As Tough As Fox

The wind had dropped and the breeze was a steady touch from the west and even though the temperature was an unusual 9°C there was enough chill in the air for the world to tell you we were at the heart of Winter.

The stars looked upon me between the odd cloud mysteriously floating past and an unusual feeling passed over me as I sat scanning the fields of this Highland farm.

This property has an unforgiving problem with foxes, it seems to be a highway between the city of Inverness and the ancient moors that look upon it. Nights are never normal in this particular area, the ghosts of my ancestors still walk among the moss and the gorse and your skin always feels the tension of battle, and for the last year and a half it has been a battle of wits between myself and an old dog fox.

A year past March I was approached by the land owner of this farmland and asked if I could help out with a fox problem his tenant farmer has during the lambing. I was advised that this problem on previous years was substantial so I met with the Tenant to find out what the script was.

It was already half way through the lambing season when I received the request to take over the problem and the tenant had already lost 20 lambs and the problem was escalating, so I started work right away.

For me Lambing is a crazy time of year between all the farms I do pest control on. When it comes to pest control I am obsessed to a fault and a problem fox or area means no sleep until it’s sorted.

For me it is ALL OUT WAR.

One of the first 9 foxes I took on this property Rifle : .270 Browning Abolt

From the first night I saw the extent of the problem, everywhere I looked there were foxes, I had counted 11 at least on separate occasions and that was a problem I just could not live with.

First night I shot two foxes and this seemed to be the theme for the coming weeks averaging 2 a week and by the end of April I was now up to 9 foxes and there was a significance reduction in lamb losses.

There was one thing I noticed these foxes were not so much lamp shy but more call shy, which told me who was doing it before was calling these in and missing using night vision (possibly).

My persecution carried on through the summer and now dropping at least 1 a week, but, there was one I just could not get.

His flash of red eyes in the lamp was unforgettable. His dark shadow haunted the grounds like a phantom wandering among his prey and night after night he stalked between the sheep who’s lambs he mercilessly dispatched. Often I would catch sight of his silhouette wandering among the sheep taunting me with one flash of his eyes and then disappear fast into the night.

Night after night I would watch him, his routes were meticulous, it was like he knew how to stay safe by running along the hedges of the houses that surround the property or alongside the main roads that make a natural boundary. Distance is always a problem on this ground and this one fox knew how to use it to his advantage and he was fast, very fast.

This was his terrain.

Days went to weeks and weeks went to months, new foxes would come in and each one was taken, all under the ever watchful eye of this old dog.

I had seen him so many times now that I knew exactly what he looked like, I watched his movement using thermal and night vision as well as in the lamp and it was hard to work out how I was going to get him safely.

For each battle I won by taking fox after fox I still felt I was losing the war and this old general seemed to win on every occasion.

Foe to Friend

Over time I turned my attention away from this old dog and he became more of an expected sight and I guess company over the winter when out in those fields. Periods of long cold nights made me feel sorry for him I guess and although I was still knocking back those on offer I had come to the conclusion that if I was going to get a chance at him I had to just watch him and get to know him and in time he became a type of companion in a way even though he was still the enemy, respect from me was definitely there he had definitely deserved the up-most respect.

Second Lambing

The harsh cold of the winter was turning to Spring and come the first week of March the Lambing had begun, the weather was still harsh and bitterly cold with snow, although not lying, still present in the air with the heavy draw of a cold hell that the Arctic can throw at the Highlands of Scotland.

Lambing for me started brilliant, none of my farms were losing and I felt really good about everything as the hard work was paying off, however, this was short lived.

Early one morning I get the phone call I was dreading, the killing spree at the problem ground had started with one lamb missing, I was straight on the case.

That night I took a young vixen but who was with her? our friend the old dog.

I sat in high seats, I lay in the snow and waited, I used all sorts of tools in my arsenal from Lasers to Night vision but getting close to this old mutt was very difficult.

Night after Night I chased him from field to field, morning after morning I was trying to predict his movement and wait in ambush, but each time I got close he was just too quick.

Even though I was not getting this lad I had only lost 4 Lambs all Lambing, which was a massive improvement from the years before.

dressed for the ocassion

Over the summer months’ things were slow until August when some terrible wet and windy weather brought a family of foxes into the area.

The old dog fox was still sticking to the boundaries while these young newbies were prancing out into the open. On one occasion I saw 3 altogether working a field after small birds and before long they were very easy to draw in and dispatch off taking all three over two days.

This fox was Taken with .22lr and Nightvison Yukon Photon, spotted in the lamp

A while went buy and in the middle of mating season I thought I would try the caller again, never had good results on this property with ANY calls. Using an app on my phone connected to a little Bluetooth speaker I was armed for the occasion.

Around 11pm I was scanning with the thermal (Pulsar Quantum XQ30 Lite) and I seen movement that was distinctly fox-like upon the top boundary. I wasn’t sure if it was my “friend” or not but it definitely screamed out fox to me. Using the vixen mating call I blasted the sound through my little Bluetooth that I had placed on a fence post 20 meters away from me and watched to see if there was any reaction.

To my surprise there was.

Watching through the thermal I could see the fox turn immediately and make his way towards me almost bee-line like. I was standing next to a gate and the wind was in my face and the rain was dripping down over the skip of my cap and onto my glasses making little droplets appear in my vision. Watching for a minute or two and doing 3 short blasts of the call every couple of minutes I watched the fox come closer and closer albeit cautiously.

The fox was now within 300 yards and my heart was racing (for some reason I get an unusual rush of adrenaline I get from foxing that I do not get with shooting deer) my thoughts were finally this was my chance to get this guy and it had been a long time coming.

I switched from my thermal and turned on the Yukon Photon 6.5×50 XT and the tracer 400 IR on the side and started tracking the fox through the rifle scope that the .243 was sporting. another blast of the vixen call and the fox was sitting at a fence line that I knew was 195yrds away so I decided to go for it.

Balancing on top of the galvanized farm gate that was the entrance to the 100 acre field I took a breath and steadied my breathing and balance, I could hear the blood pumping in my ears as I watched the eyes of the fox intently gazing at me, the rain now trickling fast down the back of my neck and my breath causing the water on my specs to steam up slightly I cleared my mind, one more blast from the vixen call and it’s head perked up showing a clear target to the chest and I gently squeezed the trigger of the Browning Abolt 2 sending the 100gr prohunter round down the field and within a fraction of a second I saw the dog drop instantly to the ground.

A feeling of delight passed right through me, my heart was racing and the now howling wind and hammering rain came back into focus after the period of silence from my brain and my senses shutting off while taking the shot.

I had finally got him! or had I?

I walked slowly down the field scanning with the thermal and torch alike with the rifle still loaded (in case he was still alive) slung over my shoulder with a sense of proud achievement going through my head.

I walked straight to the white glow from the thermal that indicated something lying in the ground and there lying in the long grass was the fox with a prominent impact to the chest.

Graciously it lay there in peace with its fox like cheeky grin and its wet soft red coat glistening in the lamp, but there was something not right, this was not my dog fox, this was not my old dog that I had been after, on inspection more closely this was a young dog with beautiful full red coat with prominent jet black peaked ears and sparkling white sharp teeth that saw no age at all.

Dam I thought, picked up the youngster and walked back to the truck scanning with the Thermal as I went. Although disappointed I had a grin to myself and thought “old bugger”.

Fox taken using Browning .243 and Yukon Photon

After getting this young fox I decided to go look over a property on another farm not far away and decided I would come back to this point before heading out of town to my deer grounds for first light.

Really thought this was him.

After a couple of hours of wandering the other farms I returned to the problem grounds and sure enough thoughts were confirmed there was the old dog walking the fence line of one of the houses on his usual route. Me being me I thought let’s try the same tactics that I tried earlier in the evening so I fired up the vixen call but the old bugger was not interested and just disappeared into the wood after a half hour scan about I decided to leave it and go stalking.

It had been a good year so far and although it was steady through October other things took precedence over the foxing and pest control, I was away for a week in Tennessee to compete in the K&M GapGrind ProAm Precision rifle competition and when I returned deer was in full swing so although still taking the odd fox it was not a priority.

Over this period and all through November again things were steady between foxing and deer it was good and every second night or so I saw the old dog doing his usual routes.

Wet weather turned to heavy snow over the early weeks of December and a blast of cold made things difficult and visibility poor and on occasion dangerous so routines were limited. The coming days though saw a sharp increase in temperature going from -10 to +10 in hours giving me an opportunity to get out although limiting where I could go with the truck so I took the quad.

The wind had dropped and the breeze was a steady touch from the west and even though the temperature was an unusual 9°C there was enough chill in the air for the world to tell you we were at the heart of Winter.

The stars looked upon me between the odd cloud mysteriously floating past and an unusual feeling passed over me as I sat scanning the fields, nothing was happening and although I had the feeling something was moving I wasn’t picking any signs of fox behaviour in the fields.

I decided to get the gear ready and unload the quad to take a better look in the fields.

Proceeding through the fields, one hand steering and working the throttle and one hand scanning the grounds with my hand ranger XML lamp I saw a quick flash of eyes running from one field to the next, I had seen him there before and it was a clear sign it was my old dog.

Losing him in the wooded area I proceeded to try get in front of him to the back field passing the houses that he normally runs along.

OH THE DRAMA!

When I got to the back field the lady in the adjacent house came out and started shouting at me, as you can imagine I was unhappy, I disclosed who I was and told her what I was doing. As I was using the back of my hand to squeak while scanning with the lamp she complained “If you’re going to shoot something at-least put it out of its misery” she must have thought my squeaking was an animal I wounded so I informed her that it was me making that noise and I mentioned there was a fox in the fields.

Just at that point a set of eyes appeared from the thick grass 200yrds away at the edge of the field, obviously hearing us speaking had made the old boy curious, lamp in hand I leant against a falling tree and put my shooting bag down (Mrs made me it) and places the .270 on top of it and shone towards the eyes in the grass.

The lady 100 or so yards behind me shouts informing me she is letting her dogs out (not because of me but just because she wanted her dogs out in her garden). I said “OK”and steadied myself against the tree.

Looking through my Swarovski Habicht 3-12×50 scope I could see clearly what the eyes were, it was him, IT WAS HIM!!!!!

My heart was nearly in my throat, I had completely shut out the drama of dogs barking and the woman muttering in her garden behind me, I don’t know what was different but he was intent on my odd squeak of me kissing the air loudly, maybe it was the squeak along with all the shouting and the dogs barking that confused him or made him curious, one hand on the lamp the other wrapped around the grip of the Tikka .270 rifle with mud dripping of the Stalon W145 moderator after being on the grips of the front of the quad.

Steadying my breathing and no movement in the scope I sent the 130gr SST bullet at 2900fps at the diamond of white on the chest of the old dog, Thoomp!!!!!!!

Out of the darkness came a voice ” Did you get it ???” my reply “YERP”.

After my apologies to the woman I went and retrieved the fox.

YES!!!! it was him, and he was big. Probably one of the biggest foxes I have ever shot.

He was soaked to the skin, his fur looked black and there was clear age about him but he was healthy, he had definitely been eating well.

Heavy to carry he filled the back rack of the quad, I carried him back to the truck to place on the fence next to the vixen I had taken earlier in the evening.

Commiserations and Tribute

What prompted me to tell this story is the old fox, I think I am actually going to miss him.

He was majestic in his movements and to me that’s what hunting is all about.

I know many who read this will think it hypocritical of me talking in such a way over a fox that I myself shot, but, I am telling this story as a tribute to that old fox. He and all the other foxes I have taken throughout the years as well as every other animal I have shot has my up most respect.

Killing is the downside of my job, the hunt is what gets my adrenaline up and this type of hunting is not always easy, in fact as you can see it was a journey that I guess ended in a way I was not happy with.

In the end it was his curiosity of life that got him, it was his nosiness if you may that lead to his demise and I am sure there is a moral there.

I know one thing though and that is over the years he has killed a lot of lambs on this property, although it has to be said not all the kills can be attributed to him.

The saying goes in foxing “You only need to be lucky once, He needs to be lucky all the time” and that definitely rings true on this occasion.

Let’s see what Lambing brings this year.

David Tulloch

Qualified full time Stalker as well as avid Pest Controller

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