Two foxes stood motionless in opposite corners of the rough pasture, both listening intently as once more I drew the chunk of wetted polystyrene across the windscreen of the Suzuki 4×4. Whether the animals believed that the resulting sound was the squeal of a wounded rabbit or not, it had certainly caught their attention.
On leaving the farmyard with the heavy-barrelled .223 rifle and spotlight earlier, we had been both hopeful and optimistic, but after two hours? fruitless calling and lamping on the gorse-covered hillsides, we had still not seen a fox. There had been the usual false alarms, of course, when roe deer eyes were illuminated, only seconds before a doe with fawns bounded away into thicker cover, their nocturnal feeding disturbed. We had also seen the ubiquitous farm cat, stalking along the bracken edge in search of a careless rabbit. Of foxes, however, there were none.
Now, moments after having driven the little 4×4 into a rough cow pasture, we had before us two pairs of predatory eyes gleaming in the darkness. Holding the foxing lamp on the nearest of the two vulpines, I drew the small square of polystyrene slowly down the outside of the Suzuki?s windscreen again.
The high-pitched squealing this produced was enough to set one?s teeth on edge, and make the hairs prickle on the back of the neck. It was a primal noise, a shriek of alarm and terror, offering the promise of an easy meal to predatory ears.
My friend whispered to me that both foxes were still out of range, and needed to come closer yet. As I worked the polystyrene against the windscreen for a third time, I had little idea just how close one of those foxes was about to come.
No sooner had the polystyrene squealing begun to rent the air, than the nearest fox set off toward us like a greyhound from the slips. From 400 yards away, the fox covered the distance in what seemed like a matter of seconds. My friend and I waited for the inevitable halt, which must surely be followed by a well-aimed shot from the .223.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. At 100 yards the fox showed no sign at all of slowing, so placing my fingers to either side of my tongue, I let out a shrill shepherd?s whistle. This I felt sure would bring the animal to an abrupt halt, and provide my friend with the opportunity he needed to take the shot. Whether the fox heard the whistle or not I cannot say, but it simply kept on coming undeterred, and in no more time than it takes to tell, vanished beneath the 4×4.
My friend, not fully aware of what had just happened, looked at me with a puzzled expression, and asked where he fox had gone. As he did so, a rattling and thumping noise came from underneath the vehicle. I informed him that the fox was now under our feet. I won?t record his exact reply, but needless to say he was both surprised and disbelieving.
Sitting there in the darkness, I could distinctly hear the exhaust pipe and silencer being rattled and scratched, and I must admit that curiosity got the better of me. Gingerly opening the driver?s door, I leant over and with the aid of the foxing lamp, looked under the vehicle. As I switched on the lamp, I found that I was staring directly into the piercing yellow eyes of a rather wiry-looking vixen. The distance between her black button nose and my own rather aquiline version being no more than eight inches.
A vixen at bay
Bizarrely, she demonstrated not the slightest sign of fear. Was her confusion so great that in the darkness she did not understand the peril of her situation? I cannot say, but for what seemed an age, we both remained transfixed, neither one daring to look away.
Becoming impatient, my friend leaned over to see for himself what was going on, and in doing so, inadvertently caught the car radio switch with his elbow. Already in a state of heightened tension, both myself and the vixen nearly leapt out of our respective skins, when, out of the darkness of the night blared The Pipes and Drums of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, at full volume.
The panicking vixen decided that the shortest route to the sanctuary of the distant gorse bushes, was over my right shoulder, and so crashed into me at full tilt. I may at this point have called upon the Almighty by name, but as the incident descended into one hellish, chaotic blur, it is hard to recall.
I do know, however, that I fell head first out of the Suzuki, the lamp adapter was wrenched from the vehicle?s cigar lighter, and in an attempt to switch off the radio, my friend took us through heavy rock to light operetta, via a postponed episode of The Archers. Do I need to add that the vixen got away? Possibly not.