FOXING: How night vision has changed harvest-time foxing
It’s one of the busiest times of year for fox shooters, yet since embracing night-vision technology Deano is finding his harvest story has taken a different direction
Harvest time is the busiest time of the year for all fox shooters, and because the harvest started so early this year it wasn’t getting dark until very late – about 10.25pm. This is not ideal when you are up and walking your dog at six in the morning before you go to work!
Like many fox shooters, I am not a gamekeeper doing this full-time, but even they are very busy on their rearing fields or in release pens right now, so late nights out lamping and sitting up is just the same – knackering. But now the nights are drawing in, it gets a lot easier to sit out.
Putting all that to one side, I love it: the chance to sit out on some stubble fields rather than smelly old farrowing fields, and there’s always plenty of local wildlife to watch. As it’s all been hidden since spring, watching the hares playing is always a favourite of mine, as well as the roe showing off their young for the first time (we don’t have any big woods here to see them in).
Also, with the hot weather in mid July, the roe rut started nice and promptly this year and it’s something I enjoy now – but that wasn’t always the case! When I think back to how busy I used to be when I was out with guests, stalking morning and night and preparing trophies, I remember how differently I felt then.
Harvest time is always the same for me: I am asking the farmer if they have seen any foxes come out when they’ve been cutting, or, if I am at home, I am sat watching them cut the last bit – with a gun virtually in my hand and at the ready!
My way of tackling foxes at this time of year is to go out at the weekends and stay out until ‘silly o’clock’, but it’s not just about what you shoot, it’s also about what you see. At the start it’s always a bit hard as foxes can just pop back into the standing crops, but all the time you are gathering more information on what you have on your ground.
With the knowledge I have built up from late-night recces, during the week I just tend to sit up, overlooking a place where I know a fox or a litter is. By now they are not cubs – in my eyes they are foxes – and with the night vision (NV) I can sit there until I get them, or my need for bed takes over.
This is the time of year when the younger ones are about; chances are they won’t have seen a lamp before, giving you a much better chance of success – so now’s the time to make the most of it. They will not be as jumpy and will respond much better to a squeak. I have also had some success at this time of year using my electronic fox call; I find the best call to use for cubs is the mouse call.
Right from the start of the harvest I have been shooting pigeons and rabbits to use for bait stations. (It’s so good to have my Lab, Saxon, back this year, picking the birds and rabbits up again, as last year I could not work him as he was very poorly after a barley seed got into his lung). I check the bait stations regularly and keep them going; this is not only good for seeing what’s around (especially if used in conjunction with a trail cam) but also for getting the foxes used to coming into a good, safe place from which to shoot them.
I keep this up, lamping and sitting up, until I start blanking or the partridges are released. After all, it’s because of the shoot that you need to put the time in; you want your ground to be as fox-free as it can be before the birds are released into the covers – giving them a chance to wise up a bit – but you don’t want to drive through them or keep spooking them with the light.
Once the birds are in, this is when I start sitting up at places where the bait has been disappearing, or where I (or someone I know) has seen or smelled one. There is no harm in just sitting there waiting, or keeping to the field edge using the thermal spotter then taking the shot with the NV.
A good tip is to make sure you know what you are driving on. The shoot is important to the famer, but so are next year’s crops and you won’t be thanked for driving all over the place. Even sticking to the tramlines when it’s wet will not go down well – these farmers can be bad-tempered buggers if crossed!
The beginning of harvest has been bittersweet for me this year. All the first crops that were cut were in the pigs’ area, so I had to be on them as much as I could. Also, I can see the foxes there, when all the crops are hiding them everywhere else. But once the rest of the crops started coming off, I discovered a very different scenario from the one I have been used to. I know I keep banging on about NV, but this is my first full year with it, and because I was able to sit there overlooking small areas I was baiting, or the small farrowing areas, I was able to keep on top of the numbers a bit more. All but two of the foxes were shot well after dark and I wouldn’t have got them with a daytime scope or lamp. I shot both the dogs and vixens, so when the crops were first cut I raced out, only to see very few foxes and no young in that area at all. But, as always, they soon move in, and once it was all cut I was in business.
Has NV changed your fox shooting? We’d like to hear from you. Email rebecca.green@ archant.co.uk with your stories.