Thursday, December 06, 2007

Snow Stalking The Wily Red Fox

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Two decades ago there were far more red foxes than coyotes, and one thing we’d do is cut a fresh red fox track, and take off cross-country on foot along the snowy trail.

Once I drove to my late brother George’s house, and spotted a fresh track crossing the road a quarter-mile from his home. I stopped, got out, and studied it. The track was smoking hot.

George and I put our heads together, and he felt the fox would probably skirt behind the barn, head off across the field, hunt the open fields for mice, and then settle down for a nap atop a clump of uprooted trees a half-mile from his place.

We took turns dogging the tracks, and it was his turn. I’d lag behind, check ahead through binoculars, and try to make certain we didn’t accidentally bump the critter. We headed out on the track, and the fox did cut behind the barn, moved down a hill, and crossed the field.

I glassed the track from cover, and lost them near a patch of sumac this side of a fence row 300 yards away, and on the other side of the fence was the tree-tops that would provide a sunny hiding place for a napping fox.

We eased through the field, spotted several areas where the fox had tried for a mouse, but the tracks stay straight until it came to a small knoll, and we bellied up to the edge of the knoll. More fox stalks are blown because people rush to see what is on the other side, and blunder into the fox. Once spooked, the animal will run for a long distance.

My head eased over the top, and I glassed everything within view. The fox was nowhere to be seen, but its tracks cut through the field, into the sumac bushes near the hill-top, and we couldn’t see the tracks past there.

We huddled, and whispered back and forth, and felt if the fox wasn’t in the sumac, which we didn’t really consider, we’d have a reasonably clear look at the tree-tops. Perhaps the fox was already sunning himself.

I studied the sumac until my eyes watered, and couldn’t see tracks coming out. We had to keep going while we were fairly close to the animal. Stalling now could ruin the hunt.

We crossed the open field and approached the sumacs with caution. We could then see the fox tracks heading toward the fence line and the nasty mass of tree-tops were scattered about like jackstraws.

“I can see his tracks down to the fence,” George whispered. “Check the tree-tops, and see if you can spot him. We’ll stick out like two sore thumbs while crossing the field to the fence row.”

Long minutes were spent glassing the tree-tops before I spotted the reddish-russet color of the sleepy fox. He was facing away, directly into the wind, and we formulated plans. I would give George hand signals, and a palm raised up meant for him to stop.

We watched a minute or two longer, saw the fox raise his head and check his back trail once and then twice, and after the second time, we had five minutes to move. As soon as his head went down, George stayed low and ran for the fence only 40 yards from the fox.

He eased into place just as the fox’s head came up to look around, and when it went down, I moved out. We met at the fence, and George pointed to a hole in the fence that would put him only 25 yards from the fox but he didn’t dare make a sound getting into shooting position.

The fox looked around again, and when his head went down, George crawled to the hole, and snaked through. He had to depend on me now to tell him when the fox raised his head again.

Two minutes later the fox raised his head, and I made one small hand movement to George. He raised his 12 gauge 3-inch magnum, started to aim and the fox stood up when it caught the movement, and with one shot this fox hunt was over.

Stalking fox is no different than stalking bedded coyotes. Work into the wind, check closely before making a move, and when the stalk leads to a close shot, make it count. It’s an exciting way to spend part of a mid-winter day.

Stalks often fail for one reason or another, but when they work, there is plenty of good exercise and some up-close and spectacular action.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/06 at 05:59 PM
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