In the Pig Pen

The large scale pig farm where Howard saw foxes running off with piglets

I know most associate pig farms with rats, but at times they can be magnets for foxes coming to take piglets, the weakly older ‘snorkers’ and of course to grub around in the ‘muck’ heaps and around the slurry tips. Then again, as most realise, the fox is an opportunist, and where it sees the chance of an easy meal it’ll take full advantage.

I have many shooting acquaintances around the country and the majority like myself are keen fox shooters or deerstalkers. They have their ‘beats’ and regular areas to shoot as do I, but I never turn down any offer of some ‘new’ shooting that comes my way to join up with one of my friends in the shooting fraternity.

I recall an occasion when a friend of mine who shoots a few farms in Lincolnshire phoned to relate to me the story of a pig farm being continually harassed by the local fox population. No sooner had he thought he’d got on top of the problem than more chaos ensued. However, what he told me even intrigued me although I had heard of it happening but on a much smaller scale – that being foxes snatching piglets. In my part of the country we don’t have intensive pig farming on the scale they do in his county – well, who hasn’t heard of the Lincolnshire sausage? But what he told me next was interesting. The foxes were entering the rearing units and dodging the sow (obviously) managing to grab a hapless piglet, then make good their escape. Now I couldn’t at first understand how a fox was getting into such buildings but then again I’ve not previously seen a pig farm on the scale of this or how the rearing units where set out. However a worker driving up to the farm for the early shift actually saw a fox leap out of a ventilating window with a piglet in its mouth. The rearing units obviously have to be heated to keep the young warm but this also means these windows are left open around the clock so air can circulate to keep the sows and young not forgetting the workers when on shift in there as comfortable as possible. Even so, I know that security on these buildings is tight so I was still baffled at how they were managing to pilfer so many and so regularly – so was my friend. He’d been doing a good job of lamping the foxes in the surrounding fields, but, knowing my fondness of solving problems and more relevantly shooting with night vision, as the foxes were becoming lamp shy, asked if I’d like to have a trip over to see what I could do – and to see if I could find how the foxes were slipping past him to get at the precious porkers.

As I planned to shoot early evening then most of the night I chose to take my Tikka M595 custom barrelled 6mm BR calibre with Wildcat Predator 8 Sound Moderator and Schmidt & Bender 8×56 scope in case I got the chance during daylight and when darkness fell I’d use my dedicated foxing NV rig – my Tikka .223 calibre M525 with Reflex T8 Silencer complete with the astounding Thales Maxi-Kite Gen 3 unit on board.

I met up with my friend at his home and after a few brews and another chat about the situation we went over early evening so I could have a look around. Now I thought I’d seen some big farms in my time but this place was massive. On the drive up the private track, I could see many ‘prime porkers’ out in the fields free to roam and feeding happily while the workers inside the rearing pens toiled long and hard so you and me can enjoy a hearty full English… He introduced me to the owner and with his kind permission was allowed to have a look around the outside of the rearing units and the surrounding area. Initially on seeing the buildings, the venting windows are obvious but even though a fox can jump a good height they did seem a little on the high side but not impossible for a determined fox to leap up onto and drop through. However, a fox still wants to take the easier route so I looked further. Around the back of one of the units, which not so coincidentally as I was soon to discover was the unit the foxes had taken most piglets out of was a stack of black drain pipe on an earth bank. It was now obvious how they were getting in. They’d simply walked up the bank, got on the pipes and from there it was approximately two feet to the nearside open vent at the rear of the unit. So with that sorted my friend decided to show me the muck and slurry pit where he’s taken many foxes – but loses as many as they slip past the mounds of pig muck stored here to be used later on the surrounding fields as fertiliser for the crops that are grown.

Like I said, this was a huge scale operation. Just in case we spotted anything, I slipped my 6mm BR Tikka from its case and headed over. Sure enough as soon as we arrived a fox was on the far side looking directly at us and skirting around continuously slipping out of view. It’d got behind a mound of this lovely aromatic mixture, but knowing its curiosity would have it show either side eventually I rested the 6mm BR Tikka cushioned under my leading hand on the gate to the fenced off area and readied for a shot. My friend acted as spotter on watching one side of the mound while I scanned the other through the Schmidt & Bender 8×56 optics. When it did appear, it was half way up the mound, possibly deciding to get a look at us but thankfully it stopped broadside on. Without hesitation, I squeezed the trigger and the 87-grain Hornady V-Max Ballistic Tip bullet slammed home resulting in first blood down among the slurry. I say that because as we went around to collect it when we got there we realised there was no way we could retrieve the fox as even though we had wellies on (always a wise move when shooting areas such as this), my mate said he’d get it later when he’d come back with a grappling hook to snag it off. All around the slurry pit were fox tracks – this really was a hot spot!

That peek-a-boo situation in itself shows how clever a fox can be, this one might have been able to pick a careful route that gave it cover but it couldn’t walk on water – or slurry – forever! So after that ‘quick fire’ unexpected success I decided not to overly disturb the area and waited until dark to get stuck into the serious foxing. With the dark came intermittent showers, which made the foxing all the more difficult. My friend accompanied me as he wanted to see how I use the lamp and NV tactic that I’ve now employed for saving time and not missing any foxes hiding in tallish cover. I thought this was going to be a long night, but I must admit the action that followed as the sun had set even surprised me.

As the area they dump the slurry is a ‘known hotspot’ for the foxes, come nightfall we went directly over there first. I positioned myself next to a large fencepost and switched on the compact and very effective Digital Callmaster MkII for a minute or so, then on with the Cluson lamp. I immediately picked up a pair of eyes so just as quickly switched the lamp off, set it carefully and quietly on the grass and set the rifle on the post and scanned in the direction I’d seen the eyes. Even in pitch black I could still through the superb NV Maxi-Kite Night vision sight to clearly spot the fox. It was now sitting down about 120 yards out just looking around, so without hesitation I placed the aim point of the Chevron reticle on its chest and ‘drilled it.’ It was obviously a big cub so I expected it wouldn’t be the only one so began calling again using the electronic call. As soon as I’d put my eye back into the NV scope’s eyecup I saw one steaming in around the slurry. This time I waited until it got in front of another very thick muck pile which gave a solid backstop and just as it hesitated as if it had changed its mind because it didn’t like what it had run on or had got skittish, I sent another .223 calibre 55-grain moly-coated Ballistic Tip Hornady bullet straight into its heart/lungs – again like the other it just dropped like a stone.

We decided we’d collect these as we’d already walked this area in daylight so knew the two I’d just shot were retrievable. I knew the probability of a night hat trick here was very slim, but I tried the call a few more times and used the lamp again to see if I could pick up any more eyes but there was nothing doing. I scanned all around from this position but nothing showed so I decided to walk down the private track that runs broadside to the farm to an area of grass fields that lead into a set of tall stubble fields. Using the tactic which to me is virtually an automatic action when shooting like this, I switched on the call, then after nearly a minute flicked on the lamp. Most of the time we were walking slowly scanning with the lamp and intermittently using the call, but mostly I’d use the call when I stopped somewhere that looked promising and gave good backstops. I’ve now come to use a lamp in my NV rig because it helps me pick up eyes quickly especially when you’ve got a fox just keeping back in cover. No matter how good the NV scope you are using, you can still easily miss spotting a fox in these situations. As we walked the track, we’d just reached another set of cut stubble when something just caught my eye in the lamp. At first it was so small hardly a glint I thought it was a rabbit until it stood up and then I could clearly make out its form – it was a fox. Going straight into autopilot, the lamp was carefully placed on the ground; I set the sticks and sighted the target through the Maxi-Kite.

Howard’s TOP TIP: Scouting the land allows you to discover fox hot-spots

I could clearly see it was another big cub but a fair old distance out. I didn’t have time to reach back into my pocket for the electronic call, so as I was already trained on target I squeaked sucking on the back of my hand.

At first it didn’t seem to want to know, then it went from left to right towards a hedge. I thought it’d disappear but unlucky for it but lucky for me it just began trotting slowly towards us, looking around warily. It was now approximately 160 yards out and there was a gap in the hedge that at any time it could have shot through and got away but the calling must have just kept its attention as it stood looking in our direction long enough for me to carefully placed the scope aim point and again the muted crack from the all-weather .223 Tikka that proudly holds the ginormous NV optic resulted in another very dead fox.

We walked over to retrieve it and then decided to try another area, but the wind had got up and was changing direction erratically so it was becoming increasingly difficult to judge an approach to an area. We decided to head over in the direction of a wood where my companion that night has previously regularly drawn foxes.

We stopped near a drainage dyke where I again switched on the electronic call. Same routine as before on with the lamp and immediately I spotted a pair of eyes as we’d obviously drawn one out of the cover but it must have been over 250-yds away. Switching off the lamp I must admit I thought this wasn’t going to come within sensible range and after a few calls and using the lamp it was a wary one as it kept coming forward then trotting back, coming closer, then backing away. This routine went on for at least 15-minutes until curiosity or hunger got the better of it and it committed itself to coming in. I switched the lamp off, and had the .223 Tikka up on the sticks and was on it in a flash. Thankfully it hadn’t come in too close so it was pretty much on my zero. At night, though using night vision equipment, range is the hardest thing to judge, but presenting itself side-on I placed the Chevron aim point on its chest and with a squeeze of the trigger the last fox of the night bit the dust, or I should say corner of the maize field it had come across from. Howard Heywood

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