Things that go wrong in the night
When shooting at night it is not always your kit than can fail and ruin your session, so be prepared and expect the unexpected
The propensity for things to go wrong when you’re operating in the dark is almost limitless, but it’s not always a kit failure that can mess your session up. A recent example of this was when I got called to a small farm where the lady owner had just started lambing. She’d called me in because she didn’t want to repeat the losses she’d experienced last year.
Expect the unexpected
In response to the request, three of us went over, and after assessing the layout we got ourselves nicely hidden in under a hedge at the top of a hill. This looked down onto the paddock where her ewes were, so I set the caller out, and a brief blast of rat squeaks brought a fox out of cover and towards us. It was almost in a shootable position when she shone her torch up the hill to see what all the noise was all about – she’d never heard a caller running before. Needless to say, the killer turned on its heels and ran. Unfortunately, her moment of thoughtlessness cost her dear, as she then suffered a string of lamb killings – we resolved the situation over the next week, but by then the damage had been done.
Another time, however, the fault was all mine – a different farmer had called to say that he’d had the tail ripped off one lamb, and that another that had been badly bitten. I drove over and dropped Paul, my shooting partner, at one end of the farm, while I drove down to the other where the lambing sheds were. Suspecting that the culprit might be approaching from a particular direction, I stopped a couple of hundred yards short of the buildings, and crept up to a gate for a sneaky look. Sure enough, there was a large fox coming up over the brow and heading straight for the nursery paddocks. I got the rifle up on the sticks and went to turn the NV on, only to find that it was already on – and as a result the batteries were flat. I had about 15 seconds before the fox made cover. The dead battery came out, a new one went in, and my quarry didn’t make it to the trees.
This is where being properly prepared can really make the difference – although the error was accidental, the solution wasn’t. As the result of painful experience, I’d set myself up to recover should a battery let me down. I therefore had a new one in a specific pocket, and to ensure that it didn’t short out on anything while it was there, I’d put a length of adhesive tape across one terminal. Underneath it – to remove the risk of any sticky residue causing contact problems, I’d placed a small
piece of plastic cut from a carrier bag. I’d folded the tape over to form a pull tab – thus, when I needed the battery in a hurry, I knew where it was, and didn’t need to take my gloves off to remove the tape. It also helps to memorise which way around your batteries go so that you don’t have to stop and think when seconds count!
In a similar vein, I also had two occasions in close succession when brain-fade had caused me to leave my caller switched on, leaving the batteries flat when I needed them. Fortunately, this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I like to have an immediate remedy to hand.
For me, this means having a spare set in with my kit – this is carried in a plastic vegetable tray that contains all the things I think I’ll need. Essentially, I put my NV spotter, thermal imager, caller and a few other bits and pieces in it, and just pick it up as I leave the house. That way, nothing important gets left behind. Having suffered from the above problem, I’ve changed my routine – now, when I get home, I make a point of opening up the caller and checking that it’s properly switched off.
For me, one of the most depressing feelings is when you can’t find the fox you know you just shot. Firstly, I want to be absolutely certain that I haven’t left a wounded animal to suffer. Secondly, I like to know what my quarry was – whether it was male, female, young, old, etc. This information helps me to build a picture of the local vulpine population, especially if a particular individual has been causing problems with livestock. One of the characteristics of summer, however, is long grass – and if you lose track of where your quarry fell, it can be really hard to find it again.
Unfortunately, the height of the sward tends to coincide with the appearance of the first cubs. Not only does this often make it nigh on impossible to see the target, it’s amazing just how efficiently wet vegetation can stop a bullet, too. A few nights ago, I quietly rolled the Land Rover to a halt at the top of a long incline, just above a cluster of coops holding a large number of organic chickens, and dismounted as covertly as I could. Sure enough – a quick scan with the thermal imager revealed a fox making its way up the far hedgeline. My sticks are carried on a pair of hooks that hang off the side of the Discovery’s roof, so they were easy to access, and my rifle was just inside the rear passenger door. In moments I was ready for the shot, but I struggled to see my foe as it passed between thick stands of grass.
Eventually, it presented in what appeared to be a decent position, so I took careful aim, and squeezed the trigger. What should have been a dead fox looked up at the sound of the bullet scything through the grass, and ran off. I simply hadn’t appreciated how much of it was in the way. When my opponent got halfway across the field, he stopped to look over his shoulder – a fatal mistake that he won’t repeat, for my second shot hit him hard, and down he went. It wasn’t the end of my troubles though – I couldn’t find him in the long grass, and due to the proximity of some lambs, I wasn’t willing to send my dog out to find it. Daylight can be a wonderful thing though – for when I went back in the morning, I walked straight up to the carcase!
The tape on the batteries prevents them from going flat
All of Patrick’s equipment is there for a reason and much of it is specifically there for disaster recovery
Behind this clump of grass is a shallow sheep trail – from this position, it looks completely empty
Finding your quarry But, move forward a couple of feet and there’s a dead fox waiting to be found
Temptation Lambing season can be a big draw for local foxes