Do you enjoy a traditional turkey Christmas dinner? Thousands of families up and down the country do – but how many realised they only get to have one because people like Gary Green had kept the foxes at bay?
In the countdown to one Christmas, Gary received a call from one of his regular fox control customers, a huge free-range poultry farm not far from his home in Essex. The farmer was finishing 10,000 turkeys ready for the festive season. The birds were fully grown, ready to be slaughtered and packed off to butchers and supermarkets – if the foxes didn’t get them first.
This farm is a regular gig for Gary. They keep chickens throughout the year, as well as raising turkeys to meet the seasonal demand. The birds are free to roam in large grass fields during the day – that’s what makes them ‘free-range’. Electric fencing protects them against predators when they’re outside, and most of the time it’s effective, though nothing is 100 per cent fox-proof (or turkey-proof for that matter); there’s always the odd one that somehow finds its way onto the wrong side of the wire).
It’s at night that the birds are most vulnerable, even though the farmer is meticulous about rounding them all up and shutting them in their sheds before nightfall. That’s when the foxes come prowling, and when it’s cold and their bellies are rumbling they can be very persistent in their attempts to break in.
Gary explains that the fox doesn’t need to bite the birds to kill them. When a fox is scrabbling at the shed, the birds will panic and rush to the far end of the building, where they all end up in a heap on top of one another and die of suffocation. There can be hundreds dead in a single shed even if the fox never managed to break in. That means a massive financial loss to the farm, not to mention families missing out on their Christmas dinner.
Gary values his foxing permissions, and never ignores a cry for help, whether it’s from a massive poultry farm or a little old lady with six chickens in her back garden. So he’s straight round to the farm that day to set out his bait and make a plan.
He has one of his fox boxes already set up here. It’s a wooden shed that he built on top of an old shipping container the farm uses for storage. Gary had set it up a few years back and has shot literally hundreds of foxes from it. A river running up the valley channels the foxes towards the farm, and the scent of all those birds is a massive draw to inquisitive foxes.
It gets dark early at this time of year, and the twilight provides an ideal opportunity for a smart fox to sneak in and nab any birds that haven’t yet been locked away for the night. So Gary gets set up in position before 4pm. He’s prepared for a long wait.
The fox box is a cosy refuge from winter’s chill – in years gone by Gary has made himself ill sitting out in freezing weather in the high seat, and he doesn’t want to make that mistake again. The box protects him from the worst of the weather, and it has sockets connected to the farm’s electricity supply. That means he can run a fan heater and a kettle, as well as the 120W floodlamp that provides enough light to shoot by.
Tucked in the box, with a comfy seat, sandwiches and a hot cup of tea, Gary can happily sit out all night, and in fact, he often does. “I’d rather be doing this than sitting at home watching Eastenders,” he laughs.
Despite the home comforts, if a fox appears he can be on it in a flash. Beside him his .223 RPA rifle sits ready on a sliding shelf that also provides elbow support for a steady shot. As he sips his tea, his eyes are constantly flicking across the view through the observation slits.
He usually gets plenty of warning of a fox approaching. They tend to come through the hedge 150 yards in front, or through one of the gateways at either end of the hedge. Even at that distance, the floodlight produces a distinct eye-shine – Gary can see the big, amber, headlamp-like eyes of a fox as soon as it glances in his direction. That gives him plenty of time to move the rifle gently into position and prepare for the shot.
It’s important to keep noise to a minimum inside the box. As Gary says, it’s a lot like a big speaker box, and amplifies even the tiniest knock or cough in the direction of the quarry.
Today the first fox comes early. At about 5.15pm Gary spots the distinctive flash of eyes by the hedge. The fox doesn’t come straight in – it circles round to Gary’s left. Gary is worried it will head off up the field, so he produces a few rabbit squeaks by sucking on the palm of his hand.
The next time we see the fox, it’s trotting obediently towards the bait – its route took it downwind of the rotting roadkill and carcase trimmings, and the stench has caught its interest. The fox stops a foot from the bait, its nose outstretched to check it out. Bang – the 56-grain bullet hits its mark and the fox goes down where he stood. His tail twitches twice as Gary chambers another round and checks through the scope; but this fox isn’t going anywhere.
A couple of hours later another set of eyes shows in the other gateway. Once again this fox heads up to the left, and disappears from view behind a chicken shed. Again Gary calls and after a short wait it comes in on an almost identical line. This one is moving faster, though, and Gary is worried it might discover the dead fox and run off in fright.
Gary doesn’t hang about; the fox hesitates and he fires. It’s an almost identical shot and the second fox lies stretched out, nose into the wind, a few yards behind the first one.
Normally Gary would wait on well into the night. Often the first fox doesn’t appear until near midnight, and they can still come in at six or seven in the morning. But tonight he has chores to attend to, so he’s glad of the chance to finish here early.
He climbs down and collects the fallen foxes: they are a dog and a vixen, both good, healthy specimens with thick coats and no sign of diseases such as mange. Gary is pleased – even though he spends so much time trying to kill foxes, he had the utmost respect for them and likes to see a healthy population. He gives them a pat almost lovingly as he checks their claws and teeth for clues about how they have lived: “This big old boy has long claws,” he muses. “He’s not spent much time on the streets – a proper country fox.”
The farmer will be happy to hear of Gary’s success in the morning, knowing his turkeys are that bit safer. And Gary will be back several times between now and Christmas, making sure those turkeys end up on the dinner table surrounded by trimmings rather than making a meal for a hungry fox. Gary Green