It was the front end of December, and we’d had one of the worst starts to winter for decades, the temperature had plummeted across the country as low as the minus twenties in some regions, Northumberland and the northern counties being badly hit, Scotland even more so, the transport systems had all been affected by the early downfall of snow, causing chaos for many. It fell around the 25th of November and pushed on into early December, as the snow eventually stopped, neigh on two weeks had passed, the temperatures stayed well below freezing, hardening the snow and making roads surfaces that were compacted even more dangerous.
At times like these, I can’t help but feel for the wildlife, the snow had covered the ground for two weeks, the hawthorn hedges and fallen branches stripped of their bark by the hungry rabbits, wood pigeons feeding on any available rape top’s protruding above the snows layer or plundering the hawthorn’s offerings to see them through, song birds, the smaller raptors, everything feels a hard winter.. Some will say it weeds out the weak and leaves the strong, but I can’t help but feel compassion for them during these harsh times, when only the strongest will survive natures hand.
I’d been under the weather for the last week, picking up some seasonal cold bug that everyone and there dog seemed to have got also! Along with the weather, I decided to stay indoors, after being kept in the confines of the house, far too long by my standards, I was chomping at the bit to get out. I left late afternoon with Sean and had a quick scan around a farm I control foxes on for a chicken farmer, I wouldn’t normally venture out with snowfall, not only does the crunch underfoot, alert everything within a square mile, the light reflected by the snow makes you stand out like a sore thumb to any potential quarry when lamping.. The ride out was more to just get out than anything else, on passing a railway line, a foxes glowing eyes were spotted, just behind some wooden rail fencing, unable to take a shot from the position, I progressed to the other side of the line and tried calling, waiting twenty minutes to no avail.. the conditions were too bad and access to the land poor, we decided to call it a day. I’d had my fresh air for the week. You may wonder of my conflicting statements about compassion for wildlife and I’m out trying to control foxes, the farm in question has 12,000 free range chickens and under these conditions, they succumb to hungry predators looking for an easy meal more than ever.
A line has to be drawn, when foxes become a problem…
Tuesday night came and a friend called asking if I wanted to check out some earths with a bitch he had on loan, and his young dog. We set off a little late in the day, due to the website being hacked and I’d spent four days getting everything backdated and secure again, hackers, they should be on the vermin list.. Anyway I was saying, we didn’t arrive at the first spot till dinner time, we made our way through the farm , down a track of virgin snow, leaving the vehicle parked alongside the wood, gypsy was taken out and the bellman and flint locator put on, shotguns removed from there slips and we headed off down the hedge, to check a nice four holed spot on the side of a stream, the guns were loaded with #1 mini magnum cartridges, and gypsy was entered, a couple of minutes passed and a red figure crept from the bottom side of the earth, were gypsy first entered, I raised the beretta and swung round to the right, bang! First shot missed, bang! Second shot connected and bowled the fox down the bank stone dead into the stream, gypsy followed running the scent, down into the stream to rag the fox.. At the range we were at, it’s pretty easy to miss a close fox slinking out, if the shot doesn’t have time to open up fully. We grabbed the fox and tried to settle gypsy down, she was hyped up by her vulpine encounter, we proceeded along the hedge line checking another small earth to no avail, we decided to head back to the land rover, myself keeping in front by a good distance to prevent gypsy jumping up and ragging the fox.
When back at the vehicle, we weighed the fox a good 18lb dog, with a fine winter plume. We headed off to another wood which would provide insulating cover under these cold conditions. Passing through the farm, the lane barely identifiable we reached the gate, opening and travelling further up the pasture land, even with mud terrains on the landie, a mild slope was inaccessible under the circumstances, so we travelled up as far as possible up the smallest gradient on the banking. We headed alongside a small wood, filled predominately with hawthorn, and dropped down to access the opposite side, the earth’s were on, we planned checking. Gypsy was placed in the first location this six hole earth had proved fruitful many times in the past, being a young dog, she is still learning the game and re-emerged after five minutes showing no real interest, we moved barely 20 yards and, she entered another earth a three hole affair, as we waited hungry wood pigeons were landing in the nearby hawthorn tree’s to eat the small fleshy red berries, this time of year the woods are devoid of foliage and we had some excellent fun dropping the woodies as they glided through and over the woods canopy… As I wandered further off get ting a better viewpoint through the trees, I heard a shot from Pete’s shotgun, a small vixen had bolted and barely got 3yds from the hole, before Pete dropped it with a chest shot, gypsy emerged and had a rag of her quarry, before we placed it up an adjacent tree to remove it from her sight, as we turned our backs, the little bitch was half way up the tree, trying to drag her prize back down. We broke her off and I headed back to the land rover, to put the fox out of sight … properly!
I grabbed some more cartridges, the flurry of pigeons had used up the limited quantity of number sixes I had in my pocket, on arriving Pete had placed fox nets on the earth, and gypsy had made her way back down, fifteen minutes had passed and a fox hit the bottom net, throwing it aside, on closer inspection, the net had frozen under the cold temperatures, impeding its pursing action, enabling the fox to cast it off, we both shook heads, furious as to our lack of alertness with the nets being in place. Gypsy had another run through, but showed no further interest, by this time it was getting late, the light fading fast, making way to a glorious red dusk, we made our way back through the wood and towards the vehicle, gypsy was off the lead and picked up a scent dropping into an old dug out rabbit warren, I’d made my way back in front of Pete whilst he waited armed with the semi-auto, another fox bolted, Pete being hesitant to pull the trigger in case it was gypsy, with the light and woodland shade, not helping identification, the fox scuttled through the wood as shot peppered its heels, making its escape to see another day…
An excellent days pest control considering the late start, a good 18lb dog fox and a fine vixen accounted for and some much needed work for gypsy, she proved to be a handy bitch and I’m sure there will be many more foxing tales to come..
“Two Unlucky, Two Lucky”. Good Hunting…..