Tough adversary

Credit: Jim Cumming / Getty Images

On a seemingly endless mission to catch a fox, Mark Ripley suffers every setback imaginable, from blank outings to vehicular malfunctions

It was 5am and I was headed to the farm on probably my fifth visit after the same fox. Unfortunately this visit was to be just as fruitless as the others – but for a different reason.

Five miles from the farm, as I was heading up a hill making the most of the empty roads to try and catch up on my later-than-intended early start, a pop from the front of the truck followed by steam put an end to my hunting excursion.

Lifting the bonnet, it was clear I was going nowhere with the top of the radiator burst and split open. I made the most of the lovely sunny morning stuck on the side of the dual carriageway waiting for the RAC by plinking at cans and other litter on the verge with my catapult, which is invariably with me for a little practice whenever I can.

Unfortunately the old Ford Ranger had, after several years of faithful service, become beyond economical repair with a blown head gasket, split radiator and clutch on its last legs – so it was put to rest and the search for a replacement work and shooting vehicle began.

I decided to bite the bullet and buy something decent that would hopefully last. Ideally I would have bought a Hilux, but at the time nothing suitable was available, so in the end I opted for a VW Amarok, which came up at a good price with low mileage.

Before I took ownership of the new vehicle, I was running about in a hire car for a couple of weeks, during which time I wouldn’t be stopped – I bundled the rifle on board and again headed out to the same farm after the same fox.

The fox had been seen on the bank behind the farmer’s house as well as further up the valley near the barns in the middle of the farm itself. It was here that I had decided to wait, as I had seen it myself here a few weeks before when it had wandered across the bank around 200 yards from the truck but on the skyline.

I would have no such luxury of a truck to shoot from today, and the track to the barn was too rough for the hire car. So, parking the car in the farmyard, I walked about a mile with the rifle and Rekon tripod to sit out at first light on the bank overlooking the barn area.

It was a beautifully still, warm, sunny morning. Sat with my back against a fencepost with the rifle sat on the tripod in front of me ready for action, I waited for two hours in the first rays of sun and watched the skylarks flitting low over the grass among the sheep before climbing high in the air, all the while singing their elaborate songs.

Very often here if you don’t see a fox at first light, you won’t see one that morning, and again it appeared to be another fruitless attempt – though it was still worth the early start just to be out.

As I sat contemplating a little long-range practice on a piece of chalk that was just crying out to be shot at some distance away, the shepherd, Charlie, drove up the rutted track on the farm Gator (a typical workhorse vehicle with a door missing and invariably a collie and a shotgun hanging out the back) and trundled across the field towards me. Pulling up, he jumped out, sparked a cigarette and wandered over for a chat.

I like this lad and often shoot alongside him on the farm’s beaters’ day. Like me, his passion is mainly foxing, though most of his foxing is done with a shotgun. We always catch up when I see him with stories of foxing and what’s been around on the farm.

As we were chatting my phone started to ring, which was unusual for this time on a Sunday morning. As I half expected, it was the farmer from the same farm.

“Whereabouts are you? I’m stood by my house watching a fox on the bank here as we speak!”

I told him I was by the barn talking to Charlie. His reply was, “If you can get down here quick you might get a shot. Get Charlie to bring you down in the Gator if you’ve not got your truck!”

With that, I jumped into the Gator’s passenger seat, and the not-so-rapid response unit was on its way. Fag in mouth, Charlie drove one-handed while holding his phone in the other as the farmer told him in greater detail where the fox was and the stealthiest route to take.

Mark in his hiding place by the fence post

Though far quicker than walking, it seemed to take an age for the vehicle to get us to the bottom of the bank where the fox was – or at least had been. By now it had disappeared, possibly going to ground when the farmer had taken his eyes off it.

I sat and scanned the bank with the binos, but there was no sign of the elusive fox. Having a long list of chores around the farm to do, Charlie the shepherd went on his way, leaving me to sit and wait to see if the fox would appear again.

I figured it was most likely to have gone to ground to sleep for most of the day by now, as it was around 8am, so I decided I would give it half an hour just in case.

The only real cover I had was a corner of a fence that jutted out into the field, but I didn’t really need any cover as the rabbit warren the fox had been seen by was around 250 yards away – so if I laid still next to the fence, the fox would be unlikely to notice me or probably be too bothered even if it did should it appear.

As is often the case, I was just about to get up and stretch my legs when a fox snuck out of the nettles by some trees at the top of the back and began hunting the tree line.

I watched as it began to work its way back towards the rabbit warren along the edge of cover before it decided to sit and wash itself in the sun. I could either take the shot where it was, or risk hoping it would come further down the bank and not duck back into cover.

It was a still morning and the fox was sat facing me. I felt confident with the shot. I ranged it with my Leica Geovid binoculars at 340 yards before checking the required correction on my Kestrel wind meter and dialling it on to the scope.

The fox was still sat relaxing in the sun, chest on to me, and as it leant back over its shoulder to lick its coat, I placed the crosshairs on the centre of its chest and squeezed the trigger.

The rifle cracked and through the scope I watched the swirl of the bullet as it cut through the air in its arced flight to the target. The fox straightened bolt upright before collapsing to its right with a sizeable hole in its side visible from where I was, made by the 143gn ELD bullet.

Walking up the steep hill to retrieve it, I could see that at least the fox’s last view out over the fields had been a good one. I sat for a minute to admire the scenery and perhaps mark my respect for the fox, which had been such a challenging quarry to hunt.

The fox appeared at long distance and worked its way in ever so slowly

I don’t get many foxes on this ground, but the farmer always has his eyes peeled and as soon as he spots one around he lets me know. It’s very much zero tolerance on foxes here – this is primarily a sheep farm and having had problems with foxes taking lambs on a nightly basis, the farmer is keen to remove any that take up residence.

The farm also runs a small family-and-friends shoot, and with the release pen only a few hundred yards from here, gives another good reason for him to be concerned.

I’m sure it won’t be long before I get another call about a marauding fox here, but for now I can get on with dealing with a few others that I know are about on other farms.

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