The elusive buck

Pic0601A stray roebuck and a greedy fox are no match for Mike Powell

A couple of months ago I mentioned that I had been called upon to clear three roe that had been ‘shut in’ to a newly planted area of woodland with a deer fence. I had soon dealt with one of the does, and managed to get the other at the eleventh hour just before season close. That was relatively straightforward, and both beasts were in fine condition. There was still one remaining however,the buck, and he proved to be a different proposition entirely. Clearly as he was now on his own, albeit within touching distance of his brethren on the other side of the fence, he was very wary. Despite being confined to forty acres or so – much of which was open, freshly planted ground – he was proving almost impossible to get up on. I came across him occasionally, usually when carrying a totally unsuitable rifle (the 17HMR), and once got within 20 yards of him while he carried on oblivious.

After a few months of being contained within the fenced area, his whole method of getting round changed. No longer did he patrol the perimeter, confining his movements to within the three of four acres of dense elder, bramble and blackthorn that ran through the middle of the new planting. Whenever I took the appropriate rifle he would not be seen. I spend most of my life waiting for foxes, and know their movements and life styles pretty well, but where deer are concerned I’m a bit of a novice. It struck me how very different the behaviour patterns of these two are.

The fox has to hunt for most of its food, and as food is the biggest governor of behaviour for the greater part of an animal’s life you can learn when and where Charlie will be by knowing the food sources in any given area. Where browsers like roe are concerned however, food is pretty well on tap anywhere at any time during the summer. Clearly they will seek out particular crops if they are available, but in an area such as this buck was confined to it’s all pretty much the same, so no behaviour pattern was emerging. Although the newly planted whips were not yet peeping over the guards, the owner of the land had visions of the lone buck making a point of nipping out every shoot that showed its head. Something had to be done.

Pic0201I decided I would really have to make an effort. Although the owner understands these things pretty well, matters weren’t helped by the fact that whenever he went for a look at his newly planted trees he almost always saw the buck. To add insult to injury, it usually stood and looked at him, giving the impression it was just a question of turning up and shooting it. When a few more outings showed no result, I decided the only way was to sit it out.

A rather damp afternoon in early May had me tucked away ready for a long wait. I had been there for about an hour when a movement across the valley alerted me to a fine buck on the land adjoining the fenced area. I watched him on and off for about an hour as he gradually worked his way towards me. The buck I was after clearly scented the newcomer because suddenly he was there, sixty yards away but not in a good position for the shot. The two males eyeballed each other for five minutes or so then, knowing they could not get together because of the fence, made off. The one I was after turned, and for a moment presented the perfect target. The job was done. I felt a bit sorry for him, as his world must have been turned upside down, but these things must be done. At least he was spared the frustration of the rut shut in his 40-acre cage! Interestingly, the buck outside the enclosed area was in full summer pelage while the enclosed beast was still in winter grey. I wondered if the trauma it had undergone could have caused the late change.

To return to my normal pursuit of the fox, things have been very busy. Due to a dramatic drop in the rabbit population the attention of the local foxes had been focused on domestic offerings, mainly poultry. At one stage I was getting daily calls from people, ranging from the distraught to the downright angry. It’s all well and good for the antis to knock people who carry out pest control, but perhaps it would do some of them good to see just what havoc a fox can wreak. Those people who raise poultry and indeed sheep for a living can take a slightly more philosophical approach to fox predation, but for those who keep a few chickens or ducks for fun the carnage that results from a fox visit can be quite traumatic.

One such lady not too far from me had four chickens and a duck that were, in truth, family pets. The fox managed to get the sliding entrance of the coop up enough to gain access and of course the rest is history, gory in the extreme. Unfortunately her children found the sad remains, something I guess will stay with them for a long time. I have mentioned before what an asset the thermal imager has been, and this was really spelt out to me a few nights ago. As usual I was staked out waiting for a fox, one that had been visiting a smallholding on a daily basis, usually in the afternoon. Of course the afternoons I was there it wasn’t, so early evening found me sitting in a draughty hedge keeping an eye on a very rough reedy field in front and an open pasture behind. I had the Longbow with the day sight attachment fitted, but as the light faded I switched to night vision mode and got out the thermal imager. I never tire of using this, as nothing living is overlooked.

The few remaining rabbits were out and about, as were a small herd of bullocks. Scanning the field from my chilly vantage point, I saw nothing of interest. Suddenly a flash of bright white showed in the rushes in the middle of the field. There was no clear view but something was there, something that moved back and forth yet held its position. It had to be a fox feeding. Eventually the flash of white moved, and I could see by its length that it was almost certainly a fox. It threaded its way through the reeds and rough grass of the field, avoiding the bullocks who confirmed its identity with a wary stare: stock will throw the odd glance towards badgers, but dogs and foxes really grab their attention.

Pic0301Eventually the familiar shape and gait confirmed it: it was a fox. As I switched to the longbow it eventually presented a decent shot and ‘bang’, it was down and out. The patch of mange on one flank proved it to be the unwelcome visitor to the poultry house, and it possessed some of the longest canines I have ever seen on a fox. For a while anyway they would be safe. Having a look round it didn’t take long to find the remains of one of the missing geese, Charlie’s last supper.

The thermal showed its worth by enabling me to spot the fox hidden in the reeds. Using a TI it is possible to locate living things that are partly obscured by foliage in situations that no other equipment would spot them. It may only be a momentary flash, but that’s all you need to know they are there. I have little doubt that thermal imaging will take off in a big way in the future. Like the digital revolution, it will take time for shooting equipment to be fine-tuned and for prices to fall. In its way TI is just as, if not more, revolutionary than image intensifier night vision was when that first appeared. It certainly gives a new dimension for night shooting, and surpasses anything else in letting you know exactly what is out there. When I go ferreting I now know almost exactly how many rabbits there are in any particular stretch of hedge – even better than my old dog Prince, one of the best markers I ever knew.

The time of year is approaching when crops will start to be harvested, revealing where cubs have been raised and allowing control to begin in earnest. Although we are still a fair way away from the serious lamping season, a few new items have arrived for testing. Some of them are very interesting indeed, particularly a new LED lamp from the highly respected Cluson Engineering. I will reveal all next time.


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