With new kit to test and a new problem fox on his hands, Mike Powell heads out for his first nocturnal outing of the new season as the nights draw in.
By the time this issue is published we will be well on the way to yet another lamping season, although with the equipment available today the ability to go out at night seems to go on all year round. When I started foxing I needed foxes with good winter skins, as they were worth more than summer pelts. In fact, foxes were left pretty much to their own devices through the summer months, as were the cubs, but then they were hit hard from October onwards. This situation changed dramatically once the trade in skins ground to an abrupt halt, coupled with the fact that I was keepering. Summer foxes and their cubs were dealt with accordingly – there was no point in waiting for winter.
This summer has been quite hectic on the fox control front, with attacks on both poultry and sheep bringing me calls from distressed or plain angry stockholders on what seemed a daily basis. Sometimes when doing this sort of work you really do get lucky – which makes a nice change, as when trying to come to terms with a specific fox you can often feel the cards are stacked against you. I had two perfect examples of this back in July, the first for someone who had seen a fox take one of her pet geese. She had run out to drive it off but it took no notice whatsoever. I know this land well, and every year there are problems as the cub’s demands become greater. There was quite a lot of poultry in the field at the back of the house, and the fox had taken to sitting in the middle of the field just waiting for an opportunity for an easy meal. More worrying for the lady concerned was the fact there was one goose left, and she really didn’t want to lose that one too.
I went up the same evening and set up in the lower hedge of a fairly steep bank leaning against a big sycamore. As I arrived, I spotted a couple of crows enjoying one of the dead goose’s eggs and I had only been there a few minutes when the fox appeared at the top of the field in hot pursuit of a rabbit. I had been trilling away on the WAM caller prior to this and thought: ‘if she catches the rabbit that will probably mean a long wait until she hunts again.’ As it was she missed the rabbit, but unusually, must have remembered the calls I had been making as she turned and ran at full speed down the field towards me. At 50 yards I whistled to stop her, but on she came: at 20 yards I shouted, and got the same response. Eventually, she arrived about a yard from my feet and at that point she finally stopped – but too close to shoot. In a flash she turned and trotted up the field. Unfortunately for me, she went off at an angle and I desperately tried to reset the tripod on the steep bank to cover the new direction. I slipped, the tripod wouldn’t grip, and to cap it all I slid down the bank ending in the lush nettles.
All this, of course, was naturally a cunning plan by me to deal with the fox – and just as I expected, it worked. The fox stopped 100 yards away and I swear it was laughing. I soon wiped the smile off its foxy face as, wrists tingling from the nettles, I let fly with the Steyr.
The whole episode had lasted just 20 minutes. A week later I was chasing another fox in roughly the same area and I must have spent 20 hours waiting, day and night. I spotted it twice, and in the end it just disappeared. No further chickens were taken. This happens sometimes: it may have been killed by a car or another gun, or it may just have moved on. Two foxes within a week, two totally different situations.
Anyway, now the summer is fading I am looking forward to spending the next six months or so out at night. The earlier nights are making life much easier, as I operate from first dark, giving it perhaps three hours. As I have no restrictions on my movements this suits me well, and I find it a very productive time. Increasingly, I am depending on my night vision and thermal kit to operate unseen. While the numbers I shoot remain consistent, I have little doubt that if I decided to have a real go and spent a few more hours every night I would without doubt get more foxes. As I have said before, I no longer shoot every fox that I see, restricting myself to the ones that are causing damage. No doubt the ones I let pass will one day come under the heading of ‘problem foxes’, but until then they can go about their business. By doing this I have the opportunity to watch and learn. I have learned more about the fox over the past four of five years by watching than I learned in a lifetime of just trapping, snaring and shooting. They are fascinating creatures, but every one has the capacity to cause considerable damage should the opportunity arise. It is when this happens that I do what I can to sort the problem out.
With the increase in use of night vision of various types and quality there is one thing that really makes the world of difference: the infra-red illuminator. By now pretty well everyone has heard of the Nightmaster 800 and 200. This IR torch totally revolutionised the use of night vision, improving even fairly average items.
The question has often been asked as to whether foxes, rabbits and so on can see the IR beam emitted by night vision equipment. Scott Country, working in conjunction with Nightmaster, has fitted the NM800 with a covert IR LED. The wavelength of the new diode is 940, which brings it into the covert range, and is therefore undetectable. Foxes, boar and other nocturnal creatures, although sometimes appearing unaware of the IR, clearly have some ability to detect the standard IR, as can be seen by their reaction to trail cameras. This new LED is one step further on, and I am really looking forward to trying it out. There is a bit of a trade off however, as it does cut down the effective range. The Standard NM800 IR has a claimed range of around 800 metres. This is shortened to 250 metres when using the covert IR. All figures are dependent on which night device you are using.
I will be seeing how the two compare in due course, but my first thoughts are that 250 yards is more than good enough for night shooting. The vast majority of my foxes are taken at considerably shorter ranges than that.
Finally on the equipment front, they are a rather nice torch. This one from Inovatech is the 4Greer Rangemaster and a very nice torch it is too. Available as the Rangemaster Lamping Kit, it comes with the torch itself powered by a Cree LED, remote tail switch, two Lithium Ion batteries with enough power to last for 3.5 hours continuous use (more than enough for most people), an adjustable scope mount, red filter, and interestingly an Anti-Spill tube. This is intended to prevent glare being reflected back from a moderator, for so long the bane of the night rifle shooter. Should it be required, you can fit two of these Anti-Spill tubes to carry the torch beyond the moderator. This could be the case, particularly if you use a reflex moderator. I found that not only did it do away with the glare, but it also contained the light very well. With a claimed range of some 400 yards it will certainly be a good choice for anyone looking for a long-range light for foxing. I have to say I was impressed with the outfit overall.
So a new lamping season is upon us. Exciting times for those who like to be out in the hours of darkness. I hope you all have a good season but above all, shoot safe.
Equipment reviewed by: Mike Powell
Product: Nightmaster 800 with covert IR
Distributor: Nightmaster ■ www.nightmaster.co.uk
Acquired from: Scott Country ■ 01556 503587 ■ scottcountry.co.uk
Price: £149.99 (lamp only)
Comments: Whether for lamping or using with NV, this is a top product
Product: 4Greer mountable torch
Distributor: Inovatech ■ 0208 8220 8000 ■ www.inovatech.co.uk
Price: £275 (special offer)
Comments: With its very tight spot useable out to almost 400 yards, this makes the Rangemaster an excellent long range fox light
Product: Steyr Half Stock Clasic
Distributor: Sportsman Gun Centre ■ 01392 354854 ■ www.sportsmanguncentre.co.uk
Comments: A really accurate rifle and a pleasure to use