Leon Wright draws on years of experience to down wily predators
As the old 4×4 ute trundled through the thick stubble paddock, covey after covey of quail exploded from almost beneath the front wheels, a pleasing sight not just to us but to Missy, my Curly-coated Retriever, who was almost beside herself on the back seat. As the arc of the spotlight swept over the far corner of the paddock the beam picked up the eyes of a fox, then it was gone. Dismissing it as ‘that one we’ve been trying to get for ages’ we continued searching for a more co-operative target.
By the time summer’s over we’ve taken care of most of the foxes but in practically every big paddock we operate in there’s normally at least one survivor. It’s usually an old fox that’s been through it all before, one who knows all the tricks, but there’s another trick we had up our sleeve and I was going to revert to it the following morning.
There’s a small window of opportunity to outwit these cunning creatures and that’s the couple of hours just on first light when you can catch them sneaking home across a paddock, though it wasn’t all easy going. A flat-shooting rifle was definitely the firearm of choice, as sometimes the ranges can stretch out to around 300m so good gear is essential.
For this type of hunting I favour the 22.250 and have complete faith in the cartridge. My present rifle is a Tikka T3 and to bring out the full potential a good scope is necessary. I have a Leupold 4-12-50 variable fitted and am confident this combination will drop any fox out to 300m, preferably closer, but you never know when hunting over stubble paddocks. I also wear complete camo gear down to gloves and mask and find that when wearing this a fox may see you, but if you keep movement to a minimum they have trouble working out what you are.
One cunning fox operates around a dam with a wildlife corridor full of kangaroo grass running around it. A number of times we’d put it up but it always managed to give us the slip, so I decided to do something about it. Early morning found me sitting by the fence on top of a small hillock with a splendid view across the stubble to the bordering wildlife corridor.
I sat and watched the day emerge from the dawn, keeping an eye out for the fox sneaking home, but after half-an-hour thought I’d give the predator call a try. With no cover available I sat down in the stubble, rested the 22.250 on my shooting sticks and went to work with the call. Surprise, surprise the fox popped out of the wildlife corridor and was on to me straight away. Thanks to the camo gear it couldn’t make me out and with the predator call behind my raised knees I let out a couple of low pleading wails, which did the trick. The fox started approaching cautiously then thought better of the situation and propped, trying to work out what was going on.
By now it was well within range of the 22.250 and after slowly sliding the rifle on to the shooting sticks, I touched the shot off. Hit square in the chest the fox collapsed and on examining it I quickly realised the 22.250 is not the calibre to use if you’re after pelts. This was definitely the one I’d been after and that gave me a pleasing sense of achievement.
A couple of mornings later I was out after another old fox which had also been giving us the run-around. It was a somewhat similar scenario, a stubble paddock running down to a dam and wildlife corridor but this time I had a tree to sit in front of. The first wails of the predator call produced instant results, not from a fox but a hare which bolted straight in. At about 20m it propped, gave me a good hard look then headed back into the scrub.
All in all that inquisitive hare came hopping around five times in answer to my predator call. I’d have tipped it over and taken it home to feed the dogs but was keen to collar the old fox I knew worked this area. Then with the hare almost running over the top of it the fox appeared, giving me the chance to send off a steadied shot which bowled the redcoat over.
A week or so later with my son-in-law Robert, we were off to an early start after yet another fox which had eluded all our spotlighting efforts. Wildlife corridors are havens for ferals and while I knew of this one’s general routine, I also realised we’d only have one crack at it.
Robert would be doing the shooting and after we’d quietly slipped into the paddock I had a look around with the binoculars. Although it was still early morning and a little dark, we decided to head for a tree halfway out in the stubble and spotted movement further out. It was the fox heading home.
We squatted down and while Robert slipped a round into the action of the 22.250 and settled in behind the shooting sticks, I started working the predator call. As expected the fox gave me nothing more than a cursory glance and continued on its way. Then as if on cue it couldn’t resist stopping for a listen and that was all Robert needed with the resulting shot flattening the predator. Robert was pleased and rightly so as he’d pulled off a difficult shot.
A short time earlier I’d been talking to the property owner who mentioned seeing three foxes in a paddock south-west of the house. The area had a dam surrounded by wildlife corridors, but this one also had two dry creek beds full of kangaroo grass branching off, the perfect spot to ambush a redcoat.
A tree 100m from the dam was where I was heading so I settled in and reached for the predator call. Ten minutes later I was still working the call with no response so I moved a bit closer to the stand of trees beside the dam. After another session with the call I decided to climb the dam bank and try from there. No sooner had I done so when I flushed a fox from almost under my feet, though it caught my scent from the crosswind and I mentally kicked myself for making such an amateur mistake.
Dismissing it as one of those things which come your way occasionally, I sat in the shade on top of the dam bank and stated working the call. Instantly a fox trotted out of the kangaroo grass opposite the dam, looked in my direction and continued until I stopped it with a “hey”. Standing stock still it presented an easy shot for the 22.250 and surprisingly this was a young one, but the fewer foxes the better as far as the property owner was concerned.
With temperatures tipped to reach 39C I’d no intention of being out too late, so cut across the fence-line back to my ute. Wandering along I was taken aback when I spotted a fox making its way through sheep in the neighbouring paddock. If it stuck to its present course it would cross my path 100m out, so I hunkered down and waited. I had the 22.250 resting on the shooting sticks with the cross-hairs of the scope firmly fixed, a sharp whistle stopping it in its tracks and the 22.250 doing the rest.
There’s a big difference between a young, inexperienced hungry fox and an old specimen that’s survived a few seasons of pursuit and I love hunting the cunning ones, beating them at their own game. I guess that’s just the hunter in me.