Winters grip is slipping, official summertime is upon the land and the last snow clings to the shaded areas. The night is going to be a short one as my lamp man works during the day and will need to be back at his vehicle, conveniently parked at the local fast food emporium, by the witching hour at the latest. In the dark confines of the Discovery we depart to the first field. This field is less than two hundred yards from his stationary and rapidly cooling carriage.
The field is a shade over twenty acres and rises from the gate some sixty feet to its highest point, seven hundred yards to the East. The time is just nine thirty when we enter the ungated field. It is normal to use the tramlines to negotiate the farmers land but given the recent inclement weather we decided previously to give the land another few weeks to dry out. Winching two ton four by fours out is not a recreational pastime for us. As we pull in the edge of the field to our left curves sharply away from us,a half dozen trees still bereft of leaves shine in the glow from the street lights behind us. The steady bopping sound from the snorkel echoes across the winter battered wheat, barely a few inches high. My lamp man flicks the switch after setting the dimmer to low and the dull orange beam plays slowly across the darkness from right to left. He stops the scan after transversing the field and whispers "Charlie" I reach into the rear seat and lift the Browning XBolt from its resting place. The drivers side mirror has been modified into a stable shooting platform using a caravan towing mirror bracket. Four screws, no more nails, a welder and a coat of black paint have ensured that a decent arc of fire is ensured from the drivers seat. My lamp man for the night indicates with his hand where the fox should be and I load the rifle quietly. The final soft click of the safety catch and I am ready for the shot. The lamp glows gently into the field and no eyes look back into the waiting crosshairs. The lampman slowly scans to the left, towards the trees and there two glowing orbs peer back, blinking but still. I silently curse to myself, the foe has moved to a spot that will require my exit from the vehicle and will leave no steady shot. The angle not allowing me to set up on the bonnet. I open the door and bracing myself firmly against the door pillar I cradle the rifle using the window frame as a rest. The rifle sitting in the bend of my wrist. Bob, bob, bob go the eyes yet the fox is stationary. I make the decision not to risk a shot even though the animal is only a hundred yards away the possibility of injuring it of missing it thereby educating it to the dangers of the lamp are too great. The lampman dims the beam as the fox trots off into the night.
Whilst waiting for my friend to arrive I had previously been to another farm. Although plenty of people shoot on the land there most of them fall into the no patience, flash the lamp and drive off category. They have no interest in keeping the rabbit population at bay. Fox obsessed to a man. They will happily drive past a dozen rabbits in search of brighter eyes. I had set up before dusk on a warren that I have been keeping in check for the last five years. Within a half an hour five bodies lay in the field cooling gently in the gathering darkness. I retrieved three for the freezer and placed the other pair in the field where I have seen charlie on several occasions previously. We now returned to this farm. The farm is cut in half by the new motorway and the muffled sound of cars wafts over the still fields. As I drive forward with the gears set in low range to our right is a field that stretches two hundred and fifty yards off to a set aside piece of ground. We reach the bottom of the first field ad turn right towards the young oak tree that stands sentinel on the border between the fields. To our left is a large old house that has new owners who after moving to the country must have decided that they are actually afraid of the dark. Powerful spotlights blaze out over us until we are firmly in the shadows cast by the hedge to our left. The lamp man goes to work. Directly in front of us two pairs of eyes look back, almost as bright as the ex townies flood lamps. I know the field well and the eyes are three hundred and fifty yards away. Were I shooting at a paper target then this would be a matter of clicks and a bullseye, during the day at least. However at night even with the Schmidt and Bender doing its job it is no shot. The bopping of the snorkel again faded. With the lamp on dim and over the top of the eyes I start calling.
Eyes, no eyes. Am I calling too loud I ask myself. I call again, this time softly. Four eyes look back so close they could be one animal. Again I call though this time with a little more urgency. The two pairs of eyes separate as one of the foxes starts to approach cautiously, moving closer in an arc to my right. I stop calling for a moment and let it think about it. The eyes stare at me, two hundred and fifty yards and stationary. I imagine for a moment the fox licking its lips at the prospect of an easy supper. I call again, softly at first then building to a frantic pitch. Charlie is on the way again trotting in an arc but homing in on the prey. Mentally I calculate the distances involved, one hundred and fifty yards and closing. I stage whisper to the lampman "now" and he turns the small black plastic knob as I bark loudly into the orange flood. The plastic tipped fifty five grain bullet slips off through the barrel and moderator into the slight mist that has gathered and the hollow sound returns, echoing slightly. I watch as the once oncoming headlights of the fox stare back resolute and unblinking. The fox turned out to be the dog so I shall be avoiding the other until the young start to venture out.