The harvest has been a bit hit and miss for me this year with very few daft cubs showing and the combines struggling to get ground cleared. No rape had been touched round here until last week.
However the chicken farm I look after had combined quite a bit and I was told that 2 foxes had been running about in front of the combine. So last Friday I decided to have a look out and see if I could find them.
A keeper friend of mine came along and we opted to drive. There are probably only 2 weeks of the year when we can do this on the farm as it mostly arable and so we normally lamp it on foot. We started at 9 and by 11.30 we had done a couple of lamps and quite a bit of calling and nothing had shown. The conclusion was that the foxes must have moved into a field of maize alongside our ground. We tried one last approach and saw nothing, I turned the truck around and headed back, by chance I got the line wrong and had to change my line, in doing so the lamp cast back along the hedge down the field we had just come out of. A fox eyes gleamed back!! A quick set up on the bonnet and me spotting with the thermal and my friend took the shot and we had an adult dog fox down!! One rotten tooth so this lad has been around for a while although I am sure new to my ground.
On Monday my wife went away to visit family for 5 days so I had planned a campaign.
Monday night at 9 saw us looking around some new ground to try and get a friend some foxes that are worrying his pheasants. I have seen a fox a few times in the same field but you have to pull the car into the field to get off the road and it means that the fox had cleared off before I could get a shot. I had a different friend with me so I warned him to be ready with the thermal to spot it. We pulled through the gate and upto the back of a row of bales (I cant shoot from the window as the field has been worked already and I cant drive far into it). “Against the far hedge” says my mate, I jump straight out and set on bales, the fox is moving down the hedge but pauses and the 32gr Amax drops him at around 180m. 1 fox and we’ve only been going 5 mins!
We patrolled the rest of the farm and saw nothing more so we debunked to another farm where foxes had been seen at harvest. As we drove down the farm lane a big cub ducked into the hedge!. We got to the end of the hedge and set up. A few calls and we had 2 sets of eyes, one where the cub had been and one in a grass pasture to one side. The better shot was the grass field but I had to move forward to set up on a gate to ensure missing the fence between us. The fox got twitchy and set off away, carrying something in its mouth. I whistled quietly and it stopped for a look back, shot away and the fox was running!!! I hate shooting off fence posts!! Anyway my mate assured me it had dropped but gone about 50m!! We left it initially and called some more, the second fox had moved round us but was now not happy. I took a shot but missed over the top, it ran on and stopped again, the second shot went over the top, something was wrong. Unbelievably the fox stopped again, I aimed 6” low and fired again. This time it hit and although it ran again it dropped. Foxes gathered we called it a draw as I wasn’t happy with the rifle, it must’ve taken a knock altho I have no idea when.
It turned out to be shooting low at 100, the bullet was still rising causing me to shoot high at 180+.
Next up Tuesday. I was due out with a different keeper friend and took my brother in law along as spectator. This friend is notorious for never wanting to stop so I asked nicely at the outset if we could try to be finished by 1am. He has 7000 acres of farmland to cover so we had plenty to go at. The combines were only recently finished so we were very optimistic we were going to see a hatful of foxes. We checked over 100s of acres of stubble and saw nothing!! Then we checked a field that had been disked and there was a fox sat on it. I set up quickly on the bonnet and the fox went down, this restored my confidence in the rifle too. A vixen.
Only 2 fields later and another fox was spotted with the thermal. This time my friend set up and took the shot, no impact report suggested a problem. He confirmed he had shot over the top and spent the next little while mumbling and cursing to himself. This is a guy who routinely head shoots his foxes so I had witnessed a rarity.
We covered a heck of a lot more ground and just didn’t see anything! My friend was astounded and we discussed the theory that the cold spring had meant we had mopped up more foxes than would have normally been possible and perhaps this was the reason we were not finding cubs all over as expected. As we returned back to the centre of the estate he wanted to check near a couple of pheasant pens. We were running a little late but I was happy enough to do so. We saw nothing here either but as he turned the truck around there was a fox coming towards us! I set up on it and just as I pulled the trigger he warned me that the fox was in long grass, I would love to blame the grass but I think I just missed! The fox ran back out of the field. We set off after it and swung into another field just over the road. A fox was sat there, this time there was no grass and the fox dropped against the hedge.
We now set off back to his house and spotted a fox he had been after for a little while. It ran straight into a small wood so we set off on quite a detour to get to the back of the wood and some more stubbles. No luck and the crafty fox was not seen again. We pulled back up to my truck at 2.30. My friend had maintained his reputation!! He was pleased with the nights work as although we had only got 2 they had both been in proximity to his game bird pens!
Wednesday saw me out again, this time with my grouse keeping friend and also with another friend, with a small farm shoot, who wanted me to look at his ground as the rape was now off. My grouse friend had a dog break its leg on the moor that day so he was in the mood for shooting something. The cocker had simply been charging about in the heather on a shoot day when it yelped and that was that. A big vet bill and at least 6 weeks out of action!
Our first port of call was a farm that had been finishing his harvest in the last couple of days. We had a really good look round and after an hour and a half had seen nothing. We got to the back of the farm and suddenly had a set of eyes in some long rubbish left after the harvest, My friend set up and I started squeaking. The fox came bounding in! One of very few this year. I whistled when I saw through the thermal that it was getting a bit close and it stopped dead, it promptly became deader!!
A few hundred yards further up the track more eyes came back. I warned my friend the shot was unsafe unless we could call the fox closer. It duly obliged and barrelled in! A huge shout of “OI” was necessary to stop it and it was promptly dropped too. I turned the truck around and we saw a set of eyes a considerable distance away on a beck side. We started calling and watching with the thermal. I had set up the rifle in the bonnet but the fox wasn’t for coming. The next thing I hear a hiss and my mate is gesturing furiously, there is a fox coming right to us from some farm buildings. I put the cross hairs on it but “click”, the bolt wasn’t properly down and no shot! The fox ran and my friend missed it from the passenger window as it paused some distance out. I scanned some more with the thermal and noticed a second fox skulking away along a hedge on the other side of us. I quickly relocated to a bale to get a shot and dropped a mature dog fox as it re-emerged from behind a bale. So, after a very quiet start we were suddenly 3 foxes up after 15 minutes! We drove back up the whole farm and right at the top there was another flash of eyes. I jumped out and opened the back door for my rifle, at which point a can of beer I was given for beating (and I had forgotten about) rolled out and exploded!!! The fox ran, it stopped at the very bottom of the field and I aimed over and missed, OVER!! Broke my own golden rule, “don’t be surprised if you aim to miss and you miss”!!!
We now moved to the farm shoot nearby. We patrol there regularly so I wasn’t expecting to see too much as it had been lean for a while. On the other hand the rape was off here too. We saw nothing of interest around the farm buildings so went to the new rape stubble. Almost immediately we saw eyes. Using the thermal to spot I started squeaking and in it came. The shot from our trusty keeper saw it roll but set off across the field, it stopped and a second round ended its troubles. I scanned some more and there were 2 more sets of eyes at the back of the field as the lamp touched them one set went straight away. It wasn’t clear where the other set went so I started squeaking, a fox kept popping through the hedge and back but wouldn’t come in. It finally sat on our side but quite a distance out. The keepers’ rifle barked once more and a vixen took a round in the bonce! The other fox eluded us as we tried to get round it on some other fields, and although it showed among some cattle it kept moving, in no particular hurry and didn’t offer us shot.
We moved on to some grass fields where we had seen a fox a few weeks before. On that occasion it ran across the track and into a headland and we never saw it again. Tonight as we pulled onto the field there was a flash of eyes more than 400m away. I switched the truck lights off and we coasted nearer. When I estimated we were 150m or so away I stopped but we couldn’t see the fox with the NV. The lad with the thermal suddenly spotted it alongside us about 80m away. As we had driven down the field it had continued walking up it. A quick target acquisition dropped it too. A young vixen.
We completed our tour and there, on the driveway to the farm cottages was a fox. This time I set up on the bonnet, the fox stayed put and the shot was away. He was hit and dashed and dropped but quite close to the cottages so he was left until morning as we didn’t want to start mooching about at 1am and panic the residents. We went to check the far end of the field and saw 1 more fox, I tried a shot from the top of a gate but my rest was poor and I knew I pulled it before the fox even started running.
So 7 on the night but it could have been 10!!! Unusual to find them where we hadn’t expected but then the really good nights are often that way.
Thursday night saw me on the way to another farm with recently cut rape. I was hopeful here and arranged to meet yet another shooting mate who enjoys a bit of foxing but works earlys so cant do too late in the week. The farm here has a circular road around it so we simply tour round. At the back of the loop I thought I got a glimpse of eyes but then couldn’t see a fox. It then bolted from cover and disappeared into a ditch, calling proved unfruitful so we continued on. By 11.30 we had seen nothing so I went back to check for the fox again, this time it ran across the road in front of us from behind a spoil heap and, once again, it was gone. I had to drive a little further on to swing the truck around and as we returned there was a fox mooching in the bottom of a hedge. Easy shot and job jobbed. Can’t believe it was the same one. It just goes to show though that you have to be in the right place at the right time as we had been past there 3 times already!!
I dropped my mate at his car and went to the other farm. I had hardly gone any distance when a car appeared behind me, I couldn’t see any blue lights or colour but it was definitely following me. I turned down a very small track and it turned in too! At this point I thought it must be a concerned local but it was about 12.15am now! I pulled in and jumped out to be greeted by 2 policewomen. They couldn’t have been friendlier and after a quick ID check and a call to the local farmwatch people I was about my business. I checked out a few fields and aside for what I thought was a fox escaping over the top of a wire fence I saw nothing. On the way out of the farm I pulled back into the gateway I stopped for the police and as I scanned the field with the thermal saw a fox at the far side. Onto the rifle and NV and a dog fox was added to the bag!!
Fridays forecast was awful and I got half drowned beating on a moor in the day. A different mate had some ground where the rape had come off on Thursday and he had been seeing foxes there so we provisionally arranged to meet if the weather cleared, it did, so at 9pm I was out again.
The first half of the farm was quiet but very soon after we started at the far side there was a fox, I took the shot but it just bolted. On closer inspection the rape stubble around it had been substantial and I suspect the bullet had fragged on route. This clarity is an issue with the NV sometimes.
We saw nothing more but just before leaving I suggested checking the back fields one last time. As soon as we pulled through the gate there was a fox. I killed the lights and engine and set up on the bonnet, to my amazement the fox had just kept coming, unprompted, and resulted in a very easy and short range headshot!
And that, as they say, was that, 7 nights foxing, or is it 8? 16 foxes, a few adults and some dozy cubs that called! All of the usual dramas of night time foxing including a few misses. I didn’t get to bed before 2am Monday to Friday with 3.30 being the latest. At least with the missus away I can stay in bed til 8 before going to work for 9!!
Thanks for reading and indulging me it has ended up longer than I thought!!