Now is the key time for catching up with foxes and stoats before the spring really takes off. A friend advised me to try working Mk. 4s along the tops of drystane dykes, and I’ve been setting some of these up (as above) over the past few days, but while I’ve been having some luck with stoats and weasels, I am consistently drawing a blank on a particular fox who appears to be so intelligent that, frankly, he is wasted on the Chayne. His intellectual powers would be better suited to running the financial affairs of the nation, rather than bothering the black grouse of a remote Galloway hill farm.
My midden has been running since the end of January. To begin with, the breasted pigeons and ducks were left totally untouched. With the exception of a few visits from buzzards and ravens, most of the offal was left to develop a strong-smelling, puckered skin. More interested in checking the snares than I was in keeping a close eye on the carrion, it was a few days before I noticed that something was coming in to the midden and picking out small bits and pieces from the pit. To begin with, it was only the occasional muntjac foreleg or wigeon head. As the visitations became more and more conspicuous, entire rabbits would vanish overnight. Whisps of fluff hanging on the rushes nearby told a fairly obvious story, but the puzzling part for me was how the fox could get into the midden without even knocking the snares.
I’ve caught foxes in the midden before after my snares were knocked, and then all it took was to reset them (usually a little higher up) for pretty certain success the following morning. What was making me scratch my head was the idea that the fox was getting in through the holes cut beneath the rylock netting, then avoiding the snares which are set on the only accessible paths towards the baited centre. I moved the snares back and forth along the short paths, keeping them far enough away from the fence to keep in line with the law, but still had no luck whatsoever.
It was only during a night of very light snow about a fortnight ago that I realised what was happening. Rather than follow the path straight into the centre of the midden, the fox entered the enclosure and immediately turned to one side, hopping through fallen molinia grass so as to come to the bait from an angle which is several feet from the nearest snare. In doing so, he was skirting around my snares with a delicacy which seemed to suggest that he knew what snares were and knew how to spot them. Re-thinking my strategy, I painstakingly set a new snare on the path which the fox had made. Until that point, he was coming every night. The night I set the new snare, he didn’t take anything from the midden. The following night, he cleaned the whole pit out, but used the same trick to avoid my snares on the opposite side of the midden. Looking carefully into the grass, I could see that he had turned left as soon as he had entered the enclosure, making an almost indistinguishable bypass around the snares along that track.
Almost despairing, I took forty five minutes to move all my snares yet again and camouflage them perfectly into the grass. In case he was seeing the tealer or the runner, I covered both in moss and twists of beige blow leaves. As double insurance, I sat out on the darkening with my rifle to see if I could make out where he was moving. The larks fell silent and the snipe began to pulse and squeak in the silence, but there was nothing to be seen. In the frost the following morning, I smelled a strong whiff of fox and saw how the neatly positioned pads had inspected each snare and rejected every one, leaving the midden without feeding. That night, I pulled all my snares and decided to lull him into a sense of security by leaving the midden well alone. As if on cue, he cleaned the whole pit out altogether.
This is clearly a fox who knows what a snare is – I had heard of foxes being “snare shy”, but had never known one be so scrupulously capable of dodging even the most carefully concealed brown wire loops. I think that the only option I have left is to lie out and shoot him with the rifle, but I must take my hat off to a beast that is without question more intelligent than I am. If I could trust him to leave black grouse alone, I would be happy to call it “quits”, but I’m afraid he’s got to go.