I recall fondly my times on Skye foxing. The terrain is difficult – and filming for The Shooting Show equally so, but the rewards are spectacular. One occasion that sticks out saw me joining friend and hunter Scott Mackenzie. Given the limited number of roe on the island, and with the hind season well and truly over, Scott’s attention was firmly placed on a search and destroy mission.
Although he had made a concerted effort over the winter months to fend off the encroaching fox population, we were now at the start of the lambing season, and this was no time to be taking stock.
It is important to understand what a massive impact the loss of one lamb can make in a crofting environment. Obviously any loss is felt by a farmer, and is a reduction of potential future revenue.
However, on the island, a crofter may only have 30-head. On this much smaller scale, one less lamb to market is a substantial proportion of the expected year’s takings from crofting activities.
With this in mind, Scott gathered together a number of adjoining crofts to help provide a unified front against their vulpine thief. With unimpeded scope to cover a large area of ground, Scott could now more efficiently control problem foxes. This is a plan that has proved successful over a number of years. Of course, the good efforts and work throughout the year could mean little if the crofters suffered heavy losses during lambing. It is, after all, this time that Scott’s year of foxing control comes fruition. Just one marauding killer could make it look like he had been slacking throughout previous months.
It was the end of a miserable week. The previous year had been fairly dry in the northwest, and this was noticeable as my Landy wound its way northward. Peering across to the fleeting bodies of water, the bare bones of rocky shores were obvious to see. The countryside was in need of a drink – it was just a shame the parched watercourses were only now being filled. We made do with the hand we had been dealt, and I set off with Scott for my first venture in six months across the unforgiving Skye landscape in search of Mr Fox.
Scott was armed with my Kimber .243 Win, topped with Swarovski optics and Hardy Gen 4 moderator. Loaded up a little heavy for foxes, we were running 105-grain Gecos. With time at a premium, I hadn’t had a chance to zero for the 70-grain Federal Ballistic tips I would usually have for such endeavours. Scott was more than content, insisting that this was his standard ammo for foxing on Skye owing to the turbulent weather and rough, tussocky ground. All that was left now was to brave the horizontal drizzle and make a move.
Fulfilling the Scandinavian proverb, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing,” we dressed for the elements. Trying to take a positive from the situation, it was likely that any foxes willing to brave the conditions would be heading for sheltered areas. To be honest, any Charlies willing to venture onto the wind-battered tops were welcome to have an undisturbed night – it was no place to be hunting, and unlikely Scott would get an accurate shot off from a distance. Fortunately, with most of the lambing underway, the livestock was concentrated on the lower, more sheltered areas, and this is where we needed to focus our attention.
Taking me to a long, hollow bowl where we had hunted previously, Scott stopped on the roadside to scan with the lamp. Brushing over the bending, dead grasses, the beam swept the landscape to no avail. Usually Scott would walk in at this point to try a spot of calling. We weren’t feeling quite acclimatised just yet, so opted for a long lamp from his truck to cover all the accessible areas first, before stepping foot outside for the rest of the night.
After two hours, our chances were looking slim. It seemed that our nemesis was likely tucked up warm somewhere (arguably what we should have been doing, with a dram in hand). Not willing to be defeated, we pushed on to our fourth location.
Picking a route with only the dim light of a small, hand-held lamp to guide us, Scott positioned us on the edge of a long ledge. As I would discover once the Lightforce beam illuminated the ground below us, we now had a commanding view over a vast tract of ground. Although we were anything but sheltered from the northerly pounding, the land fell away below us to provide a relatively tranquil oasis amid the storm. After a quick flash showed nothing, Scott began to call, demonstrating to me for the first time his own-design, American-influenced caller.
Scott flashed on the light once more, immediately catching a flash back through the darkness. It was coming like a steam train towards us. Quickly, Scott got into position behind the rifle, manning the lamp with his spare hand. He was used to doing this as a one-man operation, and his slickness made this apparent. The fox broke the 150-yard mark and was still closing. As it made it to 100 yards, it paused, looking straight through us for a split second. Scott sent his projectile of death on a guided course into the engine room.
To this point, our story was much like any other foxing encounter. However, what followed the next morning added humour to our nocturnal wonderings. I received a call from my brother to let me know he was heading to Skye with the Royal Navy bomb squad. They had a call to destroy a suspect item spotted off the shore in the north part of the island. Knowing I was already on location, and with his commanding officer a keen hunter, it had been arranged for me and Scott to tag along and see the operation.
Joining the police and military convoy on the road, we followed on towards the ground we had been hunting the night before. It soon become apparent that we were following them to the exact spot we had shot the fox just 12 hours previously. Disembarking, I had a chance to speak with Darryl as he organised explosives and dive gear. Remarkably, little more than 500 metres from where we had laid down to take a shot, the suspected item lay lodged in rocks down by the sea.
Her Majesty’s finest did their job, and it was soon taken care of, wrapping up an unexpected and unusual foxing trip. Byron Pace