In the lead-up to spring, many hunters set their sights on pest animals. The red fox is among one of the most destructive pest animals we have in Australia. This introduced pest is considered a threat to over 50 Australian native animals and is thought to have played a major role in the decline and eventual extinction of several other native species over the past 130 years.
The red fox is more than just a predator – as omnivorous feeders they will also eat fruits and berries. As a direct competitor for this food source, they have a direct impact on the survival of native animals whose diet is much more specialised than the red fox. As if this wasn’t enough, foxes also compete with native animals for nesting sites. Many of our ground-dwelling native animals have burrows or nests with very similar requirements to that of a fox den. This is also contributing to the decline of native species, as without a secure and sheltered nest or burrow, the young of our native fauna may not survive beyond infancy.
On top of this, the predation of foxes on livestock, particularly lambs, is estimated at costing approximately $17.5 million each year. In south-east Australia the percentage of lambs lost due to foxes is between 0.8 and 5.3 per cent, but in some areas of western New South Wales, it can be as high as 30 per cent. Their impact is not limited to sheep and lambs; foxes have been known to attack and bite dairy cattle, mauling their udders and lower legs, inflicting horrific injuries.
Landowners and primary producers are understandably keen to see foxes disappear from the Australian landscape. Hunters can provide a service to them by hunting foxes. A sole hunter can have an impact and remove a few of these pests, but working as part of a team can deliver better results. As foxes have been in Australia for over a century, the traditions of fox hunting have developed into highly-effective methods to maximise success. One such method is a Fox Drive.
To conduct a fox drive, a group of hunters assemble in a line, standing approximately 50 metres apart. Another group (called ‘beaters’) will assemble in another line some distance away from the hunters. The beaters then move their line towards the hunters, making as much noise as possible. This drives the foxes towards a targeted area, in range of the hunters. Once the foxes enter the targeted area and are in range, they are quickly dispatched.
This method of fox hunting requires a lot of coordination and are best undertaken by hunters working together. How do you begin if you’ve never been on a fox drive before?
Being a welcome addition at a fox drive requires a little effort from both the newcomer and the experienced fox driver. Newcomers should learn and listen, but experienced hunters should be willing to teach and explain.
You may find it beneficial to ‘buddy up’. Each new hunter should partner up with someone with experience to show them the ropes, give advice and encouragement, and to watch out and intervene if there is any unsafe behaviour. New hunters will appreciate that someone wants to teach them the tricks of the trade – there’s a lot of people out there that are keen but they just don’t know where to start.
If you are heading for your first fox drive, there’s a few things to keep in mind. These can help you become a welcome addition.
Arrive On Time
You will need to know and understand the rules on the day. A short rundown of the conditions usually takes place before the fox drive begins: make sure you’re there to listen and learn. Ask questions so you are clear on what your role is. To be welcomed back in future fox drives, it’s best to abide by the club’s advice and rules for the present.
Many fox drives will take place on private property. During a fox drive, the landowners may prefer that hunters only enter certain areas of their property. They could have young livestock in a nearby paddock, recently sown crops, or they prefer to have the hunt conducted away from their house and other buildings. If you demonstrate that you can abide by the landowners wishes, they will be more likely to allow you onto their property again.
Stay in touch with the fox drive organisers and check in a day or two prior. Talking during the drive may spoil the hunt as it alerts the foxes, so make sure you ask any questions before you start. As mentioned previously, if you partner up with a more experienced hunter or beater, they will be able to give you advice, instruction and support.
Find out in advance if dogs are permitted, and only bring yours if it has good recall and obedience. You don’t want the fox drive to turn into a dog chase! All attendees should have a degree of familiarity with any dogs present on the day and be able to easily recognise them.
High-vis (blaze orange) clothing must be worn by all participants – a beanie, cap or vest is usually sufficient for people to be easily visible. Any dogs in attendance should be fitted with a high-vis vest or canine equivalent. If possible, maintain visual contact with your neighbouring hunters or beaters to assist with safety and coordination.
Being aware of who or what is in your surroundings is part of safe hunting. If you know where the hunters or beaters either side of you are, it will help with your coordination, safety, and contribute to the results on the day. Weather conditions, especially wind direction, can have an impact on the effectiveness of a fox drive, so it’s good to be aware of these factors as well.
Safety is absolutely paramount during a fox drive, as with all activities involving firearms. You can help keep the activity safe by being aware of your surroundings, and following the instructions and advice given by more experienced hunters. There are a few ‘golden rules’ of safety which are common across most fox drives, which are:
- use BB size shot or smaller;
- no sideways shooting;
- don’t shoot at anything out of range;
- if the quarry is heading towards another hunter or beater, let it go – don’t shoot; and
- if a fox escapes the targeted area, do not pursue it while the drive is still in progress.
Whether you are driving the foxes out or dispatching them, it is important to maintain the line. Drifting forward or moving out of position can be dangerous as you may end up ahead of the other hunters or beaters – this could send the foxes running in the wrong direction, or worse, place you or someone else into the targeted area.
One final thing for those heading to their first fox drive: the measure of success for a fox drive is not how many foxes were taken. Don’t be discouraged if the beaters only flush out two foxes for the whole day, what matters is how many foxes get away. If the beaters flush out two foxes, and the hunters dispatch two foxes, it’s a success. This is why coordination and teamwork is so important – it can reduce the chance that any foxes may escape.
Hunters with good fox drive experience should encourage others to take part, and offer what support they can. Many clubs have ‘bring a friend’ days for clay targets with coaching and advice, and hunting should be no different. It can be difficult at times for new members to settle into a club or get started in a new activity, but if both new and existing members take the time to listen and learn, it will encourage your new members to keep coming back – and in turn they will help your club grow.
Photos by Nigel Loughridge and Sharon Lennane.