Howard Heywood’s Top Ten Tips

There’s no shortcut to becoming a better foxer, though determination and the best gear you can afford will help

Over the years, people have asked me countless questions on foxing. What’s the best kit for foxing, or the best calibre, or rifle scope combination, right down to what’s the best footwear. I suppose it is to be expected – the range of kit readily available to the discerning foxer is immense. A good rule of thumb is to take note of what experienced fox controllers are already using.

Quality equipment does not come cheap, but it will often make the difference between success and failure. Nowhere is this truer than with optics. A top-end scope will prove to be the single most important piece of kit in your arsenal. Most factory rifles have straight-out-of-the-box accuracy nowadays, and your choice is best made by fit. Buy a rifle that mounts well in a fast, flat-shooting calibre. Look after it and it will serve you well for many a year. If you don’t home-load, buy quality ammunition. Try different brands and you will be amazed at how much tighter your groups are with a brand that suits your rifle.

Another commonly asked question that always amazes me is: “What’s the best time to go out looking for a fox?” There is no easy answer – all I can say is that to find a fox you must put the time in. Believe me, there is never enough time available, but you won’t get your fox sat in front of the box or downing a jar in the pub. There really isn’t a best time to go out – it very much depends on where you are and what the situation is. If, for instance, you are on open moorland, the foxes may be moving about early. The moorland on my patch is very bleak, especially late in the year when food is much harder to find. In this situation, I find that one of the best places to ambush foxes is just off the moor, on the lower ground, where there are richer pickings to be had.

Think like a fox. Pick your spot and wait, and if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Time in the field is always well spent, even if you draw a blank. You may see where Charlie is coming in from and be able to alter your position accordingly on your next outing. However, in many scenarios I wouldn’t take the chance of calling the fox. If he knows exactly what’s on the menu, it may have an opposite effect to the one intended and spook him. Remember, the fox is a calculating creature and isn’t likely to give up an easy chicken dinner to come to a dubious rabbit or hare in distress. In this situation, calling should only be a last-ditch attempt if your quarry is moving away – by giving it a quick, sharp squeak you may get it to stop long enough for you to get a shot away. You must be ready, though, as Charlie will only stop for a second. But do not rush or (worse still) chance a shot – if you miss him you may never get another chance, as you have educated that particular fox and made him that much harder to put down. If you do miss, give yourself a good kick – you will now have to outsmart it in some way. This is where time in the field comes in handy yet again. Learning the habits of a difficult fox is certainly the secret to success. We have all missed foxes and made all the excuses, some of which are very inventive – but the most important thing is to learn from your mistakes. Only a fool makes the same error twice.

Of course, knowing the ground is more than just an advantage in getting to grips with Charlie. It is also absolutely essential from a safety point of view. The shooter must be familiar with where the backstops and livestock are, which is knowledge you must have before even thinking of firing a shot. On new ground it is essential to familiarise oneself with the terrain before doing anything else.

Checking your zero is another oft-overlooked practice that, if left unattended to, can cause many cock-ups. A couple of shots at the target on a regular basis boosts confidence as well as alerting the shooter to any deviation from the point of aim. When checking your zero, it is also helpful to change shooting positions so you are familiar and comfortable with shooting from the different positions that may be presented to you in the field. This may sound obvious, but you would not believe the amount of times I have seen a shooter shuffle about and miss an opportunity because he is trying to shoot from an unfamiliar position. I regularly vary the position of my practice shots – off the sticks, kneeling, prone, or even leaning against a tree or post to improvise a steady aim. “Practice makes perfect” may be an overused phrase but it is forged in truth.

The quality of today’s shooting clothing is fantastic. When I started shooting, most of my gear was ex-military stuff I had bought from the army and navy store. Today there is a vast variety of commercial outdoor clothing, and nearly all of it is comfortable, breathable and waterproof. Remember not to lose sight of the basics: if it keeps you concealed, warm and dry, and does not sound like a crisp bag, that’s all you will ever need. Virtually all the sporting garments on today’s market are well thought out and designed, with all the necessities (hand warmers, pockets, hidden hoods and so on). Taking into account the technology involved in waterproof but breathable garments, they are exceptional value for money in my opinion.

You cannot buy experience, but if you listen to others you will soon learn to decipher the knowledge from the dross. Always remember, a listener learns a lot more than a teller. Buy the best kit that you can afford, put the time in, be sensible and above all be safe – these are the prerequisites for successful foxing.

Finally, remember that politeness costs absolutely nothing, and doesn’t just help you gain and keep shooting ground – it can also go a long way to defusing a potentially difficult confrontation with members of the public. If someone is anti-shooting, you are unlikely ever to change their mind. However, if you politely explain that you are providing a valuable service and point out the benefits of your actions to both the economy and the surrounding wildlife, you will placate all but the real diehards.

Humankind has upset the balance of nature; it is down to us, the countrymen of the present, to address that balance. The fox is a worthy quarry – he is, after all, just trying to make a living. Unfortunately, he has to be kept in check, and as long as we as enthusiasts cull him in an ethical and efficient manner, our sport will continue long into the future. Howard Heywood

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