As the year moves on and the days get longer, how do you adapt your foxing tactics to suit the season? Mike Powell has the answers…
As time passes and spring moves inexorably into early summer, so my methods of fox control change somewhat. I really enjoy the winter ‘season’ as these days, with the availability of night vision and in particular thermal imaging, I can start early in the evening, hopefully deal with the fox I am after, and be back home at a sensible time.
As a young man I would be out all night, mainly from the necessity to get as many foxes in the five or six months that we would shoot and trap foxes, as during that period their pelts were at their best. After that, apart from the troublemakers, we would leave them alone.
It was hard work but it paid well and we loved it. Nowadays things have changed: fox skins to all intents and purposes are worthless, so today my fox control business concentrates on removing those that are causing trouble, and there are enough of them to keep us busy.
As the winter/spring period moves into summer, clearly control methods change to keep in tune with the changing behaviour patterns of the fox. Many foxes of course are heavily involved in rearing families, but by no means does this apply to every fox.
Barren vixens, as many call them, are not technically barren at all, barren implying they are unable to have young – instead they, down to the structural set-up of the fox society, just haven’t been able to mate, or more likely have been prevented from doing so by other dominant females. This is quite normal and is the fox’s method of controlling their numbers.
These vixens with no family responsibilities and their male counterparts carry on their lives much as normal. While clearly they, like all foxes, have the potential to cause trouble, because of the abundance of natural food during the summer months, are nowhere near as much of a problem as those labouring to keep hungry cubs fed, and as we all know it’s these foxes with parental duties that cause smallholders, farmers, keepers and the like the most problems and have to be dealt with.
Many years ago when called upon to sort out foxes during the cubbing season, I would pretty much carry on as usual doing a considerable amount of night work.
Nowadays I find that is unnecessary, as most control work can be done during daylight hours. Foxes with cubs to feed abandon their night-only hunting practices and will hunt throughout the whole 24-hour period. Changes in the countryside, too, have had a considerable effect on foxes’ behaviour in my lifetime.
Years ago it would have been unusual to see foxes actively hunting around human habitation during daylight hours; today it’s commonplace, and those of us who spend their lives involved with the top predator or just travel around the countryside in the course of your work will surely see foxes on a regular basis.
As the cubs grow and become more and more demanding, the parents spend correspondingly more time out hunting to satisfy the needs of their offspring.
There was a time when the bulk of the cubs’ food would come in the form of rabbits, young and old, though the former featured most as they are that much easier to catch. Today in many areas, my own included, rabbits are in short supply, and this increases the pressure on the parents, who out of necessity turn to other, relatively easy food sources.
As these are not nearly as readily available as the rabbit, it means the adults have to spend more time hunting during daylight hours.
Over the years I have noticed that there are certain times during the day when by and large they are more active than at other times. These times I suspect will vary depending on where you are located.
If you are fortunate to live in areas where there is still a healthy rabbit population, I suspect things won’t have changed that much, but in mine I find there are certain times of day when fox activity is almost guaranteed.
In the winter there are often many opportunities to get your fox when they are returning after a night’s hunting, but during the summer this doesn’t seem to happen nearly as much.
Watching a local litter last year, much of the time the vixen in particular set off at around 9am, returning whenever she had killed. But by far and away the time I saw most activity was between midday and 2pm – in fact this is the time at which I have accounted for more summer foxes than any other.
The other active hunting time during the hours of daylight is around 9pm. Clearly those foxes that have no parental duties will carry on much as usual and begin hunting activities towards the end of the day.
Before actually setting off after a particular fox during daylight, as usual a bit of reconnaissance will pay dividends. A few hours spent watching from a good vantage spot with a decent pair of binoculars will more often than not give better results in the end that a more ‘hit and hope’ approach.
Once foxes have been spotted, all you need to do is to return, find a decent spot and wait, as for much of the time foxes will follow a similar hunting routes on a daily basis.
The other advantage a recce will give you is that often you will be able to get a good idea of the actual location of an earth, enabling you to deal with any cubs if you have removed the adults.
The thing I really enjoy about my summer fox control activities is the fact that I can travel light. With all the various innovations appearing in the way of scopes, night vision and the like, to say nothing of the tempting rifles and the ever-changing types of ammunition, the winter shooting season can see one somewhat burdened down with gear.
As a considerable amount of our fox shooting activities are carried out from the comfort of my Hilux, the various equipment I have to either use or review isn’t a problem – but when summer arrives it really is great to set off with just a scoped-up rifle, rangefinder and a pair of binoculars.
Often during the summer months, I leave the .223 Sauer behind and go to my Weihrauch .22 Hornet. Quite why I do this I am not sure, but I’ve always liked the Hornet and in the right situations it really is a very useful calibre.
I normally use it when I am shooting near property, particularly in and around smallholdings. However, during the summer when I am waiting for daylight foxes – which often entails stalking – the Hornet is a joy to use.
“Foxes with cubs to feed abandon their night-only hunting practices and will hunt throughout the whole 24-hour period”
For years I loaded my own but then found the Hornady V-Max 35gn ammo was accurate enough so switched to that. Then a year or so ago I was sent some Winchester soft-point ammunition to try.
These were 45gn soft-points doing 2690fps and they turned out not only to be extremely accurate but certainly stopped foxes in their tracks. They also turned out to more accurate than my reloads, so they are the ones I use now.
Obviously with the winter and spring sown crops beginning to cover much of the countryside, again techniques need to change. Foxes, when corn crops are green, tend to avoid travelling through them as there is little food to be found – and they tend to be wet, so headlands and grassland are the favourite hunting spots.
Woodland presents other opportunities, and it is here that daylight calling can give you results. Small vermin squeaks such as the Faulhaber small hen call can be effective, particularly if you are shooting from a high seat. Listening out for the warning calls of, in particular, blackbirds will alert you to the movements of a fox.
In fact, getting to know the warning calls of many of our songbirds can be a very useful tool in dealing with foxes, as along with the blackbird’s slow “pip, pip, pip” call others such as the wren, great and blue tits will all alert you to the fact that a fox is on the move.
During the winter months most of the foxes we deal with are shot from the pickup; during the summer this method doesn’t seem to work nearly as well. Foxes appear to be far more wary of vehicles during the day than at night.
I can only assume that being quite intelligent creatures, they have become accustomed to vehicles being stationary at night, whereas during the day in the countryside they are usually moving.
Whatever method of fox control you choose during the summer, as always fieldcraft and above all observation will ensure more success than just setting out with no preconceived plan.