Foxing: Old meets new

01 Longbow1

Mike Powell combines tried-and-tested technology with something new as a thermal imager in conjunction with an image-intensifier unit account for a troublesome fox

I have mentioned before that a farmer friend of mine has a small son who is farming mad. At seven years old, his one delight in life is being out with his dad on the farm. Recently he was given a few chickens of his own and the flock has now grown to around 30 birds. They lay really well and no doubt one day he will be as good a farmer as his father.

The birds he has are a bit on the adventurous side, and it is not unusual for them to escape the confines of their large enclosure and wander off. This habit has not gone unnoticed by a member of the local fox population, who has been seen on many occasions watching the birds going about their business. Unfortunately his success rate is good, and birds that go wandering seldom return. Evidence was all too easy to find in the way of the odd pile of feathers and the usual leftovers.

Pulsar HD38S: An ideal spotting unit, at an accessible price for TI

Pulsar HD38S: An ideal spotting unit, at an accessible price for TI

Clearly I had to do something about it. I spent several cold evenings in the interior of a stock box that provided a good view across the valley. On a few occasions the fox in question was seen but never offered a chance, and unless the situation is desperate I seldom just ‘have a go’ as I want to make sure as much as I can that a clean kill is the end result. I must admit I had him in my sights a couple of times and the trigger finger certainly twitched, but I resisted the temptation.

This state of affairs went on for almost a week – every time I saw it, I froze and the fox carried on his merry way. Then an evening presented itself where the cloud cover was ideal, the moon had waned to half – the only downside was there was not a breath of wind.

I gave Peter a ring to say I would be on his land and he asked if he could come along. I usually work alone but the company of a good friend always helps the time pass more pleasantly.

Arriving in the field I had decided to wait in, I parked up in a spot I had tried during daylight hours. This is a good idea – not only can you sort out the best position and angle from a field of fire point of view, but you can also check ranges. These matters are far easier sorted out in daylight than just turning up in the dark and hoping for the best.

14839990541_4d4c560327_o6Parking up, I gave the HD38S thermal imager to Pete. He immediately said there was something in the field. A quick check revealed a fox – possibly the one we were after – 200 yards away, standing looking at us. Clearly it had been there when we arrived so obviously it was well aware of our presence. This was not an ideal start. It slowly made its way away from us and up the hillside, finally ending up against the far hedge. Trying a few calls got it looking in our direction, but it wasn’t interested in coming in. In fact it eventually stopped even bothering to look up.

In the meantime we were kept occupied by the local wildlife. Three badgers were seen going about their business, a few rabbits and best of all three roe, one of which came into our field and stood for at least 10 minutes, 80 yards away just staring at us. There was another roe couched down against the hedge in the next field, clearly visible from our vantage point, but more of her later.

Trusty combo: Mike’s beloved Longbow with the NM800 infrared illuminator

Trusty combo: Mike’s beloved Longbow with the NM800 infrared illuminator

The main object of our attentions was still at the far side of the field poking about. It had now been with us for about an hour and I wondered if, as it knew we were there, it would get to the stage where it would ignore us completely. I have seen this happen, especially when I’ve been shooting from a vehicle. I suspect this occurs because in many areas foxes must often come across cars parked in dark lanes and quiet corners (one can only imagine why) and these vehicular intruders cause them no problems at all – so they cease to view them as so much of a risk.

Time passed and eventually it started to move down the field in our general direction. When it was 200 yards away I brought the night vision into play. I have had my Longbow for eight years or so now, and in truth I have never really come across anything to beat it, despite having had a lot of NV equipment pass through my hands. I use it in conjunction with a Nightmaster 800 IR – they really do make a formidable combination.

I gave the HD38S thermal imager to Pete. He immediately said there was something in the field

A look through the Longbow revealed the fox was in fact the one I had been after for the past couple of weeks. A large, stocky dog fox, sharply outlined against the sloping hillside. Knowing the range pretty well as there was a fold in the ground I knew was around the 140-yard mark, I estimated he was at 180 yards. This was within my comfort zone, so I decided the time had come. Resting the Sauer on the window bag, I had all the time in the world to take the shot. Setting the trigger, at the right moment, a touch sent the 55-grain V-Max on its merry way.

An enviable combo of kit was brought into play against this wily dog fox

An enviable combo of kit was brought into play against this wily dog fox

A thud followed and Pete, who had been following events through the thermal, said the fox dropped on the spot and never moved. Waiting a few minutes to make sure nothing else showed up, we eventually walked out to the fox, which lay 185 paces away. It was a fine specimen, in prime condition, no doubt brought about by its diet of plump poultry.

I mentioned earlier the roe that was couched against the hedge. Our route to pick up the fox took us within 40 yards or so of her, and naturally we were talking and flashing the torch about a bit. On our return to the car she was still in exactly the same place. There was a gate 25 yards away from her, so as we left I drove down to check she was ok as I thought she may have been hung up or injured. Getting out and leaning on the gate, we put the torch on her and still she didn’t move. Eventually I kicked the metal gate and finally she got up and ran, seemingly perfectly fine. I find more and more that animals bother less than ever about human intrusion into their worlds.

We returned to the farm and warmed ourselves with a drop of scotch and looked back over what had been an interesting and above all successful evening. The behaviour of the animals we encountered was fascinating and makes you wonder just how much we really know about them.

The predator plaguing Tom’s chickens is brought to book at last

The predator plaguing Tom’s chickens is brought to book at last

Returning to the equipment we were using, the Longbow is by today’s standards one of the senior citizens of the NV world, while the HD38S thermal is the newcomer on the block. There is little doubt in my mind that this combination takes a great deal of beating. It is also interesting to note that the successful ATN Night Arrow I reviewed recently uses an image intensifier arrangement, albeit with upgrades to the actual system my old Longbow uses.

Used in conjunction with a NM800 IR torch, the Longbow will clearly spot foxes at 300 yards and will give clear identification of individual animals at 250 yards – more than enough performance for night shooting. The HD38S is as revolutionary in it own way as the Longbow was when it first appeared on the scene. To spot whatever is out there with a single sweep of the thermal is a huge step forward from using either lamp or conventional night vision. Together, the old and the new make a formidable pairing.

Young Tom was more than happy to know that for the time being his precious hens are safe. We have warned him, though, that where there are chickens there will more often than not be a fox nearby taking an interest in them.

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