Shoot­ing a round

Field and Game - - FAIRWAY FOX DRIVE - By Trevor Stow.

Dur­ing au­tumn the Bairns­dale Golf Club called to say that the course was be­ing in­un­dated by foxes. The club is a few kilo­me­tres out of town and is bordered by a large ru­ral prop­erty that runs sheep and cat­tle.

The ter­rain on this prop­erty is mostly flat ex­cept for a long and rugged gully that runs for about 500 m. Other than the gully, the farm is mostly flat. The sandy soil is typ­i­cal of East Gipp­s­land and its red gum plains. It grows pas­tures but it is also ex­cel­lent for grow­ing bracken ferns.

Now, I ask all hunters read­ing this, what hap­pens when you have plenty of cover mixed with a pop­u­la­tion of sheep and lambs? Yes, you are right; you have a great en­vi­ron­ment for foxes to live in.

The golf club is a con­trast to the farm as it has lush couch fair­ways and greens that are well wa­tered and fer­tilised. Dur­ing au­tumn this year, an un­usual event oc­curred: the club fer­tilised the fair­ways with a new brand of fer­tiliser and the re­sult was a mas­sive pop­u­la­tion of black bee­tles ap­pear­ing on top of the fair­ways.

Foxes love lamb. How­ever, foxes also don’t mind a change of diet oc­ca­sion­ally, es­pe­cially when it is sit­u­ated next door to home and easy to ac­cess. Just walk in af­ter dark and help your­self. The prob­lem for the golf club was that they were leav­ing scats on the fair­ways and the greens — not just a few, a truck­load.

I fig­ured this would be an easy prob­lem to solve: get my mate Norm to­gether with a spot­light and a .17 cal­i­bre ri­fle and get rid of these foxes. The prob­lem is that we tried this plan on three sep­a­rate nights and only saw three foxes. Of those three, we shot one and did not get a shot at the other two. The build-up of scats con­tin­ued, maybe even in­creased, so a change of plan was needed.

In Bairns­dale, we are lucky to have a group of el­derly Field & Game mem­bers who go fox shoot­ing on a weekly ba­sis for about six months of the year. Their av­er­age age is about 80 and they have been do­ing this for decades. Terry Whe­lan, ably as­sisted by John Nash and David Young, leads the group, known as The Iron Cir­cle. The group con­sists of about 15 mem­bers but the num­bers vary de­pend­ing on com­mit­ments, health is­sues, weather and some­times when they need to do a job for their long­suf­fer­ing wives. I have been priv­i­leged to be in­vited along on a few oc­ca­sions as a ‘ju­nior’ mem­ber (I’m only in my 60s).

Terry soon had the troops or­gan­ised and we drove to the prop­erty ar­riv­ing at about 10 am. Af­ter sur­vey­ing the land­scape, John and David de­cided we should drive a large area of bracken fern. We dis­patched shoot­ers to var­i­ous sites sur­round­ing the ferns whilst the driv­ers, ac­com­pa­nied by their dogs, bashed through the ferns, yelling, blow­ing whis­tles and even howl­ing in an ef­fort to flush the foxes.

I had taken up a spot on the south­ern cor­ner of the ferns when a large dog fox­trot­ted out of the cover to­wards me. He was only about 20 m away and pro­vided me with a very easy shot. Soon af­ter other shots rang out and two more foxes were down and an­other, one was lost in the heavy cover. Three foxes on the first drive, not bad!

We then moved to the long, deep gully. This gully is quite close to the par 5, 13th hole of Bairns­dale Golf Club. This fair­way had been the re­cip­i­ent of much of the scats over the past weeks. As we had 10 peo­ple in the party, the shoot­ers spread out along the gully. The driv­ers started at the top of the gully with three ea­ger fox ter­ri­ers, a labrador and a cou­ple of Mur­ray River curly re­triev­ers. It was not long be­fore foxes started to ap­pear. They were sighted mostly in the bot­tom of the gully, run­ning ahead of the dogs. We ac­counted for four foxes on this drive, which brought our to­tal up to a re­spectable seven for the morn­ing.

As it was now lunch, we picked a nice spot abut­ting the 13th fair­way, be­hind some trees, out of the wind, to en­joy sand­wiches and a cuppa. The golf club cu­ra­tor spot­ted us and came over to see how we were do­ing. He was im­pressed with the num­bers of foxes and grate­ful to be get­ting rid of the pests.

Fol­low­ing lunch, we did a fi­nal drive through bracken fern, again close to the 13th. The first lot of ferns pro­duced noth­ing so we walked over to a small patch nearby and sur­rounded it. Al­most im­me­di­ately, a fox broke from the south side of the ferns, head­ing for the op­po­site end. Terry let fly and nicked him but he kept go­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, for him, he ran straight into Trevor who dis­patched him with some BBS.

That was the end of the golf club drive. As we drove out of the prop­erty, we no­ticed a re­cently killed lamb, a fox be­ing the prime sus­pect. Lamb prices are quite high now and I am sure that eight foxes liv­ing on a farm would cost the farmer thou­sands of dol­lars over a pe­riod of a year or so. Not only was the Bairns­dale Golf Club grate­ful to the Iron Cir­cle but the farmer was also de­lighted with the out­come. As a footnote, the Iron Cir­cle fin­ished their sea­son with 218 fox scalps and plans for a hearty Chris­mas bar­be­cue.

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