George and his mate Steve are in a field in Sussex hitting the stealth mode button. George has taken delivery of a new electric powered Polaris UTV and it will mean the foxes won’t know what’s gliding towards them, let alone what’s hit them.
“It is silent,” says George. “The only noise you make is what you are running on. Obviously it is a little bit noisier tonight because we are running on rape stubble. But I am sure that when you get on to wheat stubble and grass and then drilled corn later in the autumn, it is going to prove unbelievable.”
The dream team tonight is Steve on lamp and George behind the wheel and the rifle. The foxes on this bit of ground in Sussex need controlling to protect poults. For this kind of shooting George prefers lamping to night vision.
“This year is like a year I have never known before with foxes. Since the 1st July I have actually got 78 now, locally and there has hardly been any corn cut. We normally average between 100 and 130 a year on all of the shoots that I control and I cannot see it being under 200 this year”, says George.
George is forever the competitor and was disappointed to have dropped a shot recently – in other words “missed a fox” a few nights ago.
“I missed my first fox on Monday night and I dropped 67 on a bounce up to then. Then after I missed the first fox on Monday night, I then shot 11. So that is where we have got to 78. I think it bears out the fact that one you can get closer to the foxes and two you have got a perfect shot every time”, says George.
Once in position George fires up his faithful polystyrene and glass fox call combo and starts shattering the silence. He keeps it up for about 2 minutes and our first Charlie of the night appears. George directs Steve to lift the light from below on to our fox and down he goes. We don’t retrieve it immediately but slightly alter position… and a few minutes later out of an adjacent wood pops out fox number two. For this time of year George opts for a bigger bullet for his foxing.
“I actually at this time of the year go to a .243. I started shooting a .243 this year because I just feel with this rape stubble… you look at these big stalks and the little debris that is around it. You get some shards of rape like that it has only got to touch that and it breaks up. I just feel that a heavier bullet, my preferred choice of rifle is a .223 and I have shot 100’s of foxes with a .223 and had a lot of success, but I was losing one or two in rape stubble and I just felt the bullet was breaking up or touching something before it got there and consequently where it was touching something before it had just got there it was breaking up and giving me a miss. But the .243 has been really doing the job”, explains George.
They cross over a few fields to another vantage point – a few squeaks and a older vixen stops for too long and shes’s on the ground.
With three in the back in half an hour it’s looking promising – the next customer is out of sight but there’s no time to retrieve it quite yet. We spot another set of eyes has been spotted on the hill above us. Others might have given up earlier but George is a patient man and uses a mouth call to give the fox something to think about and to keep those eyes flashing in our direction. Quarter of an hour of cat and mouse and he takes the 280 yard shot.
“Ooh that was a beauty. Long way off,” says George.
First fox of the evening
Before we grab that one George feels there is still another to be had here.. Again a young cub reacts to the call and starts making it’s way through the stubble…… Fox number six.
“Sometimes at this time of year they squeak right up to you and other times they are just a bit wary. But we have got a lovely night for it. It is a dead still night. A fox will always on a windy night will always try to come up wind to you to get your scent. They will always go down wind. A fox will call to you quite often when he is coming and is a little bit wary. This time of year you get one or two cubs who are uneducated and they are easier to clear up”, says George.
Fox number five is also a young one
“If you ever actually ever look around here, around the fox. You will see that hence we were waiting for 15 minutes because the rape is actually short enough here that the fox became visible and if you actually look out further you can see where the taller rape is. Hence the reason I couldn’t get the bullet through it there, but in this patch here where the header was a bit lower, I was able to see it clearer on the bank and was able to kill it”, says George.
The Polaris is coping doing incredibly well – we’re charging around the farm in one wheel drive and the vibration free shooting position has meant foxes are dropping at every opportunity. It doesn’t even slip when the terrain is muddy. When we lie our eight foxes out – and there are all shapes and sizes.
“As you can see here you have got a cub there that is half grown, you have got a cub here which is three quarters grown and you have got a cub there that is a quarter grown. So you know there are cubs there from all differing ages, which can only lead me to think that they have probably had two litters, which is probably one of the reasons that we are shooting so many foxes. I certainly wouldn’t want to see the last fox gone that is for sure”, says George.
George is happy that he hasn’t dropped a shot and we’ve added 8 to his tally. He’s really impressed with the Polaris and he’s actually working alongside the company to make sure this piece of kit becomes a must have for any gamekeeper or pest controller.
Why shoot foxes?
The British red fox is widespread across the whole of mainland Britain and Ireland. The best estimate of the current British fox population is 240,000 adults in spring, to which a production of 425,000 cubs is added annually. The fox has no natural predator and for the population to remain stable, 425,000 foxes must therefore die each year.
Fox numbers need to be managed and controlled to prevent the predation of lambs, piglets reared outdoors, free range and domestic poultry. Foxes can also have a significant impact on vulnerable species of ground nesting birds such as black grouse, partridge, lapwing and curlew (Bealey, Green, Robson, Taylor & Winspear, 1999).
In order to protect such species while they are breeding, conservators and gamekeepers aim to control fox numbers, particularly from late winter to early summer. Foxes are also controlled around pheasant and partridge rearing and release pens in late summer and autumn. Overall, the direct cost to UK agriculture from fox predation has been estimated at £12 million annually (UK Government figures)