Hiding out

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Robert Bucknell is putting in the time out on his ground to make sure that any resident foxes won’t be causing too much trouble for the wildlife come spring

It was 3 February and in 24 hours I had killed one dog fox and two vixens. That’s not a bad tally for this time of year on my ground as it is heavily hunted.

I shot the first two from my box-type high seat that I built back in the summer of 2013 (which featured in the October edition of Sporting Rifle), with the help of a couple of other chaps and a telehandler that we use around the farm. It’s a sturdy construction, using four telegraph poles for posts, and it’s fully enclosed with floor, walls and roof. There’s a hatch on each of the four sides, so you can open whichever you like and, equally importantly, leave the hatches closed on the windy side if you need some protection. It’s comfortable enough that you can sit up all night if you need to, in all but the very worst of weather.

In position: The enclosed box offers a safe shooting platform, and a 360-degree view of the land

In position: The enclosed box offers a safe shooting platform, and a 360-degree view of the land

That’s all well and good, but the key point about a high seat is that it needs to be in the right place. Just as pigeons follow the same flightlines year after year, generations of foxes will take the same path – through the wood here, down the hedge, across the ditch there, just as their grandfathers and great-grandfathers did. It’s the same with fox territories. Unless the density of foxes on the ground changes drastically, the shapes of the territories tend to remain the same.

I wanted to be quite sure of placing this high seat in the best spot. It’s so solid it will still be standing in 20 years’ time, so I’d feel pretty silly if I got it wrong.

Before I settled on the location, I put up a portable high seat in my intended spot, and spent many nights sitting up in that. As a result, I’ve ended up with a good, solid and comfortable box in a place that overlooks several busy wildlife thoroughfares, at a point where three natural fox territories come together. And by the results I am achieving from the siting I have got it just right.

As I sat there in the dark of the evening with my thermal imager I was watching all sorts of wildlife going about its business – fallow, muntjac, rabbits, hares, even field mice. Using a thermal viewer means you can see everything scurrying about without disturbance.

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Smart spotting: Using a thermal imager lets Robert spy without spooking anything

Because I like to sit out there for a good while I’ve changed over from using the internal AA battery pack on the Pulsar HD38S to the biggest rechargeable external battery, the EPS5. It holds 5Ah, which means I can sit there all night if I like and the battery doesn’t run out. You’re supposed to put the battery in your pocket but I didn’t fancy the trailing cable so I’ve taped it all to the machine. It means more weight to hold, but I’m happy with the trade-off.

I watched a young muntjac following its mother working down the side of the boundary hedge. They passed on by and shortly afterwards the buck came through. It was interesting to watch how they reacted to my scent from just over 100 yards away. The cold north wind was carrying it across the open field, down to my left and over the hedge to my neighbour’s field. I watched as the deer wandered along happily until each one in turn bumped into my smell. Then their noses would go up and they would walk in a more jerky way, alert to the possible danger. As I was in an enclosed box 12 feet up I assume the scent plume was more dispersed than if I had been at ground level.

When some passing fallow hit my scent in about the same spot, it was informative to watch the reaction of others in the area. Some standing nearly 200 yards away could tell they had sensed danger, and became unsettled themselves. It was an insight into the way they pick up on each other’s reactions – an insight that you wouldn’t get without using the thermal imager.

Seat site: After using a temporary high seat to gauge the best position, Robert settles on his location and starts building

Seat site: After using a temporary high seat to gauge the best position, Robert settles on his location and starts building

These deer decided I wasn’t too much of a threat, and pushed on across the field. Once they got clear of my wind they were happy again and settled down. But it allowed me to see exactly where my scent was blowing.

Not long after I saw a warm blob head out of my neighbour’s nine-acre wood 700 yards away, and set off across the wheat field. From its size and behaviour, I knew it must be either a muntjac or a fox. Then it came through the ditch, round the side of an oak tree just under 300 yards away, and cocked its leg against the trunk. That not only confirmed it was a fox, but what sex it was as well!

The dog fox came down the other side of the cross hedge angling towards me. At about 90 yards from me it was downwind and stopped with its nose in the air, then trotted a short distance away, nicely clear of the hedge. By now I had let the thermal hang from the cord around my neck and had used it to line up the rifle, fitted with the 4×32 Photon night vision scope and a Nightmaster IR 400. I gave a little squeak and it stopped to look back – smack behind the branch of a tree!

That wasn’t the idea at all. I could just see an eye and nothing more, certainly not enough to take a shot. That’s when the fox made the mistake of its life. It stepped clear of the tree to get a better smell or look. Bang! At 117 yards it was never really in doubt; the fox fell dead in its tracks.

Time was getting on and I had been there three hours, and the cold was getting through to me. I was beginning to think about packing up when suddenly I glimpsed another fox heading my way. The next time I saw it, it was standing over the dead one, staring down. It must have a good thick coat, I thought to myself, as its thermal image wasn’t strong.

I picked up the rifle and looked through the 4×32. The fox had started to move away but it stopped clear of the hedge between two oak trees at about 150 yards. I felt confident as I released the shot, and heard a satisfying smack from the impact. Just as I was congratulating myself, however, the fox began to scrabble away. I quickly racked the straight-pull bolt to chamber another round and, not losing the sight picture, waited for it to hesitate, and hit it again.

At 170 yards that one did the job, and the fox laid still. My first round must have tipped a twig that I couldn’t see in the night vision, but the second shot was true and killed the fox stone dead. It turned out to be a very grizzled old vixen with a black belly. The first round must have tumbled as it had nearly removed one front leg without touching anything else. Unlucky fox.

Two outings now means three fewer foxes come spring

Two outings now means three fewer foxes come spring

By now it was even later and colder, so I climbed down and headed back over two fields to my vehicle – only to find that the locks had frozen solid! There was only one thing for it – I had to walk home. At least it would warm me up!

I woke at 6am to find there had been a light fall of snow, giving everything a half-inch covering and, with the starlight blazing, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Any fox that’s out will cover a lot of ground this morning, I thought, I’d better get out and be ready for it.

I gave a little squeak and it stopped to look back – smack behind the branch of a tree!

I walked up to the big wood (at least my locks weren’t frozen) and climbed into my tractor tyre seat. The day dawned very cold and foggy, and I was glad of the foam garden kneeler I use to sit on. The extreme cold made things difficult with the thermal imager, as the scenery was nearly all the same temperature. I could see the warm blobs of animals out there, but with hardly any reference points it was hard to locate them – a bit like looking at croutons floating in a bowl of soup.

Dawn slowly broke and I could start to use Mk 1 eyeball. There I was watching hares and deer when, at 7.30, out of the wood trotted a fox. Don’t ask me why, but it had decided to head out to the middle of the field for its early morning dump. I expect someone will tell me that makes an unsporting shot, but at least I knew it wasn’t going to move for a few seconds – so more humane! I squeezed off my round just as it squeezed… well, you know. A good job the 4×32 can work in daylight as well as dark.

And that was what turned out to be a plump vixen. There was a hell of a thump as the bullet struck, and down she went – no exit hole. I paced it out at 143 yards. To my surprise she was heavily in cub – rather early in the year to be so advanced. So that shot had proved exceptional value, six with one 69gr bullet, saving a whole lot of trouble for the local wildlife in the weeks to come.

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