My first Father-in-law (a sad reflection on my character to have to admit to more than one) had a dairy farm in Leicestershire. In addition to his herd of milkers, he had a duck pond and was raising ducks, selling their eggs and culling excess birds. I remember helping him when I was on leave from the Army. We’d string ‘em up by the feet and stab ‘em through the eyeballs, straight through the brain. I was just an amateur when I first started so often had to chase back up the line to finish a ‘flapper’ off. Bryan used to get very angry with me if I ballsed one up and made it suffer. He could do it clean and had no tolerance for inept morons like me.It was a nice little earner for him until a fox recognised an easy source of food.
I had just returned from Central America with my trusty old Remington 700 BDL in 30 odd Six calibre. That wouldn't just kill a fox; with soft point core locked ammunition, it would spread it across the countryside.
This persistent fox was going to screw his business up so I rashly volunteered to kill it.
I selected an ideal firing point on the landing of the wooden stair case leading to the second floor of one of his barns overlooking his yard, separated from the duck pond by a four foot high dry stone boundary wall.It was a cold November night and the fog settled in. Pretty soon I could not see the pond well enough to guarantee a clear shot. Since it was only a hundred yards and night, I had taken the scope off and was going to shoot using the iron sights but, don't forget, I had done all my hunting in the tropics so I was unused to freezing fog. I needed another firing position.
Rather than wander around with a loaded hunting rifle, I left the rifle where it was on the landing, crossed the yard and hopped over the wall close to the pond to find a better position. As I sat there thinking that the position behind the wall I had found, in the shadow cast by the yard lights was ideal, the fox trotted past me, bold as brass, crossed the little bridge to duck island and entered the coop.My Father in Law, a sensible God fearing farmer had always been sceptical of his wild son-in-law so had laughed when I suggested I could shoot his fox for him by staying up all night. In his critical eyes, I was a pastiche of a Great White Hunter. Well fuck him, I thought. Welshmen are nothing more than Irishmen who couldn’t swim. I could not only swim, I could shoot straight. I’ll bring him his damn fox, I thought. But it was jolly cold.
Now I found myself with the fox in my field of vision but not within the sights of my rifle which lay a hundred yards beyond my grasp. In the Army we were always taught that our rifles were our wives and we must keep them close, sleep with them. I had committed a cardinal sin by laying the rifle down and abandoning it. If my Father-in-Law lost a duck this night, I was doomed to incessant ridicule.
So I went after the fox. They are bloody fast. As I came over the bridge, this one was out of the coop in an instant and dived into the back end of the frozen pond. It was the ice that did for her. She could neither swim nor scrabble over the ice which just collapsed under her weight. I dived on top of her with the most enormous splash and she bit the shit out of me. I held her under the ice cold water until she stopped struggling and the jaws clamped onto my hand relaxed.
Pretty bloodied, I struggled up the muddy bank and deposited her body onto the frost crispy grass. Amazingly, she was still alive but exhausted. I was bloody exhausted as well and freezing my nuts off. But I hadn’t given up. This animal lying next to me had though. It had accepted it was going to die by my hands so just lay there waiting for the inevitable. I had it by the throat and my leg over its body so it wasn’t going anywhere as we each caught our breath.What a beautiful creature. She was a hunter like me. No. She was a real hunter. If I came home empty handed, I could go to a supermarket and stock up feed for the family. If she failed to kill, she and her offspring would die. The stakes in our game were vastly different. She started to struggle and bit me again so I strangled her a bit more and sank my teeth hard into her ear. What she didn’t realize was that it was very important for me that I present her to my Father-in-Law. Having thus bonded but not trusting each other in the least, with a firm grip around her snout and body, I carried her into the farmhouse while she did her best to scrabble the shit out of my ribs.
I think they had all been expecting my abject failure or, in the unlikely event I had been successful, the corpse of a fox. What they weren’t expecting was me walking in, soaking wet and freezing, with a live one under my arm. I could see that they were all ready for bed and evidently quite prepared to leave me outside in sub-zero temperatures. My Father-in-Law very decently offered me a warming scotch but with me having only two arms, both of which were fully occupied taming the untameable, I could only stare at the glass. My Mother-in-Law was worried about fleas. My young wife, to her credit, seemed more concerned about the blood I was oozing.Naturally, the question arose, what were we to do with it? I guess my Father-in-Law would have been happier had I just shot it (and I wasn’t about to explain to him why I hadn’t managed to do that). Faced with an infestation of fleas now that I had introduced a wild animal into her lounge, I think my Mother-in-Law would have been more comfortable with supporting her daughter during the funeral of a husband who had been mauled to death by a wild animal in a lonely field, anything but beasties in the house.
‘I can hold her down and you can shoot her if you want,’ I suggested to Bryan, ‘after all, she seems pretty calm with me’. Having been expelled from the house the two of us were now sitting in one of the stalls of his barn, the fox cowering in the corner, my hand still on its neck.‘Alright, you hold her and I will shoot her’, I suggested when he said nothing, ‘I just need to go and get the rifle’
We sat there a while longer in silence. Bryan was never really talkative. Not with me anyway.I hauled out my hip flask from the inside of my Barbour jacket with my left hand and we each took a few slugs of whisky. Despite my heavy winter clothing the sleeves of my jacket had been torn to shreds and I was bleeding from my face and hands.
‘She’s beautiful, isn’t she?’ I said, only to break the silence while I lit up a cigarette.
This Vixen had destroyed Bryan’s duck business. He had every right to be angry. Foxes, like rats, are vermin and should be shot on sight.Bryan got up and came back with a shovel. In the right hands, a shovel is a pretty effective way of dispatching a wild animal but it is bloody horrible to watch, especially if you are the one holding the unfortunate beastie down.
Bryan looked at me. He was a tough Welshman who made his living off the land. As far as he was concerned, I was just another soft city kid. Not only that, I was an Englishman who had shagged his wife and consumed his daughter’s cherry. He hated me. I could tell by the way he gripped the shovel.
‘How about we just let her go?’ I said, ‘She’ll never come back’.He stood over me for a while, long enough for ash to drop off the end of my cigarette.
‘See that she doesn’t,’ he said before leaving me alone with the fox in his barn.
And do you know what? Having had the fright of our lives, neither of us ever set foot or paw on the farm again.