Kiwi Friend's First Foxes
New Zealanders don't have foxes in their neck o' the woods, so getting onto good numbers in Oz is a real treat. By Tony Pizzata.
Fox whistling had started early this year as a Kiwi mate of mine was over for the recent Wild Deer Show in Victoria as an exhibitor and had asked If I’d show him a fox or two. Early March isn’t the ideal time for a fox as while they are coming to the whistle, hides are still rather short and usually not worth skinning. Also, there are still plenty of snakes about on the properties I hunt; hence, a couple of reasons why I prefer to chase them a little bit later on.
John Royle operates Canterbury Tahr Hunting Guiding Service on the South Island of New Zealand and heads over to Australia each year to many of our shows and I’d promised him a chance at a fox. For those who don’t know, New Zealand doesn’t have foxes, nor do they have snakes and as you’ll soon find out, he managed to see enough of both.
After the show John and I headed back to my place in Goulburn, where we’d be based for the next couple of days. Arriving mid afternoon we prepared for a morning hunt on a nearby property I hadn’t whistled since the previous year. John asked how early our departure would be the next morning, presuming we would get an early start. “No rush” I exclaimed, as unlike most other hunting, fox whistling is a little different. I find that while foxes will come to the whistle at any time of the day or night. If you start well into the morning you allow the foxes to get back to their bedding areas and hence make their whereabouts a lot more predictable when you are calling them in. This will become apparent later on in this story.
The following morning, with daypacks prepared and my trusty Miroku 12 gauge at the ready, we headed off in search of Reynard. Leaving the vehicle, we donned our packs and headed for the first stand. While I had an intended direction planned,Rule One with fox whistling is to keep the wind in your favour, as they’ll sure as hell smell you from miles away if you don’t. There was very little wind or breeze that first morning, but a quick check with the powder puffer revealed a faint thermal direction, so we continued with it in our favour.
To keep it short and sweet, the first stand failed to produce a fox, as did the following two. I wasn’t terribly worried as I knew the potential of this place and it was only going to be a matter of time before things started to heat up. And heat up they did. As we approached our next stand down on a creek, I knew this spot would produce. Pointing in the direction of our intended vantage spot for a whistle we moved forward, when out of the corner of my eye I caught a slither in the green, damp grass if front of me. Throwing my arm up in an effort to stop John moving forward, I pointed the snake out at only a matter of steps away. Fortunately it was only a large redbelly black that wasn’t very aggressive at all. It was the tigers and browns that worried me. “For a Kiwi you’re pretty calm with snakes,” I whispered. John wasn’t at all worried and decided to take a few photos for the mates back home.
A short distance further on, we found our intended seating position nestled in front of a low-lying bush with some short scrub in front for additional cover. I was very confident here, but kept looking back the 10-15 paces behind where we’d left the snake.
I must confess I think I was a little more worried about the snake that John was, but I knew how fast they could move, having had previous experiences in the past with the more aggressive browns and tigers. A short session on the whistle produced an almost immediate response as our first fox came out at a fast trot towards us. Dispatching him with a charge of BB’s the dog fell instantly. Straight away I continued whistling and John knew exactly what I meant, so holding his excitement, he continued to aim at the blackberries in front of us. Sure enough a second showed himself, but was hesitant to run forward. At about 20 metres John took aim, allowing the second charge of BB’s to fly and the fox dropped instantly to lie motionless. Two from the one stand had made up for the previous lack of foxes and John was ecstatic. After a few photos we carried on, taking both with us, as John wanted one for a full body mount.
The next stand, although along the creekline, was out in the open. I knew there’d be a fox up ahead, but we needed cover. Looking around I spotted a large wombat hole with a deep depression around it, so both of us dropped down into it with only our heads showing over the deep mound. Again I let out a whistle and again a mature fox came running in to investigate. This time we watched his approach at almost eye level, which made his approach even more exciting. At less than 10 metres John let fly with the 12 gauge and the fox basically dropped under our noses. Several more stands and a couple of foxes later we called it a day as we wanted to get the skins to the freezer before they spoiled.
As John and I were leaving the property, Marcus our editor phoned and said he was heading back from Victoria after a day on the Sambar and was nearing Goulburn, so I invited him back to spend day two with us. “I’ll be at your front gate before you return” he shouted. That evening we prepared for day two and the plan was for Marcus to take care of any foxes that didn’t venture in close enough for the shottie. The only problem was he’d been sambar hunting and only had his trusty Sauer .30-06, so he was perhaps a little over-gunned.
The following morning John was excited and Marcus was also keen, so we left a little earlier that I’d liked. It was still only about 7am when we hit the hill and, walking to our first stand, we bumped into not one or two but three different foxes heading back to cover. Needless to say they were gone and although we spied the bushes they fled to, they were now alerted and definitely not going to respond to our calls today. With plenty of country to cover, we moved on and in no time we were back in business and calling them in. In fact, the first fox for the morning was John’s best fox for the tri; a big, old red dog with an above-average skin and bushy tail for this time of the year. As we were still only a short distance from the vehicle we returned and placed the big fox in my ARB fridge for safe keeping amongst a few coldies I’d packed for later, then carried on for some more whistling.
Several more foxes and it simply had to happen. Our next fox decided he wasn’t coming any closer to our calls as the breeze had started to swirl and he was definitely on edge. So Marcus had his chance at this red coat and an off hand shot dropped the fox instantly where he sat looking in our direction. A later inspection revealed a rather neat entry and exit hold through the top of the neck. Not bad for a large calibre firearm. You’re a good shot Marcus; I’ll give you that old mate. After many more adventures, another snake scare and lots of photos, we headed back to the farmhouse, did some skinning, relaxed and discussed our day's good fortune.
The following morning I took John to the airport for his trip back to New Zealand with a smile on his face I’ll remember forever. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. While the humble fox is a scourge to our farmers and native birdlife, they are indeed an asset to the keen hunter. That said, I enjoy my fox whistling each year and have introduced it to my children and grandchildren, who now enjoy a day out with me from time to time.