Luke Williams is young but he has a wealth of experience going after foxes.
It’s a frosty winter morning and a light fog covers the surrounding countryside, not a breath of wind to be felt and with every breath I take steam is exhaled into the dead-still cold morning air. A couple of Rabbits are having a chew on some lush green grass outside their warren, unaware of the possible danger they are in…but not today because today we are hunting foxes. We take our stand halfway up the hillface at an old gumtree. I let out a couple of soft squeals on the Tenterfield Fox Whistle. The sound shrilled and echoed through the gully and around the surrounding countryside; the rabbits prick their ears up alerted by the squeal that imitates their own brethren in distress, but they continue to chew away at the lush grass
Another minute passes with the squeal of the whistle echoing through the gully and after a few minutes, some movement catches my eye on the opposite hillside about 200 yards away. The distinctive red colored animal with a long bushy tail and a bright white chest is dashing across the hill. I give a couple more soft squeals on the Tenterfield and the fox breaks into action, dashing across the hillface. He picks up speed as he charges down the face of the hill, then enters the thick blackberry choked gully at the bottom. Losing sight of him, I keep whistling and within seconds I can see him ducking and weaving his way through the Hawthorn trees at the bottom.
He eventually comes out of the thick scrub at the bottom of the gully, leaps between the middle strands of the barbed wire fence, takes a few steps and then stops. He then takes takes a wiff to try and pick up any scent. I give a couple of soft squeals on the whistle and then he starts to make his approach up the hill towards my position. As he makes his way up I stop whistling and let the fox approach closer to me at his own pace. I have him in my crosshairs and can see his eyes are trained dead on my position. I can almost read the fox’s mind as starts to run up the hillface. Most likely thinking about the tasty meal it is about to have, by this stage the fox is about 30 yards away and has slowed from a run to a slow trot. Then he stops about 15 yards away and tries to make out what is going on, attempting to pinpoint the location of the squealing rabbit that he had heard only moments before.
I keep the crosshairs steady on the center of the fox’s bright white chest, applying the last few ounces of pressure on the 17HMR’s trigger, the rifle cracks, breaking the morning silence.
The small HMR projectile smashes into the boiler room of the unsuspecting fox and Vulpes Vulpes is dead before he hits grass. Now how many of us have had a fox hunt start out in similar fashion? That is how a specific hunt started on June 6th 2010 the day that we dubbed “The D Day Fox”.
I first became interested about foxes and fox hunting when I was about five years old. We would go surf fishing down to the 90 mile beach in East Gippsland and, camping at the back of the sand dunes overlooking the bracken fern filled paddocks, we would often see foxes stalking lambs and doing the rounds of the paddocks in the late afternoon and early morning. Dad and I would sit up the top of the dunes with the binos and watch the foxes sneaking around the surrounding paddocks catching mice and rabbits, chasing butterflies and grasshoppers. I also remember one time when I was about seven, when a fox came into our camp just before sunrise and started licking the fat out of the frying pan that we had cooked on the night before, right in front of our tent. Dad and I watched the fox through the tent window and were amazed at how sneaky and quiet it was with its movements. Those camping trips were great; my Dad and his mates would tell stories about their hunting days in the 60s and 70s up in North East Victoria and Western NSW and I would listen to every detail intrigued by every aspect of their stories. Ever since I have been interested in foxes, their behavior and of course, hunting them.
People all have their own favorite method of hunting foxes. It might be spotlighting and picking up their distinctive red eye shine. It might be using hounds and terriers to flush foxes from thick patches of bush on drives or running small terriers down fox dens. But our favorite method at hunting the wily redcoats is calling them in. It gets the heart pounding and the adrenalin pumping watching a fox respond to the sound of the whistle. Whether it’s a young uneducated fox that comes bounding into the whistle at a rate of knots or an old cunning dog fox that slowly and cautiously responds to the whistle using all his senses to pick up anything that is not quite right, we love it all.
When it comes to what type of calling device to use, it comes down to personal preference and experimenting with different calling devices to find out what works best. It can also depend on the weather conditions . We have used many calling devices to lure in foxes. The homemade Shotgun Hull Whistle, The Button Whistle, The Scotch Predator caller, The Mouse Squeaker and numerous other predator calling devices from the USA. But by far the most effective has been the Tenterfield Whistle; it has the loudest squeal effect to it and the sound carries much further than any of the other calling devices that we have used. We have also used a combo of both Tenterfield and Button whistle. Using the Tenterfield to lure in foxes from a long distance and then having someone else sitting at least 50yards away take over the whistling with the button when the fox has come in to about 200 yards. This method is really good if you wish to capture footage or a still image of a fox because the fox’s attention is on the caller and not on you.
Throughout the years that we have been whistling foxes we have found that foxes will respond to the whistle at pretty much any time of day. But what we have also found is that either in the early morning until midday or from the afternoon (about 4pm) until dark is the best for calling in foxes. Another interesting fact that Dad and myself have both found is that during the afternoon foxes tend to bolt into the whistle much faster than they do in the mornings. I have often thought this is because in the afternoon they have just woken up from their period of sleeping throughout the day and they are energized, well rested and are ready to commence their nightly hunting routine. Conversely, in the morning they have been out hunting throughout the night, are most likely winding down and finishing their nightly hunting routine and preparing to sleep throughout the day. Nonetheless Foxes are opportunistic hunters and will always have that urge to prey on something for an easy meal. Expect the unexpected when it comes to foxes.
Over the last year I have become more interested in photography and gathering intelligence about foxes and their behavior. Setting up game cameras has proved as a great way to both gather intelligence and capture photos of foxes in their natural environment, going about their business in their natural way. The cameras are set up over bait stations to try and capture the routine behavior and number of the foxes that inhabit certain properties. The cams that I have out in the field have captured many photos of different foxes feeding at the bait stations, including hundreds of photos of a litter of cubs growing up from the first time they ventured out of their den until they were booted out by the parent vixen and dog.
Setting up game cameras over bait stations has showed us what what times of the day and night the foxes were feeding as well as what time they finished feeding and disappeared back into the safety of their dens. One of my cams also shows the temperature. From the hundreds of photos we have captured so far, we have found that at around 5.30am foxes were usually finished feeding at the bait station and were gone back to the safety of their dens.Having a camera that showed the temperature also helped us confirm that foxes are no different than us humans. In the colder months foxes like to get up and about to do their daily routine when the sun comes up ‘and in the hotter months they like to be out early before the sun comes up and after the sun goes down. This information was great and helped confirm the best time to get out there and start calling them in.
Setting up game cameras to locate fox activity is done much the same as deer hunters would setup their game cameras when scouting for deer. Finding the fresh sign is a must as setting up a camera where there is no fresh sign is going to be a waste of time. Places to set up camera might be along a well used game trail that has a lot of animal activity, an active fox den or a well worn blackberry patch that has entry holes with fresh fox sign around regular scat locations. Feeding grounds, where foxes will sometimes carry food back to eat, are also good places to set up a camera. I have found that setting up a game camera and bait station a couple of yards off a well used game trail works best. Foxes will often use the same game trail as other animals such as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and deer. So setting up along a well-used trail can be a good way of gathering photos and information about the foxes that inhabit the area.
So if you have a passion for fox hunting and would like to study them their behavior their daily routine ‘ or the number of foxes in a certain area ‘setup a Game Camera over a bait station ‘you might be surprised what you capture on camera.