Over the past few weeks, the fox cubs have been growing. They’re also getting more confident, foraging further and further away from safety. I had a thrilling encounter with a gang of fox cubs on Saturday night, squeaking them in as they gambolled through the long grass just after midnight. There’s something quintessentially summery about lamping on a July evening, when moths rise out of the grass like crazy snowflakes, and the sun never really passes far enough below the horizon for it ever to be called night.
There’s an almost spiritual buzz to it all; to sweeping the torch through galaxies of flaccid sheep eyes, then spotting that hard spark even before you’ve seen it. Sheep eyes reflect the light back to you with a passive glow. Fox eyes stab it back with a sharp, twisting gutpunch. Cubs come pounding in to even the slightest squeak; their eyes bouncing through the seed heads until they make for easy shooting. Lying out in wait, you can feel the moss and the heather literally wriggling with life. The world feels like it is vibrating with activity, from the smallest midgie to the quiet turn of a short eared owl. I shot a cub on Saturday, and was amazed at the silence and secrecy with which the others melted back into the bracken. They’ll be back, and so will I.
All of a sudden, they are big enough to be snared. Laden with breasted pigeons, my midden has been busy for a few weeks, but the visitors were merely pushing the snares flat against the grass or pulling them out into a small “o” shape. Everything suggested that it was just cubs – too small to catch with the regulation “stop” in place, but too big to ignore. I tried a couple of evenings sitting out for them in wait, but they started to do my job for me as they finally got big enough to catch.
Snaring is still a bit of a dirty word, and some people have advised me not to write about it in public in the past. However, I can’t see how hiding snares in the shadows improves the public image of pest control, and it’s worth discussing it in public if for no other reason than to demonstrate the fact that there’s nothing to hide. Snares work; they catch foxes and hold them in place until they can be shot. I’m the first to admit that I’m not very experienced in the art of snaring, but of all the foxes I’ve caught, not one had been cut or even chafed by the wire. I could confidently have released them into the wild again with the secure knowledge that they were totally unharmed by their time in the snare. The publicity put about by some anti-snaring activists would suggest that snares are made from razor-wire which lacerates and bites deeply into innocent flesh. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I imagine that it would only happen if you left an animal in a snare for several days at a time. This is then the fault of a negligent trapper, rather than any evil inherent in the wire.
Such is the prevalent culture in Britain today that the people who use snares seldom talk about it. When we are forced to comment, we are usually on the defensive because the media has stirred the situation into a frenzy and it’s never a comfortable feeling to have your every move cynically scrutinised, particularly when you’ve done nothing wrong. I won’t run through the reasons why I use snares because for once, I don’t feel like I have to justify myself. Snaring is legal, efficient and it’s the only way that I can realistically tackle foxes on a large area of open ground. From the perspective of someone who checks his snares every day, 365 days a year, they’re not in the least bit controversial. They’re a fact of life, and I’d probably be lost without them.