by Steven G. Trosper
Sunday, November 16th, I removed a red fox from the only fox trap set the day before. You may be wondering, "So what?" Ordinarily, I would agree with you. But this season was far from ordinary! I learned several things during the 1980-81 season; things I ought to have learned years before. Catching that fox was the biggest thing of all, it was all I caught for the day too. But, let’s pick up the story a month or so before.
I have bought a lot of trapping books since 1980. But, from 1971 until 1979, I only bought a total of two trapping books. Both were by Donald Bierman, his book on coon and mink trapping and his fox trapping book. Both books I bought in 1974.
It was the last Sunday in September, 1980, the weather was like it is in late September-nice! I was looking over different places to trap the upcoming season. I also wondered how the animals had faired, during the summer. The summer had been dry and most cricks were dry, or down a lot. I knew muskrat trapping was pretty much out of the question. We had rain, lots of rain up into June, then it turned dry. We began to get some rain in September, but it was too little, too late to help that season. At the time, I did not realize we were heading for a decade of dry summers. The driest would be the 1988 summer. I stopped at a bean field along a seldom used county road and saw nothing of interest, except a freshly dug ground hog hole. I drove on to the next stop on my prospecting expedition.
I was not catching fox like I thought I should, I caught fox, but not many and not soon enough. I read all the books I could get my hands on about fox trapping, but I still was not pulling down dozens of fox per day, like the books made out I could. Perhaps a change of lure might help, or so I hoped.
With that in mind, in October, I sent for several different fox lures. I wanted to experiment, to find which fox lure/s might be best. I sent for all of Dailey’s, Hawbaker’s, Arnold’s, Walker’s, Lynch’s and any others I could find in the various trapping supply catalogs I had. To make the experiment as unbiased as possible, I labeled each bottle with a letter and in my trapping journal I had the name of the lure and its letter. I was able to catch fox easily up to the 1974 season.
Speaking of fox trapping, I would like to comment on some of the hoaxes, having been spread, in regards to fox trapping. Some of these hoaxes began in the 19th Century, others came upon the scene in the 20th Century.
Before getting to these hoaxes, I would like to mention something, I, like you, have read how fox are too scared to be caught near a high object. At one farm dad trapped in the early 60's, he sat a fox trap at a large rock every season. This rock was roughly 6 feet long, 3 to 4 feet wide and at least 2 feet high. By all fox books, this rock was too high to catch fox near. Yet, every season, dad caught fox at this rock.
Once, when dad finished resetting the fox trap, after he caught another red fox at this rock, I asked him how it was he could catch fox at this rock? It had bothered me for some time. Having read all the trapping books dad owned; each insisted fox could not be caught at a high object. The fox were high-strung and too paranoid to come close. His answer, "Fox don’t read method books. If it works, that’s all that matters." Keep this in mind as you read on.
Of all of the drivel, spread about fox trapping in the late 19th Century-FOX ARE AFRAID OF HUMAN ODOR has caused the most hangups for trappers. A fox knows you have been there, and you cannot fool its nose. A lot of time can be wasted, worrying about human odor. Ask yourself this question. If fox are so scared of human odor, why do they live as close to man as they do? Personally, I believe the smell of human odor is less a worry to fox, than trappers have been led to believe.
Reading the book "FOX TRAPPING", is a pleasant reading experience. Those people could spin some interesting yarns. Unfortunately, yarns are about all they are. You have to understand, at this time, there was no radio, television, or computers. The people spent more time telling stories for entertainment; the proverbial fish story if you will. Any man able to catch foxes was looked upon as some super human. He would be deluged by others to share his secrets. He may have been followed-or, the truth be known, he thought! he was being followed.
One way to avoid competition would be to get the competition to fuss over minor details, by making those details seem extremely crucial. They would have little time left to trap fox. One of these humbugs was fox are afraid of human odor and the smell of iron. This has been passed down through all fox books, until now, it is considered gospel. Perhaps, worrying about human odor causes a chemical change, in the body; thus yielding an odor alerting fox of danger!
Now, here is the rub. I am talking about trapping here in West-central Indiana. You would be hard pressed to walk a mile in any direction and not come across at least one house. In areas where the population density is much sparser, you probably will have to be concerned with human odor. But how much so? I have never heard of fox running way from these areas because they smell a human.
Not only was odor a serious condition, you needed to go to bizarre lengths to guarantee fox could not smell human odor. Smoking the trap was urged. This would eliminate odor? Another method was to smear beef blood on the trap. Once again, this would eliminate odor?
As long as you are not there when the fox comes to the set, I
the fox is all that worried about human odor; yours or anyone else’s.
of it this way, if you stand on your back porch and hear a train
Are you concerned about it?
Of course not! However, if you are on the railroad crossing when you hear the whistle, you are going to take a keen interest in it. Fox are the same with human odor, if you are not there; it is of little concern to the fox. Furthermore, a fox might be attracted to our odor. Ever ask a fox?
A fox myth from the 20th Century is-FOX HATE THE SMELL OF 'POSSUM.
Really? Where do the people, saying this, get their facts? What scientific study has been done to show this? I am amazed at the way this is tossed around, and never is any study given. One of these writers, writing in a trapping magazine a few years back, mentioned fox will get use to the smell of 'possum after a while. Boy! Talk about covering your butt! People were catching fox after 'possum, and began to question fox not liking the smell of possum. Remember what my dad told me with the large rock.
I have caught fox in traps, the day before held a 'possum, my dad did the same. The same trap, the same site, and a fox after a 'possum, this was back in the late 60's and early 70's. I might add, this happened enough times to not be a fluke.
Dad bought "SCIENCE OF TRAPPING" in the early 40's, copyrighted in the first decade of the 20th Century. The fox trapping chapter has a list of different baits. Now you might want to sit down, and get the smelling salts ready. Do not let any children read the following, after all we must be sensitive to their fragility. Are you sitting comfortably and prepared for a major shock? You are? Good, here goes.
One of these listed baits is (drum roll please) . . . 'possum! How can fox eat 'possum in the first 10 years of the 20th Century, and by 1970, hate the smell? The reason I give 1970 is because the first time I read this was in a fox book written in the early 70's.
However, the all-time winner, when it comes to modern hoaxes is-USE FOX URINE TO HIDE HUMAN ODOR.
I am embarrassed to admit this, but I fell for this one, hook, line, and sinker. It began, with me in 1974, I had not been catching as many fox as I thought I should. A book on coon and mink trapping I thought was one of the best ever written, this author had a book on fox trapping. I bought his fox book, this was the first I read fox do not like the smell of 'possum, also.
I went from using one 4 ounce bottle for a one week vacation trapline, to using one or two pints of fox urine for a one or two week vacation trapline. I used urine to "cover" the smell on traps, digging tools, and other equipment. I squirted fox urine over the trap site, to cover any and all "foreign odors". The only thing I did not do with fox urine, which this book urged, was to put some on the foot pedals of the car! This, I felt, was going too far.
I used number 2 coil springs at the time and a tin can with a notch cut out to fit over the dog was used to cover the pan. I saw this in Hawbaker’s SUPREME FOX AND COYOTE TRAPPING book dad had. I used the same can from 1963 until about 1983 or 84 when I bought a TRAPPER’S CAP.
I used waxed paper pan covers, at this time. About two months before season started, I cut several sheets of waxed paper to hang in a tree to air out. The pint glass jar I carried them in was in a tree airing out also. The night before trapping season began, I put half of the waxed papers in the jar. Before putting the lid on, I squirted fox urine in, to "eliminate" human odor! I would catch fox, from the 1974 season on, about a week after setting the trap. Seasons before, I could catch them the next day.
Now back to the season at hand, the 1980 trapping season. I dyed and waxed my traps at mom and dad’s on the 2nd of November. It drizzled all day and I got drenched. By Tuesday, the 4th, I had a bad cold. This cold put me down hard. I have been told I might have had pneumonia, I do not know. All I know is, it put me down hard! The 4th was election day and after work, we went to Perrysville to vote. I was so weak, I went in to vote while my wife stayed in the car with our 1 year old daughter, Veronica. After I voted, I stayed in the car with Veronica while my wife went in to vote. All I wanted to do was get home and go to bed, I felt too weak to do anything else.
The opening day of trapping season was the 15th of November, a Saturday, the start of my vacation. I did not feel all that enthused about setting traps, like I was all previous seasons. I felt so weak, I did not get out to set traps until late in the afternoon. I sat for muskrat and coon at a crick across the Wabash River, in Fountain County. This crick was large enough, it had water in it during the summer. It was down, but it did have water moving all summer, something most other cricks were not doing.
It was maybe an hour before sundown, I set my first fox trap of the season. It was in the bean field I mentioned at the start of this dissertation. The lure, urine, and jar with pan covers, I carried in a canvas bag slung over my shoulders. The traps, trowel, sifter, gloves and can were carried in the pack basket. Thinking back, it wears me out thinking about carrying all of this equipment and using a bag plus basket. I reached for the jar of pan covers-and the jar was not in the bag. I looked around and found a couple of leaves to place over the pan. To suppress any harmful odors, I decided to squirt extra fox urine over everything, and make it hunky-dory. When I reached for the bottle of fox urine, it was not there! I did not set any more fox traps, and it was too late to go back home, get the pan covers, and urine and still set fox traps.
As previously mentioned, the next morning, I caught a red fox. How could this be, with no fox urine to hide any and all foreign odors? I pondered this question and began to do some serious thinking; something I should have done in 1974. The following is what I came up with.
1. What scientific experiment, or study, has been conducted to
2. Where can these findings be found and checked?
3. Before 1974, I caught fox in a couple of days.
4. Now. . . it was a week after setting the traps out.
5. Urine is mostly water.
6. Water would do the same thing at hiding odors.
7. Those saying to use it for everything also sold it.
8. It was a marketing ploy-create a need and fill it.
9. These same writers had a chapter on digger fox.
10. No wonder! The fox smelled the urine on the trap and dug it up!
I went back home, placed the other covers, still in the tree in a plastic bag. When I was in high school, this was how I carried the covers and did not seem to have much problem catching fox. In the afternoon, I sat fox traps-and used fox urine only for the post set. The pint of fox urine I bought in 1980 lasted me until the 1986 trapping season.
A couple of days later, at one farm, after getting some coon and fox traps out, I headed back to the car, and around here, you walk. None of this driving up to every set business. Most places, if you can park next to the barn you feel so lucky, you dance in the street! I was near the top of a hill and had 1 fox trap left and did not feel like carrying it back with me. I set it in a dip, only a hop, skip and a jump away from the top of the hill. The set was a standard dirt-hole set.
I got back to the car and spent the next 15 minutes coughing. This is something I did a lot this season. I coughed most of the time and it was a hacking cough. I do not smoke! The cold had about ran its course, but I was still weak, and the coughing spells made me light headed when finished. I finally was able to drive off and get to the next farm.
The next morning, as I came up the hill I had set the fox trap, the day before, a coyote jumped up. It took off running toward the crick at the bottom of the hill and went on past the crick and out of sight. I went on and at the top of the hill a coyote was in the trap. It jumped about and fought the trap, and escaped to chase after the first coyote. I suppose I had my mouth opened, like I was stupid or something. The trap was destroyed and I pulled it. This coyote was all I caught for the day. Had I set 2 traps, I would have caught 2 coyotes, both could not escape! I learned quick the value of gang setting. No more of this 3 traps to a mile silliness.
Toward the last of my vacation, I was able to move about without
feeling totally weak. The last day as I took the traps up, I was able
go around the line without coughing as much. I still coughed, but it
not last as long, nor was it as violent.
This day was also windy and cold. The temperature was, at most, a balmy 30 degrees! With a nice, gentle breeze, screaming out of the north at about 1,000 mph. This is typical of weather here in November. Nice and sunny today; bitter cold tomorrow! Not only this, but the only thing between here and the North Pole is a picket fence, and it has rotted away!
A belt of trees, and weedy brush, protected me from the wind somewhat. I braced myself when I came to the end, I had to turn into the wind and I knew it would be cold! As I came around the tree belt, I saw ahead a coyote in a fox trap. I got my pistol out and was ready in case another one was near by. I almost felt like Lynch looked in his book TRAILS TO SUCCESSFUL TRAPPING. I mean, having a gun drawn ready to shoot some "bloodthirsty" beast. I hoped to get both if there were 2. The one in the trap was the only one, and I shot it before it could get away. Pulling this trap, the dog was gone, and the chain links were opened, I have no idea what kept the coyote from escaping.
As I wrote earlier, I learned a few things in the 1980 season. But, as far as finding which fox lure was the best, I never did found out. They all seem to work about the same. I have since gone to Helfrich’s lures plus keeping Lenon’s lure. But, you will not go wrong using any of the lures offered. The following is a list of what I discovered from the 1980 trapping season.
1. Fox urine is to be used only for the post set.
2. Fox urine on a trap makes a digger.
3. If something is not what you know to be true-question it.
4. Demand to see the scientific proof of anything spoken about fox trapping.
5. Human odor is not the problem it has been made out to be!
6. If a place is good enough for one trap, it is good enough for 2 or more.
7. Coyote are hard on traps. It is their JOB!
8. Being sick takes all the fun out of trapping.