Give me frost!
PUBLISHED: 17:04 12 February 2013 | UPDATED: 17:04 12 February 2013
Inspired by a chilly Highland adventure, Roy is hoping for some frost back home, but instead ends up making the best of a very soggy situation...
On arriving at our cottage I was not disappointed. Greeted with solid frozen ground underfoot and the promise of a dusting of snow, life was idyllic. Not concerning myself with the usual pursuit of Charlies, I was quite happy indulging myself watching my eagles enjoy the updrafts and winds on the mountains. Even though I have been hunting with my oldest goldie for the last 17 seasons, I never tire of watching him cut through the clouds, stooping down the mountainside catching blue hares.
After a fantastic couple of days the weather started to turn. Gale force winds howled through the corries and we were well and truly grounded. The wind was accompanied by sharp, stinging, eye-watering shards of sleet, so I was quite happy to be nestled next to the fire. After spending so many years up in the hills, the changing weather comes as no surprise. One thing I can never get used to, though, is the ensuing cabin fever that sets in after the first couple of non-flying days. Luckily on the second day my boredom was lifted, when the friend we were staying with called me through to the kitchen to take a look at “these nutters”. His words, not mine.
Pulling up on the field below the cottage was a collection of 4x4s. Obviously some sort of shooting party! Thinking it was a brave bunch of souls to be going pheasant shooting with winds gusting to 40 miles an hour, I decided to sit and watch some high-speed pheasants test the mettle of the group. However, as the Guns started surrounding the large plantation that covered the entire side of the hill that towered above the cottage, it became apparent that pheasants were not the intended target, as instead of taking position in the surrounding field they were tucking themselves against the trees.
With my curiosity suitably stirred I decided to venture out to see what was to unfold. After some time I caught sight of movement on the far side of the plantation. I expected to see a spaniel or lab bimbling through the undergrowth, but instead a pack of fine looking hounds came into view, scurrying up and down the hill.
Another hour passed without a shot and the hounds completed the search – they had unfortunately drawn a blank. At this point I took the opportunity to go and have a chat with the dedicated bunch that had been standing motionless for the last couple of hours in these inclement conditions, waiting for the chance to bowl over a fleeing fox.
It turns out the group were attending one of the regular meets put on by the Atholl and Breadalbane fox control society. The hardy team is made up of local sheep farmers and sporting Guns and the pack flushes over 200 foxes per season to Guns on some of the most beautiful but tough ground imaginable.
It really did highlight the financial implications that a burgeoning population of foxes can have on a highland community. I also witnessed the keepers on the other side of the glen keeping 24-hour vigil over an earth, after tracks had been seen in the fresh snow – it took them two days to account for their target in order to protect their grouse stocks. All of which makes it quite obvious that they take the issue of foxes very seriously up there.
The weather improved for the remainder of our stay and we enjoyed some fantastic sport. Nonetheless, I was keen to return home in the vain hope that Kent may now be covered with a hard frost, making for some hungry foxes and some good shooting. Unfortunately it was not to be, with the heavens opening the minute we arrived back after completing the 11-hour drive. Unloading the trailer was a rather wet affair.
Visiting a few of my foxing grounds confirmed that we were not going to be able to drive on any field for fear of getting bogged down and causing serious damage to the ground. As the foxes were still very present, I thought it would be a good idea to make the most of the ghillie suit and spend a few hours on shanks’ pony rather than in the comfort of my truck.
This idea provided some very interesting results. The lack of snow or frost and the balmy night time temperatures meant the foxes are definitely not feeling the hunger pangs that would normally have them tripping up in a desperate attempt to reach the sounds of a rabbit’s last gasp.
Instead, the majority have been silently creeping close to within 30 yards and taking a cautious glimpse. With the benefit of the added concealment my suit offers, I have been trying to push the boundaries and see what results I can achieve – so far a couple of foxes have proved to be good tutors. One vixen only made herself visible to me when I caught site of the underside of her jaw as she peered through the scrub just 30 yards from me, trying to establish the whereabouts of the screeching animal. Rather than shoot I kept calling occasionally for another ten minutes to gauge her reaction. As she was already sitting comfortably, it was obvious she wanted to assess the situation before making her move. I even managed to switch to another softer call which failed to shift her bum from the spot. Instead she just waited, curiously glancing towards me. This left me to wonder how many times I have been investigated by cautious foxes in the past, not witnessing their stealthy approach, only to be assessed and found wanting.
The other notable call was on one of my very best stands, with a large expanse of bramble just off a footpath into an open wood. This time I decided to lay down about 40 yards in front of the brambles. After about three minutes of calling I picked up the unmistakable red flash emerging directly in front of me and coming in at a good trot. It was when he got to eight yards in front of my nose that my nerve gave way and we concluded our meeting.
The success rate has been very low in comparison to colder years – it has, on average, taken five or six stands to achieve a good result. However, it has proven to be some of the most interesting daytime foxing I have done for years, so there is always a plus side to be found.