An old saying goes ‘Beware the female of the species, for she is deadlier than the male’. Well, whether this adage is true or not, yesterday’s little foray out into the dark of the night showed me that she can certainly be completely heartless. Just over a week ago, I was asked to attend to the foxes on a large farm where they were about to start lambing. As a result of this I went over one evening, and not long after arriving, started scanning two long fields across a small valley with my mini-thermal imager. These run alongside some coniferous woodland, and are often used as motorways by the local wildlife. More or less immediately I could see two white shapes in the first field – they were too big to be rabbits, too small to be sheep, and from the way they were moving, were more likely to be foxes than badgers. A quick switch over to the NV confirmed this. One of them had just begun moving off down the valley away from me, while the other turned and headed left, towards the flock of sheep that I was meant to be guarding. To cut a long story short, I whacked it – a big dog fox, at 265 paces off sticks.
The other fox – which I took to be his vixen, wasn’t seen again that night, so yesterday’s mission was to find and deal with her. My Good Lady was kind enough to make me an early meal, so it was with a pleasantly full stomach that I hit the road. On the way over, I was more than a little concerned at the amount of fine mizzle that was covering the windscreen every few seconds. I wondered whether I was being a little optimistic in telling myself that it would probably improve as my journey progressed, since the farm I was going to sits quite a bit lower than the high ground where I live. Some twenty minutes later I pulled in by the barn – but could see straight away that things were going to be very difficult indeed. There is a lighthouse-like halogen lamp there that illuminates the cattle sheds (what is it with farmers and their obsession with having bright lights on all the time?) and this showed that the mizzle was blowing sideways. In fact, it was so fine that I had to double-check that it wasn’t smoke.
A few paces out into the first field confirmed my fears – there was so much water in the air that the thermal was struggling to see anything. A quick scan with the NV mono showed that it was suffering even more - I couldn’t even see the sheep that were a mere hundred yards or so away. At that point I was really glad that I’d fitted both the NV riflescope and its laser illuminator with home-made covers. These are simple constructions made from sheet foam and camo tape, and work really well at keeping any moisture off the lenses. Had the farm been closer to home, I may well have aborted the session and called it a night, but I wasn’t going to undertake a sixteen mile round trip without at least having a try.
After some careful studying with the mini-thermal, I could just make out that there were five sheep sheltering from the mizzle in the lee of the nearest hedge. I decided that some smaller white shapes were probably rabbits, feasting on the meadow’s lush grass. Meanwhile over the lane, the herd of cattle were much more prominent in the viewer. As there was nothing at all fox-like to be seen, however, I moved on. The first gate I had to cross is a nice substantial affair that makes no noise at all as you scale it. The second one, however – composed of the remains of two old gates loosely tied to each other with absolutely no support at either end, belongs a neighbouring farmer, and it’s an accident looking for somewhere to happen.
In the end, I squeezed through between two broken rails – this was not an easy task as I was covered in kit. My NV mono was sitting on its chest harness, and above it there was the mini-thermal. This had temporarily doubled in size as the result of me experimenting with the addition of a small recording device. To make matters worse, my pockets were stuffed with all manner of extra bits and pieces. Even though I was really careful in worming my way through, I couldn’t avoid the loose pipes banging and clattering into each other. I hate making any kind of noise when I’m out hunting, so wasn’t in the best of moods by the time I was back on my feet again.
A minute or two earlier, I’d spotted something from the other side of the valley but couldn’t be sure what it was from there, so I now wanted to get close enough to make a positive ID. Another fifty yards and I was able to confirm that what I’d been looking at were two bunnies sitting close to each other. I also saw that a few feet from them was a cluster of small birds – probably snipe, but as I didn’t want to disturb them, I didn’t go any nearer. I was nicely sheltered from the elements while I was near the tall hedge, but the moment I moved away from it I was enveloped by the horizontal mizzle. The NV mono worked well enough if I looked downwind, but within seconds of looking anywhere else, the illuminator was covered in small droplets, and the image soon disappeared under black spots. The thermal fared better, but still struggled. Anyone sensible would have called it quits, but as I’ve never been known for my sanity, I carried on. I could hear two foxes squabbling far off on land where I don’t have permission to shoot, so figured that it might be worth trying the caller for a while. There was no response though, so I moved on again.
As there didn’t appear to be anything about, I went to see if I could find the remains of the fox I’d shot the week before. Even though I’d given him precise details of where I’d put the carcass, the farmer hadn’t found it. It proved to be exactly where I’d left it – at least some of it was. Pretty well everything edible had been eaten – and quite obviously some of it had been taken by a large carnivore, as most of the ribs were broken away. The most likely candidates for this were, of course, badgers or foxes. There were also indications that birds – probably corvids or buzzards, had also been feeding from it as the eyes had been pecked out. At least the fox had been dead when this had happened, unlike the defenceless young lambs that commonly suffer the same fate. As I’d been intending to boil this fox’s skull out, I quickly knelt down and performed the necessary operations with one of the knives I carry.
When I’d finished, I pulled my disposable gloves back off over the now severed head, thus creating an instant and most effective carrying pouch. I then switched the torch off and stood up, slinging my rifle over my shoulder as I did so. Before setting off back to the farm, I thought I’d have a quick scan around to make sure that nothing that wanted to eat the remaining bits had snuck up on me. The thermal takes about three or four seconds to boot up, and as the picture swam into view, I found I was looking straight at a fox that was less than fifty yards away. Luckily, it was upwind, but there was no time to waste as it was running back and forth sniffing the ground, presumably trying to find the carcass.
I had the sticks up and the rifle in place in an instant, but couldn’t switch the scope on straight away as the lens covers were still in place. Somehow, I slid these off and got them into a pocket without making any noise. I pointed the rifle away from my target before switching the scope and laser on so that the sudden appearance of the IR wouldn’t spook it. As soon as I was ready, I swivelled the rifle around until I found the fox. It obviously knew I was there, but was clearly totally unaware that I was any kind of threat as it was skirting around looking at me sideways. I quickly placed the reticle high on its shoulder – at that range you have to allow for the fact that the scope sits four inches above the barrel, and squeezed the trigger. There was a resounding ‘whop’, and it collapsed in a heap without a twitch. Counting my steps, I found that the body was a mere forty yards out, and was that of a large, and from the look of it, very pregnant vixen. Had she come on the scene a few seconds earlier, or if my skull removal procedure had taken slightly longer, she would have walked into me before I even knew she was there. Still – that’s foxing for you – Charlie has to get lucky every time – the hunter only has to get lucky once.
I can only presume that it was her that had been feeding off what was probably her late partner’s carcass. I guess that’s the vulpine equivalent of a divorce settlement. I certainly know a few women who I suspect wouldn’t bat an eyelid at doing the same, given the opportunity!