The distant throb of the snow plough woke me at 3AM. I lay there dreaming of a certain moonlit wood and imagined snowflakes falling through the now leafless timber and alighting on my excessively decorated Bison Bushcraft backpack. Should I just go for it or would I join battle yet again with Southeastern Railways preferred “revised timetable” that equates to we’ll run a train if we feel like it. At 5AM the green tea was brewing and my kit, including snow chains, waited at the back door ready to hit the ice. Mayfair had lost!
Once onto the back roads the Defender’s tyres made a pleasing sound as they pushed through virgin powder. The headlights picked out a woodcock sitting in the middle of the road. It showed no signs of movement. I stopped the vehicle and walked to within 2ft before it fluttered into a tangle of alder. Was it nursing a puncture from single No. 7 shot or was it just weak with cold and the lack of accessible food? Guess I’ll never know.
I slipped into the estate wood and donned my Woolpower 200g balaclava as it began to snow again just as in my dream. Large flakes that fluttered like feathers in a fabric conditioner advert. I felt good. How could I afford to miss such a rare day of winter beauty and calm. With half an hour to go before full light I moved slowly towards my intended ambush point and soon spied my first target of the day. Quickly I scuttled to the nearest tree and prepared the Predator Sniper Styx. The fox ranged across the undulating meadow occasionally disappearing form view. All attempts to gain his attention by calling failed. The shot had to be now or the chance would be lost. I slipped my trigger finger from glove and held the crosshairs high on the shoulder. My only chance would be that spilt second when he next changed direction. I let the pin fall on 38.5 grains of Varget. Boom! A strange silence followed. I couldn't see the fox but new I had connected. Rather than move to my intended vantage point I spent a further half hour calling with a variety of open and closed reed predator calls. This proved unsuccessful but to have simply collected the fox immediately would be braking one of the golden rules of fox calling. Often you will get lucky and find another fox close by.
I moved to even higher ground just as the sun broke above the skyline spilling golden rays onto field after field of snow. Lone trees cast their lengthy skeletal shadows and horses looked strangely short until one realised their legs were lost in snow. I broke out the Leica 10 - 15 X 50's and glassed each woodland fence line then commenced a series of calls that I hoped would provide the next adrenaline rush. I was using a combination of calls that included 2 open reed types from Crit'R Call and a twin closed reed call from Zepps. The latter is called the "Rattler" and in a small wood can be so loud and alien as to frighten even me but, and here's the point, it gets results. Honest!
Amazingly nothing appeared for over an hour and when I did pick up fur at 15 power it was in a field some 400 yards away. I toyed with the idea of a shot but this was one fox that had no intention of stopping. In the time it took to drop the crosshairs over the top of fur he was another half field away. I lowered the rifle and took in the view as the blinding sun provided an element of much needed warmth but sadly not to my extremities.
Soon 1 hour became 3 and at which point I'm ashamed to say this 52-year old was simply too uncomfortable to stay put. I just had to get some feeling back into my toes. I dragged the now stiffening fox back to the relative shelter of the woods just as another less kind type snow arrived. Finding a nice vantage point over a deep timber-filled ravine I prepared lunch. The soup tasted good and my whole body, including feet, now tingled with an inner warmth. Slipping the custom PRS between V sticks I commenced a series of calls on the smallest open reed. Keeping my lips and tongue well back on the the Crit'R Call Pee Wee's reed ensured a high pitched squeal associated with small mammals in distress. Using a variety of further calling techniques that involves opening and closing the port with hand; varying the amount of air and frequency and just about anything else that will add to the affect of a seriously upset rabbit, I soon heard the call of an interested jay and the mewing of a buzzard. Must be doing something right I thought but in truth calling hawks, owls and, of course, covides is relatively easy. At least that's what I've found.
10 minutes later I caught sight of a heavy dog fox's russet coat as he slipped silently through a tangle of fallen timber. Slowly he moved towards me in the most accommodating fashion. I didn't even need to re-adjust the rifle, just track him slowly with a slight movement of the wrist. As the mask came into view from behind a fallen branch the .25 calibre 85 grain Ballistic Tip made contact with fur at circa 3300fbs. The fox did not even twitch. Further calling failed to bring in another.
Suddenly I felt guilty and realised I had at least better check a few e-mails if my claim of "working from home" was to mean anything. My "snow day" was over.