Raise me up

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Last month I described how I built my own fox box – a raised shooting hide – for around £130. With the nesting season rapidly approaching, I was keen to get it operational.

We get a steady supply of foxes moving onto the farm from neighbouring land and the nearby town. I don’t want them settling down on my patch just as the pheasants and partridges are laying their eggs.

To start with, I placed the box on an open grass field, overlooking an arable field corner where a wood, a hedge and a stream come together. It’s a natural choke point, where any animals moving through are likely to pass. It’s one field from the farm boundary where foxes are not very heavily controlled.

My bait point is 10 yards in front of the stream, and about 70 yards from the box. That gives me a good, clear view of any quarry at the bait, and a good working range, while still being far enough away that I am unlikely to disturb a fox by shifting in my seat (unless I’m really clumsy and knock something).

The field beyond the thin hedge slopes uphill, providing a safe backstop for my shots. The box faces north so the sun is in an arc behind, and most importantly, the prevailing wind doesn’t head towards the baited area.

To provide a little bit of light, I have set up four solar-powered garden lamps on poles above the bait point. I bought the lamps at a garden centre for about £2.50 each – less than the poles they are mounted on.

Each lamp contains a small rechargeable battery that is charged by a solar panel on top during the daytime. At night they give a soft, white glow. It’s dim, but enough to make out the movement of a fox at the bait with the naked eye. With a good low-light scope there should be just enough light to shoot by without needing any added illumination.

First things first, I needed to zero my rifle. For my first outing in the box, I was using a new Swarovski Z6i 2.5-15×56 scope fitted to a heavily modified straight-pull AR15 in .223. I had fitted the scope with low Hilvar mounts on the rifle’s Weaver rail and bore-sighted it, but needed to zero it before setting out after live quarry.

For that job I drove down to a spot on the farm where I have built a sand backstop at the end of a long, straight track. It allows me to park the truck and use it as a rest to shoot from. I set up a cardboard box as a target with s sticky target patch as my aiming mark.

House of card: Robert’s low-tech ‘target’ with the aiming point visible

House of card: Robert’s low-tech ‘target’ with the aiming point visible

I started at about 25 yards to make sure the scope was more or less aligned correctly. My shot was aligned with the bull, but about four inches low. I turned the scope dial up a few clicks and moved back to 100 yards. The next couple of shots were a little more than my ideal of an inch high at that range, and about an inch left.

With the wind blowing from left to right, I wanted to see the shots falling slightly to the right of the bull. I made the final adjustments and fired a group of three. The position of the group was ideal.

It was a little larger than I’d have liked, but I knew that was because I hadn’t used a really solid position on the back of the truck. Any of those shots would have been well within the kill zone, and that was at a greater range than I would be shooting from the box.

There was time to grab a cup of tea and a bite to eat before heading out for a night in the box. I would be sharing the box with James Marchington, who was filming for The Shooting Show, so with two of us and his video gear it would be a tight squeeze.

I kept my own gear down to a minimum, but not knowing how much I would see through the Swarovski, I also took along my Kite night vision to use as a viewer and a handheld lamp. I could watch for foxes with the Kite, and use the lamp if I needed extra white light to shoot by.

I checked the bait, which I had kept topped up for the past two weeks, then we wriggled up through the hole in the floor of the box – the lack of steps helps to keep the weight down, making it more transportable.

Top of the glass: Robert finds out how good the Swarovski really is

Top of the glass: Robert finds out how good the Swarovski really is

Sure enough it was cosy in the box, which is made for one but can accommodate two at a squeeze. We were glad of the shelter from the biting easterly wind, and placed a plywood sheet over the entry hole to keep the wind from blowing up under the seat.

There are viewing slots on three sides, but I kept the upwind one closed so as to reduce the wind blowing through sideways. It was still cold, but bearable. If we had been up a high seat, we would probably have thrown in the towel after the first hour – even pigeons have the sense not to roost up a tree in the open in this weather.

Double trouble: Fox and badger make an appearance at the same time

Double trouble: Fox and badger make an appearance at the same time

I soon realised just how good the Swarovski is. Using just the light from the night sky and the tiny glow from the garden centre lights, I could clearly watch the blessed badgers helping themselves under my pheasant feeder.

The lines of the A4-1 reticle are too slim to aim at night, but this scope has an excellent red dot facility, with a flip on-off switch just above the ocular lens and + and – buttons to adjust brightness.

The dot is precise and produces no flare, as many cheaper ones do. There’s also a clever feature that switches off the dot if you tilt the rifle to more than about 30 degrees, or point it skywards, which helps to save battery power. Laying it on its side meant it only switched on as I brought the rifle to bear.

So we sat and waited… and waited. The badgers came and went, and through the Kite I spotted a feral European polecat crossing the field behind the stream. I was using my left eye so that if I spotted something, my right eye’s night vision was unimpaired for the scope.

A muntjac buck passed from right to left. One fox trotted through James’s camera’s field of view while he was filming a badger, but it wasn’t coming to the bait. Eventually, some time after midnight, we decided to call it a day and returned empty-handed.

Charlie got a reprieve this time, but he might not be so lucky on the next occasion

Charlie got a reprieve this time, but he might not be so lucky on the next occasion

Meeting up with my friend Nigel back at the farmhouse, we discovered he had shot a wary vixen that he had spotted a couple of nights earlier a mile or two down the road.

She was old with two broken canines, and was blind in one eye owing to an old injury – the eye socket was full of pus and looked very nasty, so I think Nigel had done her a favour.

All in all it was not a wasted night, although a blank one for James and me. I had zeroed the new Swarovski scope and proved to myself that it’s more than up to the job.

And I knew I needed to get the mink traps out to deal with that polecat.

As for the foxes and the video, we’ll just have to go back out again soon.

James Marchington

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