As the year moves on, the opportunities for keeping the fox population under control alter. August is the time when vegetation of all types is at its densest. Harvest is almost here, but not quite.
For many fox shooters, harvest is looked upon as being the time when many of that year’s cubs can be dealt with, and there is no doubt about it – this is a fact. However, before this time arrives there are other ways that we can deal with the ever-growing fox population. Although cover is extremely thick and from our point of view makes shooting difficult, it is not always ideal from a fox’s point of view either. Their vision is impaired by tall grass; rides, unless cleared by keepers and forestry workers, have turned into lush areas of weed and grass, again giving cover to the prey species and making a quiet approach difficult.
Under these circumstances the fox is forced into relying even more on its nose and ears for locating and catching its prey. Bearing this in mind, we can in some circumstances use this to our advantage. In my own case, I have been baiting one or two spots near me on a regular basis with anything I can find – usually rabbits and long-dead things from the freezers, but pretty much anything edible can be used as our friend the fox is not a fussy eater.
The bait points I use are not the same ones I use during the winter months. At this time of year I try to put myself in the fox’s place. Animals are not that different from us in that they will choose the easy option if it is possible. Hunting through dense cover can be hard work and unproductive, while hunting open fields for mice, voles, young rabbits and so on is far easier, beaten only by scavenging around human habitation or raiding yards for poultry. So if a steady supply of food is provided in an easily accessible spot, it follows that the local fox population will visit it on a regular basis.
In my experience, it is essential that there is something edible there most days. I certainly don’t leave them without bait for more than two days at a time. At this time of year the cubs are hunting freely on their own but still follow the vixen. They follow her hunting paths and ape her techniques, and by doing this they will learn the whereabouts of the bait points too.
Watching them at one of these points can be quite interesting, as the scrapping and bickering that goes on is very reminiscent of our own young. As a rule, I don’t ‘hammer’ these spots, visiting them with the rifle once a week when the bait is being taken.
These open areas have proved very productive, but as the foliage begins to die back I will bring the bait points back into more sheltered areas. Most of this is common sense – when we go out with gun or rifle during the summer, most of us avoid heavily overgrown areas, and certainly fields covered with crop are out of bounds, so we head for more open ground. So it is with the fox. We are both hunters intent on a kill – what applies to one often applies to the other.
I am a big fan of the .22 Hornet. I have really got to like this rifle although it would be hard to explain why. It falls between the .17 HMR and the .222/.223 and really doesn’t do the specific work that any of those calibres are good at. However, it does bring the range of uses that they have under one roof, as it were. It is capable of dropping a fox out to 200 yards with the right ammo and will, with the same proviso, deal with rabbits. In the latter case I started off by using 35-grain Hornady V-Max bullets and they certainly did the job, but unlike many others out there I am not capable of head shooting rabbits every time at ranges of 150 yards or so, and I found what was left was generally set aside as ferret fodder.
Seeking advice from other Hornet owners and the redoubtable Ken Gray from Henry Krank, I decided to try some other bullets. By now my re-loading was certainly improving. Whether by trial and error or through my pestering those who know much more than me, the results on paper proved that I was getting there, albeit with a few hiccups along the way.
I went for some 40- and 45-grain soft points, and I decided to give the Prvi Partizan 45-grain ammo a go as well. I have found before that this make can vary in its performance from rifle to rifle. My Anschütz .223, for example, shoots better with Prvi than anything else, but the Steyr throws it all over the place. Although increasing a little in price, it is still very affordable, and the brass is excellent for re-loading.
So how did the new batch of ammo perform? Compared with the Hornady 35-grain V-Max bullets, the damage to rabbits was certainly reduced with the heavier soft points, and it wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to try them out on a fox. What I suspected was a dog fox had been seen hanging around the nearby poultry farm during daylight. I have found that around August foxes become quite active from midday until about 2.30pm. This may seem strange, but I have found it to be the case over and over again.
This time I was in luck: instead of me having to visit the site day after day, this fox duly turned up at about 1.30pm. I had tucked myself away in the overgrown hedge that ran round the field and watched as it worked down the opposite hedge about 150 yards away. When waiting out like this you hold the advantage as there is need for only minimal movement, and as you are stationary you will pick up any movement more easily.
Waiting until the fox was in a safe spot for a shot, I gave a squeak which stopped it in its tracks. The 45-grain soft point did the job, and at a little over 100 yards the fox dropped on the spot.
I am sure the .17 HMR would have done the job just as well at that range, but the larger bullet from the Hornet certainly has more knock-down power, and had the fox been farther away I would have felt much happier taking the shot with the Hornet rather than a lighter round.
There is something about the Hornet that makes it a little bit special. Once you have mastered re-loading for it – which can be a bit of a trial to begin with as the case is on the delicate side – it is really easy and you can play around with a variety of loads until you sort out the best for your purposes.
I am more than happy with the rifle and the more I use it the more I regret not having bought one years ago. The re-loading is proving fascinating, and again I have to thank those who have aided my early efforts. Henry Krank has been very helpful putting up with my questions and supplying all the component parts. Mike Powell