The phone rang and it was James Marchington, calling to tell me about four foxes he had shot over Christmas and New Year. He wanted to explain how he had used some of the tricks he had picked up while out filming with me – like positioning himself where a fox would have to walk out into open ground if it wanted to approach his call from downwind. He was using a shotgun, and got each one with a single shot. Good skills!
I congratulated him on applying an important principle that I’ve mentioned here before: if you want to outwit a fox, you have to start thinking like a fox. When you know foxes’ behaviour and habits well enough, you can often predict what they will do, and be ready to seize the opportunity. That’s what James had done – by going out foxing with me, Gary Green and others, he is starting to see the countryside through fox’s eyes (and especially ears and nose), and can begin to anticipate how they will react.
That’s the key ingredient in people who shoot a lot of foxes successfully, rather than just zooming round the place killing some and teaching others to keep clear of bright lights and squeaky noises. If you think ahead of the fox, you can be ready with the rifle pointing in the right direction, knowing where it’s likely to appear and what it will do next. Going out with a seasoned foxer, just sitting and watching foxes but especially getting a copy of Running With The Fox by David Macdonald will increase your knowledge.
Before you reach for your call you need to think about where the fox will come from, which way the wind is blowing, where it will most likely appear, where you can safely shoot, how you will steady the rifle for the shot, and so on. If the fox turns up before you’re ready, you will not be fully prepared.
A good fox shooter will be thinking, “OK, the wind is from there so it will probably drop into that dead ground, maybe come up along the ditch and through that hedge to pop out on that little mound where it can get a bit of height for a look around but still dive back into cover quickly…” When you’ve done it often enough, you’ll know almost instinctively what a fox will do, even before the fox does itself – and you can use that to give you the advantage.
There’s a boxed-in high seat in the middle of the farm, which we call Nigel’s High Seat because it’s one of his favourite spots. It’s ideally placed for this sort of approach because the location – where a couple of hedges come together at the corner of a wood – is where foxes love to travel. You can sit here at almost any time of day and call any local foxes, or wait for others to come along from farther out.
One night in mid January I was sitting in that high seat with my thermal imager. Incidentally, you should never give a farmer a thermal viewer – it’s not good for their blood pressure! At one point I scanned round the 32-acre field and counted 43 hares and rabbits, plus three field mice, munching my crops.
I spotted a fox coming towards me, having popped out of the wood, but it was moving so fast that by the time I had quietly picked up the rifle it had passed me. I gave a squeak to see if I could call it back, and before I knew it the fox was sniffing around directly underneath the box. There was no way I could bring the rifle to bear, and I didn’t have a brick to hand, so I had to be content with watching it through the thermal as it sneaked off under the hedge and away though the cover. I didn’t call again as I couldn’t see where it had got to, and any more calling had a good chance of scaring it. Leave well alone.
A while later another fox appeared 150 yards out, going from left to right. Nigel had warned me there was a fox about which was very call-shy, but rather foolishly I gave it a little squeak to stop it – and it turned tail and kept running. This evening wasn’t looking too good so far: two foxes seen, and both had got away. Like my school report: Could do better!
My luck was about to improve, however. Through the thermal I watched a fox trot along the edge of the wood towards me – this time not daring to call – I patiently waited until it stopped at about 80 yards broadside-on. The rifle with its Yukon 4×32 digital night vision scope was already trained and it was a straightforward shot. With no noise or light, the fox never had a clue anything was amiss, and fell dead in its tracks.
Having seen the two others, and not given them a real fright, I decided to go back to the high seat the following morning before daylight. Sure enough at 6am a fox appeared from behind, but 160 yards out inbound to the wood. It was moving across me in the right direction for wind, so I let it carry on until it stopped and presented a good shot at about 150 yards. Boom, job done.
While scanning with the thermal, I could see that the fox I’d shot some 12 hours earlier was still showing up warmer than the surroundings. It underlined how useful thermal can be for finding shot game that’s proving hard to locate. That morning’s fox turned out to be a very old vixen, while the one that I had left out from the previous night was a dog.
Seeing Nigel later in the day, I told him how I’d got on, and he sounded slightly miffed that I’d possibly shot ‘his’ fox from his box. I took pity on him and, reassuring him that there was at least one still out there, lent him my thermal imager to use that same evening.
It was a little after 6pm when I received his text: “Got it!” He had watched the fox come across through the thermal, then used white light from the Night Master torch mounted on his scope to shoot. The fox looked round to see what was going on, but too late. With no call and no other disturbance, the white light came out of the blue, as it were, so it caught the fox’s attention just right. As it stopped to look towards where Nigel was already lined up, a round was instantly away.
Nigel’s fox was another vixen, which shakes up the received wisdom that you only have one vixen in a territory when there are few around.
That was the first time Nigel had been let loose with the thermal and I was keen to hear what he thought of it. His reply was simply: “I want one!” That didn’t surprise me. Thermal really is a massive step forward, even from conventional IR night vision. The resolution is often lower than a good night vision scope, but it’s enough to identify deer and other animals even at 500 yards if you use your knowledge of their behaviour – much as you can identify a bird a long way off by its flight pattern and movement.
If you combine the advantage that thermal gives you, with the skills of thinking like a fox, it really is a deadly combination that allows you to deal with even the wiliest, lamp and call-shy fox – as keepers and fox shooters are finding all over the country.