One of the most dangerous times for fox raids also makes for a productive time for the fox shooter, finds Mark Ripley
I watched patiently as the machines worked the fields in a clearly well-practised routine. The cutter had already been round and cut down the knee-high grass, and now while the spinner worked one field collecting all the grass into neat rows, the forage harvester collected up the rows and spat them in a constant green stream into the back of the lorry that kept pace alongside.
As soon as that was full, the second lorry waiting at the edge of the field would take its place while the first took its turn running its load back to the farmyard. The team worked continuously throughout the day and late into the evening.
As it reached around 7.30pm (still at least an hour and a half until dark) I saw a fox come through the hedgerow in front of me. Keeping an ever watchful eye on the machines working in the field behind, the tatty-looking little dog fox moused around in the cut grass.
I watched the fox in my scope for a while, as with the machines working behind I didn’t have a safe shot. The fox was continuously on the move and eventually wandered into a safe arc of fire at 236 yards. The 143gn pill from my .260 Rem was released and hit the neck of the fox, flooring it where it stood, making the visit worthwhile.
When the grass is cut for silage, this is always an excellent opportunity to get on to the foxes as they are quick to cash in on the sudden easy hunting offered by the freshly cut grass.
Mice and voles as well as various other little critters that have had the luxury of being able to dash about hidden by the long grass are suddenly left exposed and make easy pickings for the fox.
This is also likely to be the first opportunity you’ve had in a while to clearly see field edges where foxes have been moving around hidden in the long grass, making it very difficult to spot and shoot them. It’s also a time when you may well discover earths that have been hidden from sight.
This was the case with the fox that I had just shot. On walking over to pick up the fox, I spotted a cub disappear into the hedge behind as I walked up. This dog fox was clearly providing for cubs and a closer inspection of the hedgerow showed several large holes and pheasant feathers scattered everywhere along with bone and body fragments where the cubs had clearly dined well.
We had shot this farm a few days before and had shot a vixen in the same field, which bounded through the long grass to the Fox Pro caller. With the added height of the high seat in the corner of the field, I had the angle needed to see the fox in the grass. As this fox had been in the same field probably 200 yards from the earth, I reasoned this was most likely her cubs.
Returning the next day with the intention of putting the terriers to ground to clear up the cubs, I was surprised to find no sign of them. I had to change my theory, presume that this wasn’t the same vixen’s cubs and that the mother of these must have moved them as a vixen will if she feels they are in danger. Often she will only move them a few hundred yards to another earth, most likely one she has already investigated.
As this area was near the boundary of the farm and I could find no sign of them anywhere around this corner of the farm, I thought they may have been moved on to neighbouring ground. No doubt they will emerge in the near future as the cubs grow and start to hunt for themselves further from the earth.
By the time you read this, cubs will be out and about venturing further and further from the earths and by the end of August will be resembling fully grown adults with little but their gangly legs, soft fur and somewhat dopey nature to give them away.
This lack of caution gets cubs in to trouble quickly and they either learn quickly or perish. Many will die on the roads or to the rifle or shotgun while the rest will get themselves into all sorts of mischief, their smaller bodies and brave nature allowing them to squeeze into gaps or through fences that an adult fox may struggle to negotiate.
At the moment the adults are still under pressure to provide food for the cubs. This is often the worst time for raids on poultry and young lambs as the parents are forced to risk danger in their quest to supply enough food for the growing youngsters.
Once the three-quarter-grown youngsters are out hunting for themselves, this is a good time to get out and deal with them. Harvest gives the perfect opportunity – once the crops are cut and the fields can be driven on, it’s a fairly easy job to drive around and mop them up on your ground, often amounting to decent numbers for an evening’s work.
Shooting the youngsters is fairly easy for the experienced foxer, but in the same breath it’s also easy to educate them here if you’re not careful. A silly mistake or a missed shot could make this fox a very different customer on your next meeting!
No matter who you are, if you shoot enough foxes you will inevitably miss some. Perhaps not so much shooting off the roof of a truck, but more when walking around shooting off sticks or hanging off a fence post, it’s going to happen.
I’ve recently brought a Rekon tripod from the guys at Scott Country, which I’ve been very impressed with. It’s not a cheap bit of kit (although in comparison with its competitors it’s cheap!) but it is a quality bit of kit.
It may not be quite as handy as a pair of sticks, but the extra couple of seconds it takes to set out pays for itself in stability. It also allows you to keep the rifle pointed in the direction of intended fire without having to hold the rifle, leaving your hands free to call or scan with the thermal.
I’ve found this particularly handy when calling from a static position or sat on a hillside over looking a lambing field. With the legs being fully and quickly adjustable and the locking ball joint allowing for 360 degrees panning as well as vertical movement and cant, it makes for an extremely versatile shooting platform.
The first time I used it I was able to make consistent hits on a steel fox target at 660 yards from standing, sitting and prone positions, which shows just how stable they, are and at 2.3kg they’re surprisingly light due to the unit’s carbon fibre legs. I wish I had had this at the start of the lambing season as I’m sure it would have helped put a few more foxes in the bag.
While the weather is good and the ground is dry, it’s also a good opportunity to get out and build or repair your high seats or fox boxes.
With this in mind I’ll be writing an article soon on how to build a simple single high seat or double high seat on a budget, which can be built and left in place, maximising your chances of success by giving a better field of view and decreasing the risk of a bullet ricochet with the added downward shooting angle.
The older I get, the more inclined I feel to sit and wait for a fox rather than stomp for miles over fields to find them. I also find that if you’re sat in the right place you’re also likely to be more successful.
Your chances can be further improved by regularly baiting an area within range of the high seat or fox box. If you’re looking to build some form of high seat then be sure to site it in an area where foxes are regularly seen.
It’s no use building the best high seat if it’s in the wrong place! It’s the same with bait sites – though foxes will inevitably find it wherever it is, it will be visited quicker and more regularly if it’s close to a regular fox run.
It’s worth putting the seat in the best place for you to be able to see as much of the ground around as possible, not only so you can again maximise your chance of a shot but also so you have plenty of other stuff to look at so you don’t get bored waiting!
The more comfortable you make your high seat the better, as it means you’re likely to spend longer there – which is where the fox box comes into its own, especially if you can get power to it for a light and a kettle. Throw in a biscuit tin and some copies of Sporting Rifle and what more do you need?
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