Shoot that fox!

This nice story from Damien Conlon tells of the travails he experienced nailing one canny reynard. Pic by Alex Juris

I was looking forward to the weekend, getting away to the solitude of the bush and doing a bit of feral reduction at the same time. Heavy rains over the past couple of weeks had transformed the landscape with a green flourish of new growth. My problem for the moment was trying to navigate my way through the mud to the campsite in my two-wheel drive vehicle. A heavy downpour the night before had turned this task into somewhat of a challenge. Of course the vehicle track was the muddiest route, so with some judicious off track driving I arrived at my chosen spot.

The normally dry creek that ran through the property was well awash with a muddy looking flow, it was about this time I was greeted by a cloud of large Scotch Grey mosquitoes with a definite thirst for blood, or more accurately my blood! These were one of the downsides to the recent rain and they became my constant companions for the next few days along with an entourage of accompanying flies. These big mozzies could bite right though your shirt if it was tight over your skin, the flies were like welcome friends compared to these mini-vampires.

It had been some time since I had been on this property, so after setting up camp I went for an exploratory walk to get reacquainted with the area. I grabbed the Savage. 22 to accompany me on the walk in case the odd rabbit or fox may appear. Not long into the walk I found myself walking through a paddock where the soil had been turned over some months before and was now studded with regrowth consisting of small perfectly round bushes varying in height up to half a meter. Suddenly, a beige object flashed across my vision, it was a hare that obviously I’d nearly walked over, concealed in the shrubbery.

As he streaked away at a velocity approaching light-speed I proceeded to blaze away. In no time he was well out of range of the .22 and still running. Could it be that he remained unscathed because he was running faster than the projectiles like some scene out of a Road Runner cartoon, or was it more to do with my shooting ability, surely not! Whatever the reason, I was sure he was out there somewhere safely concealed behind a bush, clutching his sides and rolling around with laughter at my futile attempt to land a shot. If I’d been holding a shotgun instead of the rimfire things may have turned out somewhat differently, but like the laws of physics which cannot be broken, so too is the unescapable truth of Murphy’s Law. Maybe next time the odds will be in my favour.

The next morning I was up before dawn, and had a quick breakfast. I packed the map, GPS, water, food and reached for the Weatherby in .223Rem. I’d planned a long walk to the boundary of the property and this time I’d chosen a more serious rifle for the task. The flat trajectory of the.223 was going to make range estimation much less critical, and adding the bipod would give me benchrest like accuracy out to 200 yards if need be, taking full advantage of the Weatherby’s accuracy.

I spent the morning walking and stopping at regular intervals to do some calling with the predator call. With my back to a tree or bush, facing into the wind and looking out towards a fairly clear area, I spent 10-15 minutes calling and waiting but with little success. Maybe they didn’t like the sound I was making or were out of earshot or maybe, there were just none in the area. Whatever it was I was starting to feel decidedly unlucky especially after the hare debacle the previous day. Little did I know that in the next few hours I was to come across something that was to lift my spirits considerably. Walking on further, following a well worn game trail leading towards a waterhole, I noticed some tracks in the soft soil. There in front of me were fox tracks so perfectly formed they were like a neon sign saying “I’m here, if you can find me!” They were no more than a day old because heavy rain the night before I arrived would have washed them away in the soft sandy soil of the game trail. I reached down to touch them as if to reassure myself they were real, I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe my luck was on the improve. Now at least I knew there was definitely one in the area.

As it approached midday the heat and humidity were getting unbearable. The time had come to start heading back to camp for some lunch and to start packing for the trip home. Rather than walk directly towards camp across the open paddocks I decided to follow the shady patches of remnant bush and try and keep out of the blazing sun as much as possible. Secretly I thought there may be a chance of flushing something out on my way back, but I didn’t let myself believe it judging by the luck I’d had so far.

The remnant was crisscrossed with game trails that had almost geometrical precision, with parallel roads and 4-way intersections, sets of traffic lights would not have looked out of place. I was walking down one of these trails when my eyes perceived a flash of red colour amongst the dull tones of the vegetation. My brain screamed “FOX” in capital letters. I had to stoop to get more of a look as between the ground cover and the trees above there was only a two foot slice of clear space at waist height that I could look through. He kept reappearing every few seconds, seeming to bob up and down as if he was hopping through the undergrowth, perhaps he was trying to get a better view of the thing that was blundering through his patch of bush. I immediately thought this fox is out of here, and if he’s smart he won’t stop to look back. Then I thought, “why give up that easily!” besides, what did I have to lose. I chambered a round into the weatherby, flicked the safety on and still in that hunched over position started to jog through the undergrowth trying to catch another glimpse of that fox. Thirty seconds later I arrived at an intersection panting and scanning the bush ahead of me for movement. Nothing, just as I thought, he’s long gone. Whilst my logical brain was telling me that another more primeval part of me, a sixth sense if you will, was compelling me to flick the safety off. For some reason I pivoted around to the left and there at a parallel intersection not 25 yards away was a fox. At this point I must tell you that I was dressed head to foot in camo clothing with a camo scarf pulled up over my nose and the rifle and scope were wrapped in camo gauze bandages.

Time seemed to stand still and seconds seemed like minutes as we stood there equally amazed as each other of what we were seeing. I’m sure he was trying to work out what the hell I was. It’s a fair bet he’d never seen a farmer dressed like me holding a furry looking stick in his hand. All my offhand shooting experience and range practice was about to be condensed into this moment in time. My actions in the next second would test all I learnt. Some would call it auto pilot or describe it as muscle memory but without realising it I had raised the rifle to my shoulder, aimed and touched off a shot.

The 55gn Ballistic Tip didn’t get much time to admire the view as it left the barrel at 3200 feet per second. A mere 25 short yards away it found its mark and slammed into the fox’s chest nailing him to the ground where he stood. The hydrostatic shock, particularly at that distance would have been tremendous, causing instant blackout of the central nervous system and a quick demise. As I stood there heart pounding, surveying the scene, I thought it ironic that I’d spent so much time tuning just the right load to produce a rifle capable of one inch groups at 200 yards and a fox presents himself at a mere 25 yards. Murphy strikes again but this time it was in my favour.

So despite a weekend of mud, mozzies and stifling heat, looking back on it I wouldn’t change a single moment. It’s amazing what we’ll go through for a few days hunting.

This article was first published in Sporting Shooter Magazine May 2013




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