The centre of the earth


April is cub time. As spring arrives, so does the new crop of foxes. For many in the countryside it is a golden opportunity to reduce fox numbers before they once again get out of hand.

Many years ago, before the advent of the internet, communications were far more restricted than today – particularly in the countryside – those who wanted to get rid of the fox went about it in their own way. There were no discussions into how or when or by what means litters of cubs were dealt with.

My gamekeeper friend from those far-off days had no reservations about dealing with foxes. They represented a threat to his charges and had to go by whatever means he could employ.

The gun, snares, poison, terriers, gins and other methods were all put to use – and from what I can remember, pretty effectively, too. He had no qualms about leaving orphaned cubs to starve as his life revolved around his pheasants.

If he didn’t do his job well he would be out of work and out of his cottage, together with his wife and family, so the ethics of whether cubs should lose their parents never crossed his mind. He went about his work with ruthless efficiency. As a result, he ran a first class shoot which he keepered well into his seventies, until his death.

Today, thing are somewhat different. Television projects an endless stream of animal programmes, more often than not depicting the very best side of everything furry and feathered. The internet bursts with people telling others what they should or shouldn’t be doing. It just goes on and on.

High hopes: It may look a bit bulky, but the high seat’s manageable weight makes it a great aid for fox shooting

High hopes: It may look a bit bulky, but the high seat’s manageable weight makes it a great aid for fox shooting

One of the yearly topics is what to do when cubs are found. For the gamekeeper, there is really only one answer: get rid of them. They may be cuddly now, but in a short time they will assume their role as top predator, and they are all capable of causing havoc.

No countryman or shooter worth his salt would go out of his way to cause suffering to any creature. We all know, however, that this happens in nature. While there seem to be fewer of us who understand it, we, too, are part of nature.

So what should you do when a litter of cubs is found? Much will depend on your personal outlook. I exclude gamekeepers from this as their livelihood depends, as in the case of my old friend, on  doing their job.

Others have a range of choices open to them, depending on their remit. If they are responsible for keeping foxes under control, then they, like the gamekeeper, will decide upon their course of action. I will return to those courses shortly.

For those under no pressure to control fox numbers, probably the best course of action will be to leave well alone until the cubs are in a position to fend for themselves. Harvest time always presents an excellent opportunity to reduce this year’s youngsters. Calling, waiting and stalking them all pay dividends, and after all, you can only shoot them once.

Perch preparation: Quick and easy to erect, Mike sets up the high seat by himself

Perch preparation: Quick and easy to erect, Mike sets up the high seat by himself

Returning to those who really need to deal with the problem promptly, there are a variety of options open to them. Much will depend on the lie of the land, and where the earth is situated. Another factor is the age of the cubs. If they are of an age to leave the earth, in the absence of the parents they can be dealt with as they emerge. Be warned, though: once the vixen realises that the earth has been disturbed she will move the cubs elsewhere very rapidly.

Probably the most common method is to deal with the vixen first and then the cubs. A good terrier will do the job very quickly. In the absence of a dog, waiting again for the cubs to emerge will see the job done. Of course, to do any of this you need to have located the earth in the first place.

The majority of cubs seem to survive after the vixen has been killed. They do need to have been weaned, but the dog fox or members of the extended family seem to take over the rearing more often than we think. Whatever method you use, observation and planning will usually see a satisfactory conclusion to what can be a contentious issue.

While I’m on this subject, Scott Country sent me a piece of equipment to test called the high seat back pack tree ladder. It seemed ideal for dealing with foxes at this time of year and, while I am not in the first flush of youth, I had no trouble carrying this seat to where I needed it. I use high seats a lot and often leave them where they – they are not the sort of thing you lug about too often. I have used this seat to good effect, particularly when spotting where vixens and dog foxes are travelling on a regular basis. Quick to set up, stable and easy to fold away, it is a very useful item for the fox shooter and deerstalker.

All the high seats I have tried work well enough, but even though some are described as portable you certainly wouldn’t want to carry them very far. This is not necessarily because of the weight, but mainly because they are awkward. The Scott Country back pack version weighs 12.5kg and extends from one to 2.5 metres – not necessarily the highest seat I have used, but perfectly adequate for the average fox shooter or stalker who wants to get the seat to where it will best serve its purpose. Using the ratchet strap, it was easy to secure against a tree. I carry a length of nylon cord to add a bit more security, attaching this to a convenient branch. The seat was comfy, but if I am going to be in situ for a fair while I will take a small cushion with me to make things that bit more comfortable. All in all the high seat back pack tree ladder makes a very useful addition to the fox shooter’s equipment.

Widening the net: Fox controllers have a range of methods for dealing with the pests

Widening the net: Fox controllers have a range of methods for dealing with the pests

Readers may recall that I was asked to deal with a small vixen that had caused carnage in a neighbour’s free-range chicken enterprise. She had dug into the house and killed 53 chickens, injuring several more. I had been sitting out for five hours on the night of the slaughter, and saw nothing of her.

The following night I set out at about 8.30pm, which was a late start for me. I had a companion and it was his first experience of night vision and thermal imaging. Arriving at the field, we spotted the fox straight away: Once again she was in the run. She wandered away behind the large poultry house and out of sight as we approached.

Soon, though, the thermal imager picked her up moving down the field. This was a very difficult field to shoot over as there were many fences, a scattering of houses and it was in close proximity to a road. The wind was in our favour, and for over an hour we traced her progress around the various poultry houses.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see how she got in and out, but I suspect she just went over. Time passed, and still a safe shot wasn’t offered. Eventually she moved towards a boundary hedge and appeared to be eating something 150 yards from us. I was familiar with the land and knew the ground rose slightly behind her. Moving down the hedge line, we reached the lowest point in the field and at last there was the chance of a shot.

Sneak attack: The wily vixen got through Mike’s neighbour’s chicken run defences, but she couldn’t dodge the thermal imager

Sneak attack: The wily vixen got through Mike’s neighbour’s chicken run defences, but she couldn’t dodge the thermal imager

She was laid down with her head facing away from me. I was 70 yards away from her and decided the shot was on. The .22 Hornet did the job. Watching through the thermal imager, my friend said that she hardly moved.

The whole episode had taken almost an hour and a half, and for most of that time we had kept her in sight through the TI.

What struck me about this piece of equipment was that it is even more covert than conventional night vision.

We had been able to track this fox for well over an hour with absolutely no light emission at all, and could see her no matter what her position was – except behind buildings, of course. I think I might still have got her without it, but even good night vision has its limitations if the fox is against a dark background and has its head turned away from you. For the serious fox shooter, this is a very useful addition to his armoury: cheap, and very effective.

As always with this type of high tech equipment, do try before you buy to make sure you’ll be able to get on with it – not every piece of kit will be right for every fox shooter.

Mike Powell

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