This Sunday morning whilst checking my emails I got another text message from Ian, the keeper of a large shoot, saying that his birds had, once again, been the victims of a fox strike. My mate Paul and I have always responded to his requests for help, and so far we’ve managed to maintain a 100% success rate. We are, however, painfully aware that this streak cannot last, and sooner or later, we know that we’ll draw a blank. After some hurried communication, we agreed to go over later that afternoon. I also asked Ian to see what he had lying around in the way of bait, so that we could improve our chances of bringing the problem fox in. I spent some time checking all the batteries, etc. and when the time was right, loaded up and set off to collect Paul. From there, it was about a 45 minute journey, and we arrived bang on time, in spite of stopping to take some photos of some of our previous hunt locations.
Ian had fortunately managed to drag out some ripe partridge carcasses for us, so once we’d discussed the night’s mission, we set off armed with our smelly cargo. The problem area was one we knew well, having shot several foxes there over the last couple of months. It’s accessed by a long muddy track, and lies just above some woodland where there are a number of pheasant pens. As we navigated our way towards it, we checked the surrounding fields to see where the livestock was. In a couple of places we stopped and blatted a few bunnies with the .204. Their skins and guts were then added to the bait pile – the meat being saved to be fed to our Golden Retriever and rag-doll cross cat. Pulling up near the area where we’d decided to place our ambush, we crept out and carefully scattered the bait in a rough line across the wind. The thinking was that this would maximise the scent trail, and therefore increase our chances of bringing any nearby foxes in to investigate.
Once that was done, we climbed back into the truck and drove up towards the tarmac lane beyond – checking the gates as we went. Nothing seen, we decided to go down to the main road – or at least for what qualifies as one out in that part of the world, to see what was going on around the lower side of the woods. As we wanted the sun to have been fully down for a while before we returned to the bait we trundled along slowly, Paul scanning the hillsides for any signs of life. There were pheasants and partridges everywhere, some of them appearing unbelievably stupid, seemingly wanting to get run over. Indeed, we saw several fresh carcasses, so these got thrown in the back for use as extra bait. Elsewhere, there were some Red Ruby Devon cattle and some sheep, as well as a few horses. The odd bunny could be seen grazing on the steep slopes in between the gorse bushes, but we weren’t able to find any signs of foxes. ‘We’ve got to find one somewhere’, Paul said. ‘We can’t blank – that’s not an option…’.
In spite of stopping every fifty yards, we eventually reached the end of that stretch of road. Since this marks the estate boundary, we had the choice of either going back the way we’d come, or engaging low ratio and heading up a steep and rugged track that rarely sees any kind of motorised transport. As this connects to the one that runs past the bait field, we’d thought it’d be the best plan. Besides, making it up the hill is enough of a challenge to be a reasonable distraction. The Land Rover barely noticed though, its mud terrain tyres clawing their way over the rocks and through all the boggy bits. A few minutes later, we pulled up and dismounted. We already had all the camo gear, face veils, etc. in place, so we grabbed our respective rifles and sticks, and crept over towards the gate in question.
I switched the mini-thermal on, and immediately got a screen full of animals in my face. There were three or four hares on the far side of the field, but of much more interest was the large white shape running out of the hedge and straight towards the bait. I watched it for about a second, and then without bothering to switch it off, quickly swung the legs of my shooting tripod into position. With that done, my rifle was off my shoulder and on top them in no time. With the scope on, I could see that the fox was now about sixty yards out, and trotting from my right to my left into the wind, with its head down and sniffing as it went. I was so anxious to get this problem animal, that I had to slow myself down to make sure I didn’t screw the shot up. Another second or so, and the fox turned slightly, presenting an even better target. I placed the reticle on its chest and squeezed off a round. There was a convincing thump and it dropped on the spot.
With a sigh of relief, I whispered ‘Well – at least we can be sure we haven’t blanked now!’. After satisfying ourselves that there weren’t any other Charlies close by, we set the caller out, and tried everything we could think of to entice another one in, but after about an hour, we had to face it – there probably weren’t any other foxes in the area. With so much easy food about, however, we knew that situation isn’t likely to last. So with that in mind, I sent Ian a texted news update and we set off for home. The next day I got a very grateful thanks for our hard work in reply. With 5,500 acres to keep fox-free though, I’ll be expecting another call from him very soon. Fingers crossed that we manage to deliver then too!