Guarding the flock

Mark Ripley looks ahead to the fast-approaching lambing season and details all the essential tactics and kit foxers need to know about

It’s not long now until the lambing season is upon us, which inevitably means lots of calls from farmers and lots of late nights. It is always the busiest time of year for my foxing activities – I usually shoot half of my total foxes for the year in the space of a couple of months.

I like to start really hitting the foxes hard around the end of the year to get the numbers down before the lambs are born, making the most of the long, dark nights. It’s great to be able to get out for three or four hours and still be home early.

When and how to do it

The Ironclad gloves proved very comfortable

With daylight hours still short, most of my shooting will be at night, which is also always the most productive. There are two ways to go about foxing: wait for the foxes to come to you, or go out and find them. Both methods are effective, but depending on the ground, sometimes finding a good vantage point overlooking the flock and waiting is best. You can always walk into any foxes you do spot. If you’re using a thermal spotter it can be difficult to spot foxes amid the flock, especially when the lambs are in the field. As a rule of thumb, the fox is rarely still and will often be seen moving among the ewes while they are lying in the field with their lambs. This isn’t always the case – sometimes they can be found curled up a little distance from the sheep, just watching.

When spotting with a thermal, look out for any heat source about the right size that is slightly away from the flock or constantly moving. A lamb will not move too far from the ewe, especially when it’s at it’s smallest and most vulnerable.

Be familiar with your foxing grounds

It’s important to take care when shooting around livestock – not just with the obvious back stop issues but also because you don’t want to spook them too much. A moderated .223 or similar calibre doesn’t usually bother them too much, but you do need to be conscious not to separate lambs from their mothers and leave them calling out. This will leave an easy target for a fox, should it find the lamb before the unfortunate ewe does. Walking among the sheep can do the same thing, so be careful to walk out wide around them as much as possible. If they do become agitated and stand up, stand still and give them a minute to walk away from you. The last thing you want is the whole flock charging up the field – something that would certainly ruin your chances of catching a fox out among the ewes.

Spotting with thermal is hard to beat for identifying foxes

If you’re familiar with the foxes on your ground, you will most likely have a pretty good idea of where a fox may approach the lambing field from, in which case setting yourself up within range of this area at dusk may prove most effective. This is also a good opportunity to establish a bait station should you have time to feed it. If you can’t regularly get to the area to top up the bait, you can leave a pile of bait, cover it with a square of wire mesh and securely peg it down. This will keep a fox busy picking bits of food out from between the mesh over two or three days. It’s a good idea to make use of a trail cam, to get an idea of when a fox is coming to the bait point, saving you time wasted sat in the cold.

Occasionally a fox that has taken a liking to lamb maybe be bold enough to visit in daylight, so if you’re still losing lambs and you’re not seeing foxes at night, an early morning vigil maybe worthwhile. Farmers will regularly check their ewes and will have a pretty good idea of what time of day or night lambs have been taken, which will help narrow down the times you are most likely to cross paths with the culprit.

Essential kit

The Wicked Light is a very bright lamp with some excellent features

Thermal spotters are invaluable when foxing at any time of the year. If it’s an expenditure you’re considering, I would highly recommend it. There are a wide range of thermal spotters out there, with varying prices; I’m using the pulsar XP38F at the moment, and finding it to be a truly excellent piece of kit.

An electronic caller can also be an effective tool to draw a fox from cover. The Fox Pro callers are one I have personal experience with; they have a good selection of calls as standard, which can be added to if you wish. The basic models are small enough to be wedged in a jacket pocket, meaning if you’re walking about, it’s one less thing to carry.

The advantage of an electric caller over a mouth call or lip squeak is not only the variety of sounds it can produce but also the fact that the fox’s attention is towards the caller as it comes in, which isn’t where you are, so the fox has less chance of spotting you. I like to use a small strip of velcro to attach the caller’s remote to one of the legs of my shooting sticks.

Having a good pair of binos is a must

If you are going to be sat around waiting for foxes at this time of year, it’s important to be comfortable. The more comfortable you are, the more likely you are to wait longer and therefore the better your chances of success. I like to wait in ambush from a barn or from the truck, but that’s not always possible, particularly on some of the hills I shoot over, so I often find myself sat out in the cold against a tree or fence post. In this case, I make use of one of those inflatable travel neck cushions when sat out. They are cheap, fold up small in a pocket, and stop your butt getting wet.

Having decent clothing is a must. Again, there are quality brands out there, but one I have personal experience with is Deerhunter. I have one of their Rusky jackets, which has so far done me proud.

Comfort is key if you’ll be waiting out for long periods

When walking, it’s much easier to keep warm, but it does also pose a problem when a shot presents itself in that you suddenly need a stable rest to shoot from. At this time of year it may not be an attractive idea to get down on the bipod in a muddy, waterlogged field, and often long grass causes the lamp or IR to bounce back at you, obscuring your sight picture.

Sometimes a tree, gate or fence post will be close enough to offer a stable enough rest. This is where a good set of shooting sticks comes in handy. I’ve tried several different types of shooting sticks and have settled on the four-leg style of sticks. The pair I’m using are similar in design to the popular Viper-Flex sticks, but they are lighter thanks to their carbon fibre design.

Although to late to save this lamb, it was rewarding to catch this fox in the act

This particular pair, the 4 Stable Sticks Ultimate Carbon, retail for around £229.99 – contact importer GMK for more information. Yes, it’s easy to make a similar design from garden canes and some nuts and bolts for less than £20 – and I’ve done so in the past – but you do get a lot more if you shell out. A feature I adore is the wide beam on the top of the front legs, allowing a degree of vertical movement without having to move the legs. Also, being carbon, they don’t make your hands cold when carrying them.

Speaking of cold hands, I’ve been using some Ironclad gloves, which although not really designed for extreme cold weather use, do help to keep the chills away and without the loss of any dexterity. I don’t really like shooting in gloves but I actually found I could load a .22 magazine wearing them without any difficulty.

Another useful accessory in this regard is a hand warmer – I’ve been using a Zippo one that looks a bit like a large lighter. These last a good 12 hours, and though they do give off a slight whiff as the lighter fuel burns, they certainly do the job they were intended for. The trick is to put it in the inside breast pocket of your jacket; you will find that the heat radiates around your chest, keeping you warm.

Another excellent product that’s come out this year has been the Wicked Light. These torches are extremely bright and come in either red light and two IR modes or a red, green and white light version, with both models being dimmable. These lights come with quick detachable and fully adjustable mount included.

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