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

Sporting Gun - - FOXING - Words Pa­trick Hook Pic­tures Pa­trick Hook, alamy, rEX/SHut­tEr­Stock

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.

Flat bat­ter­ies

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.

Long grass

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

Equip­ment tray

All of Pa­trick’s equip­ment is there for a rea­son and much of it is specif­i­cally there for disaster re­cov­ery

Long grass

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

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