After a fairly significant fall of snow overnight, the glen was smothered under a white blanket this morning. No more than three or four inches at its deepest, most of the snow had fallen shortly before dawn. I was keen to get up to the Chayne for a look around at the tracks, but I knew that most of the snow was still too fresh to have been marked by any wild traffic. At around lunchtime, I headed up onto the hill for a look in all the likely places. Having learnt in previous years how risky it can be to head into the snow without a rifle, I put the .222 on my back and set off into the clouds. As with all wild animals, foxes behave very strangely in the snow. They turn up in unexpected places in broad daylight, or sleep heavily in rushes so that you almost tread on them by mistake. I’ve had several maddening chances over the years after a fall of snow, and I was determined that nothing similar would happen today.
Small fragments of snow were being blown in like grit from the southeast, and it was hard to see where it began and where the clouds stopped. Up on the hill, I followed the tracks of a hare for a few hundred yards, then turned west and wandered through the fields where I would expect to find some signs of life. The sheep had trashed their usual paths with shuffling footprints, and the only thing moving in a vast expanse of grey mist was a fat old raven perched uncomfortably in the top twigs of an old oak tree. He lifted off and clocked moodily as I came nearer, but otherwise there was almost no sound at all. The dog bounded freely through the rushes, putting up a single weary meadow pipit – a grim comparison with how lively and exciting the whole farm becomes in the spring. About three miles from the car, I turned and followed the old cart track back up through the inbye fields. Here and there I found pheasant tracks along the grassy rut between the tyre marks, but otherwise it was still a blank canvas.
Coming around a sharp corner, I ran my eye over a recently topped field to the south. The remains of the rushes have left an ugly stubble which took on an odd texture under the snow. A mole had been busily working under the whiteness to produce a series of black studs in the field which stood out clearly, even at two hundred yards. I almost turned away without realising that the biggest molehill was moving. I found myself crouching down and unslinging the rifle from my shoulder. Mercifully, a high wall ran parallel to the track I was on, and I had a good rest as the molehill materialised into a fox through the telescopic sight. She was trotting neatly from left to right in the snow, and it took quite a loud shout to get her to stop. Most animals look better in the snow, but foxes really take some beating. The white background makes even pale colours seem dark by comparison, so the fox was almost a black silhouette against the field, standing broadside for a fraction of a second as I worked the bolt.
My experiences with wild boar in Croatia taught me not to be shy about pulling the trigger, so after the first shot had knocked her off her feet, a second followed very close behind it. I really don’t see any problem with making sure of the job, provided the shot is safe. I’ve had apparently stone dead foxes leap back up onto their feet again and make off into the distance before, so I try not to take any chances. On the walk back to the car, I congratulated myself for having brought the rifle along with me. How maddening it would have been to have that opportunity and not get the chance to take it, and while nine times out of ten I won’t fire a shot, that tenth is always worth the bother.
Following her tracks back to where she had come from, I traced her path for seven hundred yards into a young plantation over the farm’s boundary where a few greyhens can still be found. I saw no sign of blackgame all the time I was on the hill, but it was good to think that my good fortune has possibly bought them some breathing space.
The snow continues to fall, and it could really start to accumulate if the forecast is to be believed.