Patience is a virtue

Howard’s TOP TIP: Foxes tend to gravitate towards freshly cut fields as there is usually a free meal on offer

As an experienced fox controller, I’ve probably got every piece of kit that a foxer could ever want. During my time fox shooting, I’ve amassed so much equipment to help me in my chosen trade I often wonder how I ever managed to shoot foxes in the past.

I’ve got numerous electronic calls, various calibres of rifle, different lamping systems, high seats, hides, 4x4s and ATVs at my disposal, and now even the most high-tech night vision equipment, but there are still occasions when I think: is there something I haven’t tried?

The farmer who allows you to shoot on his land does so because he trusts you, and to a certain degree relies on your help to keep his livelihood safe. When it comes to the waiting game there is no easy option. In the past, if the fox was coming near the farm we’d ask them to leave a light on for a few nights so the fox gets used to it, and then start the vigil. Dead poultry or a shot rabbit on the fringes of the light will add incentive. This has worked for me many times, though just as often it hasn’t.

Use the lamp sparingly to allow your vision to adjust to the dark more quickly

The fox is an opportunist and will feed where appropriate – it doesn’t necessarily content itself with stealing ornamental waterbirds, chickens and lambs. Sometimes you must go to extraordinary lengths to nab a difficult fox.

I’m sure other foxers will have experienced a fox coming into their patch from an area they don’t have permission to shoot. They’ve seen Charlie next door but don’t want to upset the owners of the DMZ by even shining a light across it. To do so would, at the very least, invite exaggerated accusations about one’s conduct.

Quite often you will find that these safe zones are also animal havens, with no vermin control at all. As such, they are a regular nightmare for both farmer and keeper. This was the situation that had arisen on some land I was called to, where the owner was plagued by visiting foxes. It was an awful scenario. I had only two or three places that I could walk to and wait for a safe shot adjacent to the boundary. But behind this land is an expansive area of ground, and in the middle of this is a chicken farm. It’s an intensive rearing facility and no fox or two-legged thief could get in there without a degree in espionage.

I knew the foxes used the surrounding area for approaching and leaving the woods that ran up to the boundary, as that’s where they were dug in. I was having trouble targeting them. This was a result of a lack of safe shooting positions and also because the whole area is generally difficult.

After pulling a few strings (politeness and a bottle of whisky go a long way), I managed to gain access to some adjacent landed grasses used for grazing. Thanks to my ‘new permission’, at certain times of year the odds are back on my side. I say times of year, because when the grass isn’t too high or has just been cut, the foxes are out in the open and aren’t used to being targeted there.

Prior to arranging the permission to shoot on the adjoining land, the foxes had become increasingly troublesome yet still elusive. Knowing that foxes revert to opportunism, I knew it was highly likely that there would be foxes in the freshly-cut field grubbing around for mice, frogs or slugs. If not, a mouse call could hopefully draw them into the field, where they would likely feel secure despite being in the open.

This field had previously been a sanctuary, and the rows of turned grass would also give cover to crouch or lie behind. Sure enough, on the second visit after the tractors had left, I got to the top of the hill and waited a while, watching over the expansive freshly cut fields and letting my eyes get accustomed to the view. My silhouette wasn’t showing an outline due to the trees directly behind me. I shone the light across the field to see a couple of roe. I immediately switched off the lamp to let my eyes get used to the darkness once more. Incidentally, an old military tip about using night flares applies equally to lamping: keep one eye closed when scanning and your limited night vision returns much quicker. I watched the roe disappear, the larger doe springing and prancing as if showing off until they were lost in the gloom.

This was a perfect situation to try the mouse call. Many mice get caught in blades and the fox soon recognises the mower as a dinner bell announcing diced mouse on the menu. Plus many displaced survivors take refuge in the laid grass.

Asking for access on previously unshootable land can lead to good results

I switched on the Digital Callmaster and saw something dash out across the field. Readying myself for a shot, I switched on the lamp to see the fox crouching down and looking in my direction, not because it could see me but because this was the source of the sound, and now also a light. Being ready meant I’d got myself rested for the shot off a fencepost. Keeping the light on, I carefully took aim, and Charlie’s lights went out permanently. It may sound a very simple result, but many shooters in similar situations make classic mistakes due to angle of fire, and therefore shot placement.

I was higher than the fox and so could still see it as it lay down, believing itself safe. When foxes are close to the 140-150 yard mark, they are only offering you a small target for a clean kill. Especially this fox. Although it was looking at me, most of its body, including the major kill area (chest/heart/lungs), was obscured as it was crouched low. A head shot could have easily missed as it wasn’t that close, but if you lower your aim you can put the bullet into the vital chest area, due to the angle of fire. When I retrieved the fox, that’s exactly what had happened.

Suffice to say that this fox was probably the one I’d been having trouble with, and it was a job well done. Now that I’d secured the legal right to shoot over the new area, the fox’s safe zone was no longer a sanctuary. She didn’t know that, and unfortunately for her she’d been well and truly caught out.

At times you need to go to great lengths, and these don’t always include walking for hour after hour searching continuously. Although that can sometimes be the case, it wasn’t an option or solution here. It was politeness and patience that won through. Howard Heywood

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