Everything is in place and you're good to go. But where do you locate your quarry? Patrick Hook gives some pointers for the foxing first-timer
If you’ve been following my series on how to add rifle shooting to your skill list, with the specific intention of controlling foxes, you should be ready to hit the field by now. You would have selected a gun that is appropriate for your needs, the optics are all nicely set up and you’re confident that you can hit what you aim at. Now is the time to find and shoot the first of what will hopefully be many foxes.
There are lots of different ways to go about this, including using a caller, putting bait down or ambushing your quarry. The first step is to identify an area where there are foxes. The local population density will vary depending on the amount of food available. In suburban Surrey, for instance, where some inhabitants put out bowls of food “for the wildlife” every night, a particular fox group may only hold a few acres of territory. In the Lake District, however, where a decent meal might be hard to come by, it could be several square miles.
Follow the food
My shooting partner and I follow the mantra “go where the food is”. That is never truer than when there are young lambs about. Every year we find that if you aren’t close enough, you’ll be unlikely to see anything. This is not just because the lambs themselves are tasty but because they also produce copious amounts of dung that is rich in milk proteins. And foxes love it.
The best thing is to think about what goes on in your locality at that time of year. Taking lambing as the example; in many areas, particularly hill farms, foxes will shadow the ewes they know are about to have “doubles”. The first will usually get delivered with no trouble but, as the second is being born, the fox will try to dash in and grab the firstborn while it is unguarded.
I’ve had calls from people who have said that while they are speaking to me they can see a fox sitting a few feet from an expectant ewe, waiting its chance. Consequently, we always start by checking on any nearby lambs.
Thermal imagers are a boon in this scenario, as if you are able to find a commanding view you can just sit back and watch over a relevant field. If a fox appears, it will show up clearly as its profile will be more distinct because it will be hotter. A sheep with a thick coat of wool is well insulated and, typically, only its head and legs will stand out.
If you are lucky enough to have ground that lets you drive around, you can cover a much bigger area. Where I live it’s very hilly, so getting up high is a must. In order to do this, I’ve constructed a roof platform on my Land Rover Discovery – within moments of stopping, I can scale the ladder and get the advantage of seeing from some three or four metres up. This allows me to see over hedges, into “dead ground” and so on.
Very occasionally I’ll shoot from up there, but mostly I use it to locate my quarry. Most of the time I go after foxes on foot because the ground is usually too wet to drive on in the winter and there is too much livestock about in the summer.
So think about where the foxes are likely to be, plan how you’re going to deal with them and prepare. From there on in it’s a mix of perseverance and luck.
Top tips for foxing
• Visit your ground in daylight and do what you can to make your life easy, such as trimming away any brambles around gate latches, lubricating the hinges and so on.
• While you’re doing your daylight recce, take some binoculars and a rangefinder with you. The landscape can look very different at night and it helps to take away the guesswork if you know just how far away things are. If there was a fox on the opposite hillside, for instance, would it be in range? This information can be really useful as foxes vary in size and it’s only too easy to misjudge how far away they are.
• Before you put bait down, find a spot that gives you a good viewing/shooting point. Make sure the wind isn’t likely to blow your scent across it. Some town foxes don’t care if humans are about, but most true country foxes are only too conscious of it. If you can sneak up easily for a look, you can put several baits down over a dispersed area and still keep an eye on all of them.
• If you have one or more problem foxes, you know roughly where they are likely to be, so putting down some bait will help. Anything edible will do and the smellier, the better. Roadkill of almost any kind is ideal — it’s free and works well. Cheap dog or cat food is effective, as is a tin of sardines nailed to a fencepost and allowed to slowly leak its oily contents.
• It’s always good to check on the age of the fox you’ve shot to understand more about the animals in your area. A boot back of the jaw will cause the mouth to open, allowing you to see the teeth. Very long canines and missing teeth indicate a veteran animal.
• It’s also a good idea to check the animal’s sex. Again, a careful nudge with a boot will expose the relevant part of the anatomy.
• I’m a stickler for finding any foxes I’ve shot. If they fall between some tall tussocks of culm grass, for example, it can make it exceptionally difficult to locate. Fortunately, the thermal spotter finds most of them easily enough — but if that doesn’t work, Rufus, my wonderful Korthals griffon, gets released from the truck and is usually on them in seconds.
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• Getting through gates quietly is one of the challenges for anyone shooting at night. The solution is to drive around in daylight armed with a pair of secateurs and prune away anything that is likely to snag you. A squirt of oil on the hinges doesn’t hurt either.