Everything’s lined up perfectly. You breathe steadily, pull the trigger… and the fox runs away unscathed. What gives?

Finally the harvest in the South East is almost completed and the best part of the foxing season has begun. It was so nice to start visiting all my usual foxy haunts, especially as the evening temperatures have been pleasant and the monsoon-type rains have eased off.

With all the gear in the truck and lots of new toys to really put through their paces, the first few foxing forays of the harvest are normally some of my favourite trips of the year. Unfortunately one of this year’s trips proved to be one of my worst.

The night started out well with one of this year’s cubs appearing in the lamp about 100 yards to our left, tracking across us towards a wood on our right. With a little bit of a squeak on the back of my hand he turned toward us and stopped perfectly for the shot. As he was accounted for within the first couple of minutes of us starting, a few comments were bandied about that we could be in for a bumper night.

The next field we came to is normally a hot-spot. As we drove to the top of the hill Ian swung the lamp through the valley and sure enough we were greeted with the glare of Charlie’s eyes mooching around in the cover on the edge of the field. As he emerged from the cover the second shot of the evening rang out.

When we picked him up to put him in the truck I noticed that the shot placement was not quite where I would normally have expected it to be. If I take a broadside shot on a fox I prefer to drill at least one shoulder just above the fox’s mid-line, but this shot was a couple of inches back. But since he was in the bag, at this point I did not even give it a second thought.

I decided to go back over the top of the hill to have a scan on the other side, as there was a large dung pile in the corner of the field that can offer a bounty of food for a young fox in search of bugs and worms.

As soon as the lamp flickered on, three sets of foxy eyes shone back. Typically the first fox that I focussed on was on top of the heap, leaving him sky-lined with no backstop. Turning my attention to the other two, they did not offer up a shot either as they were sitting in the middle of a thick hedge.

I started calling and one of the foxes from the hedge line bolted towards us. I lost sight of him as he ran behind a bale but I moved the rifle into position as I wanted to stop him as he appeared on the other side.

Instead of playing the game, he appeared on top of the bale and crouched down, looking at us. Frustratingly, due to his lofty position there was only a marginal backstop. Deciding that I did not want to risk a questionable shot or educate these cubs any further, I left them for another night in order to try and pick them off individually.

It was not long before the next fox appeared in the lamp. Instantly you could tell that this one knew the game, as he started trotting straight away from us. Knowing that he was quickly heading for a thick hedge I let out a sharp call to get him to turn. As his head moved around the crosshairs were already in position. The shot rang out and as I kept a perfect sight picture I expected to watch him collapse – instead, all I saw was him tearing off like a scalded cat.

With the mickey-taking starting immediately by Ian and another couple of ‘friends’, who up until this point had been sitting perfectly quietly in the back of the truck, I wanted to quickly find another fox in order to save some dignity, especially as I thought the miss was due to pilot error. Presumably in my haste I must have pulled the shot.

Driving round a track along the edge of a spinney another fox appeared, no more than 130 yards off; he even obliged by sitting to face us. With the continuous ribbing still ringing in my ears, I thought to myself that at least this one was offering the easiest shot of the night, so I should not be able to mess up again.

With the shot sounding off, the laughter from behind me rang out, muffling the echo of the shot. To my dismay you could see a completely unscathed fox exiting stage left, leaving me not only with a car full of ex-friends but also a serious question to answer: what had I done wrong?

As a countryman and field sports enthusiast, I believe we should respect our quarry and do our utmost to ensure a quick and painless death to any animal we hunt. So, with the welfare of the animals I shoot being my primary concern, my only option was to call it a night and find out what was going wrong.

The next day I went out to discover what had happened. I checked all the normal problems that can hamper accuracy – scope mounts, action screws, ammo batches etc – but the only slight issue was that my moderator was showing signs of corrosion and general wear. Although this can cause accuracy issues I did not think it could be responsible for the previous evening’s misses.

It was only when I started putting a few shots into the target that my mistake became clearly apparent. I had mistakenly left my bipod on the rifle and when I took shots from certain positions, the legs of the bipod pushed against the moderator, causing the rounds to strike a couple of inches high and right of their mark at 100 yards. Obviously the further the shot, the greater the miss. With the bipod removed, the rifle was back to shooting a reasonable group.

With my pride firmly dented and no doubt a few more weeks of deserved leg pulling ahead of me, I can only be thankful I did not take any of the shots that presented with a questionable backstop.