A month or two ago, I was asked to have a go at finding and dealing with a very mangy fox that had been seen hanging around some expensive rare breed lambs on a local farm. It's unusual to see any foxes around here that are in anything but the best of health, so I quickly agreed to do what I could. I went over that evening and successfully called in and shot two - neither of which was mangy though. I went back a couple of times, but the one I was after appeared to have either died or moved on.
About a week later, another farmer on the other side of the village said that a very mangy fox had been seen in the field next to his young lambs. I was already keeping a close eye on them for him, but again, it was nowhere to be seen. I can only assume that being in such poor condition, it was being quickly pushed off any established territories by the resident foxes.
Although I've had a reasonably good year so far, I've really struggled to see any foxes over the last couple of weeks - I think this is because the vixens are still laid up with their pups and the low temperatures we've experienced lately have made food somewhat thin on the ground.
Anyway - last night on the way over to another permission, I decided that it was not quite dark enough to start using the NV, so I stopped and quickly checked a meadow that I've shot loads of foxes in with the thermal imager. There was nothing there, but before jumping back in the truck, I scanned across another field that runs along the top of a hill on the other side of the lane. Bingo! A bright white shape was running back and forth behind a tree.
I dived back and grabbed the rifle and sticks. Since I would be facing east, I figured the light levels should be OK to switch the NV riflescope on. Just to be sure, however, I also cranked the manual gain down. I couldn't see the fox at first, as there were some large branches in the way, so I shuffled forwards a few feet. Once I was clear of the tree, I could see my intended target - sitting up and clearly silhouetted against the skyline. Not only was the shot unthinkable, the fox was directly downwind of me.
Just as I was wondering what to do, it got up and sauntered off over the brow and out of sight. Bugger! I moved a bit further forwards and checked with the thermal, but it was nowhere to be seen. I therefore whipped the mouth caller out of my pocket and quickly blew a few plaintive squeaks. Within moments, the fox was back - but once again it was skylined, making the shot anything but safe. I waited hoping against hope that it couldn't scent me, and although it was obviously being cautious, a few seconds later it began heading down the slope towards me. At one point it paused - presumably to sniff the wind, and in that instant a .22-250 round whacked it. The sound was that of a bullet smacking something very hard, so I suspected a direct skull hit. This was backed up by the fact that it fell without a twitch.
When I got to it, I discovered it was the mangiest fox I've ever seen - I'd clearly done it a big favour. Its tail looked as though it belonged on a giant rat, much of its body fur was missing, and its flesh appeared to be very flaccid. It was a large dog fox that in spite of its dreadful condition still weighed a lot. It must have been bloody massive when it was healthy. As I'd thought, it had been hit by a perfect head shot. I have to say that I'm very pleased to have finally caught up with this sorry creature - not only will the livestock be that much safer, but a potentially major source of sarcoptic mange infection has been removed from the locality. Fingers crossed that we don't see any more in this state. Whether it was dumped by one of the usual suspect 'charities', I cannot say, but as it was only yards from one of the most popular dog walking routes in the area, its demise cannot have come soon enough.