I pulled up outside Bruce’s house – he’s the keeper on a large pheasant shooting estate, and parked next to his crew-cab Defender. At this his dogs – all six of them, started barking loudly. Who needs a doorbell under such circumstances? When he came out, I said 'Ah - I have someone here I believe you've been wanting to meet. His name is Charles - I think you've seen him around...'.
With this, I motioned to Charles who was lying spread-eagled across the bonnet of my Disco, leaving an ever-increasing trail of blood across the metallic green paintwork. He was a very large, pale-coloured dog fox who’d been a serious thorn in Bruce’s side for several months. When the pheasants had been first let out, he took a significant toll of them. But more recently, he’d been causing mayhem on the shoot days. Almost every time Bruce had organised a drive through the main woods - which contain some 2,500 pheasants, Charles would run through just after they started and spook all the birds, ruining the drive. He showed himself several times, but as there’s a ‘no ground game rule’, Bruce could do nothing about it.
I’d taken on the fox shooting there about ten days beforehand. Bruce had done all he could, but as the ground is so difficult to lamp and the landowner doesn’t allow traps, he’d had real trouble in trying to keep the foxes under control. Although I shot thirteen over the space of a week (bearing in mind I was rained off for several days), there was one individual in particular that was driving him up the wall. And that, of course, was Charles. We’d had so much bad weather over the previous week that much of the south-west had suffered serious flooding. This kept me indoors for several days, but by Monday evening I was going up the wall and simply had to get out. The forecast suggested that there’d be a break in the clouds at some point, so I headed out armed with both my usual shooting gear and a large sack of ‘ripe’ bunnies that had been in the freezer for a few months.
I arrived on site without seeing the slightest let-up in the rain. As I’d not visited the area in question before, I pulled up in the lower of two gateways and climbed out for a look. The NV spotter showed me that the field – which ran alongside a large area of woodland, stretched away and over a rise some two hundred yards distant. There was a distinct dip in between, and the ground also rose quite steeply to my right – beyond this was where the upper gate was located. Another check – this time with the thermal, confirmed that the area was clear of any foxes, so I went back to the truck and retrieved the sack of stinking bunnies. Whilst there, I pulled on a disposable glove and then slowly squelched my way through the mud towards my chosen killing zone.
The field had been recently ploughed and seeded, but there was no sign of any growth yet. On the plus side, it meant that at least there was nothing to hide any animals that visited the bait. On the minus side, it made the ground distinctly unpleasant to walk over. I counted my steps – when I reached fifty I pulled out some small pieces of bait and threw them in all directions. I then counted another fifty and did the same. Some of the bunnies were still whole, so before lobbing them around I sliced them up a bit and then pulled them apart. Again, I flung the bits as far as I could so that they covered a nice wide area. The reasoning being that I wanted any foxes that were attracted by the smell to have to look for their food. That way, there was more chance of me catching them at it. I continued this until the sack was empty, then retreated back to the gate, by which time I was soaked to the skin
The next night I went back – I like to leave my bait for a good 24 hours so that any local foxes have had a chance to find it. I knew that I had to get everything right if I was going to take Charles down successfully, however, so I stopped where the estate began to get myself ‘in the zone’. After checking a few fields, I was happy that both the thermal and the NV spotter were set up to my satisfaction, and so I continued on to my chosen destination. I trickled along the last few hundred yards and parked up just over the brow of the hill where I couldn't be seen from the baited area. I then crept into the field through the higher gate and although I couldn't see anything with the NV, the thermal showed me that there was a fox-sized animal right on the bait. The lack of eye-shine confused me at first, but then I realised it was simply because the creature in question had its head down, feeding.
It was a long way out though, so I was left with a quandary. Should I try to get close and risk being compromised, in which case I might not get another chance to approach it, or should I stand back and take a long shot, with the risk of missing it? Although there was generally good cloud cover, there were several gaps here and there. As the moon was nearly full it was quite obvious that if the skies cleared, even for a moment, I’d be left completely exposed.
I was also worried that I might be skylined if I tried to get too close, so I went about thirty yards out into the field and then set the rifle up on the sticks. Happy that all was well, I stopped to inspect my target – I left the laser illuminator off at first, in case it highlighted my presence. Very quickly, I was able to confirm its identity – it was just as I was hoping, a large fox. I flicked the laser on for a brief moment, and got very strong eye shine. Even more confirmation, although I didn’t need it by then. It took no notice, and as I was watching, it turned sideways on – perfect for a shot. Before I could release a round though it moved again, this time head on towards me. It was clearly totally engrossed in the bait, however, so I knew there was no immediate hurry. I waited my moment, and about thirty seconds later it presented itself nicely – a loud 'whump' saw it drop on the spot. I got the thermal up immediately, and watched it for a while, but there was absolutely no sign of movement.
I was anxious to see if it fitted Bruce’s description and began counting out the range. About halfway there I could see that it was, indeed, a big individual. The final tally was 225 paces – and I was very relieved to see that it was just as I was hoping - a very large, pale-coloured dog fox with a long woolly coat. I dragged the carcass back to the truck and threw it up onto the bonnet, then drove down to Bruce’s house, where I made the introduction. He was delighted that Charles had been brought to book at last, and confirmed that it was the one that had been troubling him for so long. I set off home very satisfied that my plans and efforts had come together so well!