Vulpine Armour

Mark’s TOP TIP: Don’t get caught short: make sure you’re equipped to switch quarry if a night of unexpected foxing is on the cards

During the harvest, I usually get one chance of bagging more than 10 cubs and adult foxes in a night’s lamping. But I recall one year that produced three such double-figure bags, two of which were on consecutive six-hour sessions with the lamp and rifle.

However times like that seem a far in the distance when the new generation is in the making. Conditions might not be ideal for lamping at that time of year, but when your local farmer rings to say he has foraged his maize and I need to get out and take a few rabbits, it’s all systems go. I attached the Light Force suction bar to the roof of the truck, along with the 170 Strike Lamp and the T Bar handle, before placing the CZ .22 along with the trusty Tikka .223 for any foxes I may come across.

The first field I entered with the truck was one of the few with wheat stubbles left for the winter, with a mind to sowing spring barley. As soon as I drove through the gateway into the field, I readied the magazines on the rifles before having a quick flick around for a fox first. Beyond the ditch, 500 yards away, I picked out two sets of eyes in the lamp moving across the field. They were oblivious to the beam of the lamp, and I was 99 per cent sure they were foxes. One followed the other – presumably the dog following the vixen. Bringing the truck to a halt, I called for a short time, but the pair showed no interest whatsoever and disappeared over the brow of the field. With very few rabbits around, and the freshly cut maize stubble stretching across to a plantation on my right, a spot of foxing seemed a better option.

Changing direction towards the maize, I carefully began lamping both sides of a boundary ditch that separated the stubble from a drilled field of winter rape. Across the ditch, a good number of hares were happily munching away on the new plants. Beyond the hares on the far side of the field, I picked up a fox well out of range. Killing the lamp beam, I chambered a round into the .223 before quietly getting out of the truck. I have a small benchrest bag for use over the truck’s bonnet in these situations, and I quickly deployed it to support the rifle.

Flicking on the roof-mounted lamp, I checked the fox was still in the same area. It had moved slightly to the right, but was certainly still out there. The lamp was extinguished once more, and after setting the Mini Colibri caller to the ‘distressed hare’ setting I let her rip and increased the volume. After a short spell, I turned the caller down to zero and had another swift look with the lamp. The fox had moved further to the right down the hedge, and strangely was showing very little interest in the call. I again switched off the lamp and repeated the process with the caller, increasing the volume even further.

The window sill of Mark’s truck makes for an impromptu shooting rest

Taking another look, I was halfway through a 360-degree sweep with the beam, but the targeted fox had gone. However, I illuminated another fox that had responded to the call and come in behind me. It was stood no more than 60 yards out. It had caught me in no man’s land with the rifle laid over the bonnet of the truck, and pointing in the opposite direction. Quickly taking hold of the rifle, I turned towards the fox, but Charlie had realised that all was not what it seemed, and immediately turned toward the safety of the plantation.

My first thought was a free hand shot, but the fox was alert now so I opted to get behind the driver’s door and use the open window sill as a rest. The lamp was still on, but the fox was now disappearing out of the main beam.

After correcting the lamp, I placed the beam directly back onto the fox at about 120 yards. I gave out a fox bark to stop it, and mounting the Tikka, I picked up Charlie through the Schmidt & Bender. The fox bark impression did the trick and Charlie courteously stopped broadside for the crosshairs. I touched off the trigger and the fox was slammed to the ground. An instant later the thwack of the 55-grain V-Max reached my ears as the bullet destroyed the ribcage.

After a quick scan around with the lamp to make sure no other foxes had sneaked in, I made the rifle safe and placed it back in the truck before driving on to collect the fallen fox.

Now totally in fox mode, I left any rabbits and carried on lamping the rest of the farm without any sightings until I got to the chicken shed. By this, I do not mean a hut with a dozen hens in – these are commercial free range egg-laying units, protected by miles of electric fencing to deter predators on three sides, with a river on the other. However, the electric fencing stops short of the river bank, allowing the fox entry at both ends.

As I drove down the side of the river bank, I spotted two foxes in the lamp beam on the electric fence side not far from the furthest shed. They were too far away from where I was for a shot, and from past experience I knew my best chance would be to try and get between them and the river. Keeping the lamp on them, I kept driving at steady pace along the riverside. The foxes kept appearing then disappearing in the same place time and again, but showed no concern about my presence at all.

It wasn’t until I got within 150 yards that it became clear it was a vixen and a dog chasing her back behind the shed and out of sight. I proceeded until I was parallel with the end of the shed. To my knowledge, the escape was 100 yards in front of me. I drew to a halt. The rifle was at the ready, placed in on the rest out of the vehicle window, with the lamp directed on the area between the shed and the electric fence. I didn’t have to wait long before the courting couple came out from behind the shed, oblivious to the danger that awaited them.

The dog fox proceeded to chase the vixen round in circles for nearly a minute before they came to a stop, tight alongside the electric fence. They were still not phased by my presence. I made a couple of mouse squeaks from the palm of my hand, and instantly the dog fox hurtled down the beam of the lamp, failing to stop until it was within 20 yards of my muzzle. Its body filled the 8×56 scope, and I squeezed off the V-Max to finish him.

The vixen had started to come too until I took the shot. However, at the dog’s demise she soon disappeared into the darkness beyond the shed. Reloading, I waited with the lamp to cover her exit. Within seconds she slowly sneaked around the corner, heading in the direction of the river. The vixen made it into a patch of thistles, completely covering her lower body. Most of her front quarter was obscured by cover, but there was a small window in the foliage exposing her engine room, and a well placed shot ensured the third and final fox of the night would join the other couple on the truck. Mark Nicholson

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