Monday, 28 May 2012
4am this morning and you would have found me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It was a stunningly beautiful morning and I'd been allocated a great place to sit and spy for foxes. From my vantage point I looked down into a huge, steep sided glen. Fox country if ever there was.
I'd been there barely 15minutes before I got a call on the radio. Neighbouring estates were asking for an extra pair of eyes up by the march (boundary) to help them watch a pair of foxes. I was nearest.
20 minutes later I grabbed the rifle and left the rover, picking my way round the steep, rocky side of the highest hill in the area. I found a vantage point and got myself comfortable. Relatively speaking.
For the next hour I followed the progress on the radio. The foxes crossed a river and made their way up into a steep rocky face. Unfortunately for me the rising sun threw this face into steep shadow. It's also a place of deep heather and thick juniper bushes. And it was at least a mile from where I was sitting. I never saw them yet.
But as I watched I heard a grouse tukking away to my right. I gave the area a spy, saw nothing and got back to the job in hand. Five minutes later, more tukking. I took a closer look and this time saw a couple of hinds lying on a heathery bank. They appeared to be staring at something. I looked in that direction and glimpsed a fox.
For the next 10 minutes I scanned the area, unable to pick it uo again in the network of hags. Then I put my binoculars down and saw that Ed (my terrier) was staring intently down the hill. There was the fox! Coming round the foot of the steep, 300-400 yards below me.
The thought of a long shot flashed briefly through my head. Too rich for my blood! I watched it and relayed its progress to a free pair of eyes way down into the neighbours ground.
The fox went out of my sight and a wee while later my 'spotter' informed me he'd lost it in a shaded hollow in a big corrie not far from where I now was. Between us we'd been pretty much covering the exits, or so we thought.
After another half hour and no show, it was decided that I'd take a walk through the place, in case it had lain up. As I was guided in, I was aware of how 'blind' a piece of ground it was. Most of the time, I was only seeing 30m in any direction. I was dearly wishing that I had the shotgun and not the rifle with me.
I crept down the steep brae, trying to make as little noise as possible. My heart was in my mouth. I had the rifle at the ready. The radio hissed "try a wee bit over to your left" and I changed direction without daring to reply.
I'd gone another 20m when I heard a noise above me. I whirled round and there was the fox bounding up the hill away from me. He was chest-deep in the heather and had 50m to go before he was over the skyline and out of my sight. I worked the bolt and shouldered the rifle. He came into the sights and, as he was going slightly left-handed, I aimed down his left side and sqeezed off a shot. Missed!
I reloaded quicky, aware that I was only going to get one more shot. This time I put the crosshair on him. He collapsed to the shot. Huge relief washed through me. But not so much as to prevent me from quickly refilling the magazine. I needent have worried, this mature dog fox was very much dead.
When my pulse was eventually back into double-figures, I conferred with the lads who'd been watching the pair of foxes. They'd lost both foxes in amongst the junipers. It was decided to rally as much support as we could and try a wee 'drive'. I made my way over to where they could pick me up in a land rover. It took nearly an hour of walking.
To cut a long story short, 8 of us tried to cover this large face. Wouldn't you know it, the fox got up next to me. The only one without a shotgun with him. I couldn't get a safe shot at the fox until it was outwith our 'perimeter' by which time it was 200m away and going like a train. I gave it the offer but this time Foxy won through. I suspect the other fox slipped away during all the excitement. We certainly never saw it as we completed walking the face.
Out of pure optimism, we checked a couple of holes that were in the direction that the fox was last seen heading in. No joy. After that I got a lift up the hill as far as was possible and started the long walk back to my landrover.
I arrived at the vehicle 12 hours after I'd left it. The tea in my flask was long-since cold. No matter, it was drained.
As was I.
Thursday, 17 May 2012
Thursday, 10 May 2012
After an appalling start to the week, we got walking ground again on Tuesday. It dried up enough for us to risk going to the steep, rocky walls of the main glen on my beat. We has an inauspicious start when one of the terriers stuck in the first cairn we came to. We should have taken the hint... But we deigned to go on, and make the most of the decent weather. (The dog seemed barely stuck and her owner was convinced she'd have made her way out by the time we went back past. Within half a mile we found a den. In a b*****d of a place. Rabbit holes had been scraped out, high up on an exposed, steep grassy face. Worse was the fact that this face had a convex curve to it. This meant short horizons all round about. Not good for a stake-out. And another terrier stuck down a hole. This time we elected to leave the owner (same guy) and continue our search. We hoped we might fall in with one of the adult foxes for this den in our travels. Instead we found ANOTHER den in a cairn a mile further on. This time the vixen was home and bolted within 5 minutes of the terrier going in. We finished our sweep and headed back to the rovers. Our colleague with the stuck terriers continued his vigil. By now time was short. I hurried home. Dogs were fed, equipment gathered, tea cooked, rifle zeroed. By 7pm two of us were heading back out the hill. It was an hours march and a steep climb of several hundred feet before we were back at the first den. We dropped off our gear and took up positions covering the most likely routes that the vixen would come in by. A cold wind sprang up and by the time it was dark I was chittering with the cold. When it got too dark to see. I had the first shine about with the spotlight. A fox ducked away over the skyline as soon as the light hit it. Gus, who'd drawn the short straw to join me, joined me minutes later and we set up camp. (Unpacked our bivvy bags!) Then followed a long cold night of lamping at 15 minute intervals. At 1pm a fox appeared and stood long enough for a shot. To our surprise it was the dog. We got a glimpse of the vixen at the same time- leaving fast. She didn't show for the rest of the night. We were back out the following night. We narrowly missed our colleague who, after a day of digging had managed to recover both of his terriers. There's one lad who would sleep soundly that night. Again that steep climb, again carrying a heap of gear. This time, rain forced us to wear our waterproofs. We were lathered with sweat by the time we reached the den. The forecast had promised wind, rain and mist. It didn't disappoint! Thank God I chose to take a tent with me this time. (To save weight and give us a bit more room, I just took the outer tent. It wasn't so comfortable, but it still saved our lives!) What followed was still one of the most unpleasnt nights I've ever spent 'oot the hill'. And we saw not hide nor hair of the vixen. I should be out there right now, for the third night in a row but the forecast was that bad (winds to 70mph, snow, mist) that we decided to pull the plug. Another two colleagues were staking out the second den. They saw nothing on either night and have called it a day also. If this weather ever clears, we'll hopefully pick up these cagey foxes on an early morning. But for now, I've got some sleep to catch up on....
Friday, 4 May 2012
This week has started and finished with cold winds and snow showers. Fortunately the days in between have been glorious.
In response to this, we've been marching all over the place looking for fox dens. Strangely, we haven't found anything despite checking a lot of likely areas.
Either these foxes are thin on the ground this year, or they're getting a whole lot smarter. I hope it's the former because they were quite fly enough as they were.
As you can see, we've spent a lot of the week on steep, rough ground. It's the sort of terrain that foxes love and ankles hate. And in that heat, it wasn't just the terriers whose tongues were hanging out!
On a different tack, the trout season has just started up here. For an opening gambit, one of my colleagues took an evening on the loch. He hooked into something BIG and played it for 15 minutes before it got its head down and took his line into the weed.
It's the second time that's happened to him, whereas I have never had anything bigger than 1lb out of that loch. Mind you, I suppose neither has he!
The same lad had a guest out looking for Roe Buck on Wednesday. Try as they might, nothing worked for them and they returned empty-handed. Wouldn't you know it, I went out for 20 minutes that evening and had one of the best bucks of my career.
Actually, that should be 'one of the best bucks of my car- eer.' And when I skelpit the poor beast with our trusty old VW, career it did. When I came to a juddering halt, the buck lay dead on the road before me. And on the road behind me lay an unbelievable amount of broken plastic. Expensive, broken plastic....