In his last article as he packs his bags to move to the USA Mick brings us one of his best articles.
The last few months have been hectic and the controlling of the local fox populations have had to take a back seat. We are moving to California so pretty soon my foxing days will be over. Slowly but surely the tools of my trade are being sold as I make way for a new era. I shall look forward to taking on the mighty wildlife in the old colony. This may be the last foxing tale I ever write so enjoy.
The farm drive that leads directly into the fields from a main road transforms my surroundings in just a hundred yards the busy A road is forgotten. Passing through the darkened farm into the first field the only illumination is from an old floodlight behind us, back amongst the hulking shapes of the barns. It casts oddly shaped shadows around us.
The field we enter is a hundred and twenty yards deep, in front of us at the opposite side is a railway embankment punctuated with arches leading into to more remote fields. On our last visit we left bait in this field and our mission for the evening was to re bait and just have a quick look around before going elsewhere. The Land Rover dies to order and the cloying silence closes in wrapping us in the cloak of night. The bait is offal and chicken carcasses provided by the local butcher. Nothing draws Charlie in like the aroma of rotting chicken. We alight the vehicle and make our way to the corner directly in front of us. There is a telegraph pole that is precisely a hundred yards from where the vehicle is parked. We will be putting a game camera over the bait to tag the visitors to the area, allowing us the luxury of turning up at the right time on the next visit.
The ground is sodden and a faint mist hangs above the ground as we retreat to the Land Rover, autumn is slowly dying and the temperatures drop evermore on each outing. We sit in silence save for the occasional noise as we sip on our coffees. Night vision has now reached its peak and I can see the embankment clearly in the withering moonlight. A faint rumble grows ever louder as a train comes into view, running from right to left. The light from the carriages spills out into the landscape. Tiny commuters framed by their windows slip by us on their way back to suburbia and the promise of a warm meal. The time has come for a look around so I leave the vehicle with my faithful Masterlight Supreme in my hand. My wingman stays and starts to scan his field. To the right of the vehicle a tall hedge bisects the two fields with a large gap at this end for tractor access into the next one. I walk twenty yards into the field where a tractor is parked on the edge and fire up the torch.
My technique for lamping is to put the focussed beam close to me on the ground allowing the softer light to spill out into the distance. I have been lamping with people who think they are lighting engineers for a disco and bemoan that they never see foxes. The soft ambient light is more than enough to see eyes and is less likely to spook our prey. Mainly nocturnal animals in rural environment do not see bright lights often so anything I can do to give me an edge is employed.
From where I stand to the opposite corner is four hundred yards and the field is eight and a half acres. The embankment runs the full length of this field too. In the far corner is a brick archway into another part of the farm. Keeping the lamp down I start to call softly, very softly. Again I have been out with people who will call as loud as they can as soon as they set foot or wheel into a field. If Charlie is close by they slink off never to be seen. I make a pass of the field with the torch but no eyes are forthcoming. I turn slowly to my left to leave the field and out of the corner of my eye something bright glints back. Something that was not there on the first pass of the lamp. The glint was well out from the fence at the bottom of the embankment. Perhaps just sixty yards away from me. I surmise it was on the way in to the call when I turned and it had caught me flat footed. I turn the lamp off and make my way gently back to the Land Rover in total silence to retrieve the rifle and my buddy.
We creep the few yards back into position. Charlie is still there but has retreated to the other side of the fence at the foot of the embankment. He sits still, blinking lazily in the edge of the beam. My .223 foxing rifle for the last few years has been recently sold so the rig is now an X Bolt .243 with 95gr lead tipped instead of 55gr ballistic tipped rounds. I make my way to the tractor while keeping the torch on him and lay the rifle across the bonnet. It sits as solid as a rock on the blue painted steel as I line up the scope with my predator friend. My wingman takes over the lamp and I settle myself down to take the shot.
As always my head clears and the only thing in the world is the shot itself. Posture, breathing, the feel of the stock in my hands. The eyes widen in distance as I crank up the zoom. Still he sits there confident and safe behind the foliage. My point of aim is clear of obstruction, as another train lights up the night sky in the distance the trigger pull ends and the round begins its short journey. The eyes disappear in a cloud of hot gas and recoil as my buddy calls a miss. The proof of this will be a walk of a hundred yards. We set off across the ploughed ground, stumbling along as our boots collect the sticky earth.
There he lies, a pristine specimen of Vulpes vulpes bereft of life, his confidence in the safety of his position having betrayed him. As the train rolls on above us the lights dance around the scene, the office workers oblivious to the dramas played out around them on their journeys in the dark.