Essex farmer Robert Bucknell is the doyen of fox shooting. Robert has been using night-vision devices for more than 30 years, long before the 1990-91 Gulf War brought such items to the public attention.
Robert’s farm is peppered with high seats and vantage points of various homespun designs. One of his favourites is a tower made by stacking old tractor tyres to a height from 6ft to 8ft. A plank laid across inside provides a seat, allowing his head and shoulders to stick out above the top tyre. Robert will settle into a vantage point with his rifle ready, then use the thermal viewer to scan the fields around. He enjoys watching the other wildlife as much as he enjoys the fox shooting.
More usually, a fox will come trotting by in search of a meal, the thermal viewer giving Robert plenty of warning so he can ready his AR15-based .223 rifle with its digital night sight. If necessary, he may use a gentle squeak to draw the fox in or encourage it to turn and present a shot. But he can remain silent throughout, never showing a visible light that could alert his quarry. When he is in a high seat and with a favourable wind, it means the fox never has any opportunity to detect a threat: first and foremost, this is predator control. This is one of many methods that Robert uses, but it is rapidly proving one of the most effective — particularly at dealing with the notorious tricky foxes that have had a narrow escape from shooters with lamps and callers.
Robert has been using his thermal viewer for nearly six months, but feels that he is learning all the time. “The picture from thermal imaging is very different from what you’d see with tubed or digital night vision, which is different again from what you get with the naked eye in lamplight or daylight,” he argues. “With thermal you get blobs of heat, without the outline to help you identify what you’re looking at. It can be hard to tell a fox from a hare, for instance. You need to know wildlife behaviour, so you can tell what it is by the way it moves.”
Robert expects that thermal sights will become commonplace, just as digital night sights have become de rigueur for fox shooters now that prices have fallen as low as £399 for the latest Yukon Photon XT 4.6x42S. So fox shooting methods are about to take another leap, with thermal imaging giving the shooter even more of an edge. The remarkable thing is that, with all this technology ranged against it, the fox seems just as plentiful and destructive as ever.