Seasoned foxer Mike Powell steps back into his past when a friend calls on him to remove several roe from young woodland. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s a tricky fox to take care of too
I have to declare from the outset that I am no purist deerstalker. I shot my first roe 50 or more years ago using a 12-bore and AAA cartridges. In those days, shooting deer in my part of the world was normally carried out using the driving method. This was conducted in exactly the same way as fox drives are today, whereby a few guns, normally four in our case, made their way to one end of a wooded area. Then two or three others walked quietly and slowly through the wood, steadily pushing the deer forward.
Clearly this would not be allowed today, and many purist deerstalkers would be horrified at the very thought of shooting deer in this fashion. However, things were different back then. Apart from a few enthusiasts who shot deer with a rifle, shotguns were the dispatch method of choice. I have to say that, in the right hands and with a bit of organisation, it was an effective and humane way of controlling roe.
In my own area, like many others, the roe population has grown enormously over the past 40 or 50 years. They are not particularly sought after here, so are not particularly wary, and from time to time I have taken the odd one for the freezer.
Land is now being gobbled up for development or split into small parcels to be systematically ruined by overgrazing. It made a pleasant change when my neighbour obtained a substantial grant to turn 45 acres of hilly land into permanent woodland. The whole area is being planted out and a deer fence surrounds the whole block. This has been ongoing for five weeks, and has been done in a most professional manner.
Around 10,000 whips were planted using indigenous species – the exception being a few sacrificial sycamores to keep the squirrel population happy. There was a small population of roe living on the land (amounting to about six or seven animals) and every attempt was made to shift them out before the final gate was closed. It was no great surprise, though, to find that three were left behind. This is where my sporadic deerstalking career took off once again.
Clearly these three had to be dealt with. There was a young buck and a couple of does that, under other circumstances, would be a fine start to a breeding programme. However, with young saplings coming on in a year or two they had to be removed. Although I had been seeing them on a regular basis for some time, as soon as the fence was finished their behavioural pattern changed. There is a fair bit of rough cover on the land, and they just melted away.
The owner of the land had a chat with me before the project was finished and asked me to deal with the deer and the squirrels (I have done the rabbit control here for years). Dusting off my H-S Precision .243 WSSM, an accurate rifle that propels an 87-grain BTHP bullet at 3,200fps, I started my first serious deer control effort in many years.
When out and about on this particular parcel of land, it was common to come upon the deer at almost any time of the day. However, since the considerable disturbance during the planting and fencing, they had become far more wary – even more so now the fence was finished – and their normal travelling pattern had been disrupted. My first serious outing was on a quiet weekend when the land would be completely undisturbed. Confident that the matter would soon be brought to a satisfactory end, I set out with all the necessary equipment polished up and ready to go.
There was no question of getting the 4×4 on the ground, as the horrendous weather of the previous months and the constant traffic of the tractors and various earth-moving gear had formed an impassable morass in the main entrance. Parking on the road, I set off through the deer fence gate and up the hill. I checked the wind, which I don’t normally bother to do when after foxes, and searched the whole area without seeing hide nor hair of a deer. I noticed a few slot marks, but that was all, and doing another circuit produced the same result.
It was rather strange searching the area for something other than rabbits or foxes. It’s hard to explain, but my mindset was totally different – as was the end result.
The following day I was there again, and this time I did see the deer. Unconsciously still in my normal fox mode, I was letting my eyes travel the big field and looking in the usual places where a fox could be expected to appear. This exercise only took a moment, but it had been long enough for me to reach a small rise and walk into the trio of roe. Slackness and a lack of concentration had cost me the opportunity to start the mini-cull, and three white rumps disappeared at high speed into the cover of the undergrowth.
I had placed a high seat on the ground that I normally use for fox, so I decided to sit and wait for a while. I had a dozen or so rabbits for company, but that was about it. The afternoon was tailing off into yet another dreary evening so I decided on one more circuit. Crossing a small orchard, I was suddenly aware that I had company. Three roe were 70 yards in front of me. The buck broke to the right and the two does to the left.
Confused at the split, the does hesitated for a moment, which was enough for me to drop the largest. She was in prime condition and the gralloch went without problems. I was pleased to have made a start but I knew the other two wouldn’t be so easy. Time was running out as I only had about a week before the doe season ended, and there was much fox control to be done.
Removing this doe, the first I had shot in a considerable time, stirred the old feelings. I had the feeling that April would see me out more – not only after the one left in the fenced area, but having a look for one or two others in the neighbouring area.
The next evening I took a young chap out after a fox that had been causing a few problems on a nearby smallholding. I set him up with the Anschütz 1770 .223 with a Longbow and Nightmaster 800 IR LED on top. I would do the calling and spotting with the Pulsar Quantum thermal imager, which is a piece of kit I am becoming more and more reliant on.
We had only been in position 10 minutes when a fox came through the road hedge and headed in our direction. I let my shooting mate know and he soon had it in view. I whispered that it would have to cross the field in front of us before a safe shot could be taken. I had been using the old faithful call, the WAM. Despite having various other callers available, I almost always use this one when the nights are still.
As the fox approached, you could see it was limping quite badly on one of its back legs. This was probably why it was hanging around the farm after easy prey. A gentle whistle on the WAM had it veer across the field and, when it paused to check where the call had come from, it presented an ideal target. Jamie did the deed, placing the 50-grain Remington Premier Accutip just behind the shoulder. We had heard two more foxes shouting across the valley – and on the way home saw a couple more – so another visit would be on the cards.
This episode ended quite a pleasing and successful week. I was glad to find I hadn’t forgotten how to skin and butcher a deer, and the freezer is now well stocked. Hopefully the other two will be dealt with soon. I will have to brush up on my deer stalking skills, though, and not let my concentration wander in the direction of my usual quarry. This particular area will, as it always does at this time of year, soon be causing problems. There is a large fox population and, with a drop in rabbit numbers, foxes will be seeking food sources that will undoubtedly bring them into conflict with man. It’s a cycle that has been going on for as long as I can remember. In addition to this, there has unfortunately been an outbreak of mange. While I spend much of my time controlling fox numbers, I find mange an extraordinarily unpleasant affliction that no wild creature should have to endure. There is little doubt that there are busy times ahead.