How to get the most out of fox calling
Patrick Hook gives expert advice on fox calling and techniques he uses to entice foxes within his range
I looked at the subject of fox calling last summer, but as there’s only so much you can say in one article, I thought it worthy of further examination.
In essence, when you’re luring foxes aurally you can either use a prey-distress sound or that of another fox. It is the latter that I’ll look at here. Since they like to interact socially, I base my efforts on creating a convincing vulpine audio song list to try to bring them within range. (Read more on how to call a fox here).
Observation before calling foxes
Before I start fox calling, however, I want to know if there are any foxes nearby. I begin by getting as good a vantage point as I can, such as from the top of a high bank or wall. If I’m with the truck, my roof-observation platform works well for surveying the landscape. I don’t go straight up, though, as the sudden appearance of my silhouette together with the associated movement risks alerting any foxes that are in the vicinity.
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Instead, I go halfway and use my thermal spotter to scan the ground around me. If it’s clear, I’ll go further, check again and then finally I’ll stand up to scrutinise the furthest terrain.
Although it gives a good view, I don’t like to shoot from the platform for two reasons. First, if there’s the slightest shift in my position, or if my dog suddenly decides to switch seats, the truck’s body sways slightly. Consequently, my aim point may wander about without warning. Second, there isn’t a great deal of room for my tripod sticks up there, so things get cramped. My preference is to see where my foxes are – or aren’t – work out where to call from, and then to climb down to take up the chosen location.
Although the textbook scenario is for any approaching foxes to come from downwind, the reality is that if a fox is hungry enough, or is the local dominant male, it’ll come from wherever it is. Consequently, it’s really important that you position yourself to get the best possible view.
Foxes will usually exploit any handy areas of dead ground (dips, gullies, or hollows) so that they can get close without being seen.
The experts say that most spend much of their time either attacking other foxes or trying to avoid becoming one of the victims. Their covert approach is therefore not only to get close to potential prey, but to allow them to creep off if they see that they’re getting near another fox that may beat them up.
Patricks’s top tips for fox calling
- If you don’t have any luck, it’s important to reassure yourself that fox calling is an imprecise art. What works one night may not work the next.
- Sometimes the sounds of foxes can frighten timid individuals away. These might be young animals that are fed up of being bullied, or it might be super-nervous pregnant vixens. In this case, prey distress calls, such as those of mice, rats or gamebirds, may well prove to be more effective.
- Daylight is a good time to find the best vantage points. Not only can you search out the best vistas, but also you can check for hazards that you may well not see in the dark, such as discarded barbed wire, rabbit holes or sudden drops.
While you’re there, it’s good practice to remove anything crunchy that you might step on, such as twigs.
What types of call to use
Usually, my first action on setting up the caller is to try some quiet distress calls, such as rodent squeaks, in case there’s an unseen candidate nearby. Once I’m satisfied that this isn’t the case, I generally opt to do a short wide-area broadcast using a loud squall track. This is basically a fox’s version of: “Hey everyone, I’m over here.” I typically do that two or three times so that every fox in the area is aware that something is going on.
If you have one in sight and watch them during the call, they usually stop what they’re doing and stare in your general direction, listening out for anything else.
Once I think I’ve got their attention, I often use a vixen mating call. Most lusty dog foxes are typical males and will respond by coming in to see what gorgeous maiden is awaiting their charms. The vixens, however, especially if they’re the local matriarchs, have a different agenda. Such a call is a direct challenge to their dominance. Their purpose for coming in is to see off a competitor. Either way, if everything else is in your favour, you should see them approaching.
If the calls haven’t done their job, there are a number of reasons why this might be. For one thing, there may simply be no foxes within earshot. Another is that they have already come in from somewhere behind you, scented you, and disappeared without you ever knowing they were there. This is why I rarely use hand-callers. A properly sited electronic caller will reduce this issue significantly.
The other main cause is that the foxes have been called before and are wary. My solution to this is to switch to a call track that sounds like a female supplicating to a male with whimpers and chittering. On my caller, this sound is labelled as ‘Fox Pups’. I’m not convinced this is correct, but since the sounds are similar, I use them as they seem effective.
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