Foxing w/ Mark Ripley

With the same pesky fox causing chaos on Mark Ripley’s shooting ground, he is determined to overcome his arch foxing nemesis.

Credit: James Warwick / Image Bank / Getty Images

A voicemail from a farmer first thing in the morning is invariably a sign that a fox has been misbehaving in the night, and someone has woken up to the results of its mischief.

This message told a common story. This time it related to a property bordering a farm where I regularly control foxes. As a rule, the numbers there are always fairly low, partly due to my efforts and the fact that foxes are also controlled on the surrounding farms.

This particular property bordered the lower wheat stubble fields of the farm, with nothing more than a wire fence separating the two. The gardens to this house are home to the owner’s chickens and ducks, and it was here that disaster had struck. Despite the poultry being shut up at night, a fox had managed to break into the ducks’ accommodation and kill two of the three within.

To make matters worse, I knew this fox! We had crossed paths numerous times in the past, and regular readers will recall that last month I wrote about a dark-backed fox with a near black tail that had been eluding me for some time.

Well, this was one and the same fox. Perhaps two months before, the house had lost some chickens to a fox and I knew that this was right in the middle of that fox’s territory – I was pretty certain that there were very few other foxes in the area.

The scene of the crime at the edge of the farm

The farmer here keeps a close eye on things with the help of CCTV and trail cameras, and for some time there had only been this one distinctive fox. 

I’ve been to this farm dozens of times, and have either blanked or by some fluke the fox has managed to evade me. I’d missed it with a long shot one morning, missed an opportunity another morning when my scope had fogged up, and had as many fleeting glimpses where it just didn’t present a shot.  

Confirmed sighting

I phoned the farmer back, and he said that the duck owner had seen a dark fox (more confirmation) come up from the stream at the bottom of the field at last light, and had seen it again just after first light, which is when he believed the fox had killed his ducks.

I told the farmer I’d come over at first light the next day, as there is often a good chance that the fox would keep to a similar routine and perhaps try its luck yet again.

My alarm went off at 4am the following morning, and I forced myself out of bed for what seemed likely to be another wasted effort against this lucky fox. Still, I felt I at least had to show willing, and drove the 40 minutes to the farm.

The stubble field afforded very little cover

Most of the ground I look after is within 10-15 minutes of my house, but this farm spans around 1,000 acres. I also help the farm next door, which is a similar size, and both are prime long-range shooting areas, so it’s worth the extra few minutes drive!

I swung into the farmyard swigging the dregs of a coffee from the garage, and checked the front fields with the thermal just as it was beginning to lighten, but I could see nothing but a few rabbits. I parked next to the barn and took the .260 from its slip along with the Rekon tripod and headed out towards the corner of the wheat stubble field near the house.

At every gateway or corner of the hedge, I scanned the ground in front of me in search of anything fox-like. As I walked along the edge of the field toward the gate into the stubble field with very little cover, I could see a heat source, which at first I thought was a sheep stood side on at the far end of the field, but as I got nearer I began to think it actually looked quite foxy!

Locked on

I put the rifle into the tripod to get a look through the scope as I neared the gate and sure enough there sat a fox. He was around 150 yards or more from me, and I could only see his head and shoulders above the stubble as he was below a slight slope in the field – yet the image was crisp and clear even in the poor light with the Element Nexus scope (I’ll review this in more detail next month). 

This fox looked a little ragged, and I felt sure this was the one I’d seen so many times. The wind was blowing towards me and the fox was sat side on to me unaware I was there.

I lined it up in the scope, but with the wind nudging me and only a small target area visible, I didn’t feel comfortable with the shot, and really didn’t want to fluff this opportunity. In full view I decided to take a chance and climb over the gate so I could rest my rear arm against it to steady the shot.

I’ve no idea how many foxes I’ve shot over the years, but every now and then, especially when I’m after a problem fox, my adrenaline kicks in, and I find my heart rate racing with anticipation to the point I have to take a deep breath and sort myself out. I carefully climbed the gate after first passing the rifle and tripod over in one.

I climbed the gate, and as I did my boot caught in the mesh fencing across the bottom of the gate, there to stop the lambs getting through. The fence rattled like shaking a tin of nails, and I held my breath as I checked again through the thermal. The fox had vanished.

Sizing up the shot through the Element Nexus

I was beginning to kick myself for not chancing a shot from where I was, and decided to move down the field in the hope that he maybe had moved further down the dip in the field, towards the hedge next to the stream. I was now around 150 yards from the hedge, and I could see a small heat source, which I figured must be a rabbit.

It took a while to locate what it was I was looking at through the rifle scope when I eventually caught a small movement between the stubble. It was an ear and the top of a head – a ginger head.

As I watched the fox move around, it was clear that he was aware that something was further up the field, and I watched as he strained his neck to try and work out what I was. I stood still, but he became wary, the same cautious streak in him that had served him so well in the past; his sixth sense. 

His gut was telling him it was time to slip into the hedge, and mine was telling me this was the last chance I would get today. He got up and trotted the few steps to the hedge, and looked where he could slip through the fence, and I read his intentions. I tightened my grip on the stock and tripod. 

I could just see the top half of his chest above the stubble on the rise in the sloping field in front of me, and in that moment of his hesitation I settled the crosshair on its shoulder and squeezed the trigger.

I hardly felt aware of the crack from the rifle, as I was already listening intently for an impact as I’d lost the sight picture through the recoil. I heard the bullet cutting through the air, then a solid thwack, which sounded promising, or had it been the sound of the bullet hitting a tree trunk behind?

I peered through the thermal, but saw nothing. As I walked closer I looked again – possibly something in the stubble? I walked a little closer, and I could see something lying in the stubble. I walked up, and sure enough there was a small dog fox with a dark back and almost black tail. I’d finally managed to get this challenging adversary! 

The .260 had done its job, with a very definitive kill taking off most of the top of the shoulder and propelling several working parts into the hedge behind, yet also bringing about an instant humane kill on this cunning and beautiful creature, as well as hopefully keeping the local poultry a little safer. 

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