Tim Weston highlights what you need to know about this method for controlling foxes
Probably the most popular and most successful way to control foxes is lamping.
How lamping foxes has changed
Lamping used to be a specialist job undertaken by gamekeepers and a dedicated few. It required lots of work during the summer months when long hours of daylight meant shooting could not start until well after 9pm and finished in the small hours. And in winter the long, cold nights could be uncomfortable standing on the back of a pickup truck or sitting astride an ATV, so it was often left to just a handful of dedicated people who needed to keep fox numbers in check.
But in recent times, lamping has turned into a discipline all of its own. It has a following of hardy shooters, lampers and drivers, all of whom take fox control seriously and are effective at what they do.
1. When to go out lamping
Foxes are generally nocturnal, so to find them with a lamp is very effective. Generally speaking, it is better to allow full darkness to envelop the countryside before you even think about leaving the yard. Foxes see excellently at night; the way their eyes work means that they are able to reflect what little light there is at night to the iris, which, in turn, means that they can pick up about six or seven times more than we can in even the darkest nights.
Foxes will sleep at some point during the night, often in the smaller hours around midnight to 3am. This, of course, is just anecdotal — very little is actually known about the movements and hunting habits of the fox. But, as a rule, if you are out lamping then you might catch up with a fox; if you are tucked up sound asleep in bed, you certainly will not.
2. Know the ground
Night shooting has some risks associated with it, but with planning and common sense almost all dangers can be reduced to a more than acceptable level. Forward planning for any shooting trip can make it more successful, but even the best laid plans can be changed.
You should know the ground that you are going to lamp as well as you know your own house; this is very important, because things look different at night and distances might be deceptive. Backstops, routes, buildings, footpaths and so on should all be known to you before you go lamping. A good tip for helping to judge distances at night on arable fields is to know the width of the farm tramlines, which can give you an accurate distance to your intended target. At night this can be especially important; count the tramlines and you have your distance to the fox roughly in metres.
Make sure that other estate or farm workers/users know that you are going out lamping. This is usually best done by telling the farm manager, keeper or owner — a simple text message is usually good enough, but do seek an acknowledgement. Doing this can help with keeping everybody onside and means people might be less likely to disrupt what you are doing by accident. Some police forces like lampers to inform them when they will be out, but there is no legal requirement to do this — it is entirely up to you.
3. Check the weather
Weather conditions can affect your lamping. Don’t just consider the immediate conditions — look at the previous days’ or weeks’ weather to decide if you will be able to get out. Heavy rain can make the ground slippery and muddy, making it too dangerous to drive around in the dark. Light rain, or rain from a couple of days ago, might mean that you will tear up the tramlines in the fields and make the farmer unhappy. In some cases that could mean the end of being allowed to go lamping on his or her land.
Alternatively, you could still go lamping on foot or on an ATV, but both these options also have to be thought through in wet and muddy conditions. Accidents are more common in difficult terrain and poor weather.
If it is raining, it is tempting to stay indoors. In fact, that might be the better option, because the lamp light will struggle to cut through the raindrops, making it difficult to see any foxes. These animals do hunt in the rain, but you see far more on a nicer night!
The best overall conditions seem to be dark and windy nights. The wind shouldn’t be a gale but just enough to mask the sound of the vehicle engine and the tyres running over stubble or tracks. If you can work your lamping trips around the moon cycle or heavy cloud cover that is ideal; the darker the night, the better.
4. Choose a vehicle
Most lamping is done from either inside, or from the back of, a 4×4 truck, UTV or ATV — all have their merits.
An ATV can access certain ground easier than a bigger vehicle and causes far less damage because they have low ground impact. The disadvantage is that ATVs are single-person tools, so the lamping and shooting has to be done by one person. This is fine if you have a fox that doesn’t move once you get the rifle ready to shoot. But having to move a lamp yourself, aim, hold steady and check for distance and a safe backstop is quite difficult.
Even if you are lamping from a vehicle, wind direction is more important than most people think, especially if you are standing on the back of a pickup. A person’s scent will carry from the back of a truck to the surrounding countryside. The engine noise should also be considered. When you pick up a set of eyes and squeak, often the fox will try to quarter around you to get downwind. This is because foxes hunt with their ears, eyes and noses, especially the older dogs and vixens, so always consider this when you are choosing which direction to go around a field or up or down a track.
Also the driver will need to consider how they are going to manoeuvre the vehicle if a fox is spotted by the lamper. Getting the truck in the correct position will help make the shooter comfortable and, therefore, more accurate.
Communication is also important. The lamp operator often sees the glint of the fox’s eye before anybody else, and this is when a team who are used to each other can operate well. There are lots of different ways that I have seen people communicate, from turning off lamps, to red and green lights and switches fitted on the dashboard and roof of the truck. Basically, whatever works for you is best, but make sure you all know what you are talking about before you find your first fox. You don’t want the lamp operator saying something no one understands. Keep it simple, keep it short.
5. Call them in
Being able to produce a consistent and convincing squeak for a fox is vital when you are out lamping, especially during the late winter or early spring when there are only adult foxes about. Being able to imitate a hare in distress or a mouse and knowing which one to use is a real skill. If you are watching a fox and it is clearly mousing in the long grass, then trying to squeak him in with a hare call might not work. If you are lamping with others, make sure that only one of you starts to squeak. If the driver, lamper and shooter all start to suck at their hands together the fox will run for cover.
As well as lamps, there are now a huge number of commercially available electric calls on the market. Most are excellent and produce realistic sounds that would fool most foxes. However, I have found that these are best deployed for the occasions when you want to ambush the fox. If you are good at producing a squeak from your hand on the vehicle, that is often the most convenient way.