Nocturnal activity


I’ve shot eight foxes so far this year as I write this, in the middle of January. That might not sound a lot, but you can’t shoot what isn’t there. We don’t have resident foxes on the ground here – we’ve done a good job of clearing them up – so it’s a question of watching the boundaries for any new arrivals. There are several foxes in the surrounding area, and they regularly try to move in, especially in January, as it is the height of the mating season. If we were to let up, they would quickly take up residence. Over an entire year we end up shooting over 200 foxes in our efforts to keep the ground as fox-free as possible. It means we also lower fox predation over quite a significant area.

A few days ago my friend Nigel put out some deer gralloch in one of our regular spots, overlooked by an enclosed high seat on our boundary. I made a point of checking it after a couple of days, and I could see that something had been tucking in – the gralloch was almost gone. That night I sat up in the high seat but saw absolutely nothing. Two nights later I was back, and this time I did spot a fox. It came out halfway down the boundary wood, but turned and wandered in the other direction for a short distance before popping back into the timber.

The fox box provides the perfect vantage point

That might have been that, but I have a rule of thumb that a fox on its rounds in its territory will generally come back to the same spot about an hour later. I glanced at my watch – it was 5.29pm. This fox was a bit ahead of schedule: it reappeared at 6.27! It came out of the same spot it had exited before, but this time moved towards me. Not in any hurry, it meandered from grass tussock to twig, to rabbit path, to the next interesting smell. The moon was so bright I didn’t need to switch on the IR; I could see it easily through my Photon XT scope with no extra illumination, with the brightness set at 12 out of 15. It very slowly came closer, and when it got to 156 yards I decided enough was enough and shot it. That one turned out to be a little vixen.

A week later, Nigel was out in the same high seat. Time passed and nothing appeared, and he was thinking about packing up. He looked down and discovered there was a fox almost directly underneath – it had pottered in down the track behind him. Now it was only yards away, so close that it spotted his movement and dashed off across the ploughed field behind. It kept going all the way across until it reached the edge of the wood at just over 85 yards – but then it couldn’t resist stopping for that last look back. Nigel did admit to waiting until it reached the wood’s edge and then making – in his words – a noise like a strangled sheep. Nigel was ready, and his .243 bullet from his Sako 75, with an old Swarovski that allows a tubed PVS 14 to slide over the eye bell, knocked it down in its tracks. That one turned out to be a biggish dog fox, weighing about 19lb.

My vixen had clearly moved in a few days earlier and was familiar with the ground, but we agreed that Nigel’s dog fox was probably on its first visit to the farm. It had crossed a large area of open ground, no doubt checking out who had already claimed which territory, and whether there were any potential mates. Unfortunately for him, there were none, and his first visit turned out to be his last.

Another night, I nipped over to our other patch of land, on the outskirts of a big town a few miles away. The chap who walks his dogs there keeps an eye on things for me, and mentioned that he hadn’t seen any partridges recently. He said he’d seen two foxes, one large and one quite small. On my first visit I shot exactly that – a small vixen and a bigger dog fox. I was congratulating myself on a good job done, but my spy said that unfortunately there were still a few foxes around, so I returned a day or two later and shot two more.

Evasive manoeuvre: Robert has to silently put the thermal away after a fox materialises

Even then the job wasn’t finished, as he soon reported seeing at least one more. Sure enough, on my next visit I parked up, got into the back of the truck and soon called up a fox. Frustratingly, though, it sat 70 yards off in some tall grass, watching and listening. Through the thermal viewer, all I could see was its ears. Looking through the digital scope, the grass even hid its eyes and I got no reflection at all from the IR lamp. If I tried a shot where its head should be, I wondered if the bullet would deflect on the grass. Then it moved to one side – great – but the frustration continued. First it lined itself up with a house, and then with the road.

By now it was almost downwind, so it decided to investigate, coming in closer. I could see it as plain as day through the night vision, standing broadside at about 60 yards – with the road 300 yards directly behind, so no shot was possible. After a while it decided that yes, there was a human in that vehicle, turned around and wandered directly away.

Later on I watched another through the thermal for some time. The direction was safe, but it was moving about in the long grass, doing its own thing and showing no interest in any of my range of calls. I could only see little bits of it in the thermal as it gently drifted away. Frustrated, I called it a night and went home.

Next time out it was just past full moon, which was shining brightly. I didn’t want to be in the open, standing out like a sore thumb, so I backed the truck up under the rear of the farm barn so I was in its shadow. Everything around me on the meadow was nicely lit up by the moon, so it made a fine vantage point. Before setting up, I had a good look round with the thermal just in case, then walked forward 60 yards to hang my remote caller on a post. Climbing on to the back of the truck into the fox box, I checked around again, making sure of a few things: magazine in place, round in the breech, lens cap definitely up, safety on, good batteries in the Photon and check the reticle…

One fox of the eight Robert’s shot in fairly quick succession

I laid the gun down and picked up the thermal viewer to make my first proper sweep – and blow me if there wasn’t a fox standing 60 yards away, peering inquisitively into the shade of the barn.

I had to move gently, but I managed to lower the thermal on its neck strap, pick up the rifle and slowly bring it to bear. Pressing the IR on as I lined up, I lost the fox at first in the narrow field of view. It had moved. I gently retrieved the thermal on the end of the strap and raised it to my left eye. I had put on the IR lamp to pick up any eye shine if it spooked. But the fox had only shifted away 20 yards to my left side; it was standing looking at me, so an easy shot. I acquired it in the crosshairs, quietly slipped the safety off, lined up behind the shoulder, and carefully squeezed the shot away.

It is often the close, easy ones that you miss. But on this occasion there was a hell of a thump. The fox ran forward a few yards and piled into the ground, dead as a doornail. My luck had turned since my last visit, it seemed, so I decided to try the call.

I picked number 21, the ‘vixen on heat’ sound, on the Icotec GC350 and pressed the button. It must have been running all of 30 seconds when a little face peered over the bank at the top end of the field about 250 yards away. Not wanting to overdo it, I stopped the call immediately and waited. He must have thought his luck was in as he trotted steadily forward. The amorous dog trotted down the track, angling towards my left. He went behind a bush, crossed the other side of a patch of brambles, then moved out into a clear strip – all the while peering to see where he thought his lady friend had got to. When he got to 63 yards there was no need to wait any longer. I was well and truly ready by this time, and as he stood looking towards me, my bullet struck him centre of chest and knocked him back flat in his footprints.

After my frustrating blank evening the time before, this outing was the exact opposite. Within 10 minutes I had two foxes down as easy as falling off a log – but that’s foxing for you. It had gone so well I convinced myself that there must be some more. I waited and hunted for another two hours and saw nothing. Hopefully that means the job is complete, and the wild partridges and pheasants can have some respite until the next lot of foxes start to move in.

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