From dusk till dawn

Top foxer Mark Nicholson shows how effective lamping is after suffering more than a little anxiety owing to the late harvest in East Yorkshire

All-nighter: When the cereals are cut, it’s time for some serious foxing

Owing to the wet weather in August, the harvest had been delayed. This had put my fox control operations seriously behind. I control foxes over a mixture of arable, pasture and woodland. Around 80 per cent is arable, and any cubs that get away from the earth are tricky to mop up until the harvest is completed.

In general, modern cereal farming means big fields. What were once four or five separate fields are now combined into one larger field, often exceeding 100 acres. This means lamping is more viable from a vehicle rather than on foot on these larger holdings. Successful lamping is a team effort, requiring an experienced and accomplished rifleman and an equally experienced lamper and driver.

Thankfully, a certain number of cereal fields had been cut at last. Keen to get going, I arranged to meet my cousin and lamping partner, Paul, at the estate’s timber yard the first night there were enough stubbles for us to have a crack at the foxes. There was good cloud cover with a light south-westerly breeze. On arrival, I fitted the suction bar to the roof of the Ranger over the driver’s window for me to use as the spotter. Paul would work the handheld Lightforce lamp from the cab once I had located a fox, leaving me to do the necessary with rifle and call if required.

Eye shine is what many rely on when lamping foxes, but often I have watched someone sweeping a field with the beam pass a fox by, simply because they are looking for the glint of an eye and nothing else. Eye shine is what gives most foxes away, and most will fall to the rifle. However, a hunting fox with his head down working across a stubble field or running low down a tramline will often take no notice of the beam. Spotting the movement or outline of a fox uninterested in your illuminations can account for many difficult foxes.

Mounting up at the yard, we soon set off down the estate track and turned into the first barley stubble, which ran alongside a field of standing beans. At the far end stood a wood. Flicking on the lamp, I made the first sweep of the field with the red filtered lamp. A good-sized cub was sat no more than 120 yards out. I cut the light and took hold of the rifle, chambering a round before Paul stopped the engine. A fox will tolerate the sound of a vehicle much more than it will the ‘clink clink’ of a rifle bolt being worked, so Paul always gives me a couple of seconds before silence ensues.

Tricky business: Juggling lamp, caller and steering wheel is no mean feat

Taking a good rest on the mirror, Paul illuminated the cub, which was still sat bolt upright. I settled the crosshair on its chest and squeezed off the round to see the fox drop instantly. Another set of eyes appeared 200 yards beyond the shot cub – no doubt its attention was attracted by the moderated ‘tunk’. Killing the beam, we kept quiet for a few minutes before I began to squeak using my mouth on the palm of my hand. A few minutes later I flicked the lamp back on, and the fox was seen making his way towards us.

Leaving the lamp on, with the beam circle just in front of this cub, I kept calling and raised the rifle. Paul picked him up in his beam, and I tracked the cub in my Schmidt & Bender 8×56 optic. As the fox filled the scope, I stopped calling and gave out a bark, bringing the cub to an abrupt halt. He was then instantly halted for good when the V-Max entered his chest and destroyed his vitals.
Once more I let things settle down before calling again, in between sweeps of the field with the lamp. I tend to call and lamp separately until the fox is within range. Only then will I keep the beam on – in front of his general direction, not on him – and I always keep calling. The closer he gets, the softer, quieter and less frequently I call. The trick is to call just enough to keep the fox interested. If the fox becomes hesitant, it is fine to line him up and shoot if safe. Again, when to shoot is all down to experience, but it is better to decline than to educate a fox with a shot beyond your abilities.
After a further 15 minutes of calling nothing showed, so we gathered the two shot cubs and pressed on to a series of rape and pea stubbles. A fox soon showed in the middle of one of the few ploughings about 250 yards out. It looked back a couple of times but made off before we even stopped the truck. We left him for the moment, and carried on towards a grass valley with woodland on one side and 100 acres of maize on the other. Paul had seen a couple of cubs two days before by the maize.

I drove into the valley before stopping, getting out of the truck and setting up the bipod on the vehicle bonnet as quickly and quietly as possible. The first sweep along the valley side showed three cubs in the lamp along the hedge below the maize. I switched the lamp off and started calling just loud enough for them to respond. Paul put his lamp on and held it low as the cubs made haste down the hill. Two of them were racing in and the third was a bit of a plodder. As the two sprinters got within 50 yards, Paul lit up the furthest cub around 100 yards away. He stopped broadside on as the main beam dazzled him, and I settled the crosshairs on his chest.

Squeezing off the trigger, I heard the unmistakable thwack of success, and instantly reloaded. Paul tracked one of the other two cubs with the lamp, and I gave out a loud hare squeak to stop him just enough to add him to the bag. I racked another bullet up as Paul picked up the third cub heading back up the valley. I gave out a screechy bark and settled behind the rifle. At just over 200 yards I steadied the Schmidt crosshairs on his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. I saw the cub roll over before I heard the welcome bullet strike. Satisfied all three cubs were dead, we scanned the valley for signs of more litter members but nothing showed.

After gathering the cubs, we drove further into the valley, scanning all the way. I soon got a glint of eyes from a nettle patch only 50 yards or so up the hill to my right. Leaving the lamp on the nettles, I reached for the rifle and slid home a round with the truck still running.

Dawn does it: Daylight called an end to a successful foxing excursion

Moments later we spotted the eyes of an unmistakable fox, which was now stood at the near side of the nettles showing us some interest. At no more than 40 yards away, he too paid the penalty.
Cub number six was safely in the truck before midnight. We carefully scanned the area before turning round and heading out over the stubbles on the wooded side of the valley, and cleaned up another six cubs and a very old vixen.

Heading in to the main part of the shoot in the central park of the estate, I was keen to try a new caller I had on test, known as the Mini Colibri. The basic caller comes complete with six predator calls and three corvid calls. It’s very compact and comes with a belt clip, as well as being small enough to fit in your pocket. Each call is numbered 1-9, which clearly shows on the digital screen, and it is extremely easy to change between calls and increase or decrease volume. The high volume settings could easily call a fox in from well over half a mile in the right conditions.

After scanning a suitable field above a disused quarry, I clicked the Mini to the rabbit setting and increased the volume to about the same as a regular back-of-the-hand call. I let the call play for three or four minutes before turning the volume button down another notch and having a scan with the lamp.

Nothing showed, but I was impressed with crispness of the sound. I increased the volume, then turned it off for five minutes. Turning the call back on, but at reduced volume, I began searching with the lamp on the far side of the quarry.

A rough grass field ran up the hill away from the pit, and beyond the beam of the filtered lamp. However, the red beam was able to detect the glint of another fox’s eyes. In the distance I watched for a few seconds before turning off the lamp and turning the caller volume down and then back up before reducing it once more. Every so often, I find that a louder squeak when calling a fox at distance will focus him more, and this is very easily done with the Mini Colibri.

The fox came down the hill towards the call. I estimated the fox at around 300 yards away, and he was still closing. I got behind the rifle and spied him through the scope. He looked like a biggish dog fox, and I decided to take a shot before he reached the quarry. At around 250 yards he stopped and turned broadside, and with a good-sized target to shoot at I settled the scope on his engine room and touched off the trigger.

He disappeared instantly, but, owing to a slight muzzle flip, I did not see him go down. We marked the spot where the fox was stood, and drove around for a look. Happily, it didn’t take us too long to find him dead on the spot.

After shooting two more in the park and one in the last field, dawn was almost upon us and we decided to call it a night with a dozen cubs, a vixen and a dog fox. I will be very keen to try the dog and vixen call settings in a few months when winter will be upon us, but this effective little device has shown a lot of promise.

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