Pest controllers like Mike Powell are preparing for a hectic few months as the start of the foxes’ season comes into view.
As I write this I find my thoughts already turning towards the time of year when the foxes’ mating season is on the horizon. As is generally the case, since the start of October reports begin to come in of foxes starting to pair up.
I too have seen pairs of foxes at this time of year but I’ve always found that they are invariably siblings that have been born in the current year and are just running together. Perhaps this happens as food slowly starts becoming that much harder to locate.
Certainly, vocalisation between vixens and their offspring seem to increase as we move into October. This year in particular, activity between the old foxes and their offspring seems to have been fairly intense round here.
We’ve shot several, but in every case the “pairs” have turned out to be youngsters, more often than not of the same sex. However, it won’t be too long before the very early signs of forthcoming mating start to show.
Weather conditions generally give matters a kick start, I’ve noticed over the years that as the seasons have started to merge with no clear demarcation lines between them, autumn seems to slowly drift into warmer, wetter winters, whereas years ago November would almost always produce sharp frosts which always seemed to get the foxes mating instincts moving into top gear.
Eventually, those who take note of fox behaviour will start to see signs that pairing, albeit rather different from that I mentioned earlier, being very “loose” and generally at a distance, starts to appear. Generally this will be a dog fox following a vixen in a very half hearted fashion.
From time to time he will drift away on his own only to link up again, sometimes a day later. This “pairing” is nothing like the intense and very close pursuit that will really get underway after Christmas. There may be a bit of squabbling between dog foxes but it’s all very low key.
But as the weather cools down in the New Year, things on the mating front will definitely hot up and it’s then that fox shooters can take advantage of foxes’ preoccupation with ensuring the future of the species!
Calling is the accepted method of getting the best results as the desire to find a mate can sometime override the fox’s normal caution. To get the best results you need to know a little about fox behaviour, for example both sexes will respond to the same call but for different reasons.
Before I go into detail I would point out that where mating calls are concerned digital callers are the way to go. FoxPro, ICOtec, Mini Colibri are all digital callers that I have used with decent success.
Hop to it
Some say that it’s a waste of time trying the usual rabbit-type distress call as foxes are not interested in food when they have mating on their minds. Again, once you know a bit about fox behaviour you will realise that saying distress calls are a waste of time just doesn’t add up!
The reason being that not all foxes get involved in the mating ritual for a variety of reasons, but they still need to eat. I also find it hard to believe that, apart from the few short days the vixens are actually in season, mating foxes don’t eat at all. So it’s always worth trying a few distress calls when you are out, even when mating calls may be the obvious choice. After all, you’ve nothing to lose.
I mentioned earlier how mating calls will very often be responded to by members of the opposite sex. The local alpha vixen for instance may well be interested when she hears the call of a dog fox, for obvious reasons, however, other dog foxes in the vicinity can well be drawn into the same call either because they want to kick the intruder off their property or merely to ascertain what sort of rival has strayed onto their patch.
Equally, a vixen call will clearly be of interest to a dog fox but curious vixens will also come in to see who the stranger is. Often, this aggressive response gets a fox coming in quite rapidly, although where dog foxes are concerned, when using a dog fox call be aware that the more nervous dog foxes in the area may well skirt round for a while as they don’t want to take on a rival that clearly is superior to them in rank or strength. It always pays to try different mating calls at this time but don’t neglect food calls, they can work on occasions.
Roll the dice
As the year nears its end foxes’ movements change drastically. At other times of year they are inclined to stick to their own territories, although clearly some – especially the young dog foxes – will strike out on their own.
But as by nature they are territorial, by and large, they will generally be seen in certain areas. Once mating starts then all bets are off and territorial boundaries are ignored so foxes will often be seen in places you wouldn’t normally expect them to be. Many times I’ve watched a fox that is clearly aware it’s trespassing!
Last January we watched a very nervous fox crossing some land that was clearly off limits. It was constantly looking around, particularly behind it. This went on for some time and eventually we spotted another fox, presumably the local male. The “interloper” spotted the local at about 100 yards and without hesitation turned and fled!
All this movement within the fox fraternity can be exploited by the fox controller. I find that rather than chase round after a calling fox, be it dog or vixen, whilst they are constantly on the move, it’s better to let them come to you.
Depending upon the sort of land you’re shooting over you can almost guarantee that sooner or later one or more will come your way. Judicious use of a digital caller can produce results but don’t overdo it and don’t just stick to one call.
It’s your call
However, when switching calls don’t jump from one to another quickly, leave a decent gap between. It really does pay to listen to how foxes interact at this time of year and endeavour to follow the same pattern.
This applies to calling them at other times of year too. If you are out on a quiet night at any time of year pay attention to what you hear. I have been out with someone who would switch calls constantly – to no avail.
In all the years I’ve been night shooting I had never heard a rabbit squeal followed by a young pheasant, a mallard, a young fox call and finally a hare distress call, all in the space of a minute and I very much suspect neither had the local foxes. Certainly, none appeared that night.
Shoot your load further
This mating season I’m really looking forward to putting the .204 through its paces. So far I have been more than pleased with it and certainly out to 200 yards it drops a fox on the spot.
Having had the .204 for a couple of months now I’m finding that it’s certainly a very effective round for foxing out to 225 yards (so far), and I suspect seeing the damage it caused at that range it will do the job further out still. Although I seldom need to shoot foxes at that distance anyway!
Whether the .204 will turn out to be a better foxing calibre than the good old .223 Rem. remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, my shooting partner Callum uses a .243 for everything and we never have runners with that one, as he sticks to 95 grain ammo. As I have said many times before, ‘a good big’un will always beat a good little’un!’
Up to the job?
So why do I play around with the smaller high speed calibres when deep inside I know the .223 or .243s will, in all probability, do the job better?
For a start, noise is reduced with the smaller calibres which is quite a big factor where I shoot. But I suppose the main appeal is being able to send a small, very high speed projectile over considerable distances with great accuracy (thanks to the rifle that is, not me).
Perhaps there is more of a challenge presented when using the .17 Hornet or the .204 Ruger. To be honest I can’t really explain it – I only know I get a far greater sense of enjoyment out of using the .17 Hornet and the .204 Ruger than my tried and trusted Sauer .223.
Anyway, the forthcoming mating season should provide a real testing ground for the .204 and perhaps in a couple of month’s time I will be able to give a far more reasoned appraisal of this rather exciting calibre.
More from Mike Powell
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- Mike Powell’s tips on dealing with longer days
- Mike Powell’s report on fox populations
- Best scopes for rimfire rifles 2020
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