It’s strange how some things come about: I had been watching a litter of cubs one early afternoon in June. This particular litter was located within 500 yards of my house and originally had five cubs. From the time they showed above ground, I watched their progress daily for two weeks and then they disappeared. Two weeks later they reappeared in the same place but with a couple less members.
I eventually worked out that, with the dire weather we were experiencing at the time, they were coming out on the lee side of the hedge into a crop of standing hay. This made them all but invisible. There were no reports of fox damage coming in – mainly, I guess, because of the large number of rabbits in the immediate neighbourhood. I learned quite a bit about the behaviour of the parents. The dog in particular kept a very low profile and was only spotted a couple of times. The vixen was on the move constantly and it wasn’t unusual to come face to face with her when out walking the dogs.
To return to the beginning, having watched the cubs for a while, I was about to move off when across the valley I could hear chickens ‘kicking off’. There was no point investigating – by the time I got there, whatever was causing the disturbance would have gone. Returning homeward with the dogs, a call came in on my mobile from the editor. I thought he would want something, and I was right: he wanted to know if I knew where there were any cubs as they wanted to film a piece for The Shooting Show. As I had been watching a litter minutes before, it was arranged (by Pete) that he would come down to get some footage.
Having been involved with some filming for Fieldsports Britain, I knew what I was letting myself in for. I have to state now that I have normally operated on my own throughout my shooting life – except for ferreting, of course. The thought of having to produce results in front of a camera filled me with, if not dread, at least considerable apprehension. Anyway, later that evening I had a call from the local commercial free-range egg producer, neighbour and friend Jeremy to say a fox had got in and killed at least a dozen prime birds. Promising to sort out the problem, I emailed Pete to say things were looking good for the Friday as Jeremy still had the dead birds so I had evidence of wrongdoing.
I did my best to ensure things would run smoothly when the film boys arrived. To that end I found a good spot from which we could watch for the cubs and vixen. It was tucked away at the bottom of the hill behind a good screen of nettles with a convenient fallen tree to sit on (I knew we could be in for a long wait).
I had set up an array of trail cameras in an attempt to get footage of the cubs, but 48 hours of torrential rain put paid to that. Nothing was captured on them except one grizzly, old, boar badger that looked as fed up as the rest of us were with the appalling weather.
Friday arrived and with it Pete and the cameraman. The weather was better but the wind was going in the wrong direction and it was dull and overcast. This was not good for our purposes.
I always find it interesting the way animal behaviour varies. With rabbits, for instance, there are days (and nights) when they just do not put in an appearance. Sometimes, particularly when the weather is appalling, you can understand it, but on other days there is no apparent reason. Friday was one such occasion. We sat on our log shielded by the bank of nettles for over three hours, in a field where you would normally expect to see at least 50-75 rabbits. Towards the end of the vigil, one small bunny appeared, and this piece of high excitement was eagerly filmed by the cameraman.
I suggested giving it another half an hour then aborting, as it appeared that the cubs had either fed or we had been spotted by the vixen earlier. Shortly after this, the ever-vigilant Pete picked up the alarm ‘pipping’ of a blackbird, a sound reserved for such ground predators as foxes, stoats, and cats. All went tense, camera poised, rifle made ready, but nothing appeared. The blackbird made it clear that the vixen (as we hoped it was) had gone round behind us. Shortly after this burst of excitement, all went quiet again.
The problem with hosting visits where filming is involved is that, whether you like it or not, there is pressure on you to produce. Sadly, the main players, in my case the foxes, do not necessarily comply with the rules. With this obvious thought in mind, I was about to suggest a move when we heard the unmistakable sound of squabbling cubs on the lee side of the hedge about 70 yards away.
Instantly, we were on the alert, our stiff limbs and damp backsides all but forgotten. Pete was given the command to “stay” and the cameraman and I set off to see what could be done. Pete was left behind for a couple of reasons: Firstly, it was one less person to produce scent (nothing personal, Pete) and noise, but most importantly it made a pleasant change for me to tall my esteemed editor what to do.
Making our way across and up the field in the teeth of a gale, we were soon in a position to see the vixen and a couple of cubs. Setting up the tripod and lining up the Steyr .223 only took a moment, and two shots took out the vixen and a cub to be followed seconds later by the other cub.
Some filming took place of us collecting them, plus some on-camera chats about what had taken place. I made a quick call to Jeremy back at the farm to meet us and get his reactions on film. Some final filming of equipment and the job was done. Pete was dropped at the station for his long trip back up north, and the cameraman and I ended up at the local for a well-earned drink and a bite to eat.
Filming had started at 11am and finished around 7pm – eight hours’ work to produce about 10 minutes of film. I know only a little about the workings of producing these programmes, but I am always amazed at just how much work goes into them. Such programmes as The Shooting Show and Fieldsports Britain have their critics, but I suspect these come from those who have no actual knowledge of the trials and tribulations for those who travel the length and breadth of the country to obtain material for the shows. In my case, things worked out beautifully. Everything dropped into place and even the stars of the show, the foxes, turned up trumps, but it was obvious this was more by luck than judgement.
When shooting, filming, taking still photos, or just plain watching wildlife, you are dealing with creatures that can be totally unpredictable. I thoroughly enjoyed my day out, but I was left thinking what a chancy game producing shooting programmes must be. To organise days such as the one with me – as Pete and Charlie Jacoby do for their respective programmes – takes a great deal of hard work, much travelling and, in truth, a lot of dedication. If I wore one, I would take my hat off to them.
Following the day with Pete, things settled down to normal with my days filled with rabbit and fox control. More earths have been found with well-grown cubs in all of them. The strangest one was found in odd circumstances: A nearby farm was having some pigeon trouble, so one afternoon I took the dog and the 28-bore Benelli over. We tucked ourselves away in an old quarry with a very tall ash tree in it, and this bit of a pigeon magnet soon helped me drop a few birds. Following a lull, directly behind us I heard the sound of a screaming rabbit shortly followed by squabbling cubs. This was within 20 yards and less than 10 minutes after me shooting. Making a quiet exit from the quarry, we made our way to a spot from which I could see where the sounds had come. Within minutes, a vixen appeared followed by three cubs. Why they were not worried about my shooting so close to
the earth is a mystery. These cubs will have to be dealt with, so the next sunny day I will be there with something more appropriate than the Benelli.