Good things come in threes

Robert Bucknell heads out in the hope of getting one fox, and ends up having much better luck…

Anyone who shoots foxes will tell you that things don’t always go to plan.

Try as you might, you can’t kill every fox stone dead in its tracks – so it pays to have put in the practice with your rifle so you can put things right as quickly as possible. One fox I shot recently was a good example of that.

My first shot wasn’t perfect, but by staying calm I was able to swiftly put things right.

I was running round in the truck one evening and headed down one of the tracks on the old airfield. I spotted a likely suspect well over 500 yards away in an adjoining field, so I immediately changed course and drove round to a spot downwind where I could check with the thermal.

Nothing. The fox I’d seen was clearly on the move, and had kept moving, so I headed back to the airfield to continue my rounds.

Shortly after that I spotted another set of eyes a long way out in the big 40-acre field not far from where I had seen the first one. Again, I killed the lamp and reached for the thermal.

I could see several hares dotted about the field, and down where the eyes had been there was something… but I couldn’t be sure it was a fox. I switched the lamp back on for a second and scanned across to check.

Yes, there were the eyes again. By now I was sure it was a fox, but it was partly hidden by the wheat that had started to come up in the field. I sat watching, and realised it was curled up resting.

While scanning the field it was resting in with the thermal, I could see several coveys of partridges jugging down. The last thing I wanted was a fox spending the night putting them off their roost and then hunting them down one by one. 

It was a long way off, and I didn’t have much to aim at, so I decided to wait and see what would happen. I waited an hour as darkness fell, certain that the fox would move eventually.

During that hour I tried every possible call with five-minute gaps, from little mouse squeaks to a full-blown blast on the Tenterfield – and the fox ignored the lot.

After a while, a hare began working its way towards the fox from the right, apparently unaware. This should be interesting, I thought, as the hare got closer.

Eventually the fox sat up for a better look and the hare did a kind of double take – it was a moment that deserved one of those cartoon sound effects, like when Roadrunner suddenly realises he’s an arm’s length away from Wile E Coyote.

The hare sensibly didn’t run, but instead kind of tiptoed away as if he was going that way anyway – no doubt keeping a very close eye over his shoulder.

By now the fox was sitting up watching, making a good target, so I lined up the rifle, looked through the Pulsar Apex XD50 thermal scope and calculated elevation and windage.

It was a long shot, around the 300-yard mark, so I needed several inches of holdover, and then there was the strong wind from the left to allow for. I made a few mental calculations, aimed off, and squeezed the round away.

The fox reacted immediately, which is always a sign of a hit rather than a round just passing nearby – but it set off moving right to left, probably on the track it had been following before it settled down. After some time, it stopped to look back. That was the chance I needed. I fired again – and it dropped stone dead about 80 yards from its resting place.

There was no rush for collection, so I put a handkerchief in the grass to mark the spot when I returned later. Next morning, I parked next to the handkerchief and walked across to pick up the fox.

When I got there, I measured the distance back to the truck with my laser rangefinder – it was 295 yards. My first shot had gone slightly low, as I’d underestimated the range and wind; it had gone through high up on its front leg, but not breaking the bone.

The shock of that sort of hit often slows them down rather than speeding them up and it had been angling back towards me. My rifle is zeroed at 100 yards, and at 300 I need to allow for nine inches of drop.

It turned out to be an old dog fox who had been around quite some time, which is probably why he took no notice of my repertoire of calls. I expect he’d heard them all before.

So that was one fox, but I wasn’t done. I headed off to the area where Colin the keeper had spotted one a night or two before. I found a spot just back from a gateway where I could look through the gap, down the length of a 14-acre meadow. I had a good view all round in fact, apart from the hedge in front, but a scan with the thermal revealed nothing.

I gave a few calls to see what might happen. There was a muntjac out in the grass field, maybe 60 or 70 yards away through the gateway, nibbling at this and that. I was watching him when suddenly a fox popped up in the gateway, 20 yards closer than the muntjac.

I needed to move – but very, very slowly. I kept the thermal to my left eye as I gradually sank down and brought the rifle into line. The fox was still looking in my direction, it was all going well – when ‘Bong!’ The noise came from one of the empty 40-gallon drums stored behind the farm nearby.

They expand in the warmth of the sun, then contract at night, randomly producing a loud noise that would make anyone jump. 

It certainly upset the fox, who turned tail and disappeared in a flash. The muntjac ran 50 yards then stopped and looked back with an air of “what the…?”

Robert used his full arsenal of callers

I figured the fox probably hadn’t gone far and would soon get over its surprise. It had come to the call once, so perhaps it would work again. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I gave a Tenterfield call and waited to see what would happen.

Sure enough, 90 yards away the fox popped out the hedge and sat looking at me. It knew where the sound had come from, but it hadn’t seen me call or move.

I was still lined up on the gateway, so once again I would have to ease round with great care, or it would spot me. I gradually slid into position, all the while hoping the fox would move or look away so I could move more quickly, but no, it just sat and stared. 

Eventually I was ready – and that, of course, was the moment the fox decided to wander off. Fortunately, it stopped for that last look round, and that was my cue to squeeze off the shot. The fox was just starting to set off again as I fired, but the bullet was too quick and he took a good central hit, rushed into the hedge and dropped dead.

So that was two foxes down and I took another run round, seeing nothing, before heading back home. The night wasn’t over yet, though, because as I made the final approach to the farm, the lamp lit up a pair of eyes by the hedge 200 yards up the field. Most probably another muntjac, I surmised. I pulled into the gateway, looked through the thermal, and blow me, it was another fox!

I got the rifle ready and gave a mouse squeak – and the fox trotted towards me like a well-trained gundog. It got to 64 yards away and I thought, “That’ll do,” took the shot, and down it went.

So I’d gone out thinking with luck I’d get one fox, and ended up with three. Things have certainly changed since late spring, when there was hardly a fox on the place. Now they’re moving about as the mating season approaches and Colin has his work cut out keeping on top of them. At least with thermal we don’t have to worry about foxes being lamp-shy, call-shy and so on. With good fieldcraft, you can shoot a fox often before it has a clue you’re around.

A few nights later, as Colin ran down the road towards the farm, three cars in front he could see something cross the road in their headlights. Turning into the farmyard and making his way, without lights, to the other end of the 16-acre field the fox had entered, he cut the engine.

He was at the end of some game cover and could see something at the other end of the field. Slowly it worked its way directly towards him and at 60 yards the fox stopped moving permanently.

He next pulled out onto the airfield as Nigel had told him he had spotted another one there earlier. Calling brought a fox down the wrong side of a hedge to come out to stop downwind.

Again, it was right next to a field with many partridges. At 235 yards he chanced a shot, his skills being better than mine, a round through the heart stopping its career.

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