As December looms, I’ve been thinking that it would be good if I can make it to a hundred foxes by the end of the year. Having been somewhat distracted by the excellent deer stalking we’ve had around here over the last few months, my weekly averages had fallen back a bit. I’ve made up for this over the last ten days with a decent tally, but I’m still a few short of my goal. I should say straight away that something like 95% of the foxes I shoot are taken on foot. I know that many vehicle-mounted lampers would make short work of my numbers, but the hilly terrain around here just doesn’t lend itself to such methods – for most of the time it’s just too wet to drive on, or the grounds are packed with livestock.
Anyway – last night I set out to see if I could add any more to the chart. I made a quick ‘phone call to a local farmer, and not long after it got dark I loaded up and set off. A couple of minutes later and I was almost there – I’d driven past the main entrance to loop round to the far side in order to make the most of the wind direction. As I turned off the road into the small lane that leads to the fields I was intending to shoot over, a red animal suddenly dived out of the gloom somewhere ahead of the lights and disappeared into the hedge on my right. I barely caught sight of it, but whatever it was, it was fox-coloured, had a long tail and a white chest - and it was big. I slowed down as I passed the spot, but there was no further sign of it.
Excited by this, I continued on for a few hundred yards, drove past a large pheasant-rearing shed, and reversed into my chosen gateway. Once I’d parked up I checked all my kit through and locked the truck. Suitably veiled and gloved, I climbed the gate and had a quick look around. The moon was still quite high in the sky – even though it was only four days into its new cycle, it was still too bright for comfort. The wind – which was in the west, was bitingly cold – the first real taste of winter for us down here in sunny Devon. Satisfied that there was nothing close by, I climbed down and set off across the rough pasture, my Sauer .22-250 over my left shoulder, and my tripod sticks in my right hand. My progress was slow, as I not only had to try and navigate around the marshiest bits but while doing so I also had to avoid the many stands of reeds.
Here and there light clouds darted across the sky – every now and then they would block out the moonlight. While the onset of darkness was a relief, it was a mixed blessing as several of them also brought rain. This not only soaked me and my equipment, but it also meant that the air was very wet indeed – and that brings all manner of condensation-misting problems for the night vision optics.
Still – any thoughts about getting wet and cold wouldn’t see any foxes falling, so I carried on. At the far end of the field, the ground begins to slope away, and two fields further on there is a stream hidden in a deep gully. On the near side, this is bordered by a narrow margin of small saplings and scrub, while on the other there is a dark wood composed of big ash and oak trees growing out of an impenetrable bog. Impenetrable that is, to humans – but not to the red deer which lie up there – they love it.
As I made my way forwards, I stopped every fifty yards or so to scan around with the NV monocular. I spotted a few bunnies sitting out in the fields, and here and there I saw the glow of small eyes. These belonged to woodcock which were feeding up after flying in from northern Europe. Every now and then I’d miss seeing one, and it’d suddenly rocket up from my feet, protesting loudly at being so rudely disturbed. I always do my best to avoid spooking them, but sadly when the ground is so tricky, I have little say in where I can tread.
When I reached the next gateway I had a choice – a large flat field with no livestock that would be ideal for calling, or a convoluted piece of ground that was full of sheep. Just as I was thinking it was a no-brainer, the security light went on above the pheasant shed. As this was only just across the lane from where I would have to set the caller up, it was a major pain. Any foxes that I’d be trying to call in would be spooked by whoever was there. I decided that it would be better to circle around the farm and come back later, when hopefully peace would have returned. To this end, I wallowed my way past the sheep and down to a track on the far side. From there I climbed up onto a wooden fence to see if I could spot anything of interest. As I did so, there was a loud ‘Rrroww’ from just inside the woods, about fifty yards away – I’d been seen by a red deer. About three hundred yards further down the valley there was also a small herd of about ten animals – from what I could see they were all hinds, but in the misty conditions, I couldn’t be sure. Still – the important thing was that there were no foxes in sight, so I carried on.
Sploshing through the puddles and fighting the sucking mud made for hard – and noisy, going. Each time I came to a suitable vantage point, I’d have a good look around to see what was there. More rabbits, more woodcock, but no foxes. Not far away a tawny owl started hooting, and a few moments later this was answered by another some way off. Each time it rained, I did my best to shelter both the riflescope and the mono, but I knew that before I could take a shot, I’d have to dry everything off.
After about three quarters of an hour, I was back at the gateway that leads into the large flat field I wanted to call in. Just as I was checking it with the NV, there was an incredibly loud howl from amongst the trees by the lane, about three hundred yards to my left. ‘Jeez – that’s an incredibly noisy owl’, I thought to myself. Then the sound was repeated – ‘What the ???… that’s not an owl?’. I listened carefully for anything further – thanks to the noise from the wind blowing through all the leaves it was hard to catch exactly what it was. A few seconds later it came again. This time it was different – and now there was no doubt – it was a fox. It was also coming from exactly where I’d seen the red-coloured animal crossing the road less than an hour beforehand.
The interesting thing was that last winter I’d tried to catch up with a fox that had been calling from the same place – with what to my ears sounded like the same vocals. I therefore suspected that I was hearing an old adversary – and as he’d previously got away, I badly wanted to deal with him. Now was not the time to rush things though. If I got it wrong, I’d be unlikely to get a second chance in the near future. I walked across the field as quietly as I could, carefully looking back and forth to ensure there was no dead ground to mess things up. I judged that the best position would be about a third of the way along the far hedge. This would put the wind diagonally across me, and also provide a nice solid backdrop to hide my silhouette. I picked my way there and set the sticks out.
Before I could go any further, however, all the optics needed wiping down, including the laser illuminators on the mono and riflescope. That done, I set the Foxpro Scorpion out – I opted for a distance of 75 paces – a little more than usual, simply to minimise the risk of being scented if the wind shifted. While I was doing this, I could hear the fox barking again – unfortunately, it was clearly moving away. I hoped that the caller would bring it back towards me, and immediately set to with eight short yaps, known as ‘squalls’, then hit mute. After a brief scan around, I tried another series of squalls, then muted them again. As I did so, I heard the fox bark again – this time it was even further way. I cursed and decided that it was time to try the ‘Vixen on Heat’ call instead.
Before I was able to do so, however, I had to dry all the optics off once more. The rain was now coming down as a fine mist, and this was playing havoc with the lenses. Having done that and satisfied myself that all was OK, I started the vixen track – after about five minutes though, nothing had showed, so I paused it and waited. In the past, I’ve had foxes come several minutes after I’d finished with the caller, so I wasn’t in a hurry to move. Two or three minutes later – and after another rain shower, I decided to vary things, and tried the ‘Vixen Mating Call’. I left it going for what seemed like ages, but to no avail. Eventually I hit mute again while I considered matters – as I was doing so, I dried the optics out again.
Half way through another scan, I suddenly caught a flash of eyes. They were in the far hedge, some two hundred and fifty yards away. I quickly switched the mono off and turned the NV riflescope on. A few focus adjustments, and I was tracking the fox with the rifle nicely balanced on my sticks. By now, it was halfway across and closing the gap rapidly. Since the caller was still on mute, it wasn’t quite sure where to look – and that suited me just fine, as it would buy me more time. Tweaking the focus adjuster kept my target crisp and clear as it zigzagged around looking for the would-be vixen. There was no way that I was going to rush the shot, but having said that, I couldn’t risk the fox getting too close to the caller, or it would surely detect my scent on it and make a run for it.
At one point it paused for a sniff – it was facing me and had its nose in the air. This was my cue to lean on the trigger. Milliseconds later, there was a loud, hard-edged ‘pop’, and my intended target fell on the spot. I briefly checked that there were no other foxes about with the mono and then set off to examine my kill. Even as I approached it I could see that it was a big dog fox. It was lying outstretched in the moonlight, with its tail slightly curled. I laid my sticks down alongside, then put the rifle on top of them. My Sauer measures 47 inches from moderator to butt, and as this individual was slightly more, it was a very good size indeed. I photographed it where it lay, then flipped it over – my Sierra Blitzking had hit it in the lower jaw, and much of its head had exploded. What a mess… I’d estimate it as weighing about 25 lbs. Certainly bigger than ones that I’d previously weighed at 22 lbs., and probably the second biggest one I’ve taken to date. At four feet long it was definitely a good result, especially considering that when I’d first heard it, I’d thought it was an owl!