Once the glut of shooting foxes during the harvest has passed, it’s back to tactics and outwitting them.
With the breeding cycle starting all over again and the colder weather kicking in, it’s worth keeping a close eye on the earths and bail stacks for activity, and not forgetting to listen out for the verbal signs when out at night as the foxes pair up. This can be a giveaway as to which area they are in. They tend to act differently at this time of year – less interested in the distress calls and more interested in each other. So the more efficient you can be with the rifle, the more chance you have.
When lamping, I use a box on the back of the pick-up made from a 2×2 frame and exterior ply. (The width and length may vary according to the size of the pickup back – that is, single or double cab.) The main measurement is 54in (height) from the floor. You need the sides to be low enough to be able to take a shot downhill or close in so you are not overstretched.
Although I do use the box for staking out areas, its main use is for lamping. I have it wired straight to the truck, with a socket inside to plug in the lamp and a switch wired to a small light in the cab to indicate to the driver when to stop based on one person lamping and a rifleman in the box.
With 360-degree lamping and shooting, no matter where the fox is, if it’s safe and within range the shot can be taken anywhere very quickly. It also enables you to lamp over hedges or off farm roads and tracks without entering the field and spooking wary foxes. When I spot a fox in range from the box, I try to keep the lamp fixed on the fox while the vehicle stops and the rifleman prepares to take the shot. More often than not, it’s over in less than 10 seconds.
A good tip for when you drop on that wary fox that’s well within range and has been eluding you in the past few weeks is to keep the lamp on him when he sets off and get the rifleman to track him through the scope. Keep quiet as the fox will often stop for that one look back – just long enough to take the shot. Based on my theory, using a red or green filtered lamp, you can see if it is within range.
Three miles down the road on an arable farm, one particular fox was always in the same area of three 100-acre fields of winter wheat, always sticking to the brow of the fields. He was not really lamp shy, but seemed educated enough to stay at a safe distance with no backstop to make a safe shot.
Post-harvest, I take the box out with two colleagues twice a week, covering a vast acreage over four or five hours each night. The vehicle driver knows the lie of the land and the farm tracks, with enough land to lamp for seven nights on the trot without covering any area twice. I probably lamp most of this ground once a fortnight unless a fox is causing a problem. Then I adopt a more intensive approach.
I often find that with shorter days and longer nights, if I go out at the same time lamping the same route, I hit a quiet period where I hardly see anything. If this happens, a good tip is to alter your routine and go out a couple of hours earlier or later – or change your route and lamp the ground in reverse, starting out where you would normally finish. The weather can play a vital part too. I try to avoid cool or frosty, clear nights, as for some reason I tend to see very little.
An occasion that stands out for me was when I was out with two regular lamping companions, doing the rounds lamping from the box. I was on the lamp: A Lightforce 240 Blitz with the red filter on. My rifleman was using his C2 Limited ebony edition with a candy twist barrel in .223 calibre, using 50-grain Remington Accutip bullets and fitted with a T8 sound moderator. At the wheel was our regular driver who is my brother-in-law and the local farmer’s son.
We set off just outside the village down a farm track. It was a mild evening, overcast with a slight drizzle in the air. Ideal conditions with a decent breeze, you would think. I scoured the open winter field with the red beam for half a mile, probably covering 500 acres, only seeing hares and rabbits.
We were heading towards the 100-acre wheat fields where a fox had been eluding me for the past month. The farm track went along the bottom of the fields and then turned along the right side of the last field. I lamped the fields as we drove steadily along the track, and sure enough, on the last field the fox was stood some 300 yards away. He was at the highest point on the field with only the dark sky as a backdrop.
I pushed the button wired to the truck cab to indicate to the driver to stop. Keeping the lamp on the fox, Paul, the rifleman, had a quick look through the scope and confirmed the fox was lying down. Anxious not to spook the fox, I indicated to the driver to continue as I had a cunning plan.
Once we had passed the fox up the right side of the field, we went on for a quarter of a mile and stopped upwind of the fox. I explained to Paul and Pete, the driver, that I would get out there and they would drive back around to the bottom side of the field and position themselves in the box 150 yards to the side of a grass balk that ran up the field towards the fox. Over the years, I have seen a lot of foxes using this technique and if my plan worked, the fox would come down it.
I grabbed the lamp and battery pack before they had made it back around. I waited for 10 minutes or so for them to get into position and for Pete to get into the box to lamp for Paul. The pair knew exactly which direction I would be coming down. I would certainly not try this with an excitable rifleman – only one that would think first and shoot second.
I set off to the other side of the field above where the fox was laid up. I was trying to push the fox into a safe area to shoot, bearing in mind it was sat in a 100-acre field and I could only approach it from one direction so I would be nowhere near the line of fire. Once I was in the same field as the fox, I had a flick around with the lamp. He was nowhere in sight, which was a good thing. If the fox was still in the same place, I would not pick him up in the light for another couple of hundred yards.
I pressed on towards the red glow, which I could see over the brow of the field coming from the truck’s position with the lamp. It was beginning to look as if the fox had put the slip on us once more. Then, at no more than 70 yards, I saw the fox. It had been lying down, and it was not until the fox stood up that I could see him. I kept the lamp on him, and he disappeared towards the direction of the bottom track where the truck was stationed.
I turned off the lamp and stayed still, watching the red glow in front. It seemed that the fox had outdone me again. A minute or so passed before I heard the report of the .223. Had the plan come together? Or had we made the fox much harder to lamp?
As I approached the truck, Pete was on his way back from the field below the truck with a dog fox in hand – a great result. Paul explained that it came down the side of the grass bank but had not stopped until it had crossed the track and gone into the field below, where it turned and looked straight towards my direction. He took it out at around 170 yards.
The whole excursion may have taken 40 minutes, but it was well worth it. Mark Nicholson