Night Vision Diaries: Foxing on the Raith Estate Pt2
Graeme Kelly returns to the Raith Estate for the second round of hide & seek with some crafty foxes
If you are just joining me this month, let me explain. In the last issue (September 2016) I had been invited to the Raith Estate in Scotland to help sort out their fox problem. Despite me pulling out all the tricks in my bag the fox had gotten away twice before, so I tried to work out which way it could be coming in, so I could perhaps choose another spot where the wind was not so erratic.
This would make reading the wind a little easier. Just five minutes’ walk south on the estate was an old misused barn with a top loading bay on the side wall. This gave me a great vantage point as well as some really good cover from not only the fox but also any heavy weather that chose to show. I’d been there on a previous occasion and it had worked out pretty good for me. Once up the wall ladder and on the top floor, I noticed an old armchair had been positioned nicely at the end of the barn roof-space. A window at the loading bay entrance overlooked a freshly sewn field, which was bordered by a big wood. To me it looked very foxy and there was a good chance this that the fox would come in from this area.
I’ve shot from high seats, low seats but never sofa seats! I had to try my hardest not to fall asleep, especially since I could have been there for some time. Staying awake in the big comfy, warm armchair was a challenge in itself. With the thermal spotter and thermal weapons sight set up and a round up the spout, safety on, I began the waiting game, again! About 20 minutes later a roe doe came out of the wood and walked passed me, then stood in the middle of the field for at least 10 minutes but never lifted its head once. This told me that the wind was in my favour or the roe would have been away back into the woods, barking if it had winded me.
Every now and again I got out of the seat to lean out of the loading-bay entrance to scan way up the field to my right and left, because my view whilst sat down was limited. Then from nowhere, as I was checking one side, I turned around with the thermal spotter and saw the fox running from behind me, heading for the wood about 200 yards away. It was running directly away from me. Quickly and quietly I laid down to get a shot, which I had been waiting on for quite a while. The fox was running through the field away from me, so I shouted at it. Luckily for me, it stopped in its tracks; big mistake Mr Charles! As it stopped I got a perfect chest shot.
Let it be
As it was still early, I left it laying where it was shot to see if any more crossed the field. An hour or so had passed but there was nothing more to report apart from a fox barking from deep in the woods where the one I shot was heading towards no doubt. Could it have been the vixen shouting to the dog fox, waiting on the cubs’ supper, maybe? When I went to retrieve my quarry it became apparent my earlier thoughts were probably correct as the dog fox had a mouthful of what I think were blackbird chicks from a nest. It was more than likely going back to the den (earth) to feed the cubs and the vixen was shouting for him but thanks to me he never made it back home!
The following night I made my way back down to one of the estate houses where my friend and fellow shooter Mark lives. As usual, he was not ready for going out foxing, so Katrina (Mark’s other half) offered me a cuppa whilst waiting for him, but unfortunately I didn’t get the tea as his dogs in the outside kennels started barking. Mark knew by the sound of the bark, and previous experiences, that the dogs had winded a fox. We were out the door as quick as possible and as I setup my gun, Mark worked out wind direction and which way to go to catch up with the fox.
It was a west wind, so the chances were that the fox had walked into the field behind Mark’s kennels, and then straight through into the next field, so that’s where we went. Mark was walking in front, spotting with the thermal and I tucked myself behind him, carrying the rifle to keep us as narrow a target as possible. As we entered the field, Mark saw something disappear over a dip into the field. But it happened that quick that he did not have time to properly identify it, so we were caught wondering if it was a fox or a hare we had seen. We crept over to look down the dip. This is when Mark saw the fox on its way back up the hill towards us, but about 50 yards to the right, so I dropped down as quickly as I could and shot it before it moved.
It was one of those nights that when you look back to think about what happened, you realise there was a lot of luck involved, as well as field-craft, knowledge of the ground and good dog training. If they hadn’t barked, the fox would have gotten away. Lady luck can play a big part in foxing, even when you think you’ve got all bases covered, there’s always room for luck to help you out
The next night, Mark and I went for a general look around in my pickup with the thermal spotter, just to see if we could locate any foxes. If we saw one, and if it was positioned conveniently, we could get a shot from out of the pickup. If a shot wasn’t possible, we would at least have a time and location for getting it the next day. With foxes being creatures of habit we would almost certainly pick it up over the next few outings.
We saw a fox through the thermal spotter, so we got out of the pickup and followed it through a couple of fields before catching up with it. We laid down on the top of a hill to give us a vantage point and watched the fox mousing for 10 minutes or so. It then moved to the side of the field and jumped over the wall. At that point I thought we had lost it, but it reappeared back over the wall. This time it was coming straight for us on top of the hill. Looking through the thermal it was plain to see it was carrying something in its mouth. Mark shouted at it and it stopped roughly 100 yards away. I took the shot and got it. We walked down the hill to find it was a dog fox carrying a very large mole in its mouth, which is what we saw through the thermal.
When driving around using the thermal spotter you cannot see through glass, which can be a bit of a drawback! But the best way to get round this is to mount the spotter to your old retired roof lamp and feed the information back to a screen in your pickup so that you can see 360° and everyone can join in with the viewing - involving even the driver. There is a new thermal spotter out, which I am currently testing, which feeds the info to a screen in your cab and can record onto an SD Card too.
Where I’ve gained a lot of ground by using thermal over the old traditional lamping, I’ve also lost ground because there are some old keepers set in their ways regarding new technology. Even when they see the impact the thermal has on the fox numbers on the estates, they think it’s too boring. Which is where the idea of the screen comes in useful. As a shooter, you must remember that with thermal imaging technology on the market now, it’s a total game changer. Basically, if it’s out there, you will see it. The thermal imaging scope and handheld spotter work together as a team to eradicate foxes. Whereas the hunting lamp is now more suited to the sporting shooter, rather than professionals who have a job to do!
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