Foxes are a big part of the UK’s fauna. However, they certainly aren’t a man’s best friend – brutal killers and carriers of many diseases, they cause quite a bit of harm. To find out everything about foxes, the issues they cause, and the ways to deal with them, we asked our brand ambassador and professional hunter from the UK, Phil Taylor, to share his knowledge. We learned a lot from his article, and we hope you will find it just as curious, if not beneficial.
The red fox and its ability to adapt to a variety of available food sources has made it a nuisance in rural areas as well as in our urban cities. It is hard to establish how many foxes we have exactly, but estimated figures say it could be as many as 300,000 – or more – in the UK.
The last few years appear to have been great breeding seasons with the weather being kind and an average litter size of 3-4 cubs. Although they stay underground for the first few weeks, the cubs are soon on solid food and can often be seen playing around the den entrance at an early age while both the dog and the vixen are out hunting to feed the hungry mouths. It’s also not unusual for there to be more than one vixen helping to feed the cubs. By the time the cubs are 6-7 months old, they have grown into the size of an adult fox, and by 9 months, they will be moving on to find their own territories. The young vixens will usually be breeding before they are a year old.
Once they leave their parents and find their own territories, the mature cubs may well become a problem to gamekeepers, farmers, and owners of small holdings alike. For farmers, lambing is always problematic with lots of vulnerable lambs in the fields, and as hard as these farmers work, it’s simply not possible to be on watch 24/7.
It is a similar story for gamekeepers, poultry and chicken farmers and anyone keeping domestic fowl. If a fox manages to get into a chicken shed, it can decimate the entire stock in one evening and cause a hell of a mess. Instead of just killing one chicken and taking it away to eat, it will typically kill many more – this is referred to as “surplus killing”. A fox will often be caught returning to the crime scene later to pick up some more of its earlier kills.
Gamekeepers have a year-round job trying to control foxes. It’s important to take care of the birds when they are ready to go out into the release pens, but you must also provide protection for all the wild ground-nesting birds, which include game birds of all varieties.
If a fox gets into a release pen, it can cause devastation by killing many birds in one sitting. It takes a significant amount of time and effort by the keepers to get to the point where they are able to release birds into their pens. They purchase day-old chicks or poults, sometimes even eggs that require hatching, so bringing them up is a lot of hard work!
There is, of course, a financial impact of fox predation. In addition to the keepers’ labour costs, there are more immediate financial losses, a hell of a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into rearing these birds. Overall, one fox can lead to thousands of pounds worth of lost revenue.
Another problem for the countryside is the release of foxes. I have heard of gamekeepers on various estates believing they have regular releases of foxes. I’m sure people involved with such a practice are certain to think releasing them means they’re doing the right thing at heart. But again, this can cause a whole lot of pain for these estates and farms where this is taking place, especially at the time when birds are being put into pens. Not to mention the dangers for the wild songbirds and ground-nesting birds.
Urban foxes in our cities are also becoming very common these days. With the throw-away lifestyle a lot of people lead now, there is always plenty of food for them to scavenge on the streets. The urban fox is becoming more accustomed to the presence of humans, and we’re now starting to see how bold they are becoming, with cubs born in urban areas under sheds, decking, rotten tree stumps or disused outbuildings. It almost seems that they have been brought up alongside humans and have lost the fear they once instinctively had. But that does them no favours. It is common to see a lot of these urban foxes with mange which is caused by a highly infectious mite that burrows and lives under their skin. While foxes can recover from this, it can also be fatal to many. Sadly, this can also be passed onto domestic pets.
Controlling urban foxes comes with its own headaches. Some pest controllers choose to use traps, and others choose to shoot them. It mostly depends on the backdrop of the given area. Of course, safety is the most important consideration, along with respect for any neighbours whose opinions may differ from ours.
There are lots of methods for rural fox control here in the UK. One was hunting, but 2004 saw the introduction of the 2004 Hunting Act, and this means that foxes are no longer hunted on horseback with packs of hounds. However, a fox can still be flushed from cover with a maximum of 2 dogs to be shot by standing guns.
A lot of gamekeepers and farmers still also snare foxes as well as shoot them. The snaring of a fox comes with a lot of legislation to make sure the methods used are legal and humane. The height, type, size, free running, set stick, and anchor must all comply with the regulations, and, most importantly, they should be checked at least once a day. If a fox is caught, it should be dispatched by rifle or shotgun.
The shooting of foxes takes a variety of forms, with many different methods and approaches employed to do the job. Of course, there are plenty of tools available. When speaking of shotguns and rifles, the most popular calibres for foxing seem to be .17hmr, .204, .223, 22-250 and .243, but there are plenty of others that will also do the job very well.
Methods have changed a lot in recent years – in the old days, you went out with your mate, and he had the lamp and a large, heavy battery pack. Now, a lot of people are using night or thermal vision. The introduction and continual development of this equipment is amazing. Night and thermal vision have definitely revolutionised the fox shooting world. There is now so much choice out there – from dedicated night vision or thermal scopes to add-on devices which attach to the front of your riflescope. This now means foxing is no longer a two- or even a three-man job.
The same goes for spotting foxes – most people now seem to have a handheld thermal monocular spotter or a set of thermal binoculars. The days when you used to rely on getting the ping of a set of eyes in the lamp are long gone. With all the modern technology and all of the modern devices on the market, you would think that the fox population would be in decline, but every year there seems to be the same number around, if not more.
One of the most popular methods of luring a fox is sitting out and trying to call it. The idea is to get the fox to come into a shootable position and a comfortable distance to shoot. But using an electronic caller can be a work of art in itself. A lot of people ask what calls are used, and a good rule of thumb is to try and mimic what wildlife you have on your ground – there is no point playing pheasant distress if you don’t have any of them on your land.
The fox has an incredible sense of smell, so obviously, the perfect wind direction is blowing into your face so that your scent is not drifting out on the wind. It’s the same rule of thumb for your caller – put it downwind from you. Always remember not to play your caller too loud. I like to start off on the quieter side with the caller because if you have a fox close by, you don’t want to spook it. If you have no luck after 5-7 minutes, turn it off and leave it quiet for 10 minutes, then try again. Now you can try increasing the volume a little, and after a few tries with the same call, if you have no luck, then you then could try a different call.
Electronic callers will not work every time you go out, and it’s always worth carrying a variety of mouth calls in your pocket as well. Sometimes, you will be out on foot, carrying a rifle over your shoulder, shooting sticks in one hand and a thermal spotter in the other – you’ll have no spare hands left to carry a large caller! That’s where mouth calls come in handy. I find the cream-coloured Faulhaber hen call works great around harvest time, and when the grass fields are cut, the black reed call is also used to create a lot of different sounds, so it covers more than one base. The Tenterfield call produces a fantastic raspy sound which can travel a long distance, so it is preferred by a lot of people.
My personal choice of gear is a Tikka semi-custom .204, fed with 39gr ammunition which is home loaded; the rifle is topped with my trusty Pulsar Digex C50.
Another method of luring a fox is using bait stations, especially for that wily fox. A method that usually works is putting cat or dog food smeared on the ground and a few dog biscuits well spread around, so it keeps them in one place for a longer time while searching for their food. This works well for the IR (infrared) shy foxes as it focuses on getting their dinner rather than the red glow off the IR. You can also use a 940 illuminator which doesn’t give off the red glow.
Bait tubes/pipes work very well, and they’re very easy to make. All you need is a piece of drainage pipe. Bury the pipe into the ground a good foot down, cut some holes in the pipe and bingo, your bait station is set up. Using a nice strong wooden stake nearby, install a trail camera on it facing your bait pipe, and you will soon see what’s coming to visit and at what times of the day or night. Others use simple methods like a metal stake knocked well into the ground, and then you can tie rabbits or pigeons on it with some bailer twine or rope. These days you even get trail cameras that will send pictures straight to your mobile phone and save you having to go and disturb the land to take SD cards out and check them, which again is a large benefit to the farmers, gamekeepers and pest controllers who already work long hours.
In my view, thermal has been a game changer for the pest control industry over the last few years. Pulsar has done a great job over the last few years with new products and also upgrades to stalwarts like the Helion 2 XP50 PRO and Digex C50.
My favoured approach and my personal choice when it comes to foxing on the estates and farms I shoot on is to either sit quietly in my fox box or drive around checking in gateways. With thermal spotters, you can check a lot of ground very quickly.
That said, it can sometimes be more productive to have a more mobile approach. It’s a good idea to have options available – for example, a fox box is a welcome retreat if the weather is not being so kind! Either way, always take time to get to know your land and what works best on that land.
My personal choice of gear is a Tikka semi-custom .204, fed with 39gr ammunition which is home loaded; the rifle is topped with my trusty Pulsar Digex C50. Another combination I use is my .243 Fierce Ct rival carbon topped with my Thermion 2 LRF XP50 Pro and fed with 70 gr home loads. I spot all my foxes with a set of Pulsar Accolade binoculars or my Helion 2 XP50 Pro.
In my view, thermal has been a game changer for the pest control industry over the last few years, a trend which is set to continue with better products being made available to more people. Pulsar has done a great job over the last few years with new products and also upgrades to stalwarts like the Helion and Digex. I’m looking forward to what’s to come in the future from this innovative company!
Before purchasing any night or thermal vision device, please make sure you adhere to the local legislation and only use it when it is allowed. Our ambassadors come from various countries and travel a lot, which allows them to test different devices. We do not encourage or support the illegal use of our devices in any events. If you wish to learn more about export and sales restriction policy, please visit the following link: Export and Sales Restriction Policy.