Working from home has its pros and cons, but one of the upsides is that I’m generally here if any farmers need to contact me in a hurry. Yesterday was a good case in point – I arrived at my desk to find a ‘phone message waiting for me. A local chap who keeps a hundred or so sheep had discovered that one of his lambs had been torn apart in the night, and its remains dragged into the lee of a hedge, where it had been partly consumed. The poor man was very upset by this, and was somewhat anxious for me to do something about it.
What surprised me was that the field where this happened was right next to a farm where I’ve shot some twenty foxes over the last year. I’ve been really diligent, and until recently thought I had the area well under control. That was until rumours surfaced about a consignment of foxes being dumped nearby by a supposed animal charity. Ever since then, the bloody things have been popping up all over the place. One night I shot two that looked distinctly out of place – on inspection, one of them had a large bald patch which appeared at some stage to have been caused by a serious case of mange. As far as I know, this very rarely clears up on its own, and so one has to suspect that it’d received human help.
Still – whether or not that was the case, I had another lamb-killer to deal with. I called the farmer back and arranged to meet up with him so that I could see on a map where the crime had taken place. He’d already decided to move the sheep back to his own land where he could keep a closer eye on them, so that meant I’d have the area to myself. I’ve not shot over the fields in question before as he rents them, so I was keen to ensure that I was absolutely certain where the boundaries were. That done, we agreed to meet on the site that evening so that I could be introduced to the landowner. It was handy that the hour had gone forward, as it gave me time to see everything in daylight and still get home for a bite to eat. The ground was essentially two fields – the first being almost level (unusual for around here), whereas the second dived steeply down to a small brook. The lamb had been killed about halfway down and then dragged through a patch of mud over to the upper hedge. The amazing thing is that this was only about fifty yards from the owner’s house. The place is less than a mile from where I live, so I was able to wait until it’d got dark before setting off.
Before doing so, I’d made a plan – I was going to drive around the fields towing a smelly piece of meat in the hope that it would help draw any foxes in. As it happened, I’d had a minor tragedy here last week – the trip had gone on the panel that feeds my walk-in chiller without any of us realising. Sadly, it meant that the red deer carcass in there had got warm. Although it looked and smelt fine, my Good Lady wife is going through chemotherapy at the moment, and I just couldn’t risk her catching a bug – either directly or from me. Consequently, I’d decided to consign it to the category of fox bait – which meant I had a large haunch all bagged up and ready to go.
The gate had been left open for me, so I drove a few yards into the field before killing the lights and coasting to a halt. I was already wearing my face veil, NV monocular and mini-thermal, so as soon as I was out of the truck, I had a quick scan around. With nothing of interest in sight, I opened the back door and passed a length of thin Nylon rope through the haunch where it’d been hocked. The other end went around the tow bar, and after making a few extra cuts into the juicy bits to release the maximum possible scent, I was ready. Keeping the main lights off, I drove slowly around the field, then through the gateway into the one beyond. As this was where the lamb had been killed, it was where I was expecting the action to take place. I had to be careful though – not knowing the ground I couldn’t be sure that there weren’t any marshy patches, and so I stayed well away from the steeper gradients. Having looped around to my satisfaction, I unhitched the bait and drove back through the gate and parked up.
With my trusty Sauer over my shoulder, I grabbed my sticks and returned to the bait. Just as I cleared the gateway, a fox began calling in the next field. There’s something about the sound that just gets my heart going, and I immediately feel the hunter instinct kicking in. Another scan with the thermal showed that it wasn’t anywhere near me so I quickly set about getting everything ready. Now that there was a decent scent trail in place, I needed to ensure the bait itself was in a suitable position. As I did so, I discovered a problem – there were two bright lights on the wall of the owner’s house, and these were illuminating most of the field. Damn. If I’d known them better, I’d have gone over and asked if they could switch the offending lamps off. As it was, I’d only met the husband, and thought the wife might take fright at the sight of an unknown and heavily armed bloke dressed head to toe in camo turning up unannounced on her doorstep in the dark…
So – I had to persevere. In the end, I found that if I went far enough down the hill, I could get out of the lights. In some ways one could have considered them to be an advantage, as any approaching foxes would almost certainly avoid the illuminated area too, and so this narrowed down the likely access routes I had to watch. Once the bait was down, I had to find a site for the caller. This proved to be a little more difficult – even when I was out of sight of the house, there was still too much moonlight for comfort. The combination of this and the wind direction gave me very little choice, but in the end I was happy that I’d have sufficient warning if a fox came in. I wasn’t sure if the breeze had already given me away, as it was blowing towards where the fox had been calling a few minutes earlier. I was hoping that because of the close proximity of the house any foxes in the area would have been used to the smell of humans.
Still – nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I got myself nicely ensconced in the shadows cast by the hedge. I set my sticks out, very pleased with the fact that they were now quiet. I’m a real stickler for minimising any unnecessary sounds, and over the previous weeks had been getting increasingly annoyed by the creaks and groans they’d begun making whenever I leant on them. On close examination, I’d found that the bolt holes had become elongated with use, and it was here that the creaks were coming from. A brief trip out to the workshop had found some aircraft aluminium bar of the right dimensions, and a few minutes with the lathe and drill press resulted in some suitable reinforcing slugs being knocked up. These were then pushed up inside the sticks and bonded into place using rapid-setting Araldite. Once that was fully cured, I applied a few dabs of Molykote grease to the bolts and reassembled everything. A quick check showed that they now seemed to be as smooth as silk, but I wanted to see how they performed in action before considering the job to be a success. Now that I was out in the field, however, I was happy – no matter how much pressure I put on them, they stayed completely silent.
With that all sorted out, it was now time for me to make some intentional noise – but the question was what I should start with. My concern was to avoid using a sound that I’d already used in the area. To this end, I settled on a Flying Squirrel distress call, and duly set the Foxpro going. I already had my rifle up on the sticks, and scanned continuously with the thermal. After about five minutes, my initial enthusiasm had begun to wane. If there’s a fox about, it usually shows pretty quickly. After ten minutes, I hit the mute button and waited while I pondered my next move. As the rodent squeaks hadn’t worked, I reverted to the old faithful and tried two short burst of fox squalls, before starting the vixen on heat call. I left this running, and after about a minute a white shape suddenly ran in from downwind. There was no time to switch the thermal off, so I just let it dangle around my neck while I switched the NV riflescope on. The fox was still running as I caught it in the reticle, and the moment it paused to sniff the air, I whacked it with a 55gr Nosler ballistic tip. It dropped on the spot. Result! ‘The farmer will be well pleased’
, I thought to myself.
Only one fox had been seen in the area, and I had no reason to suspect that there might be any more around. I still left the caller running for a few more minutes though, but as nothing showed, I decided to move on. I muted the caller again, and made my way over to the carcass using the thermal to make sure I was going in the right direction. I counted the range at 80 paces, and when I got there found it was a very scrawny and barren vixen. If there was a brood nearby, she could well have been a helper. Typically, it would be one of the mother’s sisters or daughters, whose role would be to provide as much food as possible for the hungry pups. In the event of the mother’s demise, the helper would usually take over rearing them – but only if they’d already been weaned. As I’d shot a very pregnant vixen in the adjoining field less than ten days previously – together with a large dog fox, I thought it unlikely that there was a brood earth – or any other foxes around.
Having taken a series of photos for my records – lighting everything up with my torch whilst doing so, I was ready to make my way over to retrieve the caller. Before doing this, however, I had another quick look around with the thermal. I could see that there was an animal of some description beyond the hedge, but as there was too much vegetation in the way, I couldn’t identify it. I therefore decided to walk over to see if I could find a gap of some kind to get a better view. In the end, it was a false alarm – I was actually seeing some cows way off in the distance. Shrugging it off as one of those things, I turned back and used the thermal to locate my caller. The moment I did so, however, my heart jumped into my mouth, for there was a large fox running straight towards the bait. I fumbled the sticks into place and got the rifle up.
The fox immediately dived onto the venison with a ravenous leap, but as it did so it must have heard me, for it suddenly stopped and looked straight at me. I was completely downwind, so it certainly hadn’t scented me. Anyway – it had about it what I can only describe as the look of sudden comprehension of the serious position it was in. It knew it was in real trouble, but just as its synapses were telling it to move, those connecting my brain to my trigger finger got there first, and it went down with a convincing ‘whump’. Again, the range was about 80 paces – as I got close though, I could see that this was no ordinary fox – it was bloody huge. I would say that it was a good 22 – 24lbs, and is easily the biggest I’ve seen for some time. There was no doubting that this was a dog fox – his white-haired scrotum was sticking out prominently from between his back legs. On close inspection, I found that his upper right canine had been broken at some stage, but other than that he was in good condition – apart from the bullet hole, of course! If there was ever a candidate for a lamb-killer, this was it.
A quick call to the farmer was answered by his wife – around here Monday night is skittles night, and he was off with the lads. She was delighted to hear the news though as the sheep are mainly her responsibility. I’ve left the bait in place, so will keep checking on it over the next few nights. I know that the moon is going to be a problem though – the last couple of weeks of near total darkness have been a real pleasure, and I’m not looking forward to being lit up again. Still – however you look at it – it’s got to be better than being sat in front of the telly!