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

Sporting Shooter - - CONTENTS - WITH DEAN HAR­RI­SON

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.

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