Venturing north to the Inner Hebrides, Byron Pace joins friend and hunter Scott Mackenzie to pursue a cunning fox in the dark and treacherous wilds of the Isle of Skye.
Having met Scott the year before, I had been eager to set my wheels travelling north once more to hunt with him. Our first encounter had been a little rushed on my behalf, as we squashed in a morning stalk before I headed to Harris with John and Andy from The Stalking School. The outing had been successful nonetheless, with a hind in the larder and on film, but it was foxes I was more interested in this time.
It is probably fair to say that Scott has a bit of a reputation on Skye. He is the man you go to if you’ve got a problem that needs to be sorted. He is the go-to guy. The job will get done by whatever means required, importing foreign help if necessary, and in the depths of night it’s normally a covert operation. He will come and go without anyone knowing. So if you’re a fox on the island, you’d better make sure you’re one step ahead of ‘Scott the Fox’, or your next date will be on the salting table.
As well as being a full time stalker, Scott is in quite an unusual position in that he is also employed specifically for fox control on the island. Watching over 10,000 acres, Scott keeps the population of this vulpine menace in check, tackling any specific problem animals as the crofters report them. This is particularly important on an island like Skye, as the number of livestock held by each crofter is relatively small. During the lambing season in particular, it is imperative to remove any foxes taking livestock as quickly as possible, or the impact on a smallholding can be catastrophic. It is for this reason that Scott’s role as foxing guardian is so important, and keeping on top of them throughout the year is a necessity.
Sit down with Scott for half an hour and his passion for hunting is immediately apparent. So, too, is the fact that foxing lies particularly close to his heart. His dedication to this nocturnal predator has earned him the island nickname of ‘Scott the Fox’. I was eager to see how Scott went about the business of foxing on the island, and was hoping to take some tips home.
What makes the foxing here quite interesting and different to most of the mainland is that the vast majority is done on foot. At home most keepers and amateur foxers will drive the farm or hill tracks, scanning continually for a fiery flash of eyes through the darkness. On Skye, the difficult terrain and limited roads makes this only feasible for a very small proportion of the ground. To go about it properly, you have to be prepared to hoof it for most of the night. Further to that, Scott’s tactics have clearly been tinged with influences from the US, bringing new callers and ways of hunting to home soils. I couldn’t wait to get out and learn the Skye way of foxing.
Driving out on the first night, we headed along one of the few hill roads, which gave access to the moorland. As we drove, it was interesting to hear about Scott’s time in Arizona, partaking in a coyote hunting competition through his friends on the buckingtheodds.com forum. I will save the details for a future story, but the emphasis is very much on using calls to bring in your quarry to an area where you wait in ambush. Given the vast tracts of land to cover, not to mention the danger of crossing some of the terrain at night, Scott has brought some of these tactics home, along with an incredible range of calls.
At the end of the four-mile road, we turned to come back when a distant flash gave reason to pause. “There she is,” Scott remarked.
Far out across the heather, a blinking flash returned in the light. Scott had come across this particular fox on a number of occasions, but it was always a long way out, and although not spooked by the lamp, would begin to head to the opposite glen once spotted. He had even gone to the trouble of hiking out from the opposite side, but this had proved fruitless. We stopped and called as a token gesture, but she wasn’t playing the game. With that, we set off back to some ground behind Scott’s house.
Pulling up in a lay-by, we parted company with the vehicle and headed into the darkness. In the distance, the subtle evening light silhouetted the dark hilltops against a slate, clear sky, star-dusted and unpolluted by civilisation. It was a blissful beauty that made me pause for a moment and consider greater things outside of our control. Snapping out of my trance, I followed Scott a short way across the hillside, guided on our way by a small flashlight. I later asked Scott about using a torch to guide him into a calling position, and if it bothered the foxes. He insisted it made very little difference most of the time, and was essential to negotiate terrain that would be too dangerous to attempt otherwise.
Obviously Scott knew this ground from daytime reconnaissance, so the location he had picked was a perfect vantage point over a good area backing on to a forest. A quick shine gave up nothing, so the caller came out. As Scott’s lips found purchase and his lungs filled the reed, the most haunting squall I have ever heard echoed across the barren land. This caller was something else. Being fortunate to have some good friends over the water, Scott is never short of calls to try. This CR-1 Custom distress call from varmintsinccalls.com was one of his favourites. It really did marvellously recreate the chilling sounds of imminent death.
Scanning the light once more, we were no longer alone. Returning to the call, Scott tried to bring Charlie in to a shootable distance, but despite all his efforts, the fox wasn’t keen to move. Not seeming to be too troubled by the light or call, we decided to try an electronic caller I had brought over from Ireland. With mating season just behind us, our first test was a screaming vixen. Leaving it to call out for a short while, Scott flashed the light back on to see what our friend was up to. We certainly had its attention as it moved into a slightly more considerate position. I’m not sure it was really coming in to the call, but it was enough for Scott to get a chance at a shot.
With me wielding the Lightforce, Scott settled in behind my Kimber Montana .243, slid over the illuminated dot on the test Z6i, and readied for his scope to light up. Moments later, the battery-pack fed the lamp and froze the fox in its tracks. It was clearly about to make an exit, but the 70-grain Federal put an end to that, dropping the first Skye fox of the trip in a neat heap.
I was buzzing after my first night out, and was already eager to get home and do more foxing on foot. I still had a few days left with Scott, and the hunting just got better. Maybe that’s a story for next time. ν