Now is the best time of year for fox control. The longer you leave it, the harder it will be to keep their numbers down, warns Liam Bell
No matter how hard you try, and no matter how many foxes you kill, litters of cubs will always appear — usually where you least expect them. Keeping fox numbers down now is vital. Once the cover is up and they start living on top, it is much harder to catch up with them. Moreover, the longer they are left, the more they will eat and the more chance there is of them being able to survive on their own.
A litter of cubs takes some feeding. It is the sitting hens and wild broods that will suffer now, and the released birds that will suffer later when the cubs are big enough to start hunting on their own. It is far easier to deal with them now, when they are all in one place, than it is to pick off individuals once they have split up. Tempting though it is to go straight to the earth, I prefer to keep things quiet and undisturbed and to leave them alone until we have accounted for at least one of the adults.
I say one of the adults because often the dog fox is already dead and the vixen may be feeding them on her own, or vice versa.
Having said that, it is not uncommon for a related unmated or barren vixen to help with feeding, but it tends to happen only in areas where fox density is high. So if you have a lot of foxes and have managed to take out what you think are both the adults, it may be worth giving it another night to see if anything else turns up.
Sitting out is probably the easiest way to catch up with foxes. Mornings can work, but we tend to have more success sitting out in the evenings. It does, to a degree, depend on where the earth is and how far it is from people, roads, houses and general disturbance. Evenings tend to be quieter.
How soon the adults come in will depend on the size of the cubs. Usually, the bigger the cubs, the earlier they get there. I have sat out and shot both of them within an hour. I have also sat out for three or four evenings on the trot and seen nothing. There is no hard and fast rule.
If there is no obvious vantage point or nowhere close enough to sit that will offer a safe shot, we use a portable high seat. They are particularly useful if there is a crop that is a bit too high near the earth, as it lets us see into it and up the tramlines. They will, to some extent, compensate for a difficult wind and help to carry any swirling scent away without alerting the fox.
I try to get in position an hour and a half before it gets dark. It may seem a little early but it is enough time for things to settle down if I disturb something when I am getting into position, and long enough for me to be able to stalk in, in case one of the adults is already there.
If there is too much going on in the immediate area, it might not put the fox off using the earth, but it could mean that the adults creep in under the cover of darkness, making it harder for you to catch up with them.
If this is the case, running a snare line may be the answer. A few well-placed snares could pick up the adults as they come in. It is important to set them far enough away from the earth so that you don’t disturb things when you are checking them and to set them where they won’t attract unwanted attention.
I have found on the tramlines a good place, especially when it is wet and the crop is up a bit. If the snare is anchored well, the amount of corn the fox will flatten while it is held will be minimal. The snares will need checking early in the morning — a snared fox standing in the middle of a cornfield is quite visible — and it is essential to check with the person farming the ground about their spray plans. The last thing you want is your snare being pushed into the ground by a tractor or, worse still, catching on something as it goes past.
Night-vision equipment has revolutionised fox control, but it comes at a price. A decent sight will cost you upwards of £1,500. Having said that, if you work it out over 10 or more years, it doesn’t seem quite so expensive. We have a night sight, but we tend to use it as a last resort. If sitting out isn’t working and nothing has gone into the snares, one of us will sit out over the earth with the sight and see what turns up.
The field of vision on most night sights is quite small. You don’t want to hurt your eyes looking through it for hours at a time or to use up all your battery before anything shows up, so it is a good idea to sit quietly and listen for giveaways — a fox barking, cubs chattering, curlews or lapwings making a noise, anything that is out of the ordinary or any sound that would alert you to a fox’s presence in daylight.
If you think you can hear something, have a quick peep through the sight to confirm it and wait for the fox to come into range. It won’t know you are there and it is better to wait for the perfect shot than to try giving it a squeak to bring it closer, only to see it disappear because it has been squeaked and shot at before. Generally, foxes will appear at an earth from the same direction year by year. That does give you a slight advantage — but, as with all things fox- related, there are no hard and fast rules and, as soon as you think you’ve got them sussed, they prove otherwise.