Near my house there lies a farm. Actually, there lie several farms – but in this case I’m referring to a particular one. If you’ve seen many of my previous accounts, it’s highly likely you’ll already have read of my hunting exploits on this particular stretch of land. Until yesterday, I’d shot 22 foxes there, and when I left the house last night I was planning to make it 23. For right now the place is full of young lambs, and somewhat understandably, the farmer was keen to see that they all survived.
Last week, I started baiting the field next to the main lambing area after seeing a fox in with the ewes. I put a load of tempting bits out and went off to another site (where I shot two foxes that may well have been released by an animal charity). On the way back home – some two hours later, I stopped off to see if anything was around. Within a couple of minutes I’d managed to shoot a very pregnant vixen that was contentedly noshing away on some of the extremely smelly pheasant guts I’d left there. The next night, however, I briefly saw another fox in the same place, but it spotted me at the same time as I spotted it, and by the time I’d got the rifle onto the sticks it was long gone. The same sort of thing happened several times over the next week. The moon was so bright and the land so hilly that I just couldn’t get the drop on this wily character.
Since the bait was continuing to disappear, I knew the fox was unlikely to go far, and there was no way I was going to give up on my adversary. Last night I set off more hopeful than I’d been for days – at last, the moon was covered by rain clouds and I was in the mood for closing the account. There was still a lot more light than I’d have hoped for, but it was a vast improvement. The land in question is very steep, with tall hedges every couple of hundred yards. These are mostly composed of tightly-packed bramble and thorn bushes and are a complete nightmare to cross – a problem made worse by various generations of barbed wire and unfriendly ditches. At the bottom of each hill there’s usually a stream or small river of some kind, often bounded by seemingly random areas of swamp. While the habitat is a nightmare for hunters, the foxes love it.
I pulled my Land Rover off the lane and drove straight out onto the muddy pasture – luckily, the farmer leaves the gate open as the livestock are all secure in the subsequent fields. As soon as I was clear of the road, I killed the lights and coasted to a stop. I was already wearing my face veil, gloves and NV gear, so all I had to do was retrieve the rifle and sticks and I was off. The baited area lies just over the brow of the hill, and as the wind was in my face I was able to sneak up and take a peek at what was about. My first check was a quick scan with the mini-thermal – but as there was nothing there, I was to be disappointed. Damn.
My money was on the fox being somewhere near the sheep, so I snuck up to a gap in the hedge and peered over. There were several ewes watching over their young lambs, but still no sign of Charlie. The only other sheep I knew of in the area were on the other side of the lane, at the top of another steep hillside. Luckily, I knew I could get a reasonable view of them from near where I was, although having said that they were some three to four hundred yards away, and thus not easy to distinguish accurately in the damp air. No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t see any hints as to the presence of a fox. The sheep all looked peaceful enough, and there were no tell-tale glowing eyes hiding anywhere.
I decided to back-track and look over the bait area again, but when this again proved to be devoid of anything of interest, I had to stop and think things through. As there were few options, I figured it might be worth a look over the gate on the lower side of the field – this looks down over rough grassland to the stream below. I’ve never seen a fox in there before, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. As I got closer, however, I realised that the farmer had put a flock of sheep and lambs on the ground. Bugger – he hadn’t told me! I stopped in the gateway for a quick look with the thermal, and checked the ewes which were by now stood looking back at me. By their feet there were various lambs nuzzling their mothers.
As I watched, one of the white hot spot shapes suddenly jumped up and raced around the outside of the tightly-huddled flock, running from my right to my left, some twenty yards away. As it did so, I realised that instead of having a lamb’s face, it had a long pointy snout. It then ran straight over the brow and disappeared into the depths of the goyle (small valley). Yep – I’d blown it again. The bloody fox had only been a few feet away, and I’d spooked it. Cursing myself, I tried to work out where it might have gone. The most likely answer was that it’d taken cover somewhere in the thicket down by the stream. I didn’t want to risk going into the field to look for it though, in case the sheep stampeded around and blew my cover.
At this point, I invoked the ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ rule, and withdrew back up the hedgeline. For once, the wind was in my favour, so I hoped that if I left it a few minutes, the fox might show itself somewhere near the flock on the other side of the lane. I therefore slowly made my way to the best vantage point – and in doing so tried to avoid frightening a large woodcock that was resting in the long grass. Once in position, I set the sticks up and began scanning with the NV riflescope. The six times magnification and wide field of view of its superb optics made the job much easier than with the hand-held NV spotter. After some ten minutes or so, I had to accept that my vulpine target wasn’t there, and that it didn’t seem to have any intention of showing itself on the ground below.
I tried to get a sneak view of the hillside where I’d seen it earlier by walking down the length of an adjoining field, but the hedge in between was just too high and too thick for any chance of success. Frustrated, I followed my previous footsteps and made my way back to where I’d first seen the fox. This time, however, I stayed out of sight while I worked out the best way to get a decent idea of what was in the field. I then realised that there was a short stretch of heavy wooden fencing by the gate – this made an ideal ladder, and I slowly climbed up it, scanning the area beyond with both the thermal and the NV spotter as I did so. I ended up standing on the second highest rung without having seen anything other than yet more sheep.
So – the fox wasn’t in the field in front of me, and it wasn’t over to my right on the other side of the lane. The area to my left held nothing of obvious interest to a hungry fox, so the only logical place was the large meadow ahead of me on the far side of the stream. This held a small herd of cattle, but I could see with the thermal that they were some half a mile away, sheltering from the cold breeze under the lee of some large oak trees. Once again, I began scanning for signs of Charlie with the NV. Sweeping back and forth, my attention was drawn to a dark shape on the far side of a large ash tree. It certainly looked promising, so I put the sticks up and had a closer look with the riflescope. Sure enough – there it was, and from its size it looked to be a dog fox. He was busily snuffling around in the grass as he travelled – presumably looking for voles. He was a long way out though – the best part of some three hundred yards or so, and at least a hundred feet below me.
I considered taking a long range shot, but there were too many things against this course of action – most noticeably, the light foliage in the hedge in front of me. It wasn’t really noticeable without the laser illuminator, but the moment I switched it on my view disappeared in the strong reflections. At that point I had two basic choices – to give up and try again another night, or to go off down the hill in pursuit. There was no way that I was going to stop now though, so I scaled the gate and navigated my way around the sheep and down towards the stream.
Every twenty yards or so I stopped and checked the fox’s position – he was moving to my left along the side of the opposite hill. At first he was a long way below me, but as I lost height, the angle began to level out. By keeping the biggest of the trees between us, I did my best to ensure that he couldn’t see me. The wind was still directly in my face, and with the gentle tinkling sounds of the stream as well as the noises from the sheep moving around, he certainly wasn’t going to hear me unless I made a big mistake. I was, however, worried that he might hear the snorted warning signals that some of the ewes were making.
When I’d closed the range down to about a hundred yards, I got the sticks up and the rifle ready. There was only one gap in the trees that I could shoot through, so I had to get everything right. I moved a couple of times to make sure I was happy that everything was in my favour. At this stage the fox was completely unaware of my presence, and I patiently waited as he gradually made his way into the chosen killing zone. By then I’d got the focus just right, the laser adjusted perfectly, and was ready and waiting. At the appropriate moment, I slipped the safety off and sent a round downrange. On the ballistic tip's impact, he leapt into the air – but in doing so he went into a forward somersault and fell dead a couple of feet further on.
I then had the small problem of crossing the stream and climbing the hill on the other side to retrieve my kill. Although I normally refuse to switch the torch on for anything short of an emergency, I decided that prudence was the order of the day, and duly navigated my way over under its light – and without any further problems. The carcass was, as I’d suspected, that of a large dog fox. I suspect that he was probably the partner of the vixen I shot last week. I have to confess that the slog back up the hill – carrying the fox, rifle, sticks, NV spotter, thermal and so on, required a few brief stops to allow me to catch my breath. Still – I had a great sense of satisfaction when I finally got there. This fox had been a direct threat to the lambs, and needed dealing with. Although I’ve not spoken to him yet, I know that the farmer will be delighted. Whether that’s the last of the foxes on the farm for this lambing season, I can’t yet say. Watch this space!