Although we’ve recently experienced one of the worst droughts in living memory, it was evident to me as we drove back to the farm one night that dry conditions appeared to have no impact on the fox population in our area. The number of eyes that lit up in our headlights was incredible, including a pair of redcoats that had taken up residence near our house.
Hunting foxes has been a big part of my shooting life and while some have come easy by way of spotlighting, the thrill of taking a wily old adult has always given me a buzz, knowing every fox down is another predator removed from our volatile ecosystem, not to mention the damage they inflict on chooks or farmers’ lambs.
Australian Shooter was approached by Tasco Australia to review a new product, the Mantis 50 by Western Rivers. The Mantis 50 is a hand-held electronic game caller preset with 50 different calls, hence the name. It resembles a horn and fits easily in the hand, the side of the hand grip having two folding legs that can be used to position the caller on the ground with the other end of the speaker upright.
The Mantis 50 comes with instructions but is simple to use, all the button-operated functions self-explanatory. It requires four AAA batteries installed to the underside compartment to power up and with your hand firmly grasping the handle, the buttons are comfortably within reach of your thumb. The ‘On’ button is left of the main screen on the top of the handle. Hold down for a 1½ seconds and you’re in business, same to turn off. To the right of the screen is the mode button and by pressing this simultaneously it takes you through the call categories and settings. A call repeat option is found in settings and the repeat is set at default from the factory.
The call activating button is pressed on the underside with your pointer finger or what I’d call trigger finger. The screen has a well-lit, green backlight and can be viewed easily in lowlight conditions (the auto backlight can be turned off if not needed). The screen will revert to basic LCD (liquid crystal display) after 10 seconds but lights up as soon as you touch a button. Push the mode button and use the up and down arrow buttons to scroll through the choice of 50 game calls until you settle on the right one. The last used call will remain after each power up until an alternative is selected. The volume is adjusted with the left and right arrow buttons and the unit will turn itself off after 30 minutes of no buttons being pressed.
The Mantis 50 is designed by US hunters and the majority of calls are for American game but one thing’s for sure - a red fox’s call is universal no matter where in the world you are. With your choice of game call selected, push ‘enter’ below the screen and activate the call with your trigger finger. For added volume an audio jack is built in but note the internal speaker won’t operate once an external speaker is engaged. A wrist lanyard is also supplied.
I didn’t have far to travel in putting the Mantis 50 to use as a pair of foxes had built a love nest no more than 100m from our farmhouse. Arriving home in darkness I put the caller to the test.
With a torch in one hand and Mantis in the other I let out a couple of blasts of the ‘fox greeting bark’. A flash of the torch picked up the reflection from their eyes and I had their attention. With my son Carl assisting, I had my 22-250 rifle and field pack as a rest and set up a firing position with Carl operating the Mantis 50. A flash of the torch showed the foxes were out of range so, taking up a new position with the wind behind us, Carl let out another ‘fox greeting call’. I picked them up in the scope at about 250m behind a couple of contours in the land and maintained my firing position with the torch off. We let out two more calls with a 20-second gap and hit the lights again.
Drawn by the sound of the caller, a big male had closed to around 90m and was well within range of the 22-250 Rem. He was alert and clearly interested. With sights set under his chin I fired immediately and with a thud he was down at the first attempt. The Mantis 50 had done its job. The vixen fled the scene and wasn’t stopping for a second glance but a couple of quick calls had her attention again, though she was never within range.
With the big male at our feet I was impressed, given the wind was strong and blowing straight in the direction of the foxes. To be honest I didn’t think we had a chance but it proved that although conditions were not in our favour, the Mantis 50 really did work and lured the fox to us even though he’d have been able to smell danger.
I loaned the Mantis 50 to my brother to test on his farm, and while working the back paddock he gave it a go with the ‘distress rabbit’ call and to his surprise caught the attention of a wild dog. Kicking himself for not having a rifle with him, this proved that while the Mantis 50 is not equipped with a wild dog howl, it highlights the effectiveness of the distress calls the marauder was obviously attracted to.
I admit that before reviewing the Mantis 50 I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve always believed in sticking with tried and proven aids when it comes to hunting, but when my Tasco contact assured me it worked well on a spotlighting hunt off the back of an idling ute I felt I’d be mad not to give a go.
Yes there are limitations on the amount of calls we can use in Australia of the 50 on offer, but my fox experiment proved the Mantis 50 really works. I was so happy with the outcome I arranged to have the big fox in splendid winter coat mounted by a taxidermist.
For hunting or shooting foxes the use of an aid like the Mantis 50 is definitely worth a try. Its compact design allows it to fit your pocket and is much less bulky than many remote callers. In my opinion there’s no such thing as cheating when it comes to conservation and the Mantis 50 is another tool that can give you an edge.
The Mantis 50 game caller comes pre-packed with instructions but not batteries and retails for $99. Details are on the Tasco website or ask your local gun retailer for availability.