Sunset Stake-Out

Gary’s TOP TIP: Make the most of the time you get to just watch the wildlife

Gary Green shoots a lot of foxes, but there was one that had eluded him for more than 12 months.

This trickiest of tricky foxes lived near the chiller where Gary processes the deer he shoots. It’s an idyllic spot surrounded by farmland and close to a nature reserve. With ready access to the waste from deer carcases, Gary had baited copiously in the adjacent field. He saw his tricky vixen regularly on his way to the chiller after an early morning stalk. She sat munching his bait and thumbing her nose at him. But it’s as if she has a sixth sense: when Gary has his rifle to hand, she is nowhere to be seen.

Not to be beaten, Gary built a high seat overlooking the field in question. The high seat was set back in the hedge beside the driveway, behind the trunk of a horse chestnut tree, with a commanding view across the field. Gary sat up there night after night but never got a shot at his tricky vixen.

Other priorities then took over, but some months later the vixen reappeared on his radar as she had been taking an interest in the farmer’s collection of ducks and geese. With the nesting season getting underway, Gary feared for the game birds and other wildlife in the area. To cap it all, she was regularly on the bait when Gary visited his chiller in the mornings. Gary hates to shoot a vixen that might have dependent cubs underground, but something would have to be done. An early morning session seemed to be in order, since the vixen’s routine saw her on the field by 6.30-7am.

Gary is usually up with the lark, and on this particular morning he climbs into his high seat at 5.45am to be there in plenty of time. As he arrives, a small group of fallow deer trot away, disturbed by the vehicle.

He is certainly well equipped for the job. He has a heavy target-style .223 RPA that he bought second-hand, and shoots Geco ballistic tip ammo. The rifle has a blue synthetic stock with adjustable cheekpiece and chromed barrel. It’s topped with a Swarovski Z6i, with 56mm objective lens for superb low-light performance. Gary prefers to shoot foxes without a lamp when possible, and the scope with its illuminated reticle allows him to aim and shoot well into the dusk – and even through the night if the moon is clear.

The rifle is a bit of a beast to carry, but for shooting off a vehicle or from a high seat it’s ideal. Gary can be confident of putting shot onto shot at normal foxing distances. The field here is no more than 150 yards across, and any fox that comes to the bait will be well inside the 100-yard mark.

Gary spends hours waiting for his quarry to appear but he’s never bored. “It’s better than watching TV,” he says. It’s a glorious spring morning and the wildlife is going about its business. Pigeons make their clapping, swooping flights across the field, and a muntjac picks its way through the wood on the far side of the field. It stops in a gap between the bramble bushes and Gary is tempted, but reminds himself how important it is to get this fox. He can catch up with the muntjac later.

The wider world is starting to wake up. There are stirrings at the farmhouse, and before long the farmer passes beneath the high seat, glancing up and giving Gary a cheery wave. The time has passed; the vixen has evaded Gary once again.

Gary was able to recover his shot vixen with Polly the teckel

There are other jobs to be done, but over a hearty fried breakfast of duck eggs and home-made venison sausages Gary’s mind keeps returning to that clever vixen. She hasn’t fed this morning, and the bustle of the farm will keep her off the field through the day. By evening her stomach will be rumbling, and she has to eat sometime. He resolves to return this evening and wait as long as it takes. It could turn into an all-nighter, but this fox is getting under his skin.

At 6pm Gary climbs back into his high seat. He has refreshed the bait, adding a tin of strong-smelling dog food for good measure. He is equipped with the RPA again, and this time has brought night vision gear as well in case things go on after dark. The RPA’s Weaver rail allows him to replace the Swarovski with his Pulsar NV550 digital night vision scope. He has tested it thoroughly, and is confident that the combination holds zero when he swaps the scopes around.

A heavy shower soon passes and the sunset is, if anything, even more spectacular than the sunrise. Cock pheasants strut in the last rays of sunlight, and crows fly across the orange sky to roost. Still, there is no sign of this tricky vixen. Gary shifts his weight carefully so as not to make a noise, and resigns himself to a long wait.

As the last light drains from the sky, Gary takes a look through the scope and decides it is time to switch to night vision. He reaches for the bag – and at that exact moment a shadow moves from the thick cover at the far left of the field.

It’s definitely a fox. Gary can’t be sure if it’s the fox he’s been after, but feeling safe now in the near-darkness it moves boldly across the field towards the bait point. Gary brings the heavy RPA rifle to bear and squints through the scope. The light-gathering power of the optics provide a clearer view than the naked eye, and with the illuminated aiming mark he feels confident taking the shot.

He gently takes up the pressure on the trigger, checks the alignment and – bang-thud! It sounds good, but the fox jumps like a scalded cat, turns and zig-zags away in the direction it came, its tail spinning like a helicopter rotor.

That wasn’t part of the plan. Gary can’t bear to leave it now, and climbs down from the high seat to search. He’s sure that fox was hit hard. He crosses the field and busts through the brambles – and worse – but after a thorough search there is still no sign of the shot fox. “I’ll have to come back in the morning with Polly the teckel,” he says. “I’m sure we’ll find that fox, it won’t have got far. I just hope it’s the vixen I’ve been after all this time.”

The next day Gary is on the phone. “Got her,” he says excitedly. “The bullet must have hit a stalk just in front of her, because it had started to break up. That’s why she didn’t drop on the spot.”

And yes, it turned out to be that same tricky vixen that had been giving him the run-around. She had a nasty case of sarcoptic mange, which partly explained her dark colour. She seems to have had a litter, but her milk was almost dried up, so the cubs are likely to be at the stage where they will be able to look after themselves. This pleases Gary in a way, because he wouldn’t want them starving underground. On the other hand, it could mean he will face the same problem next year with the daughter of his troublesome fox. Gary Green

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