Little and large

Mark Ripley finds that size matters as he pursues a big, bold fox that’s been terrorising chickens

Credit:S McGrath / Getty Images

The call that came early one wet and cold Saturday morning was a familiar one from a farmer friend who often suffers fox problems.

In a nutshell, he told me that a fox had come in and killed a dozen or so chickens and left just a few survivors. The rest of the 10-minute conversation was made up of expletives and “When do you think you could come over?” 

I was meant to be working that day, so I asked if he could leave everything as he had found it and promised to return that evening after work. It’s often the case that a fox will return to the scene of the crime the next night and take whatever’s left from the carnage, so getting back there quickly often gets results.

As it happened, on the way to work that morning I got a call to say that I wouldn’t be able to do that day’s job due to unforeseen circumstances. I decided since I was out anyway, I’d drive over to the farm to assess the damage in daylight. A quick call back to the farmer confirmed he’d be around for a while and I could come over.

It was mid-morning when I arrived, and both the farmer and his wife came out to meet me, his wife looking decidedly annoyed and – in typical marital fashion – clearly feeling that her husband must somehow be responsible for the whole thing.

The newly replaced high seat from Sussex Highseats

With several comments along the lines of “I kept saying I’d seen a fox by the shed” and “I told you to call Mark the first time I saw it,” the farmer was now obviously under pressure to produce a dead fox. He was certainly keen to make sure nothing happened to the three remaining chickens cowering in the corner of the run.

Just then, the post van pulled up and an overly cheery postman wandered down the path and engaged the wife with a parcel to sign for. The farmer, seizing his opportunity, grabbed my arm and steered me toward the carnage.

I was met by the usual mass of feathers and headless or mauled chickens dotted around. It accounted for just over half of those killed, meaning the fox must have taken a further five birds away and stashed them. 

Following the trail of feathers across the field towards the wood, we came across another bird, which had clearly been fed on. An explosion of feathers around it showed where the fox had taken the bird far enough from the farm to feel safe and in the middle of the field so it would have a good view around it of any approaching danger.

As we stood chatting and surmising, a movement out the corner of my eye from the wood caught my and the farmer’s attention. We turned in disbelief as not 100 yards from us, a large fox boldly trotted past us and out across the field, giving us a casual glance before ambling in no particular rush to a spot under a tree, where he watched us at around 150 yards. I cursed myself for not bringing the rifle, while the farmer cursed everything he could think of.

Once the farmer calmed down, he revealed a little more information regarding the electric fence outside his not-so-secure chicken run, which I felt he may have neglected to relay to his wife. It transpired that he may have forgotten to turn it back on after cutting back some foliage that was nearby.

“Typical – the one bloody evening that fence wasn’t on…” The truth is that fox most likely checks those chickens every night, so it isn’t going to miss the one time when that fence isn’t working.

Not only that, but despite the chickens having a large coop, it was far from secure, with nothing more than an old bit of ply and a brick behind it to keep them in, which did nothing to keep the fox out.

Sighting through the thermal gave Mark the edge over the fox

Having lost the odd chicken in the past during daylight, the farmer had until now been quite lucky, though over the years I’d been here numerous times for problem foxes during lambing season. On a more positive note, it was clear the fox was coming and going from the wood to the farm or nearby fields, so I felt confident I’d get a result that evening.

I pulled my truck into the yard about an hour before dusk and wandered over to a high seat I have there, which conveniently overlooks the wood as well as the field in front of it, which is usually used for lambing. At the time the high seat was in good working order, but it has since been replaced with a rather posh two-man seat built and delivered by Sussex High Seats (who I must say build extremely good quality seats quickly and at a very reasonable cost).

I climbed up into the seat armed with the thermal spotter and my .260, which was topped off with a Pulsar Trail thermal scope. I sat there and watched as the daylight slowly faded to dusk, the hedgerows fell silent of the songbirds and a few rabbits emerged from the brambles.

It was a couple of hours before a larger heat source appeared on the edge of the wood. I could tell straight away this was a fox by the way the rabbits suddenly sat up or moved away from the area.

After a few moments, the fox wandered out into the open to sniff about before slowly wandering up towards the farmyard. I slowly and quietly slid the rifle up on to the front rail of the high seat and brought it round to the direction of the fox.

I flicked on the scope and magnified the image before adjusting the focus for a crisp picture. This fox was in the open and in no rush so I was also in no rush to take the shot as I wanted to make sure of no mistakes. I waited for it to pause before centring the crosshair on its chest and sending the round on its way. With a thump, the fox instantly crumpled in a heap.

Pleased with the result, I wandered over to collect the fox. As I walked up and my torch lit up my fallen quarry, I instantly knew that the night wasn’t over yet.

The fox that lay in the grass was a small vixen and definitely not the large, bold fox I’d seen earlier in the day. I knew the farmer would see this wasn’t the same fox, too, and he’d have me coming back the next evening. 

Dejected, I walked back to the seat, making the most of the chance to stretch my legs. I decided I’d leave the vixen where she was in the hope that, if my assumption of the large fox being a dog was correct, the scent would draw it in.

The fox is out in the open – but as Mark would later find, it’s not the right fox

I waited over three hours before I was rewarded with the sight of a fox working its way down the hedgerow back towards the wood before cutting diagonally across the field towards the farm. By its bold nature and confidence in its surroundings, I felt sure this was the fox I’d seen before.

I would liked to have seen it go back to the chickens, but if I did I would no longer have a safe shot and it may well kill one of the remaining birds. As it passed by around 110 yards from me I gave it a shout, which on the first couple of tries it completely ignored.

I tried a dog bark and this got its attention. Stopping, it looked towards the wood rather than at me – perhaps the bark had echoed off the trees? Either way it made little difference – the .260’s 6.5mm bullet thumped it hard behind its front leg and exited through the front of the chest in a firework-type splash of heat through the thermal scope.

Again climbing down from the seat, I was this time pleased to find that this fox looked to be the same large dog fox I’d seen. Laying the two foxes together, it was clear to see that the vixen was a little on the small side while the dog fox was a hefty boy that dwarfed the vixen.

I laid the two foxes next to the chicken run for the farmer to find in the morning. The following day I got a call from the farmer, who sounded a lot happier than the previous day! 

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Posted in Features, Hunting

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