All I want for Christmas…
With the temperatures dropping and the foxing activity heating up, the longer winter nights are providing some good results – although there are a couple of slippery targets that have proven a little trickier to catch up with.
Two friends of mine took on keepering jobs on neighbouring estates last season, and between them have managed to do a good job of tidying up what was a pretty sizeable fox population. I know the ground well as I used to be a member of the old syndicate many years ago, and even back then the ground was always renowned for harbouring a disproportionately large population of vulpines. The main reason for this were the massive stands of brambles and thick woodland, which provided impenetrable protection for the foxes and fantastic ambush and hunting opportunities with the pheasant-filled coverts.
The fact we are all friends works out well; we’re able to call on each other to deal with any problems or just to go out and enjoy a good night’s lamping. So when one of the guys called the other afternoon asking if I could come and sit out for the last hour of light with him, I happily obliged.
We pulled up on the ground he wanted to target: a long, L-shaped, heavily wooded valley with a 50m-wide grass strip running its entire length. The plan was for me to tuck up here until just after dark, when he would collect me after he had sat up on the other side of the woodland, meaning that we had the most likely spots covered. He explained that there were a couple of very skitty, lamp shy Charlies in residence and that the only chance we had was to hope they appeared in the valley before the impending gloom made it impossible for a shot.
The evening’s proceedings were not going to be made any easier by the fact that I still have to use crutches and a wheelchair after a recent hip op. This meant that the only way I could sit and wait was to position myself in the chair, tucked in a hedge, with my rifle set up on my quad sticks.
I was relieved that the evening was proving to be a pleasant one, and we were being treated to a fantastic autumnal spectacle, with the weather managing to stay dry and not soak us to the bone. As the woods started to come to life with the cacophony of pheasants readying themselves to go to roost, I was aware that Charlie needed to make his curtain call rapidly.
Scanning the long valley, the only things moving were the odd rabbit and pheasant and the frantic bustle of the squirrels as they collected the bounty of fallen sweet chestnuts. It’s very easy to nod off in these situations, when you are sitting in quiet contemplation, and find yourself rudely awoken by your not-so-happy friend… Though luckily, this time I was roused before that happened, as the pheasants’ roosting calls abruptly altered to panic. With the telltale burst of frantic wing beats, I knew that a fox must have just taken a lunge into a group of birds a few hundred yards into the wood.
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I hoped he had not managed to bag one, as it would mean he would probably spend the only remaining minutes of light consuming his supper in the stands of brambles, and not give me the chance of a sighting or a shot.
With the light fading and the optics no longer managing to penetrate the darkness, it was now only a matter of sitting and waiting to be collected. As I had nothing to lose I flicked on my lamp to see if anything else had joined us in the valley. Amazingly there was our Charlie, bold as brass, sitting about 400 yards away and now looking straight at me. Expecting him to bolt for cover I paused for a moment to let him make the first move. Surprisingly he stayed in position, allowing me to get the caller out of my pocket to see if I could encourage him closer. Even though I could have dialled the range in to the Zeiss 6-24x56, I was not happy taking a shot at that range off sticks, rather than my preferred prone position, especially as I did not want to ruin this golden opportunity.
With the fox making a few steps towards me I started questioning what my keeper friend was waffling on about – lamp shy?! With the excitement intensifying and the fox closing the gap to a more manageable shot range, I heard my friend’s truck approaching the valley from behind me. At this point it was apparent that the fox was not lamp shy but truck shy, as he took great offence at this sound and bolted straight back into the woods.
Unable to hide my frustration at the arrival of my friend, after giving him an earful of abuse I explained to him that he was premature in his arrival (as confirmed by his wife). After the abuse I then explained that the fox was interestingly afraid of the truck, not the lamp. The only conclusion we could come to was that a fox had been missed previously in that area when some of the guys had been driving round with shotguns shooting rabbits off the back of a pickup. With that experience fresh in my mind and with Christmas approaching, it got me thinking about what additional toys I could put on my gift list to assist in tricky situations – especially as I am sure the ladies in our lives would like a few pointers!
First on my wish list were a couple of bits that I just couldn’t wait for, so I went and got them myself as I felt I could put them to good use straight away with our truck-shy Charlie. I wanted a scope-mountable lamp with elevation adjustment to allow me to illuminate my target at longer ranges whilst sitting up in ambush and the new Tracer lamp range fitted the bill (www.tracerpower.com).
The other thing on my wish list for this season is a ghillie suit for both daytime calling and sitting out waiting, as you never know where Charlie will appear from.
And if Father Christmas is feeling particularly generous, a good electronic caller would not go amiss; preferably one of the newer rages that allows you to download and update new calls with a remote control with a range of 100 yards or more (like the FoxPro Firestorm, above).
With my Christmas list complete I wish you all the best for the festive season. Happy foxing! n