Harvest is always an interesting time on the farm. It’s like pulling off a blanket to reveal what’s going on underneath. In my case, however, the answer was “Not a lot”.
I seem to have done a good job – perhaps too good – of controlling the foxes earlier in the year, looking out for dens and ambushing both old and young. Now that we’ve reached the ideal time for some laid-back autumn foxing, there isn’t a fox to be seen on the place!
The only sign of foxes about here was when my friend Nigel encountered a pair of cubs recently. He had moved the remains of a pricket he had killed into a spot at 100 yards where he could watch over it from his favourite box on high.
On the fourth day of the leftovers being out, he assumed any foxes would have found it and be visiting. Setting himself up well before dark, a cub came trotting over the march an hour before last light for a chew on the remains. Big mistake.
Nigel is an experienced rifle shot and such a gift left it lying dead on the grass before it knew anything was amiss. An hour after dark another came out to join its mate.
Nigel acquired a Nightmaster 800 torch at the Shooting Show and, after fitting it to his .243 Sako 75, has been hugely pleased with the performance. I could see why: it dropped this cub at 146 yards. He has had good results out to 170 yards with the white light from this kit.
Nigel’s success got me thinking about the various methods that I’ve used in recent months, and gave more weight to my usual practice now.
By far the most effective way to shoot foxes – in this area at least – is to set up a permanent bait point in front of a permanent high seat. You can spend a lot of time, shoe leather or diesel scooting about the fields after dark looking for the critters.
It can be very entertaining, and account for a good number of naive foxes, but for sheer efficiency you can’t beat a system where you stay in one place and the foxes come to you. It has certainly worked around here.
In Devon Mike Powell says that he is increasingly waiting out for a fox to turn up to where it is causing damage. The thicker the surrounding cover the better it works, and surpasses all other systems – except perhaps a well-run fox drive.
If you’re going to try this method, you need to remember that there are laws about disposal of fallen stock. You can’t go chucking down dead sheep, butcher’s waste or anything from domestic consumption.
Wildlife roadkill is entirely different, however. No one is expected to dispose of roadkill in any ‘approved’ manner, and it’s perfectly legal to drag it to somewhere it can do a bit of good while it decomposes. And often the more decomposed the better!
Do remember the sensitivities of visitors to the countryside, though. There’s no point antagonising such people, so it’s best to set up in a spot where even a straying walker is unlikely to go.
So now we have a nice smelly midden, stink-heap or pit – call it what you will – and a comfortable and dry high seat positioned to look down and give a good clear safe shot at any approaching fox.
Try to place it right in relation to the prevailing winds. The next part of the equation is to persuade the fox to turn up when you are in position and ready – and for that I like to use a remote electronic caller.
What I am trying to achieve is to attract any fox within earshot to come and check out the noise and find a rather interesting heap of tasty morsels, to a fox anyway.
I want to attract the fox to the bait point, not to my high seat, so it works best to have the sound coming from that position. If they work their way in from well downwind, that’s fine. No human scent should spook them.
I have a couple of electronic calls that can offer that option. My U-Caller Remote can be enhanced with a separate speaker with a waterproof three-metre cable (SPK 2), allowing me to place this speaker high over the bait while I keep the main unit tucked under some cover on the ground to keep it dry. The remote control is in the high seat with me and will operate at over 100 yards.
Alternatively, I use the excellent Icotec GC300 from Best Fox Call. A loud, clear call is essential. One that reaches out to half a mile covers 502 acres. One that goes out in a one-mile radius on a clear night covers 2,010 acres. The higher up bait and call can be placed, the better smell and sound will travel.
I often use this three-pronged approach – high seat, bait and caller – at the field where I set up the semi-portable fox box earlier this year, and results have been promising.
The field is well off the beaten track for casual visitors and walkers so I can cheerfully throw in any smelly old thing I find lying about, dead foxes included. It all adds to the stink, and I’m pretty sure that cubs quite like eating any maggots as well. It’s all protein to them. Everything gets ‘recycled’!
I may not have many foxes on the farm just now, but that won’t last. As soon as people further afield start stirring things up the foxes will begin to spread out, and some of them are bound to come my way.
As the mating season starts to kick in, there will be even more movement around the countryside. Often the ones turning up are the highly educated survivors from other people’s attempts at volpicide.
This is where my bait point will really start to pay off. Foxes undoubtedly have their regular stops as they cover the miles in search of food. They change their route depending on what’s available.
For instance, they will eat fruit like blackberries when they’re in season, while if someone is leaving food out for their cat or hedgehogs then the foxes soon get to know to visit that garden.
Lambing time will see them visit the field at some time during the 24 hours and areas where game is released will also get a regular attendance.
I just want my site to be top of their places to visit. This often means the first call of the evening, so as a bonus, there will still be enough light to shoot by.
If their nose leads them to a spot where they can reliably fill their stomach with a good meal of rotting meat, they will certainly come back. Like any predator, they want to get the best nutrition for the least risk and expenditure of energy. So the stink pit is working 24/7 training any new fox in the neighbourhood where to go for an easy meal.
All that remains is for me to be there with the call helping to bring them in like an old-fashioned dinner gong.
It’s got to be easier than chasing all over the countryside trying to catch up with them, and it’s certainly much less likely to educate them about lights, vehicles and calls. Even if the clever ones are put off by a lamp or call, food will always lure them back one last time.
And now the fourth part of the equation: night vision. All that preparation can come to nought if the fox that turns up is educated to lights.
Sometimes it pays not even to call. Just waiting quietly with almost any standard of night vision will work. At 80-100 yards you can take your time as the fox picks over the remains.
The only downside is you never know if they were an easy fox or one that had learnt other people’s tricks.
Find the right formula and they will never even realise they are being targeted.
Planning and preparation paralyses pests.