While most hunters are hanging up their shotguns and rifles as the hunting season draws to a close, some are counting down the days to the 1st of June when, certain circumstances permitting, they will have ample opportunity to indulge in the wonderful solo hunting experience of fox stalking in summer.
In times gone by, only government game wardens were allowed to shoot Vulpes vulpes in the close season; nowadays, hunters may apply to the prefecture for authorisation.
Why hunting fox?
Not only is this an enjoyable practice, there are at least two well-known albeit disputed reasons why foxes, with no natural predators in this part of the world but an uncanny ability to adapt, need to be controlled and constantly monitored, and these cannot be repeated often enough:
- first of all, they are in a league of their own when it comes to destroying the broods and clutches of small game and protected species;
- the second reason is health-related – they are a major carrier of disease and zoonosis such as rabies and alveolar hydatid disease.
Fox stalking is, therefore, a highly enjoyable and highly useful hunting activity.
Of course, being “enjoyable” certainly does not make it “easy” or “effortless”. As everyone knows, our russet friend can easily counter artful human ingenuity with razor-sharp sensory powers: its sense of smell, of course, and its equally acute hearing and vision.
How to equip for the fox stalking?
This makes it important to set out with the right equipment:
- clothing that blends into the background at this time of year and which can block human scent (your worst enemy in this situation!),
- suitable footwear (able to minimise noise),
- a face mask or hat to complete the camouflage and protect against the onslaught of mosquitoes (there is nothing worse than being devoured by these pests when you’re supposed to be standing still! I know whereof I speak…).
- Another potential game-changer is a call. There are some excellent models around, most of which imitate the cry of an animal in distress, such as a bird that has fallen from its nest, an injured rabbit, etc.
Current regulations authorise fox shooting using a smoothbore or rifled gun.
- It goes without saying that a size 1 or 2 shot is highly recommended for a smoothbore, as foxes can be a lot tougher than you think.
- But truth be told, a good, scoped bolt-action rifle like the A-Bolt 3 in 243 Win topped with the K4 from Kite Optics seems a more promising combination. It has a good chance of being more effective when fired from a rest at a reasonable distance (less than 100 metres or 200 metres depending on the calibre), although it is better not to take the shot rather than risk only causing a wound, which is quite possible when stalking.
When is the right time to hunt fox?
Although it is possible to happen upon a fox on just about any type of terrain (stubble fields, meadows, glades, etc) that offers good visibility and enough natural features (trees, coppices, etc) to stalk in complete discretion, there is one extremely auspicious situation that is well known to exponents of this type of hunt: the days that follow crop cutting…
This is the ideal time when the grass has been freshly cut and the ground is lined with windrows prior to baling.
This is when foxes – ever the opportunists! – will appear like clockwork to “clean up”, i.e. feed on rodents and other animals killed during mowing, or just pounce on field mice that are now deprived of cover. This is a godsend for hunters, although they shouldn’t think their quarry is as good as in the bag!
What can be the obstacles?
The first obstacle (or opportunity, depending on your point of view!) is always the wind. You need to be aware of it all the time if you want to avoid setbacks. A hunter needs to adapt and move with the changing wind, even when it is only light: an obvious precaution, but one which needs to be kept in mind at all times, otherwise the fox will end up getting wind of your “intentions” and disappear into thin air before he even sees you. Always remember that a fox “sees” with its nose. It’s up to us to make the wind work in our favour…
The natural light and the noise
Next, is natural light: sunlight. The shadow cast by the sun at your back can give you away in an instant, especially if you’re moving.
You have to take care never to make any sudden movements, just as you have to be aware of the silence, the sounds, and even the birds in the vicinity. Crows, magpies and especially jays are quick to sound the alarm. Make no mistake: the fox won’t need telling twice!
When to shoot?
It bears repeating that fox stalking is not a simple affair – but that is what makes it so appealing. The actual shot should be the culmination of careful study. It is better to shoot the quarry when it is stood still; but a fox doesn’t stop moving for long when it’s mousing or on the prowl. This can leave a very short window of opportunity to set up the gun rest cane or tripod and build up to the shot!
But what a thrill, what happiness when you manage to stalk up to Vulpes vulpes, the terror of the henhouse that is capable of taking any risk when it has mouths to feed – including prowling for poultry around houses in the middle of the day, something I have witnessed many times!
Some nice memories
In any event, fox stalking in summer is also a chance to witness some of the picturesque displays that nature has to offer at this exceptional time of year.
I remember relishing the sight of a fox as it stalked a hare, catlike… We both left empty-handed that day. My quarry ended up getting wind of my plans and the hare became aware that there was something untoward in the air…
Another time, I stumbled upon seven or eight wild boar piglets gambolling like deer among rows of cut grass; far away was a fox, frozen to the spot. But when the sow, that I hadn’t seen but which must have caught my scent on the wind, let out a groan to signal the end of playtime, all the little ones disappeared into thin air, as did mister Tod. Such moments are also part of the pleasure of summer stalking…
Do you take part in pre-season fox shooting? Tell us your views and anecdotes…