of a lamp shining back at it? If it isn’t lamp shy I don’t for one instant presume that it immediately thinks danger. I believe it is a mixed sense of curiosity, confusion and a fair dose of caution to what to Charlie must be a big ball of daylight. Of course most experienced foxers will have on occasion had foxes steaming in, almost suicidal, but this is definitely not always the case. Far from it; the times when Charlie hangs just out of range, circling, appearing to the side and trying to catch your wind are much more commonplace.
A mistake many will make when dealing with difficult foxes is the tendency to think of them as rogue animals with a mythical ability to avoid danger. They accredit more difficulty to the situation than really exists. This has certain shooters trying elaborate ruses to outwit old ‘Super Charlie’, but in their haste to dream up the ingenious they quite often forget the basics and educate the fox more with their lack of success. This will create a frustrating perpetual cycle. Yes, a fox has acute senses and an uncanny ability for self-preservation, but he does not walk on water or need a silver bullet. All animals survive by being adaptable and having the ability to learn quickly from experience. Take four fox cubs waiting by the verge side to cross a road. The first cub attempts a crossing and is reassembled into a flatter profile by a passing car. Then there were three fox cubs – but all are now very much educated about the dangers of the tarmac. Equally, a fox that had been half-mesmerised by a high powered lamp while being drawn in by a tempting squeak that promised an easy meal but actually culminated in a terrifying crack and a close shave with a bullet, has plenty of new notes to make for his further education in survival course.
Don’t forget the basics throughout the year, such as searching for fresh earths or likely holes the vixen may be using. Those old regular runs that foxes have used in the past are all worth checking out, but don’t venture too close at cubbing time or the vixen will move her charges before you return. Also, when the weather leaves the ground muddy keep an eye out for fresh tracks and other clues to Charlie’s routes and routine. Look for vantage points over obvious travel paths and above all remain focused. As you search the area where the fox is causing problems, it is so easy to become complacent. Time put in is time well spent, and knowing Charlie’s ways will give you the edge over the educated fox, enabling you to eventually bring him to book.
Sometimes when lamping you will come across foxes that are actually put off by the call for no apparent reason. I have seen this many times, even when using a proven call, and am convinced that it was the call that put the fox off. If you find yourself in this situation and the fox is behaving cautiously circling out of range, just pocket the call, turn off the lamp and sit tight. When your eyes return to what natural night vision humans have you may or may not make out movement in the area you last saw the fox, but never ever presume it is a fox. Often as not Charlie, without further visual or audible disturbance, will carry on the way it was heading. If this was across your sightline or in your general direction you’ve nothing to lose by waiting those extra five or 10 minutes before flicking the lamp on again to see if he is now in a safe position to shoot. But be ready, Charlie will not hang around this time.
Another lamping mistake commonly made by the inexperienced is to switch off the lamp when the fox is totally committed and, although out of range, is coming in strong. All of a sudden the lamp goes off, the fox sees your silhouette and is gone. This has often happened to me when lamping with a new companion and his inexperience has led to us losing a dead ringer. Needless to say I do run through the dos and don’ts with my lamp man, but instructions are often forgotten in the excitement. Joking about mistakes and laughing it off does far more good than chastising a beginner. Just because they don’t have the experience you have does not make them a bad person. It will prove much more fruitful if you are constructive when correcting a newcomer’s errors – who knows, a new shooting acquaintance may well be formed. He could even turn out to be the guy you can call on when you are dealing with difficult foxes and going solo is not an option, or your regular light man is unavailable. That is when your patience will be rewarded. Howard Heywood