The sight of a few snowflakes falling gets me more excited than the kids. For them, a blanket of white stuff might mean a day or two off school filled with snowball fights and sledging, but for me it means some of the best foxing days of the year.
Despite its downsides – the frozen fingers and toes, and generally getting soaked through – this is probably one of the most exciting times to be out after our vulpine quarry. With much of the fox’s usual food source buried under snow or frozen solid, it means Reynard will be hungry and out hunting for longer. He will also be more inclined to respond to a prey call. I’ve had many successful outings calling foxes in the snow, several times shooting doubles and a even trebles within yards of each other as they run in to a call. I’ve even used a shotgun for the job – that’s how close they come. This is one time in the year when the tables are turned heavily toward the hunter, with the white landscape bringing several advantages. The first and most obvious is the fact that the fox is ginger and stands out well on a white field. This is particularly useful not just because you can easily spot them, but also because it reduces your reliance on kit. On a cold, clear moonlit night, you can forgo a lamp or NV and shoot them against the snow with a decent day scope.
The snow also tells you a lot about the habits of foxes on your ground. After a fresh fall at night, I like to get out first thing in the morning to see what’s been where. A fresh set of fox tracks is easy to recognise, often with an accompanying swish mark in the snow from its tail. Fresh tracks will have clear-cut edges; you can press your hand into the snow next to them for comparison. If the track is in the sun, the edges will quickly lose their sharpness, and can make you think the track is older than it is. On the other hand, overnight when temperatures are lower, the track may freeze, retaining its fresh look. The best guide is the snow itself – know how long ago it last snowed, and check if the track is partly covered in fresh snow or not. If tracks are fresh, it pays to follow them to areas where a fox may be laid up in cover, and try calling. Often in these weather conditions the air is still and a call will travel a lot further – but so will the sound of crunching snow when walking, so it’s worth tucking well into cover before calling.
Like the fox, you too will stand out against stark, white snow, so your normal camo may well fail to hide you unless you are in a heavily wooded area.
As it doesn’t snow that often in my part of the world, I don’t bother buying any sort of snow suit. Instead, I simply get an old white sheet, cut a hole in the middle, put my head through and trim it to form a sort of white poncho. If you move into a wooded area, you can stuff it in a pocket, and the rest of the time wear it over your camo jacket. You can also easily drape it over your rifle or shooting sticks in front of you for camouflage.
For longer periods of snow, bait sites work well once foxes find them – but they must be baited every evening, or birds will gorge on the bait before foxes get a chance to find it and start to visit. If a bait site isn’t regularly topped up, foxes keen on conserving energy in the cold will stop visiting. Again, with a bait site you can see by the tracks in the snow how much activity the bait attracts before sitting out to wait. Should you shoot a fox that doesn’t drop instantly on the spot, as occasionally happens, a blood trail and tracks should make for easy recovery of the carcase. When calling in the snow, you need to get well set up before you start calling. Make sure you clear any snow underfoot so you can adjust your position with the least amount of noise, and be sure you are well hidden, with a tree or another large object behind you to obscure your outline.
An electronic caller with a remote is ideal for the task. It will keep a fox’s attention fixed on the caller rather than you. I like to use a road pin cut down to about 18 inches to drive into the ground and hold the caller out of the wet snow, as well as helping the sound to travel. It’s good practice to mute the caller before the fox gets too close to it and realises the scam. I tend to use this technique throughout the year, but in the winter with fewer prey animals around, foxes are likely to come recklessly fast into a call on an empty stomach, especially at night when he will feel safer.
I’m hoping this winter will bring a dusting of the white stuff, as I have some new products on test that should work well in the snow. The first is a Flextone FLX50 caller from Scott Country, which has been proving effective, with a good range of both volume and calls (the pygmy rabbit being one of my favourites). This isn’t an expensive call, and is small enough that it can be crammed into a jacket pocket. Though it’s not remote controlled, you can put it down and leave it running, though you will most likely need to shout at a fox if it comes charging in. Another couple of bits of kit I’m really into are the thermal XQ38F Helion spotter and Trail XQ50 thermal rifle scope, both made by Pulsar and again available from Scott Country. As these work on heat source, in cold weather these are remarkably clear, showing the body heat of a fox in detail within usual shooting ranges. I’ve been out twice in the last couple of weeks, as well as one quick zero check, and have shot 12 foxes in roughly the same number of hours at ranges from 60 to 210 yards. The beauty of thermal is that it is completely covert, and eliminates issues such as glare back off grass and foliage – something you often encounter when lamping or using an an infra-red lamp with night vision.
For the last few years, I’ve been using an older thermal spotter, the HD38, and though it still does a fine job, it is put to shame by the quality of the Helion spotter. For anyone who hasn’t taken the step to a thermal unit to use as a spotter, I can’t recommend one highly enough. These things really are game changers, and could even be the best bit of foxing gear you will ever buy. With prices now coming within the reach of many shooters, I can see them becoming very much the norm if they haven’t already.
Another caller I’ve always had good results with over the years, and is seen by most as the benchmark of callers, is the FoxPro caller. I have the basic model in the range, the Wildfire, which I bought for around £200. It does all it needs to do without adding too many bells and whistles, and has accounted for hundreds of foxes since I’ve had it.
Using these callers in conjunction with the thermal equipment is a hugely effective method of fox control at this time of year. Just last night I went out after a problem fox who had been after some poultry in a field behind a cottage. Turning up at the farm at 9pm, I clambered up on some bales in the barn to get a good view of the field. Putting the caller on from my shooting position among the bales and using the remote, after around 10 minutes said fox appeared through the hedge by the cottage, and came trotting toward the caller.
At 150 yards he became hesitant, but it didn’t matter, I’d watched him come in through the Helion spotter and identified him as 100 per cent fox before going over to the riflescope. The scope is just as clear as if not clearer than the spotter, and I watched as this fox nosed around something in the field, giving me all the time I wanted to choose my moment and drop him where he stood completely oblivious to my presence. Within half an hour of arriving I’d got the job done, retrieved the fox, texted the farmer and was on my way home.