A captured fox should be killed swiftly without alarming it unduly. This is not purely a compassionate recommendation: a desperately struggling fox may manage to break free at the last moment. Where it is possible to get a long view of a captured fox, a rifle can be used at a distance without the fox being aware of the operator’s presence. The Scottish code of practice recommends approaching the fox from downwind, presumably thinking of an approach on foot in an open landscape. In the lowlands, a long view is rarely possible and we think the more important consideration is to do the job quickly and efficiently. So in general, we favour a shotgun at a distance of no more than 20 metres, and aimed deliberately at the head or chest. Always load two cartridges, in case a follow-up shot is necessary. In thick cover, it may be necessary to get rather closer to see the fox at all, but still aim deliberately at the head or chest.
Bear in mind that after dispatching and removing a fox from a snare, you will be covered in fox smell. Make sure you clean your hands and boots thoroughly before you walk up to or touch any other snares that need checking, otherwise you will contaminate them all with fox odour. It’s not that fox smells are deterrent, just that you want the next fox to run through the snare, not stop and sniff.
If you accidentally catch a protected species, you could be liable to prosecution on the matter, even if it is released alive. In court, the prosecution would need to show that you wilfully set a snare with the intention of catching a protected species. It would be a convincing defence if you could demonstrate that you followed best practice guidelines and advice from other responsible organisations such as ourselves. Likewise, evidence of training courses you have attended and detailed records of your snaring activities should be helpful in such circumstances.
If, despite following the guidelines above, you catch a non-target animal, you have no guidance from the law and should choose the most humane solution. Unless the animal is injured and unlikely to survive, you should probably release it immediately. You remain open to prosecution for catching it in the first place, but you have a good defence and have demonstrated your intentions.
Releasing non-target animals from snares can be difficult. The basic principle is to use the snare wire itself to restrict the animal’s movements, then if possible to open the noose with a hook stick, or else to snip the wire at the noose with wire cutters. A hook-stick is simply a length of broom handle or other pole with an offset hook fastened into the end. You can form the offset hook out of a twisted nail, after fixing it in the stick, or by distorting a stout screw eye sideways in a vice. If you do need to release a badger, and you have other snares set in the area, we suggest that you remove any nearby snares on the same run, in case others are using it. You don’t want to have to repeat the release procedure!
A badger caught by the neck is relatively easy to handle. In most circumstances all you need to do is insert your hook into the noose and pull the running eye towards you, thereby opening the noose. As the noose is being opened the badger will typically shake its head, aiding release. If this does not work, drop the tines of your garden fork over the snare wire and run it out along the wire until you comeup close to the animal, then push the fork down into the ground. (Don’t use your foot to stamp it in, as that will bring your foot too close to the badger’s teeth! Also be careful to avoid the badger’s feet with the fork tines.) Use the fork to pin the snare still; but avoid tightening it, which will cause the cable to tighten and be lost from sight in the animal’s fur. The badger is now pinned down by the neck and will usually keep its head down.
It’s often possible to slip the hook between the noose and the badger’s neck as described above. This is obviously easier if the snare is properly free-running and the stop position has been set such that the noose is not tight. If the hook stick cannot be used, snip the NOOSE of the snare with wire rope cutters. NEVER cut the snare anywhere else in the hope that ‘the noose will fall off later’. Do not underestimate a badger’s power, or the damage it can do to your hands.
The same principle holds with all other similar sized non-target species caught by the neck. A badger, dog, or cat caught by the middle is harder to handle, because the distressed animal may be able and eager to bite you. Offering the animal a stick to bite will often keep it occupied long enough to release it. Again, restrict the movement of the snare, then pull the loop open, or cut the cable of the loop itself.
An animal handling pole is especially useful for dealing with badgers caught around the middle. Loop the open noose (which should be about one foot in diameter) over the captive’s head, and pull the draw-cord tight, which closes the noose. You can now pin the badger to the ground, by putting weight on the pole. Once you have restricted its head movements, loosen the snare cable from around its middle, and snip as described earlier. Animal handling poles are used by vets and RSPCA staff, and are available commercially.
Using snares with longer stop positions (26cm or greater) will allow more hares to escape from snares by allowing them to ‘back out’. Although snares are a legal method of catching brown hares, most snare operators regard brown hares as a non-target species, would prefer not to catch them at all, and want to release them unharmed if caught. The deliberate or accidental capture of mountain hares in snares is a grey area of legislation because of European protection for this species; the intention of the legislation is clearly to protect the conservation status of the mountain hare, but precisely how this affects the use of fox snares is unclear in advance of case law. In the spirit of the legislation, we suggest that fox snares should never be used in such numbers that they could significantly impact the local abundance of mountain hares.
Both species of hare are highly athletic animals with massive leverage in their hind legs (hence their ability to occasionally pop a breakaway that would hold a fox). If you choose to release a hare, you must accomplish it quickly because once alarmed by your close presence the hare can do itself a lot of damage by jumping around. Shorten the snare cable using a fork as described above, or by treading along the cable with your foot. Now restrain the hare, by pinning it down (not by picking it up), to prevent it from kicking out with its back legs. Quickly decide whether the hare is fit for release. If it is obviously injured in some way, you may decide to dispatch it now, by dislocating its neck. If the hare appears fit and well, snip the noose, release the hare and watch it away, guiding it away from other snares in the vicinity.
Injured non-target animals
If you follow our guidelines for siting and setting snares, there should be no risk of serious injury to non-target species. However, if the worst happens, the Wildlife & Countryside Act, Badgers Act and other statutes face you with a legal dilemma: to release or humanely dispatch? You may feel that rapid dispatch of the animal is the more humane option, but this may expose you to prosecution for illegally killing (as well as catching) a protected species. Arguably, reporting the incident to the police yourself should remove any doubt as to your intentions, but equally it might provoke an uncomfortable investigation. You must judge for yourself.
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