Fox hunting with a button whistle

Adrian Kenney

Keen fox hunters these days are inundated with various callers, whistles and electronic sound devices. In the Australian outdoors you can hear any number of torturous tunes being squawked, chirped and whistled to the confused ears and puzzled eyes of foxes.

Like others, I too have been tempted into parting with hundreds of dollars for that electronic caller which emits amplified sound that will crack a glass. At times you may have that caller cranked up to full volume. On other occasions you’ll have that red coat coming into range and the caller falls silent (low battery) causing him to pause, unsure.

What makes things worse is when that fox has spotted your movement and is on its way to the next shire. Only a hunter can know the frustration that accompanies such failure. Oh, for when things were simple and we used a bit of tin with a hole through the middle – the old button whistle. A whistle that can be purchased for the costly sum of $4.

After losing my FoxPro caller, I was forced back to two old faithful calls – the button whistle and predator call. I’ve never had any luck with the Tenterfield type fox whistle due to my inability to use it. But after several hunts without the electronic device I was again reminded of the simple pleasure of calling foxes with a whistle.


The pros and cons of the button whistle

The first and most obvious benefit of this little whistle is its small size and light weight, especially when you compare it to some of the modern electronic callers we carry. A lanyard around your neck and the whistle’s hanging ready to be lifted to your lips should you stumble upon a fox.

With an electronic caller for example I carried it in my daypack, meaning on sighting an unexpected fox I’d have to unshoulder my pack and remove the caller. All of which wastes time and increases movement and the risk of being spotted.

It is often said that the biggest drawback of the whistle is its lack of volume, especially on those days when the wind causes the pine trees to hum their own haunting tune. You can blow until you’re blue in the face with the wind wafting the sound back behind you. Although a negative in such conditions I find the softer sound is often beneficial on days with less wind, in that it allows you to move to various key calling positions without blasting volume across the entire area in one hit.

In addition, during November in particular when the cubs are small and starting to venture out with the vixen on hunts, it can be difficult to encourage such youngsters to leave the security of their daytime cover by themselves. But when you set up say 50 yards from such cover they can be enticed at a more early age to the familiar sounds of a squealing rabbit close by. After all, for pest control, if you can take ’em young why wait for them to grow older and more proficient at killing wildlife and livestock?


Gone hunting

Clicking the door shut on the vehicle and clunking a round into the chamber of the bolt-action .17HMR, I started off down the hill into the midday warmth of March. Into the gentle breeze I eased, nearer to the gully of blackberry clumps that I hoped would hold a bedded fox.

Quietly I settled into position with a background of cover to hide my form. With the shooting sticks in place, I raised that silver button to my lips and squealed into the blackberry gully. A minute or so passed and I tried again. A blackbird burst into flight with an alarming shriek. Any hunter will tell you that a flurry of birds when calling foxes is a good sign of an approaching red coat. I hunched down over the shooting sticks, ready and waiting. Her head appeared first above the rise just up from the gully as I shuffled slightly for position. In no hurry, she ambled up the hill in my general direction. A squeak off my lips and she stopped. With the cross-hairs squared on her chest, the rimfire cracked and the impacting bullet thudded home in reply. As if struck by lightning she dropped to the ground as the button whistle squealed out for another. But it wasn’t to be so I collected my prize and returned to the vehicle. After a quick photo for the landowner I headed off to the next property.

The vehicle came to a stop and the wind direction was tested. After combining that with the location of bedded roos spread across the hills, an approach to possible fox cover was planned. The drought-stricken land was bare with only the gully bottoms holding the contrasting cover of green blackberries and clumps of tussocks – ideal fox country. Despite my wishful eyes nothing showed except for the odd rabbit that ran from cover to cover.

My final chance for this property was down at the creek where despite it being choked with cover, I’d had limited success over the years. Settling in on a rise with a 180-degree view I knew I had numerous areas where a fox could appear and that would mean movement on my part to take a shot. If a fox sees you move when it is already looking in your direction, it’s gone. Of course, that’s how it happened. At the end of the 180-degree arc I was watching over, the fox leapt from the creek up onto the rise and on seeing my head turn, it leapt straight back into cover. Then, surprisingly it came back. This time I was ready and with a “thwack” the .17HMR had its second fox for the day.

At the next property a horde of furry grasshoppers were bedded right above the best and thickest patch of berries where I’ve taken plenty of foxes in the past. Without any option I headed out in a big loop across the 60 acres, stopping to whistle in familiar spots without luck. I approached that big patch of blackberries with the wind on my back and a stampede of roos flowing across the landscape.

There was absolutely no chance of success but with the vehicle only 100 yards away I sat down in the open not even bothering to look for a backdrop of cover with the wind on my back. In a casual manner I gave the button whistle a burst and was astounded to have a deep red dog fox come tearing down the opposite side of the gully towards me.

Completely surprised I rushed to shuffle into a shooting position causing the red dog to stop in the gully floor with a back foot stretched forward and his head held low – staring straight at me. As my movement had taken place when he was running, he was unsure what had caught his eye. The cross-hairs were dancing around and as I battled to steady them the rifle cracked with the gunshot. He crumpled without a twitch.

Amazed from what just happened I went down to find the reason for such an emphatic kill – the projectile had gone straight down his mouth, splitting his tongue. That fox either had no sense of smell and hearing or was simply suicidal.

The next area was a series of joining properties straddling numerous gullies with countless jungles of blackberries spread throughout. I ambled down the hill past the horses that momentarily followed before stopping. Wood ducks grew uneasy on my approach towards their shallow dam before bursting into a flurry of wing beats and calls. Spooking the wood ducks didn’t worry me so much as they would also fret if I’d been an approaching fox. Therefore, when I started whistling from the base of a nearby tree it wouldn’t seem out of place. Bracken fern grasped this gully in a choking hold and several foxes had been dragged from it to various calls in the past. The wind was far from perfect to hunt but as the property is narrow (about 100 yards wide) I had few alternatives but to try.

Down to the big dam in the deep gully I strolled. Sitting on the dam bank I could see 50 yards or so down the gully below the wall while also covering the opposite gully side. The tricky part was again having several possible approaches for incoming foxes. This can result in lost opportunities if they see you first. In such situations the minimal movement of lifting a button whistle slowly to your lips can be beneficial compared to the more substantial movement of the predator call and the need to put it down after calling each time and ready the rifle again.

After several hours of traipsing the hills I made my way up the steep hillside to reach the next calling position at the head of a big gully containing bracken and blackberries. At last everything was perfect as I sat quietly down in front of a blackberry bush to mask my human shape. The gentle wind fanned my red overheated face as the shooting sticks were spread and rimfire readied upon them. A couple of minutes passed as I settled, ready for accurate shooting. Less than a minute from the first squeals and he was on his way from a feeder gully on the opposite face. He was following a significant game trail which aided in the prediction of his approach and he also needed to cross the gully where he’d be out of sight for a minute allowing the chance to manoeuvre for shooting. Better still, he was limping badly and moving slowly. Laboriously he limped down the hill as I blew a few calls to entice him onward. I actually felt sorry as he was clearly struggling. Across the gully and out of sight he went before ascending the slope below and stopping to regain his bearings on the rabbit he knew was there somewhere. He crumpled out of view as the sound of the shot cracked in the gully – his discomfort ended. Half carrying and half dragging the light-coloured yellow fox, I made my way down the hill back to the big gully.

There was one last chance at the top of the gully just below my vehicle. An absolute jungle of blackberries provided excellent cover in the undulating gully head. After resting on a rise for a few minutes to settle and prepare, the little whistle was raised to my flustered face. Numerous minutes passed without a sight or sound of movement. About to give up, a nice deep red fox came out of the berries in a low, crouching run. He ran quickly and stopped, close to the ground coming in for the kill. His eyes were cold and calculating, a predator on the prowl for sure. Briefly he dipped out of view. The scope had been cranked down a few numbers in preparation ‑ and there he was. Only the top half of his deep red body was visible above the rise with those cold, yellow eyes staring straight through me. The trigger pressure grew in unison with the tension of the moment – thwack! Running up I quickly gave him a finisher and the day’s hunt was over.

With the vehicle only 100 yards above, I slung the rifle over my shoulders and with a fox dragging behind in each hand I fought my way up the last of the hill through blackberries that raked at me with a vengeance. Tired but pleased with the day’s hunt, a photo was taken before scalping the foxes and carefully disposing of their smelly carcasses. Though at this time of the day I would have probably given them a run for their money in that regard.

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