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Dad's Fox Story

Charles L. Dobbins

Chapter 1 - The Den

The small brown fox moved along the passageway that angled slightly upward.  The air was taking on a different smell than he had known the past few weeks.  A faint glow began to appear ahead on the walls of the tunnel.  This light was coming from the main entrance of the den, which contained his two brothers and two sisters.
           The tunnel made a slight turn and before him was the den entrance with the air coming in and the light made him squint as it hurt his eyes.  He emerged with only his head and neck out of the entrance.
            This was his first sight of the world outside the den.
            His eyes took in the drab dead grass and leaves, low leaden gray clouds moving across the sky, the gently swaying of the upper branches of the oak and the white patches of winter snow which was fast diminishing.
            The far away sound of a crow, the sighting of the chilly early spring wind in the gnarled old oak, the nearby stream as it dashed over a rocky riffle was the first sounds he heard outside the den.
            His black button of a nose brought the smell of decaying leaves, the damp sweet smell of water from the rushing stream intermingled with the smells of the fields.
            This was his introduction to the big world outside the den.
            A movement to his right caught his eye and there stood his mother watching him.  The young fox emerged from the den and walked toward her.  She licked his face with her soft, moist warm tongue.
            Another fox somewhat larger than his mother came walking up the path towards them.  There were two outstanding features about this fox, his size and a large white tip on his tail.  This was the young fox’s father, known as Brush.  This was the first time Brush had seen any of the litter and curiously looked and smelled around his offspring.
            Brush also had three white toes on his right front foot, but this young one had four white toes on each front foot.  This young one was then known as White Feet.
            The vixen urged the young fox to go back into the den.  She followed and the litter suckled their supper.  She also made White Feet and the others understand not to venture out of the den unless she was with them.
            The time came when she brought three field mice into the den and showed the pups this was food and how to eat them.
            A few days later she led the litter outside.  It was an early spring day and the warm sun felt good to the young pups.  They explored around the immediate area of the den taking in all the strange sights and smells.
They were shown two other entrances that would lead back to into the den, but were cautioned these were to be used in an emergency only.
            The main entrance went in beside a large jutting outcrop of soft sandstone, it jutted out of the earth at an angle and this created an overhang of some three feet where the young pups could play in the rainy weather.  Growing beside the sandstone was an old gnarled oak.  In the past, stones taken off of the nearby fields were dumped here at the sandstone outcropping.  Other smaller trees and brush grew up through and around the deposited stones.
            All this made an overgrown clump about twenty five yards across in diameter set in the lower corner of the pasture field which was rather grown up with young hawthorn, blackberry bushes, a few scraggly sumacs and broomsedge.  This pasture was part of the farm whose shiny silo roof and the roof of the barn could be seen about three quarters of a mile to the east.  The pasture continued up the gently hill to the north where it bordered on a heavy woods.
            To the south of the den the pasture continued about forty yards to a narrow stream.  Under normal conditions this stream was only about eighteen to twenty four inches wide, but during periods of prolonged rain it would flow out of its banks and sometimes cover the fields in the narrow bottom.
            Across the stream was a woven wire fence with a heavy growth of weeds and vines clinging to it.  Beyond the fence was a cornfield with its dead stalks rattling in the spring wind.  This cornfield ran parallel to the stream with the woven wire fence along the far stream bank.  On the upper side of this field, which was about a hundred yards wide was a barbed wire fence in long need of repair with fence posts rotted off and laying down and others standing at crazy angles with only a strand or two of rusted barbed wire holding them up.  The land beyond the old fence was a grown up thick tangle of underbrush consisting of small oak, dogwoods, wild grape vines and a sprinkling if pines of a stunted nature.
            To the east of the den the pasture continued about one hundred twenty five yards to a new barbed wire fence and across this fence was a freshly planted oats field.  Other fields continued eastward to where the roofs of the farm buildings could be seen in the distance.
            Looking westward from the den the pasture continued for about a quarter of a mile which gave way to heavy woods that continued to the far away hill tops.  These distant hills were where the headwaters of the stream below the den originated.
            The pups romped and played in the warm spring sunshine.
            White feet and one of his brothers were playing tug of war with a short stick when Brush came in carrying a rabbit.  All five pups started tugging and pulling at the furry hide to get to the sweet red meat they knew lay underneath.
            Brush layed down on the sandstone by the vixen who was keeping watch on the young brood.
She noticed that White Feet was the strongest of the litter and was learning fast, but there was one of his brothers who had been born with only a stuff of a tail, and the appropriate name for him would be Stub Tail.
            Stub Tail was the last born of the litter and was also the smallest.
            The pups had eaten as much of the rabbit as they wanted and resumed their puppy like play.  The vixen gathered up the partially eaten rabbit and started in the direction of the new oats field.  The pups started to follow, but she stopped and looked back over her shoulder at them.  They seemed to understand that they were not to come along and went back to their play.
            She carried the rabbit about ten yards into the oats field and selecting a spot she dug a hole in the soft ground large enough to contain the rabbit carcass.  The fresh earth contained some of the oat seeds, with their pale yellow-green sprouts.  She placed the mutilated carcass in the hole and using her nose, pushed the fresh dug earth onto the carcass until it was completely covered.
She returned to the sandstone and layed beside Brush while the pups continued their play.
            Well after sunset she let the pups to the stream and selected a place where the stream bank gently sloped to the water’s edge like a miniature beach and she began lapping the water.  White Feet came up beside her and his first try he put his face in the clear water all t he way up to his eyes.  He stumbled back, blowing water from his nose and licking it from his face.  The vixen looked at him and he came back and succeeded in lapping the cool sweet water.
            The other pups learned to drink after watching White Feet and their mother, except Stub Tail who went a few feet farther up stream where the sand bank was about six inches above the water.  He tried to reach the water as the others were doing but he couldn’t.  He stretched his head and neck down and moved his front feet closer, the fragile undercut sod gave way and he was floundering in about three to four inches of water.  He quickly climbed out and shook himself. What a sorry sight a wet fox is.   He looked like a long legged skinny rat.
            Back at the den the vixen licked Sub Tail dry and put them all safely in the deep den for the night.

Chapter 2 - The Hunt

Tonight, she and Brush would hunt together on the hill north of the den.  They proceeded together for the first quarter mile. 
          Blackberry bushes here grew in small patches of three to five yards across and the clumps of berry bushes were separated by grass with the cattle trails winding between the clumps.
           The two foxes separated about twenty-five yards apart and very cautiously moved forward with the night breeze in their faces.
           Each berry patch was checked for game, which might afford food for the pups.
           Suddenly the vixen saw Bush freeze, then he got as low in the pastured grass as he could get his body and started to stalk toward the thorny berry growth ahead of him about fifteen yards away.  She quietly circled to the other side of the berry patch that was being stalked by Brush, there she stopped a few yards from the berry bushes and hunkered down.
           The rabbit that Brush had smelled but couldn’t see was in the grass between the protective bushes and Brush.  The startled rabbit made a mad dash for the berry patch with the big fox in hot pursuit.
          The rabbit knew the berry brushes would slow the fox down enough so it could gain a couple more patches away and hopefully lose the fox.  The rabbit put on a burst of speed as it started to emerge from the clump about two yards from the vixen.  She gauged her spring and the rabbit’s speed perfectly, her forepaws and mouth pinned the squealing bunny to the earth. The powerful jaws around the rib cage of the squirming rabbit quickly put it out of its misery.
           While Brush watched, she pushed the dead rabbit under some dead grass and berry bushes.  This was only temporary and they would pick it up on their return to the den.
           Towards the upper end of the pasture a spring trickled from under a ledge of limestone and made a small stream for a few yards, then it disappeared underground for about a hundred and fifty yards where it reappeared.
           The ground between the disappearance and reappearance of this small rivulet had a lush growth of long type grass, which had been flattened by winter snows.
            Mice ate on the roots of this grass and even stored some of the bulb like roots of it in underground caches for winter use.
           The pair of foxes eased onto this grassy mat with ears and eyes alert.  The mice had runways under this layer of dead and matted grass and they could be heard moving along the hidden runways.
           The foxes focused to catch a movement on of the grass and pounce upon this disturbance.  If the fox was lucky and didn’t miss, a fat mouse would be the reward.
           A lightning like movement from Brush and a mouse’s faint squeaking could be heard from under Brush’s front feet.   A couple of quick snaps of his flashing white teeth assured them of a meal for a pup.
           After about an hour of hunting this grassy swale, they cached three mice by an old rotted log and progressed on east with their hunting.
           They entered into a large field that had not been cultivated for several years.  This field had a covering of standing weeds, dead grass and a few stray blackberry bushes were starting to take hold.
           Both foxes stopped and stood frozen in their tracks.  Their keen noses told them there was quail on the ground in front of them.  The foxes knew at this time of the year that quail don’t usually congregate in coveys.  It was probably a pair roosting on the ground in the clump of dead goldenrod about eight yards ahead.
           Each fox knew what to do.
           They rushed headlong towards the dead goldenrod stalks silhouetted against the night sky.  The two quail flushed simultaneously on whirring wings.  The vixen was slightly off stride to the rising bird, and her white teeth clicked on empty air.  Brush leaped when he spotted the rising bird as it got to the top of the weeds.  His leap carried him a good six feet into the air and about fifteen feet to the other side of the roosting place of the birds.  When he came down, a few stray feathers lazily followed him to earth.  The vixen knew Brush had succeeded as she heard the crunch of breaking bones of the quail in his jaws, which quickly killed the bird.  They retraced their route to where they had cached the mice and the vixen gathered them up.  They continued on in the direction of the hidden rabbit.

Chapter 3 - The Fight

   They were about fifty yards from where they had cached the rabbit under the dead grass and berry bushes when both fox stopped and stood as still as statues.  Brush gently laid the quail by the trailside and the vixen dropped the three mice.
            The hair from their necks to their tail along their back was standing erect.  They kept testing the wind with their noses.
            The wind told their noses an enemy, a grey fox, had found their rabbit and was eating it, as the wind also brought the smell of the fresh meat of the rabbit to their noses.
            This was their domain and Brush had it well marked against all intruders, but there was one.  The pair of fox moved boldly towards the unseen intruder.
            The grey fox’s range was in the higher hills to the west.  It had little game in it at that this time of the year and the few grey fox that inhabited that area, now ranged far and wide during this time of the year.  Later in the season there would be lots of fruits and berries to sustain them.
            The grey fox had found where the pair of red fox had cached the rabbit and immediately went to eating it.  The grey fox’s hunger was great, and it knew the chance it was taking and kept a keen ear and its sharp eyes watching for the owners of the rabbit.
            Brush heard the crunching of bones and knew the feasting grey fox was only a few yards dwon the cattle trail on the other side of the briar patch.  He rushed boldly headlong towards the sounds of the thief with the vixen at his side.
            The grey fox saw the assailants rushing in on him and he dove headlong into the briar patch.
            The grey fox is shorter legged than the red fox and is more accustomed to heavy cover, in which it spends much of its life.  It can go through heavy briars and weed cover somewhat faster than the red fox.  However, on clear open ground, the red fox will quickly outdistance the grey fox.
            The grey fox knew his only escape was to keep to the patches of protective back berry clumps and while the reds were going around them, the grey fox hoped to gain the next clump of thorny growth.
            The powerful strides of the big red male, as he covered the grassy pasture, was no match for the grey fox, and Brush caught him as he was coming out of the third briar patch.
            The red fox’s sharp teeth sank into the hip of the dodging grey fox.  They both went tumbling end over end in a flash of red, white and grey fur.
            The grey fox twisted around and sank his teeth into the meaty part of the neck behind the ear of the red fox, then again on his cheek and got a good bite on his black nose.  The big red fox still hung on the hip till that stinging bite on his sensitive nose caused him to release the hold on the grey fox.
            A red fox will bite and hold on, while a grey will snap several times in quick succession.
            By this time the vixen was at the scene and she joined forces with her mate.  She timed her jump so she would land a couple of feet short of the grey fox and let her front legs fold back under her so she would slide into the enemy with her mouth open wide.  She would close her powerful jaws in a vise like grip on the grey’s soft underside.  The grey fox didn’t see her coming and she had the grey fox’s front leg high behind the elbow joint in her strong jaws.
            What a squalling, snarling snapping scrap this was.  The grey fox knew he was fighting for his life and put all his ability into escaping.  As soon as he would get one red fox to let go, the other would have a new hold on him.
            One time he was free of both of them and darted into the sanctuary of a nearby briar patch.  The vixen went into the briar patch on his heels and Brush circled the patch quickly to ambush the grey when he emerged.
           Luck was with the try fox as this briar patch had an old abandoned broundhog hole in it. 
           His small size let him squeeze into it, and the reds at once knew they couldn’t dislodge the gray intruder.  And neither of the reds were willing to go into the hole and face those quick snapping teeth of the grey fox.
           The pair of red foxes sat on the edge of the briar patch and licked their lacerations and disarrayed fur.
           After a while Brush retrieved the quail and three mice, which were laid aside before the encounter with the grey fox.  He carried them to where his mate was keeping watch on the hole where the grey marauder was last seen.
           They rested awhile longer hoping the grey fox would attempt to come out, but they left in the direction of their responsibilities.  Brush carried the three mice and the quail and his mate carried the partly devoured rabbit.
           Upon reaching the oats field adjacent to the den, the vixen buried the remains of the rabbit.  Brush then carried the remaining spoils of the night’s hunt to the den in the stony, overgrown clump with the gnarled old oak standing in the middle. 
           The vixen poked her head inside the den entrance and let out a few low whines.  Soon five brown furry hungry pups were eating their breakfast in the light of a new day.

Chapter 4 - Spring Rain

          Brush layed on the outcropping of sandstone and rested till midday, then informed his mate he would see what happened to the grey fox.  He soon disappeared in the direction of the big fight.
          Brush stalked the retreat of the grey fox from the downwind side and found the faint trail of the grey fox going westward towards the high hills.  
         He followed the trail with his nose to the edge of his “staked out domain”.  There he left his droppings on a small decaying pine stump a couple of inches high, and from about a yard away scratched grass and dirt in the direction of the pine stump boundary marker.  Brush had these markers through out his range and any fox coming into his domain trespassed at their own risk.
         The pups quickly ate the mice and what they wanted of the quail.  Afterward, they played with the wings of the bird.  Their favorite game was tug-of-war, which always ended with a pup sitting on his haunches with a feather or two in his mouth, which had let go and sent him sprawling.
         The vixen led the pups to the stream to drink.  It was rather a joyous, playful happening, but the old female kept a constant vigil because she knew the perils of life. 
         They were on their way back from the stream to the den when the old fox stopped and her black ears stood erect.  With her nose twitching, she quickly ushered the small pups into the den.
         The farmer had taken a stroll with his constant companion, a black and brown, longhaired heavy bodied dog of a mixed breed.  The  dog’s features seemed to favor a collie more than any other.
         The farmer had come to inspect the oats field and to see if the ground was dry enough to plow the cornfield across the small stream.
         The vixen watched the progress of the bib-overhauled man and dog amble along the fence separating the pasture from the oats field, and she felt an apprehension of fear for her pups.  She kept low in the weeds and broomsedge of the pasture, crossed the stream in a low hurdle and exposed herself in the old cornfield.
         The dog was quick to see her and with shouts of “Sic’m Shep”, the man urged the dog after the fox.
         The dog “sight chased” the fox to the lower end of the cornfield and then attempted to trail her in the thicket, but she was schooled in throwing would be trailers off the track, and the dog returned after awhile with its tongue hanging and sides heaving.
         The farmer patted the dog’s head and said, “We don’t want none of those dang chicken thieves around this place.”
         She watched them return in the direction of the shiny rooftops of the distant farm buildings.
         Low ominous clouds rose on the horizon as she angled across the old cornfield toward the den.  
         She tested the wind with her nose and knew a big rain was in the making.  It started as a few drops spattering on the dead leaves and the tempo gradually increased until a full-fledged early spring rainstorm was washing the countryside.  Dawn came and the rain did not slacken. 
         The stream was starting to overflow its banks and inundate the fields in the narrow bottom.  
         About midday Brush returned with a grouse, which was quickly devoured by the hungry pups inside the den.  The inclement weather put a halt to all hunting.
         The next day the rain slackened a little but didn’t stop; hungry mouths still must be fed.
         The vixen went to the oats field and dug up the first rabbit carcass and carried it into the den.  At first the pups didn’t like the aging smell of it, but then their hungry stomachs overtook their aversion.  The pups soon made short work of it and all that remained was bits of fur and furry feet of the rabbit on the den floor.
         The rain still kept coming down and the mother fox started to be concerned for the pups.   She knew about the remaining rabbit buried in the oats field, but suppose this rain kept up for several more days.
         She went outside the den and gathered the dripping wet remains of all the field mice, grouse, rabbits and other parts of discarded food and carried it to the hungry pups.  Food disappeared quickly when there were five hungry mouths to feed.
         Brush never came into the den but took shelter under the sandstone outcropping.
         Morning came with the rain still falling.  The mother fox went to the oats field and dug the last rabbit from the muddy ground.  She noticed the green sprouts of oats starting to show through the sodden earth.
         Once again the pups hungrily ate their daily meal.
         Brush could feel the uneasiness of his mate and trotted off toward the east soon disappearing in the gray falling rain.  He went in the direction of the farm buildings now hidden from view by the misty rain.
         The rain made miniature lakes in the low-lying fields and the wet fox followed a fencerow, which would take him within a hundred and twenty five yards of the outbuildings.  He could watch and remain hidden from this vantage point.
         He stopped under some budding dogwoods growing along the fencerow and watched the white buildings across the field.  A few cows in the fenced in lot behind the barn stood in the rain chewing their cud.  In the barn a young calf bawled from time to time and was answered by an almost all white cow in the lot.
         Assorted farm machinery stood outside the barn and the big white house with green shutters stood across the gravel road from the white farm buildings.
         The big black and brown dog moved off the back porch and disappeared under the porch steps.
         A couple hours had slipped by and the only movement Brush had seen was the cows and the dog.  His ears could make out the sounds of clucking chickens, but he couldn’t see them.
         He moved from under the dripping dogwoods and went farther along the fencerow to where a rather large wild cherry tree leaned out over the field.  He stopped beneath the leaning trunk of the wild cherry tree and took what protection it offered from the falling rain and dripping branches.
         The big barn with a tall silo by its side was flanked on the right by an open fronted machinery shed protecting the contents from the elements.  There was other machinery sitting around outside.  On the left of the barn was a long rather low building with fine mesh wire fastened to the outside of the windows.
         Brush was downwind from the barn and what his eyes and ears didn’t tell him, his keen nose did.
         The damp air moving across the field brought the smell of the barnyard, stored hay, oily machinery and the mouth-watering smell of chickens.
         Presently the farmer came out onto the back porch wearing a raincoat.  As he started down the porch steps, the dog came out from under the steps and followed the farmer into the barn.  A barn door opened to the cow lot and the wet black and white cows went into the barn.  After the last cow entered the barn, the door closed.
         Soon the man went to the other low long building with the fine mesh wire over the windows.  When the farmer opened the door to this building the sound of chickens could be distinctly heard and the sound quickly stopped when the door closed with the dog standing outside in the light misty rain.  A few minutes later the farmer emerged from the chicken house carrying a wire basket of eggs to the big white house across the gravel road with the dog leading the way.  Immediately after arriving at the house the dog disappeared under the steps.
         Soon the windows of the house showed lights being turned on, as darkness approached on this overcast day.
         The fox cautiously moved from under the leaning wild cherry tree and he stealthily made his way across the open field towards the barn.  He took protection under a dripping hay loader and surveyed the area ahead.
         The machinery shed was on his right and the big barn and silo lay straight ahead.  He could move toward the barn and it would screen his movements from hostile eyes in the house.
         The chicken house was his goal and it stood some thirty yards to the left of the barn.  He moved around an old mowing machine and slid under the board fence, which surrounded the cow lot, and now could hear the big animals inside the barn munching hay.  The new calf had ceased its bawling.
         He stopped by the manure pile by the side of the barn to reconnoiter the route to the chicken house when the air current coming around the corner of the barn carried something to his nose, which spelled food.
         He looked the manure pile over and boldly climbed to the top of the four-foot high pile.  His nose found what he was looking for laying on the side of the manure pile among the trampled hay.  It was the afterbirth from the cow when her new calf was born.  The farmer had discarded it here during the daily cleaning chores of the barn.  Brush tugged it free of the trampled hay where it lay entwined and carried it back over his route to the hay loader.
         It was now almost dark and the rain was still falling.  He looked toward the house and there was no action there, a glance toward the barn and all was clear.  He then proceeded to the fencerow and on back across the soggy fields to the den.
        The vixen was pleased that she had found something for the pups, but they only ate a portion of it.  The rest was cached for later.

Chapter 5 - Green-up Time

     The morning brought clear skies and warm sunshine.  Everything seemed to turn green at once.
     In a few days the forming buds on the trees put forth their fragile green, soft leaves.  The new green blades of grass were pushing through last year’s dead brown grass.  The stream receded to it’s normal level, and small birds seemed to be everywhere in the fields, woods and brushland.
     The pups were losing their fuzzy brown appearance and their legs seemed to grow longer than necessary for such a small body.
     As the warming spring days passed, the pup’s playground in the immediate area of the den became warm, smooth and littered with the remnants of fur and feathers of small animals and birds, which the parents kept daily bringing to the ever hungry pups.
     The dogwoods were ready to burst into bloom and the apple, pear, peach and cheery trees had their pink-white dresses on.  The wild strawberries and back raspberries were in bloom.  The vixen made a mental note of these berry blossoms, because when they ripen, she will take the young foxes to feast on the juicy fruits of these plants.
     Her glossy orange-red fur has now become rather ragged looking and has patches of blue-gray underfur showing through.
     This was caused by the annual shedding and the hard work of obtaining food in the thick weeds and underbrush to feed the pups.
     She now has the pups almost weaned and soon, she and Brush will take them on short hunts.
     The pups are now going to the stream for water unattended and are ranging about a hundred yards from the den.
     The pair of red fox hunt almost twenty four hours a day to keep the hungry pups fed.  Sometimes they hunted together and sometimes they went different directions.
     Brush checked the gravel road each morning where three miles of it meanders through “his domain” to see what road kills can easily be picked up.  He must make this check between dawn and sunup as other animals, such as crows, hawks, buzzards and stray dogs also know about the easy pickings on the roadway.  The road kills are mostly rabbits, skunks and groundhogs, which help to make up the menu here.
     Once a large truck hit a small doe deer, and the dual wheels on the back of the truck mangled the deer’s chest.  The force of the collision caused the carcass to be hurled into a weed and brush choked ravine just off the roadway and out of sight of passing motorists.  Brush found it with his nose and he managed to tear and chew a mangled front quarter from the carcass.  The front quarter was everything from the hoof to and including the shoulder blade.
     This is big haul for a fox to carry, but he had no way of getting it any smaller.  When moving the quarter, he was partially dragging and partly carrying it.  During this endeavor, a passenger in a passing pickup saw the fox.  
     The truck stopped and the occupants got out to see what the fox was laboriously dragging.  The shutting of the truck door alerted the fox and he bolted away to the safety of a brushy fencerow at the side of a field.  One of the occupants retrieved the deer quarter the fox had dropped and put it in the bed of the pickup.  This incident caused a story to be circulated in the area about foxes killing deer, and the evidence was lying in the bed of the pickup truck.
     Brush returned to the deer carcass later that day, but a couple of stray dogs had laid claim to it and were sleeping off a big feed a few yards from the mangled deer carcass.  Brush dismissed it from his mind and went on across a pasture that had just had a herd of sheep turned out in it.
     They were mostly ewes and new lambs.  In the middle of this pasture is an old weather beaten barn standing there alone.  It is known by the owner as the “sheep barn”.  Here the ewes are kept during lambing time until they can be turned out to the new spring grass.  In the process of lambing, the farmer or hired hand looks after the newborn lambs, as this is a critical time in their life.
     A few die at birth and some a few days later, either through accidental or natural causes.  The dead lambs are tossed out on the manure pile to be disposed of later.
     The nose of the big fox smelled the carcasses of dead lambs coming from the area of the sheep barn.
     He circled the barn at a safe distance and his eyes, ears and nose couldn’t detect any presence of dog or man.  He started looking for the dead lambs.   He found two lying beside the manure pile and snatched one up, then carried it to the den.
     He arrived at the den the same time as his mate did, and she had two crows that had fallen victim to some farmer’s shotgun.  
     Brush returned to the sheep barn later that night and brought in the other dead lamb.

Chapter 6 - Time to Move

            One day the vixen was returning from the south where the hunting for grouse was good among the tall hardwoods.  She was carrying a grouse by the neck with its body slung across her shoulders.
            As she topped the last brushy rise, she could hear a tractor working and the sound of it was coming from close to the area of where the den was located.  She quickly hid the grouse and eased to the edge of the cornfield by the old broken down fence on the upper side of the field.
            The old cornfield was being plowed with the farmer riding the big red tractor and a black and brown dog was trotting along behind the plows.
            Black birds and an occasional robin were alighting in the freshly turned furrow to collect any earthworms or other morsels, which the plows turned up.
            The female laid at the upper side of the field under a hawthorn brush and watched the dog, man and tractor go back and forth the length of the field.  With each pass, the wind brought the smell of the exhaust, gasoline and hot oil from the tractor.  It also brought the smell of the man and his dog along with the damp rich smell of the new earth being turned over.
            A movement at the fence by the stream caught her eyes and her two black ears stood erect.  It was two of the pups playing by the fence.  The tractor, man and dog would pass by them at lest than fifty yards.
            She knew the wind would give the pups presence away to the dog. If only they would go back to the den where they would be safe.
            As the tractor neared the end of the field, the dog stopped, put his nose in the air and stood looking intently in the direction of the stream.  He started trotting stiff-legged with his nose still in the air towards the fence by the stream.
            The tractor was now nearing the end of the field where it would turn to lay over two more furrows in the opposite direction.  The man looked back at the plows so he could raise them at the proper time, and noticed the dog was not in his customary place behind the plows.  The man glanced out across the freshly plowed ground and didn’t see the dog.  He then looked toward the fence and saw the dog trotting stiff-legged toward the fence by the stream.  The farmer knew the dog had winded something so he pushed in the tractor’s clutch, and put the gear shift lever in neutral to watch what would happen.
            Everything seemed to happen at once.  The pups saw the black and brown animal approaching them and their instinct told them this was danger.  They wheeled and bounded through the fence and across the stream, on up the slight rise to the old gnarled oak to safety. 
            The dog saw them when they went though the fence and started barking and running in fast pursuit.  The mesh of the woven wire fence was large enough to let the foxes through, but the dog was too big to go through and had to go about ten yards along the fence to where a wash from the field had cut its way under the wire mesh.  The dog passed through the opening, barking all the while.
            The farmer stood up from his seat on the tractor when the dog started barking and saw the two foxes as they leaped across the narrow stream and on to disappear into the overgrown clump in the pasture.
            The dog entered this brushy clump about four jumps behind the young foxes as they vanished into their den by the sandstone.
            The dog barked furiously and dug among the hindering roots and stones when the bib-overalled farmer arrived on the scene.  He reached the dog and said to him, “So this is where they have their den”.
            The farmer took a plug of tobacco from his shirt pocket and cut off a chew all the while his eyes were taking in the poultry feathers, lamb wool and fur of different animals scattered about the area.  Then he exclaimed to the dog that these chicken and lamb killers have to be eliminated before theyeatus out of house and home.
            He let go a stream of brown tobacco juice from time to time.
            “We’ll get John and his hounds over here to catch these foxes and rid us of them”, he said as he started back in the direction of the idling tractor and coaxed the dog to come along.  The big black and brown dog followed reluctantly, every now and then stopping to look back in the direction of the old oak and he whined.  The man said a few words to the dog and climbed on the tractor and finished plowing the field.
            The vixen saw the man, dog and tractor go through the gate at the lower end of the plowed field and disappear in the direction of the farm buildings.
            It was almost dark when she retrieved the hidden grouse, widely circled the plowed field, and crossed the small stream.
            Upon reaching the den, she could smell where the dog had dug at the main entrance and the foul smelling tobacco juice from the man.   There were the man’s boot tracks in the fresh dirt dug by the dog.  All this made the hair along her back stand up.
            She went above the oak, poked her head into a concealed back entrance and gave a low pitched whine.  Soon there were five hungry pups eating their supper from the grouse.
            While the pups ate, she went to the east side of the protective clump and watched in the direction of the farm buildings.  She had encounters with man and dogs before and she knew to keep them at a safe distance.
            The den had been found and she knew the man would be back, so she decided it was time to move.  When Brush returned, he could follow their trail to the new den.
            She knew of an old log barn that had fallen down and groundhogs had long ago excavated their den under the cut stone foundation of the old barn.  She wished Brush were here to help her move the pups.  It was about two miles to the old barn and she figured it would take most of the night to get there.  The pups were small yet, but it had to be done.  She knew she would have to be extra careful as the pups couldn’t run fast or far in case a dog was encountered.  The fear of man at night did not bother her.  But there was a gravel road to be crossed, and fast moving things went along it sometimes with two bright lights.  These fast moving things smelled of gasoline, exhaust, hot oil and always the man smell was associated with it.
            She made the trip alone across the stream and under the fence, then across the freshly plowed field to where she had lain and watched the excitement a few hours ago.
            She went back to the den and headed all five pups along this route and hid them under the protecting branches of a fallen maple while she checked out the route to the gravel road.  If only Brush was here to help with the moving of the small pups.  One could check the route and the other could always be with the pups.
            She returned to the fallen maple and moved the pups within a dozen or so yards of the gravel road and hid them under a hawthorn bush with its lower branches touching the greening sod.
            She then checked the road from a high bank for lights and listened for the roaring sounds vehicles make.  She then bounded across the road and through a fence into an old cornfield not yet plowed.  The wind rustled some of the dry stalks and husks, which momentarily startled her.
            A moon had started to rise and its gray light made dark shadows along the edge of the big woods by the old cornfield.
            Back to the hawthorn bush she went and quickly moved the pups across the gravel road without incident.   Then they went into the cornfield with its dead and dry rattling stalks, and on through the cornfield to its edge by the big woods.
            There she deposited the pups in a weed choked corner of an old rail fence.  From here she planned to reconnoiter the route all the way to the old fallen down log barn, which lay on the other side of this big woods.
            She had hunted with Brush in this area a few times and remembered the fields were on the top of this ridge.  She would rather travel in the fields with the small pups than through the woods with its blow downs, sticks, logs, and especially she didn’t like the noise the dry dead leaves would make underfoot with five inexperienced tired pups.  It would also be easier walking and keeping the pups together along the edge of the open fields.  She went all the way to the old barn and the groundhog hole would need enlarged, but she could put them under the fallen timbers for now until the digging was done.
            On her way back to the pups, she noticed the last open stretch they would cross was just plowed within the last couple of days.  The last furrow the plow made would act as a guideline to the old barn which lay in its sprawled position about two hundred yards through a growth of heavy weeds and underbrush.
            The pups were all asleep in a tight huddle in the rail fence corner when she returned to them.  She woke them and moved them along the longest leg of their journey to their new home.
            Her legs stopped in mid-stride and her senses were keyed up.  She heard something she dreaded.  It sounded like hounds.  The pups were moving around in the dry grass and leaves at the edge of the field and their unintentional noise hindered her keen ears.
            She ran about fifteen long bounds and sprang lightly upon an anthill.  This put her away from the pup’s noise and being about eighteen inches higher afforded a better field of view and an advantage for listening.  There it was again off to the west.  It was the baying of hounds, but they were far away and she dismissed them for now.
            Stub Tail, the smallest, was showing signs of tiring, and kept lagging behind.  The vixen had to go back and nose it along to keep it with the group.
            They crossed the meadow at the end of the rattling corn stalks, then through a low damp weed grown bottom, and then there was the freshly plowed field with the last furrow acting as a guide line for a foot path towards the old barn.
            This plowed field was over a half mile long with a fence along the upper side.  They wouldn’t cross this fence, but on the other side of this weed covered wire was first a pasture field, then a block of woods and last was a field of new oats with its green tender blades showing through the brown dirt.
            They started down the furrow single file and after about a hundred yards, Stub Tail laid down in the cool moist furrow to rest.  The rest of the group traveled about twenty-five yards and the old female missed him.  She went back in to uncertain terms persuaded the little one to join the other four sitting on their haunches waiting.
            The pasture on the other side of the fence looked silvery with the dew on the grass in the moonlight, and the block of tall woods beside it resembled a black void by contrast.
            The vixen now was behind the litter and urging them on.  She knew they were tiring, but just a little while longer and they should reach the old barn before dawn.
            She trotted ahead a few hundred yards to check for danger and when she returned to the pups, they had hardly went any farther than when she had left them.  They lay in a huddle in the bottom of the furrow asleep.  She woke them and got them started along the furrow again.  Now she was alternating between urging them along and trotting ahead to check the route for danger.   The procession of foxes was passing the dark black of woods with the old one leading the way when a cry of pain from one of the pups broke the night stillness.  The vixen whirled to face the danger and overhead, just out of jumping reach, was a great horned owl with one set of sharp talons in Stub Tail’s back and the other set of talons clasped over the top of his head.  The powerful silent wings lifted the squalling pup p and over the high treetops.  The vixen charged through the fence and into the woods in the direction the owl had flown.
            The pup’s cries were fast diminishing in the distance.  The old female returned to the four remaining pups.  They were shaking with fright.  She had no trouble keeping them moving to within fifty yards of the barn where she hid them in a patch of elderberry bushes.
            Then she circled the barn with all senses alert for danger.
            Satisfied all was well, she led the pups through the fallen timbers to the horse stalls.  A few planks by the manger had been taken out long ago, which left a place to enter under the plank floor and provided temporary safety for the pups.
            The pups were soon all curled up next to a hewed floor joist and slept the sleep of exhaustion.
            The vixen then went outside to the foundation and started to enlarge the entrance of the old abandoned groundhog hole.  The dirt was very easy digging, just what had fallen in from the freezing and thawing of winter.  As soon as it went under the cut stone foundation, the tunnel turned at a right angle and followed the foundation wall for about eight feet.  Then the tunnel made a shallow angle upward and here it led two ways.  The one led to a hollowed out chamber, which had a layer of dry grass and leaves on the floor.  The other way led slightly upward about ten feet and the tunnel was blocked by a large piece of seasoned log.  But she detected cool fresh air entering on the bottom side of the wood and the air smelled of old hay and decaying manure.
            She started digging and soon squirmed out from under the log to find herself in the middle of the fallen timbers of the barn.  The log had fallen from the barn walls long ago and fell across the inside entrance to the old groundhog hole.  This entrance was well concealed, because it was under the jumble of the other logs, planks and rafters in the different stages of decay that had fallen as the barn had slowly fallen down over the years.
            The sun was coming up when she climbed over the ramparts of the barn and into the horse stalls where she awakened the four pups and led them to the underground sanctuary of the grass lined chamber.
            She had left several carcasses buried in the oats field by the old den and wished she had them now to feed her hungry pups.  But she didn’t want to return to that evil smelling place.
            She went to the top of the hill behind the old barn in quest of food for the pups and off to the north she could hear the baying of hounds.  They sounded far away so she gave the sound to more notice.

Chapter 7 - The Chase 

            Brush came in from the north to the den by the old oak carrying a new born lamb which was deposited on a freshly manured field by a tractor drawn manure spreader.  As soon as he entered the clump that contained the den, he knew something was amiss.  He circled and found the trail of the vixen and pups and their trail headed south.  He went back to the den and could smell where the dog and man had been.  Now he knew why his family had abandoned this place. 
            He ate part of the lamb just as the sun was starting to rise and was planning to bury the rest of the lamb carcass.  Suddenly his keen ears heard noises of men.
            The sound of their talking was coming from the east.  He eased from the cover of the clump and went up the gentle rise of the pasture so he could be down wind and at a higher elevation.  From here he could observe what was happening.  Also what his eyes and ears didn’t pick up, his nose would.
            The men were coming across the oats field and had several dogs on leshes.  They crossed the fence and headed straight into the clump.
            At once some of the dogs started barking and baying. 
            The men saw the partially eaten lamb and assumed the lamb killer lived here.
            Some of the dogs were unleashed and the hounds quickly found the fresh trail of the big red fox and left on the trail in a barking, howling frenzy.
            Brush heard and saw it all happening.  He knew not to head south, in the direction his mate had taken the young foxes.
            Up the gentle sloped hill he went, past the place where the fight with the grey fox had taken place, on along the edge of the big woods to the outer limits of his domain. 
          There he swung east along a ridge top and the land sloped away to gently rolling farm fields and fencerows.  He was running easily, but wasn’t gaining any appreciable amount on his loud-mouthed pursuers, who were about three fields behind.
            He angled along a fencerow, which would intercept the familiar stretch of gravel road. 
A speeding bullet with the sound of a mad bee buzzed a few inches over his head and smashed into the heavy growth along the fencerow.
            The report of the gun then came from the vicinity of the gravel road.
His reflexes caused him to leap to the side and he redoubled his efforts going through the fence and bounding northeast across a newly planted cornfield.
             Another bullet kicked up a small geyser of dirt a foot or so behind him and it whined off into oblivion.  Again the gun report came from the vicinity of the gravel road.
             He thought he was running fast before the second bullet came his way, but now he was really stretching out with his white tipped tail seeming to float behind him, and his belly fur was almost touching the brown dirt of the field between each bounding spring.
              He reached the sanctuary of a brushy fencerow with a sheep pasture on the other side.  He went through the fencerow then went along it on the pasture side.  Now he entered the brushy fencerow again to have a look in the direction of the loud sounding gun.
              The pursuing dogs had not yet come to the place where he was shot at.
              The shouting of men by the roadside attracted his attention and he could see them unloading other dogs from the big box on the back of a hidden pickup truck.  The men quickly led the fresh dogs to the place where he had gone through the fence.
              The fresh hounds took up the trail and were rushing across the freshly planted cornfield.  The big fox nearly flew across the sheep pasture and on through a large tract of woods.  He knew beyond this large stand of hardwoods was a big pasture, which contained Hereford cows with their new calves.
              He planned to mix his trail with those of the cattle so he could get a rest and catch his breath while the dogs unraveled his trail.  The fox was among the grazing cattle before they realized an intruder was among them.    He ran straight through the herd and then circled back and in doing so was charged by a wild-eyed cow with pounding hooves.  Brush deftly sidestepped the charge but other cows were coming after him, which he eluded and bounded off in the direction of a small knoll with some trees on it where he could catch his breath.  The knoll was about two hundred yards away from the angry herd.
              What Brush did not know was when cattle are turned out on the range they don’t like to have their calves molested and will promptly chase off any dog or similar intruder.
              He sat on his haunches in the shade on the breezy knoll and could hear the baying hounds coming to the edge of the big woods and saw them enter the pasture.
             The already alerted and angry cows heard the pack of four dogs coming and as soon as they were in sight the cows gave chase to the oncoming dogs.
             The baying dogs, with their noses close to the ground and had only the scent trail of the fox on their minds.  Soon they were among the pounding hooves and lowered heads with red-rimmed eyes and snorting hot bovine breath.
             The lead dog, a rather rangy long legged black and white Walker managed to dodge the angry cows by cutting wide around the rushing herd.
             The next dog, a young pup startled by the on rushing cows, managed to move aside from one only to be butted end over end by another.  The battered gyp quickly scrambled back through the fence where she had entered the field.
             This was a real show for Brush sitting on his haunches under the trees in the shade catching his breath.
             Cows were bawling and running wildly to chase the dogs.
             The dogs were trying to stay clear of the angry, rushing, bawling cows.
             Calves standing still but shaking with fright and bawling for their mothers added to the frenzy of the cows.
             The dogs would cross the trail of the fox and bay only to be harassed off the broken trail by the rushing cows.
             The big rangy walker circled wide and picked up the trail of the fox, and by the sound of his far ranging voice, the other two dogs knew that the big Walker had found where the fox had left and rushed to join the chase.  The young gyp went in the pack that headed in the direction of the tree-covered knoll.
             Brush saw everything taking place from his vantage place and now he had a plan to go across a few fields to where a black top road angled across the corner of his domain. 
             He knew when he hunted in the vicinity of this black harsh smelling road that if a rabbit ran across or along the smooth black surface that his nose could not pick up the trail.  Even when he saw the rabbit go up the bank on the other side of the road and into the weeds, his nose couldn’t pick up the scent for some time.
             He came near the black top road, and on a high bank above it he scrambled down the loose shaley bank to the smooth black surface. 
             He started trotting up the center of the road.  He knew of a culvert of about fourteen inches in diameter that ran under the black road.  He planned to enter this culvert on the lower side of the road and come out on the upper side and climb the high bank to watch the dogs try to unravel the trail.
             Just beyond the bend ahead about fifty yards was the culvert and he angled over to the side of the roadway where he would enter the culvert.  As he left the hard black top and was trotting along the loose gravelly shoulder of the road, a hi-powered rifle bullet plowed into the loose gravel a foot in front of him.  The flying small stones stung him on the legs, neck and face.  They pelted him with such force that it knocked him off his feet.  He quickly scrambled down over the road bank and through an old rail fence.  He ran like he thought he never could.   The elusive tactic with the culvert was quickly forgotten as he raced through the pastured timberland.
             He tasted blood in his mouth and his tongue found where a pebble had struck him on the upper lip and put a small cut there.
             This wooded pasture rose slowly to the timbered ridges on the skyline and he headed that way.
              He stopped to catch his breath and could hear the shouts of voices.  They were saying, “I hit him, bring the pick up here so we can get those rested dogs on his track.”
              The rifle toting man examined the place where the rifle bullet had dislodged the gravel.
              The truck stopped beside him and he used the rifle as a pointer and said, “He went over the bank here and through that rail fence.”
              “Look, there’s a couple of drops of blood on that lower rail,” and he excitedly continued, “See, I knew I hit him.”
              The fresh and rested dogs took up the chase from the rail fence and an occasional drop of blood on the trail urged them on even faster.
              The fox knew he had tough adversaries to lose. 
              He reasoned to stay away from all roads when being chased by dogs.
              Of course the fox couldn’t know all this was being worked against him.
              The hunters would listen to the voices of the dogs and determine the direction the chase was going.  Then the hunters, guns and spare dogs would travel by vehicle around large tracts of land to try and intercept the fox as he would attempt to cross a road they had under surveillance.
              The tiring fox went to the high timbered ridges where he remembered where a hillside was completely strewn with large boulders.  He knew if he could lay a trail on the hard surface of those large rounded boulders it would at least slow down the pack of dogs.
               He put on a burst of speed and landed on top of the first rounded boulder about four feet high and his momentum carried him to the second one about six feet away and over six feet off the ground.  He cocked his head to one side to listen and tried to determine how far away the baying hounds were.  He estimated he had about ten minutes before they reached this boulder studded hillside.  He leaped to the next one, a good twelve feet away only slightly lower and he continued to a place where he had to jump to the ground.  He ran a small circle around a couple of boulders and bounded upon another, all the while working his way along the hillside to a steep sided ravine which topped out on the ridge with towering oak, maple and lesser hardwoods.
                Among the gray and yellow boulders grew trees and shrubs that could be called stunted because of the poor soil conditions of this particular area.  There were also some laurel, blueberry and other brushy plants.
When he reached the end of the boulders, he dropped lightly to the ground and trotted along the side of the steep walled ravine to its top on the ridge.
                From the upper end of the ravine, the fox followed the sounds of the baying hounds with his ears and could tell when they had entered the boulder-covered hillside.  Now there were only occasional barks and very little baying from the dogs.  When they did bark, it seemed as if they were not together.  They were baffled as to where the big red fox’s trail went.
                He moved off to the west across the next ridge was out of his domain, and he didn’t relish having to run in unfamiliar territory.  He moved along the ridge but not on the very top as he could be silhouetted against the sky there.
                The forest plants grew in abundance on this ridge there was the soft velvet green of the heart shaped wild ginger leaves, the blood root with its lighter green scalloped edged leaves, the lacey sweet anise, may apple growing in large patches with its leaves having almost a waxy appearance.  There were also a few laurel bushes with their leaves like green leather.
                An air current brought him a smell, which caused him to freeze in his tracks.  He smelled grey fox and it was fairly fresh.  He stood and used all his senses to see, smell or hear the new smell.  He moved along slowly and found a trail of the grey fox, and it was only minutes old.  Brush started following the trail left by the grey fox, more out of curiosity than anything else.  He kept looking in the direction of where he had last heard the dogs and they seemed to still be on the bolder covered hillside.
                Here was a pile of damp reddish decayed rotten wood dug from under an old stump where the grey fox had dug out a nest of mice.  Soon he saw the grey working among some old logs that had not been taken to the sawmill when the timber in this area was cut long ago.
                Brush watched the grey fox start to dig under a half rotted log and assumed he had found another mouse nest.
                One of the hounds started baying in earnest and his voice was quickly joined by others as they headed up the ravine towards the ridge top.
                Brush knew they had found where he had left the boulder complex.  He felt rested now and decided to go northward as there were no roads in that direction and the general terrain was rough, which would work in his favor.
                The dogs followed Brush’s trail to where it mingled with that of the grey fox.  There the dogs split up, with some on the trail of Brush and the rest on the trail of the grey fox.
                The grey fox was busily digging under a large partly rotted log to excavate a mouse next along with its inhabitants.  The digging fox had a hole big enough to accommodate his head neck and shoulder.  He could hear the frantic stirrings in the dry nest a few inches in front of his digging paws.  He had his ears laid back tight against his head to keep the loose dirt from getting in them.
                 All this dulled the senses of the mouse hunter.  Suddenly he heard the dogs and quickly backed out of the hole, there were two big hounds only about four jumps away.  The alarmed fox jumped over the log and was off like a grey streak.
                 This prompted the two hounds upon seeing the fox to really let out with frenzied barking.
                 It was their way of telling the rest of the pack, “Here he is, we have him in sight, come on and join the chase.”
                 The other dogs that were on the trail of the red fox heard the invitation and interpreted what it meant, they didn’t need coaxing to get into a sight chase.
                 The grey fox dodged around trees, logs and brush with the two barking hounds only a few jumps behind.                      He bolted into a laurel thicket and this slowed the two hounds enough for him to gain some precious distance when the dogs emerged from the laurel thicket there were four eager hounds on the grey foxes trail.
                 The pursued grey fox knew of an underground sanctuary where he had weathered out a harsh storm last winter.  A large shell bark hickory tree had been uprooted years ago and it lay about a hundred and fifty yards ahead.  He could hear the dogs coming fast now that they were clear of the laurel and they sounded louder, but how was he to know they had doubled in number.
                 The tiring grey fox could now see the light brown dirt that the old hickory’s roots held above the floor of the woods and the big dead limbs standing out from the prone trunk twigless and leafless.
                 The hole under the roots was partially plugged with dirt and wind blown leaves.  He scratched away the loose leaves and squirmed into the coal blackness as the clicking white teeth of the lead dog snapped at the fast disappearing grey and black tail.
                 The hole angled down for three feet, then leveled off and made a slow turn to the left for about four more feet, then the passageway went slightly upward another three feet and ended in a hollowed out cavity about one foot high, two feet wide and two feet long.  There was no other exit.
                 The panting grey fox could hear the dogs digging and barking at the den entrance but he felt rather safe.  He hoped they would tire after a while and leave.
                 The hunters knew their dogs.  The different sounds of baying and barking means different things.
                 The hunters knew a “sight chase” was on when the dogs came upon the grey fox while digging for mice.  Now the voices of the dogs say, “ we have him cornered, come help us get him.”
                 Soon two men came upon the scene of the barking and digging dogs.
                 One was about eighteen, wore Levis tucked in high leather boots, a faded checkered flannel shirt and he carried a rifle.
                 The other was about forty-five, wore bib overhalls and a blue shirt with cowboy type boots crushing the leafy carpet of the woods with each step.  He also had a plump round red face.  The exertion of getting to the dogs caused him to wheeze and blow like a steam engine.
                 The red faced man talked to the younger man and assured him that the fox could be dug out in a couple of hours.
                 He instructed the younger man to get the rest of the hunters and to bring a shovel, axe and mattock.
                 The younger man returned with two other men with the assorted tools and two six packs to quench the thirst of the coming labor.
                  A shirt was taken off and the area close around the den is cleared of all interfering brush and vines by the shirtless ax swinger.
                 The mattock took the mellow topsoil and cut through the harassing roots above the underground hideaway of what the hunters think is the big red fox.
                 Soon one of the hunters was standing in the excavation about eighteen inches wide and three feet deep.  This small trench was following the hole and it went underground.
                 A slender stick of less than an inch in diameter and about five feet long was pushed into the hole to find which way it led.  Then digging was resumed in the direction indicated by the slender “feeler rod”.
                 The men took turns with the mattock and shovel.  The anxious dogs were held back out of the way.  The mattock wielder dug until he got all the hard dirt and roots cut loose, then the shoveler took over and removed the loose dirt, stones and cut up roots.
                 At the bottom was the slowly diminishing passageway to the fox.
                 It was cleaned out and the “feeler rod” was again poked back into the passageway to determine which way the mattock is to dig in the next round.
                 The dogs were put into the lengthening trench from time to time, the smell of the fox was stronger as they got closer with each round of digging.  The dogs had to be forcibly dragged out of the way so the digging could be resumed.
                  The red-faced man was pushing the “feeler rod” back into the passageway and the end of the rod jabbed the grey fox.  The fox sank his teeth into the tormenting stick and bit it.  This was relayed down the “feeling rod” much like a nibble is felt on a fishing pole.
                  With a shout of, “I felt him, he is only back about three more feet”, the digging was resumed with renewed vigor.
                 The last few shovels full of loose dirt were being taken from the trench and the trey fox was backed to the end of the cavity, with the loose dirt falling in all around him.  He saw the shining shovel blade scooping up the loose dirt and as the blade cleaned out the last remaining bit of loose dirt, the fox made a pass at the shovel with a lightening like grab, then quickly backed into the last remaining two feet of his retreat.
                The dogs were being held but just the fleeting glimpse of the fox was too much and a big redbone hound jerked free and sprung into the trench.  He poked his head far back into the hole where the fox was making his last ditch stand.
                The grey fox snapped the black nose of the dog, but this was a fighting dog and he didn’t give up.  He tried to get his bulk into the confined passageway to the fox.  The big teeth of the dog got a hold of the fox and a tug of war was on.
                The other dogs were trying to get in on the fight, but just the big redbone hound had room to get hold of the grey fox.
                 It was no contest.  A forty pound dog against a ten pound fox.
                 The fox was jerked out into the open and three more sets of teeth took hold of the fighting, snarling, snapping fox.  Before the men could get hold of any of the dogs, the grey fox was literally torn apart.
                 As soon as the grey fox was seen by the men, they exclaimed almost in unison, “That isn’t the fox I shot at,”  “It was a red fox that I saw going across that cornfield.”
                 The hole is checked to see if maybe the red fox might be there, but only an empty void of less than two feet remained.
                 The rest of the contents of the six packs were drained and the empty cans tossed into the open trench along with the remains of the grey fox.  The tools were gathered up and four tired and disappointed men and their dogs walked back to the road where the pick up trucks were parked.
                 Brush heard the change in the hounds barking and put on more speed along the north bound ridge.  Soon this ridge ended and before him lay open fields and blocks of woodland.  He remembered a high-banked stream that could be gotten across only by a running jump.   He thought he could jump across the stream, follow along it a ways and cross it again and circle back over his trail a few times to lose the dogs.
                  He jumped the stream and stopped on the other side to determine how far back the dogs were.  They sounded way back yet, but their voices didn’t have the long drawn out baying sound, but rather short, fast, high pitched barks.  He couldn’t understand why they weren’t closer on his trail.
                        He went along the stream bank to where it sloped gently to the water’s edge, there he lapped up the cool sweet water.  He waited a while longer and assumed the dogs had given up.  He had no way of knowing about the grey fox and dog episode.

Chapter 8 - The Reunion 

            The vixen hunted the hill behind the new home of her pups and in a thicket of flowering dogwood she managed to run down a rabbit.
            This rabbit would have made a nest in about a week and in the nest would have been born five baby cottontails, but his is the survival of the fittest.
            The tired vixen promptly ate the fetus, as this is considered a delicacy to all the canine family.  The rest of the carcass she hid and would pick it up when she returned to the new den.
            She hunted on through the thicket and under the new bursting fray-green leaves of some tall white barked aspen.  She heard the plain tine calls of a young robin.  She moved stealthily in the direction of the sound and was soon being “dive-bombed” by the two adult robins squawking at the predator.  The underbrush helped to keep the scolding, dive bombers just out of her reach when she saw the young robin hopping along the ground.  She made a dash for the fledgling bird as it vainly tried to fly.  Between running and half flying, it eluded her first assault, but she wheeled and scooped it up and ran off, all the while being harassed by the two parents of the bird that was now on the supper menu for the pups.
            The hungry pups hastily devoured the rabbit and the young robin, their first meal at their new home.
            It was well after sundown when she lead the four pups to a spring seeping from under an old fallen down spring house about seventy five yards west of the new den.
            The pups played among the fallen timbers of the barn and the vixen went up the wooded hill to the north.  East of the hill lay open fields on high ground.  She caught a couple of mice and a small garter snake for her late meal.  She went to the center of a cornfield with the first green shoots breaking through the brown earth.
            She sat there with eyes and ears alert toward the north.
            The stars were out and there was no moon as yet.  She gave a couple of short, choppy H-A-A-R-R-N-K …… H-A-A-R-R-N-K barks and listened intently.  In about a half hour she repeated the barks all the while listening.
            Brush, after drinking from the stream went to an outcropping of gray-white limestone and laid down under the protective branches of a fallen tree situated on a slight rise which would afford him good observation in all directions.  He partially dozed and yet kept his ears and eyes tuned for danger.
            It was dark when he came from under the branches on the limestone outcropping and the long chase had given him an appetite.  He hunted in an overgrown brushy ravine and a rabbit escaped him by going into a pile of stacked fence posts.  He found a grouse roosting in a small wild cherry tree, but the bird was too high and out of reach.  He then hunted the lower part of an overgrown meadow and satisfied his hunger with three field mice and a ground roosting sparrow.
            He traveled south by southwest as that was the direction his mate and litter took from the den, which was disturbed by the dog and vile smelling man.  No self-respecting fox would stay there now.  Especially with a litter of pups.
            He knew she would stay within his “staked out domain” and he would cover it all, south of the small stream tonight if he had to, to find them.
            He crossed the small stream about three quarters of a mile below the abandoned den where the long chase had started earlier that day, and then he traveled southward to the top of a pastured hill.  Here he sat and listened.
            Presently he gave forth with a H-A-E-E-R-R-N-K-….H-A-E-R-R-N-K bark and listened intently for several minutes.  Then he moved on southward keeping to the highest terrain that would give him good listening advantage.  He gave forth with the short choppy barks from time to time.
            The moon showed itself on the high hills to the left of the big red male fox.  On a high knoll he let out a couple more barks.  Almost immediately he heard it, it could be an echo of his own voice, so he barked again.  The answer was repeated, and he loped in the direction of his answering mate.
            The vixen showed Brush the old barn and new den.  They left and went hunting the rest of the night to obtain food for the ever hungry and fast growing pups.
            This is the general open farmland with only small patches of woodland and fencerows for cover.   The foxes surveyed the area ahead from a rise on a barren pastured knoll.
            They didn’t particularly like the looks of the open farmland, as that kind of terrain doesn’t afford much in the way of cover for rabbits, small birds and mice.
            The moonlight could be seen shimmering from the metal roofs of a group of farm buildings three quarters of a mile distant.
            They proceeded on and slightly changed their course as to give the farm buildings a wide berth on the upwind side.
            The were about two hundred yards from the buildings when their noses told them there was food on a freshly plowed plot ahead of them.
            Their noses told them there was poultry there.  The foxes moved silently in that direction guided by the ever-increasing tantalizing smell.
            This group of farm buildings was a poultry farm and the main income for this family was the selling of eggs, chickens and turkeys.
            The spring grain planting had just been finished and the annual cleaning of the poultry houses and pens was being done.
            Among the poultry there was the usual mortality rate among the flock from disease and accidents.
            The deceased birds were disposed of in the same manner as the young lambs.  The carcasses were tossed onto the manure pile to be hauled out onto the fields.  This was what the foxes found.  One young turkey poult and two hen chickens had been tossed on the manure spreader and deposited on the newly planted field late that afternoon.
            Brush buried one of the hens.  Then he picked up the turkey poult by the neck and tossed the wing flapping carcass onto his back.  He followed his mate carrying the other hen in the same manner.
            They reached the den as the eastern sky was starting to pale by the arrival of dawn.
            Brush left the turkey at the den entrance and returned to the other cached hen in the plowed field.  He dug up the hen and promptly urinated on the empty hole.  He then  returned to the den with the early morning sun well up and drying the dew from the grass.
            In the next few weeks the pups grew fast and the parent foxes worked almost around the clock to keep the pups fed.
            The pups were fully weaned now and the vixen’s udders started shrinking back to normal size.
            The poultry farmer moved the mobile turkey shelters out onto the pasture fields for his growing young turkeys.
            Once Brush passed on the high ground overlooking the poultry farm early one morning, he saw all the white turkeys feeding at the freshly filled feed troughs and a plan began to form.
            Here was food in plenty for the pups, but Brush also knew about the man and a large, long nosed, black and white, longhaired collie that was always close by the young turkeys.
            He would study the situation from time to time and maybe a plan could be worked out to get some of those delicious white turkeys.
            The pups played and fought sham battles among the down and rotting timbers of the old barn.  The area around the old barn was well littered with the remains of the feathers of chickens, turkeys, grouse, quail and of lesser wild birds.  There was also the fur and hair of rabbits, skunks, groundhogs, squirrels and other small animals.
            One day the pair of red fox brought in two small young groundhogs to the den.  The young groundhogs were about the size of gray squirrels and the foxes carried them to the den alive.
            This was going to be the pup’s first lesson in killing their prey.
            The young jostling pups were assembled in front of the old barn and the vixen placed the young groundhog on the ground.  It immediately attempted to escape into the tall weeds and high grass.
            She ran to the escaping animal and grabbed it behind the head where the head and neck join.  She went through the motions of putting powerful pressure there with her jaws.  Then holding it in her mouth, she gave it a few not too gentle shakes.  She then carried it to the group of gawking, eager pups and laid it down.  It feebly attempted to run and White Feet, with his rather clumsy puppy like style, placed his forepaw on it and rolled it over.  He then grabbed it by its back quarters.
            He attempted to shake it, but the young groundhog clawed and hung onto the inexperienced pup’s nose and ears with its claws.  He shook free of it and one of his sisters grabbed it by the back of its neck and shook the young animal so vigorously the victim hung limp from the young female’s mouth.
            Meanwhile Brush was standing off to the side holding the other small groundhog.  He carried it to the group of young fox and no sooner laid it on the ground when three pups all pounced upon it and promptly ended their first lesson with flying colors.
            The typical spring weather with some of its rainy days, chilly damp wind, and some of the wondrous warm sunshine, saw the dogwood bloom.  Soon as its large white petals started to fall, the black locust and wild cherry burst forth with their fragrant white blossoms.
            One sunny late morning the pups were doing their romping and playing by the old barn.  One of the young females was batting the downy head of a dandelion, watching the fuzz float away on the gentle breeze.
She kept playing with it until it was almost bald when a large black and yellow bumble bee passed in front of her nose and landed on a yellow dandelion blossom a few feet away.
            Curiosity being quite a trait among red fox, and this buzzing insect had to be inspected.  The young fox put her black nose next to the bee as it was collecting nectar from the yellow bloom.
Being disturbed the bee flew to the next flower a few feet away and the young fox followed, still trying to investigate the black and yellow buzzer.  The bee left for another bloom with the fox playfully following.  The young fox placed its large black forepaw on the bee and the blossom holding it down among the green leaves and grass.  The bee was mainly trying to escape and its buzzing under the paw of the fox gave her a strange sensation.  As the fox slowly lifted its paw to investigate this strange thing, the bee rose on humming wings to escape.  The instinct of the fox was to grab it, and the young fox’s mouth closed over the airborne bee.  With a yelp of surprised pain, she shook her head to rid the mouth of this thing that had twice stung her on the upper lip.  The bee was flung into the air and quickly disappeared unnoticed.
            The now smarter but hurting fox rubbed her face in the grass and shook her head.  After a while, she layed next to the stone foundation where the shade and coolness of the large stones and moist earth seemed to help the pulsating and enlarged upper lip.  The mother fox inspected the young and somewhat sick offspring; the old female knew this would soon pass. 
            She showed the other young fox what happens when you molest bees.  The name for this young female is now Puff Face.
            Brush was hunting to the east in a small valley that was mostly pasture land with a few fields of newly planted grain and a few green meadows in full bloom.  He came upon an old ewe that had just given birth to twin lambs.
            This was rather late in the season for lambs to be born, but there are exceptions to all rules.
            The ewe and lambs were in the shady corner of the pasture and away from the rest of the flock.  Brush circled wide and saw neither dog nor man anywhere.
            He rushed in on one of the newborn lambs and sank his teeth in at the base of the skull.  The ewe ran off bleating loudly, while the other new lamb stood in amazement, not knowing what was happening.
            The big fox dragged the limp carcass of the lamb under the lower strand of rusty sagging barbed wire, into the meadow and proceeded in the direction of the den with the heavy lamb.  Sometimes dragging it and sometimes carrying it with its feet and tail dragging.
            Unknown to Brush, the bleating of the ewe attracted the attention of the farmer in the adjoining cornfield.  The farmer was inspecting his newly planted crop to see how well the kernels germinated.
The man watched the bleating ewe run, then stop and look back towards the fence corner.  He also noticed the rest of the sheep were grazing at the other end of the pasture.  He knew this was rather uncommon for a lone sheep to be away from the rest of the flock.  The landowner crossed the fence to investigate this strange happening.
            Upon entering the fence corner he saw the newborn lamb of only a few hours old and wondered what frightened its mother into running and leaving it unattended.
            The man looked around and his eyes are attracted to a moving brownish animal about a hundred yards or more moving slowly across the adjoining meadow.
            The grass and clover of the meadow was about a foot high and this tended to make it hard for the man to distinguish what this animal was.
There had been raids on other sheep raisers flocks over in the bigger valley by stray dogs, and the farmer thought this is what happened.  A stray dog had attacked the ewe and frightened her.
            To get a better view the man climbed upon the strands of barbed wire.  One of the wires squeaked loudly as the man’s weight made the wire move through a fastening staple.
            The ears of the fox heard the squeaking wire and dropped the lamb to look towards the sound.  Brush saw the man standing on the fence and bolted away to the protective cover of an overgrown abandoned field.
            The sheepman swears under his breath as he recognizes the animal as a fox and tried to reason why he never saw one when he was carrying his gun.
            The farmer went to the carcass of the dead lamb and made plans to rid himself of these sheep killers.
            The farmer left in the direction of his house and barn.  Presently he returned carrying a rifle and smoking a cigarette.  He walked the last few steps to the fleeing victim and threw his cigarette butt in the green grass and crushed it with his heavy soled work shoes.
            Laying the rifle down, he fished in his pocket and brought out a small glass vial with a white powder-like substance in it.  He used his pocketknife and made small deep incisions in the tender carcass and used the knife blade to work the white powder deep into the red oozing cuts.
            When Brush left the lamb lay in the meadow, he went across the abandoned grown up field and watched his back trail.   After a while he was satisfied the man did not pursue him, and he began hunting for whatever could be fed to the ever-hungry pups back at the den.  Under an old rail fence he dragged out a chipmunk and a little farther on he located a nest of cottontails.  He brought them all to the den and they were quickly devoured by the young foxes.
            Brush laid in the shade of the old barn foundation wall until the stars were winking overhead.  Then he moved off in the direction of where he had left the lamb laying in the meadow.
            He circled the light colored fleecy lamb and he could smell its tantalizing odor, but there was also the smell of man and tobacco coming on the breeze with that of the dead lamb.
            These foreign smells were somewhat old and he knew the immediate presence of the man was not there now.  He cautiously circled closer.
            The smell of the man and his tobacco made the fox wary of approaching any closer.  He could see the somewhat bloated lamb laying on its side in the dew covered grass of the meadow.  He left the much needed pup food and entered the abandoned grown up field in search of the rabbit whose nest he had robbed earlier that day.

Chapter 9 – The Crossroads Store

            Each rural community has a place where the local farmers, livestock raisers, hired hands, and other people of the area exchange views and happenings of the vicinity.
            There was such a place at the “crossroads store” near the domain of the fox called Brush.
            The prowess of this fox being a poultry killer, lamb killer, he was even seen carrying a front quarter of a deer.  News of finding his den with all the feathers, fur and other evidence was exchanged at the crossroads store.
            The chase that ended up with the pack of good fox hounds being crossed up by the white tipped red fox and the dogs being fooled into “holing up” a grey fox.
            Then what about the young gyp that came limping back with what the vet said was a couple of broken ribs?
            All this was building into strong local feeling against Brush.
            Now this evening a sheep raiser saw him dragging off a lamb.
            “But I doctored up the carcass and it sure will give him a bellyache for good when he comes back,” exclaimed the sheep man.
            All people within earshot of the words that were just spoken understood that he had poisoned the lamb carcass.
            They were setting on the benches outside the store, smoking, chewing tobacco or sipping on a bottle of soft drink.  During bad weather, they would be sitting on old apple boxes or a few rickety wooden chairs around the popping wood stove.
            The owner and manager of the store was a pale, heavily jowled, bespectacled, balding man of about 55 years of age.
            This man’s father had operated this store for about thirty some years before the present owner.  Now he is was an old, shriveled, stoop-shouldered man with snow-white hair and his ever-present cane. He was almost constantly happening, or giving advice on livestock, poultry, crops and all things pertaining to this rural community.  His advice it highly respected.
            The tales of the foxes, the old gentlemen would listen to, with a shy smile showing through his white beard, but he remained more or less quiet about his feelings until the poisoning of the lamb carcass.
            Now he spoke!
            Poison is not selective, but destroys all living creatures that partake of it. Maybe some valuable dog being lost takes a meal from the poisoned lamb carcass and there are plenty of other meat eaters both good and bad that doesn’t deserve this kind of ending.  Such as crows, buzzards, possums, magpies, skunks, coyotes, cats of all kinds and a host of small birds.
            A silence fell over the bench holders.  The sheep man told them all that he would bury the lamb carcass in the morning.
            He stated that he didn’t realize the far-reaching effects that could happen from his thoughtless act.
            Then the question arose of what can be done about these foxes.  They figured there were more than just that one, because they found a den and Blake saw two young ones go into the den on his place.
            Then there was the chase and shots were fired at a big red fox with a large white tip on its tail.  They ended up digging all afternoon and only got a grey fox and blisters on their hands.
            The den at Blake’s place was checked a couple of times since, but the den was deserted.
            The whiskered old gentleman spoke up and said, “Whenever a red fox den is molested, the female will move the young ones”.
            Another voice with a pair of faded levis and soiled T shirt reasoned, “All we have to do is keep finding the dens and each time they will move and soon there won’t be any place for them to move, except clear out of this area”.
            Another voice took over and said, “That wouldn’t work because we don’t have the time to take off from our daily work to keep looking for dens”.
            Again the old gentleman spoke up, “There’s a man downstate that is classed as a professional fox trapper”.  He continued, “He travels around and catches the fox from an area for a fee and he guarantees his work”.
            “Why not get the county commissioners to place a bounty of the fox?”  Another man said.  “Maybe the pro trapper will come up here and catch the fox and the commissioners can pay him”, he added.
            One of the group said that he’d bring it up at the next commissioner’s meeting next week.
            They agreed that in the meantime they’d keep watching for signs of their dens.
            The bounty was not placed on the fox at the next commissioner meeting, although there was strong pressure from the sheep and poultry raisers from the area.
            The ewe that lost one of her twin lambs to Brush, lost the other lamb in the same manner a few days later.  The sheep raiser didn’t see the fox kill the lamb, but assumed it was the same culprit.
            The young white turkeys at the poultry farm were ranging further away from the shelter houses each day and soon they were going into the adjoining fields to peck the green shoots of grass and any insects they could find.
            One morning a pair of red foxes were watching them move away from the feed troughs and water canisters.  Soon they would be at the weedy fencerow where the foxes were waiting in ambush.   Each fox selected a young turkey and in a lightening like dash, grabbed the victim by the head and crushed it with their strong jaws.   The foxes left with their prizes for their young waiting at the den.
            The raids on the turkeys were at first made only a couple of times a week.  Sometimes the foxes would lay in wait, but would have to slip away because of the man and his dog, working among the shelter housed and feed troughs.
            Young groundhogs were making the bulk of the young foxes diet at this time.  The foolish young clover eaters were easy prey for the pair of foxes working as a team.  The foxes would locate a young groundhog feeding away from its den and they would belly-crawl and try to get between the feeding animal and its protective den.  When intended victim would see, hear or smell the foxes, it would make a rush for the safety of its deep den, only to be snatched up by the fox and used as feed for the pups.
            The foxes knew not to tangle with an adult groundhog, as they could give a good account of themselves with their strong forepaws and gnashing incisor teeth.  However, some adults were brought to the den to feed the pups, but these were usually road kills or victims of gun hunters who left them in the fields.
            Another trick used by the foxes to outwit the small groundhogs were; when frightened into its den, the groundhog’s curiosity was so great that it had to investigate what had frightened it.  One fox would lay, well flattened out within springing distance of the den and the other fox would amble off about 60 to 100 yards.  When it saw the young animal’s head appear at the den entrance it would act as if it was hunting mice or grasshoppers, looking like it didn’t even notice the groundhog at the den entrance.  The fox would move on away from the den and naturally the young intended victim would slowly come on out into the open.  When the waiting fox knew the time was right, it would spring upon the unsuspecting victim, silently and swiftly.  A pair of foxes sometimes could get all the young animals from one den in a few hours with this ruse.  They just kept repeating it with each animal.

Chapter 10 – Another New Home

            One morning while returning from one of these hunts, the foxes found where a deer had attempted to jump a woven wire fence, but apparently the doe misjudged the height of the fence and one of its slender back legs went through the top mesh of the fence.  The weight of the deer caused the tope lateral wire and the second lateral wire to hold the deer’s leg at the ankle joint.  She could not get back over the fence in this awkward position as only its front hooves were touching the ground.
            The deer had been dead only a short while when the foxes found it.  The deer was too big for the foxes to move.  Here was all this feed, if only they could get it to the pups.  The dead deer was only less than a half-mile from the den.  Why not bring the pups here?
            The pups were brought to the dead deer.  Strong teeth of the adult foxes tore away the hair and hide of the deer to expose the fresh red meat for the pups.  They all had eaten their fill and were soon sleeping off their bloated condition.
            The vixen was about sixty yards to the east on a sparsely wooded knoll keeping watch.  Brush was about fifty yards to the west on a moss-covered boulder.
            Early afternoon arrived and the pups took on another big feed from the deer.
            The warm spring air currents carried the smell of a dead thing to the high ridges.  Soon a couple of buzzards were circling on the rising air currents above the wooded hill where the dead deer was.  One of the buzzards saw the dead deer.  It glided down from its high altitude to feast on the deer.  The big bird was no sooner on the ground and the vixen came charging at the gray-black feathered thief with her lips curled back standing erect.  She stood guard nearby the deer, for now there were quite a few buzzards gliding overhead.
            The shadows from the circling buzzards darted among the green foliage overhead.  Some of them were sitting on the lower limbs of trees waiting their chance at the deer.
            As darkness approached, most of the big silent birds left, but a few could still be seen roosting on the high limbs, silhouetted against the night sky.
            All night the family of foxes feasted on the deer.
            The morning sun no sooner touched the treetops and the sky seemed full of the big wheeling birds circling overhead.
            The long practiced weathered eyes of a farmer scanned the early morning horizon for the sign of rain clouds.  His eyes saw the circling buzzards off in the distance.  He knew there was something dying or dead and it had to be of considerable size to attract that many buzzards.
            He told his hired hand that he would go and see if maybe one of the brood cows or a calf was down sick or hurt.
            “It looks like it is over by the Fletcher’s old place,” he said, letting go of a stream of brown tobacco juice.
            “You know the place where that old fallen down log barn is,” he continued.
            He called a border collie from the house and both man and dog were heading across his fields in the direction of the high circling birds.
            Soon he was in the abandoned grown up fields of the old Fletcher place and a direct route to the tell tale birds cannot be taken because of the tall blackberry briars and hawthorn bushes.
            He talked to the collie and said he thought if he went around this field and stuck the old lane to where it goes past the old barn, it would be easier.
He glanced skyward at the distant circling birds.
            The gray and brown rotting timbers of the old barn showed through the green foliage and the man noticed how smooth the earth was worn by the cut stone foundation.  Another glance at it and he stopped abruptly.  The unsuspecting following collie walked into the man’s legs.
            The farmer saw the fur, feathers and hair of animals.  He noticed particularly the poultry feathers and the wool of sheep littering the ground.
            He explains to the collie, “So this is where those foxes moved to when they left Blakes’ place.
            He moved on through the low running briars and broom sedge heading in his intended direction.
            The snap of a dead twig alerted the vixen.  Her black ears stood erect and her eyes searched the area from where the sound came.  Soon she could hear the measured crunch, crunch, crunch.  Only one creature makes a sound like that walking – MAN!
            She rushed to where the pups were and hastened them in the direction of Brush.
            Brush learned of the intruder from his mate.  He circled downwind to investigate.
            The man and dog found the partially eaten deer and soon were leaving under the watchful keen eyes of a big red fox looking through and around the openings of an uprooted tree.  When the man and dog were almost out of sight by the low foliage, Brush jumped lightly upon the trunk of this fallen tree and watched them disappear in the direction of the old barn.  The fox moved out in the direction the man and dog took, but about thirty yards to the downwind side of their route.  The fox couldn’t see them, but was following them by sound and smell at a safe distance.
            When the farmer and the collie reached the old barn, he stopped and bit a chew of tobacco from the plug he carried in his pocket.
            He surveyed the signs the foxes left around their den.  He poked among the rotted fallen timbers of the barn and the old cut stone foundation.   
Soon both the farm and dog moved on.   Brush followed them to where the cultivated fields were and watched them until they vanished among the sheds and buildings.
            The big red male fox went back to where he and his family parted.
            The deer carcass was covered with buzzards, and he knew there wouldn’t be anything left of it in an hour except some hair and the bones for the pups to play with and gnaw.
            He followed his broods trail with is nose and found the pups hidden in an entanglement of wild grapevines with his mate a short distance away keeping watch.
            It was dark when Brush and the vixen visited the old barn.  They didn’t approach close because of the smell of the tobacco and dog still lingered in the area.  This meant a new home had to be found.
            Brush knew of an old sawmill site.  There was a large pile of slabs with dry cavities beneath that could be used as shelter.  There was a large pile of sawdust that the pups could play on.  About thirty yards away was a small pond, which was created to hold water for use around the sawmill machinery when this woodland was harvested several years ago.
            The vixen and Brush inspected the area and was glad the spring fed pond would be close to the slab pile as hot weather was not many weeks away.  There were a few small green frogs, which would jump into the black watery depths at any approaching sound.  The pups would have fun trying to catch them.  The only inhabitants of the slab pile was some back snakes which the inspecting pair of foxes did not see, but their noses told them of the snakes presence.  This was all well and good because the back snakes would help out with the menu.
            This whole area would be ideal as the undergrowth, which took over after the timber was cut, grew thick and heavy.  The tops of the cut down trees had vines and weeds of all descriptions growing over and among them.  What trees that were left were dead, stunted, badly deformed or too small to cut for timber.
            The vixen returned to the grapevine tangle and led her pups to their new home.

Chapter 11 - The Amature Trapper

            That evening at the crossroads store the news of finding the den at the old log barn was told.  The person that was most interested was the sheep raiser from the little valley.
            The man that found the deer didn’t realize it had been the work of fox that had eaten the neck, both front quarters and along the deer’s back.  All he saw was that the doe had become securely tangled in the strong vines of the fence and the ever-present buzzards. The big silent birds got the credit for the partially eaten carcass.  However, the man knew red fox den sign by the litter they left strewn about their home.
            The big heavy, red-faced, bib overalled owner of the hounds that gave chase to Brush some time ago, stated that he was too busy spraying his orchards now to take time off to chase the foxes.
            However, he went on to say, “If the weather is good Sunday we will see if we can get a chase going and get everybody we can to watch all known crossings.   Maybe that way we can shoot some of those cussed foxes”.
            The sheep raiser silently took it all in and a plan was forming in his mind.
            He thought to himself that maybe it wasn’t such a good thing to do when he poisoned the lamb carcass.  He remembered the following morning after poisoning the lamb carcass seeing a dead skunk nearby and a sick buzzard.  He buried the poisoned carcass, skunk and buzzard in a shallow grave.  But he knew he had to do something, because he couldn’t afford to lose any more lambs.
            The sheep raiser’s note was due at the bank by the end of August.  The lamb crop wasn’t as good this year as he had expected.  He could meet the note only if he could raise all the lambs he now had and if the prices held on them.
            He thought that if that trapper down state can catch foes, he didn’t see why he couldn’t do it himself.  After all, early each winter he trapped the stream and farm ponds around close to his farm for muskrats.  He also brought in an occasional mink and raccoon that blundered into his crudely set muskrat traps.
            Early the next morning he was in his Chevy pick-up driving to the big hardware store at the county seat some thirty miles away.
            He asked the clerk to show him some steel traps, the biggest he had in stock.
            The clerk rummaged around under the counter and came up with three never opened cartons.
            The clerk said, “These are number two longspring traps and the largest we carry.  We never get any calls for traps larger than these.”
            The clerk opened one of the boxes and the shiny gray metal reflected the overhead fluorescent lights from their oily surface.
            “I’ll take a box of them,” said the sheep man as he took a worn billfold from his pocket.
            “What are you planning to catch,” asked the clerk as he gave the buyer his change.
            “I got some sheep killing foxes around my place,” he explained while putting the change in his pocket.
            “Are you sure you know how to do it?  I hear foxes are hard to catch with steel traps,” the clerk said.
            “I’ll sure give it a try,” said the sheep man as he tucked the jingling bulky box under his arm and headed in the direction of his parked truck.
            The following morning after the chores were done, he put the traps, an ax and some rusty bailing wire in the bed of the pick-up.  He was familiar with all the roads and farms in this end of the county as he had lived here all is life.
            Soon he brought the truck to a dusty stop at a rise on a backcountry road.  He unloaded the traps, ax and wire, but found the traps would be hard to carry unless he had something to carry them in.  Rummaging around under the seat in the cab he found a dusty burlap sack.
            He then went through the second growth hardwood along a ridge top with the sack of clinking traps thrown over his shoulder and the ax in his other hand.  He knew the ridge would take him close to the old barn.
            Arriving at the old barn, he was amazed at the amount of hair, feathers, fur and lamb wool that was strewn about.
            He had high hopes of making a catch here.  Especially where the hole went under the cut stone foundation.  He used the ax and cut a piece of weathered two by six rafter about six feet long to fasten the trap to.
            He set the trap and pushed it well back into the hole, almost the length of the chain.  He then wired the chain ring to the piece of rafter.   He looked around the area and saw the many trails close by worn smooth by the young foxes.  Selecting four more likely places in the trails, he set traps in these places.
            They all were fastened in the same manner as the first trap, to a piece of heavy wood.  The traps set in the trails were covered with grass and leaves.  Satisfied with the trap camouflage job, he gathered up the sack and ax and proceeded in the direction of the cultivated fields to the east.
            The first cultivated field next to the Fletcher place was a cornfield with its tender green, broad bladed grass-like corn about two to three inches high pushing through the brown earth.
            He crossed the fence and walked along the edge of the cornfield.
            With his eyes searching the soft mellow earth he found where a fox track left the fence and went across the cornfield.  He glanced toward the fence and a faint trail was noted where the fox came through the fence.
            He put the burlap sack and ax on the ground and fastened a two-foot piece of wire to the trap ring.  The trap was then set in the trail under the fence and fastened to the lower strand of fence.  He found two more places where fox tracks entered or left the cornfield and now a shiny new trap guarded each trail under the fence.
            He took the remaining traps back to the truck and placed them in the cab along with the ax. He whistled a merry tune as he drove the dusty road back to his farm.
            That evening he was at the crossroads store, but the subject of the foxes didn’t come up and he didn’t say anything about his actions that day.
            He arose earlier than usual and only did the necessary chores, the rest could wait until after he checked his traps.  His hopes were high that there would be foxes in some of the traps.  However, he doesn’t know the foxes have moved from the den at the old barn.
           He parked the truck at the same place and took a 22 caliber rifle from the truck and hurried in the direction of the waiting traps.  He could see the weathered timbers in the first rays of the rising sun.  He walked stealthily, like he was trying to sneak up on something in the traps.  The trap at the den entrance was undisturbed and the other four were the same as he had left them yesterday.
            It was a let down for the sheep man.   He couldn’t understand why he hadn’t caught any fox.
            The first trap at the edge of the cornfield held a groundhog so he shot it.  Groundhogs are a digging animal.  This one had dug up the grass, weeds and earth in a circle as far as it could reach, and all the dug up debris was pulled to the center of the dug up area.  All this digging destroyed the trail passing under the fence, so the man unfastened the trap and took it with him.  Maybe he would find a new place to set it.
            The next two traps held nothing.
            He recalled seeing groundhog remains at the fox den.  Why not use the freshly killed groundhog for fox bait?
            He went back to where he had left the dead animal and studied how he was going to use it.  Down along the fence row about twenty feet stood a small sumac bush with a fork in the main stalk about three feet from the ground.  He laid the groundhog in the fork of the sumac and camouflaged the trap at its base where the fox’s feet would be when it tried to take the bait.  The trap was wired to the base of the bush.  Satisfied with the new type fox set, he went back to his unfinished farm chores.
            The next morning there was no action with the traps at the old barn.  The trap and bait at the sumac bush was also undisturbed.  And the last trap held a large black skunk with only a patch of white on its head.
            The rifle bullet went where it was aimed …… square between the eyes.  The black animal let go with its spray that settled on the green foliage along the fence.  The odor was so strong, the man didn’t dare remove the dead animal from the trap for fear of getting that awful smelling stink on himself.  The man reasoned that tomorrow most of it would be gone, the then would remove the animal from the trap.
            The odor of skunk is like a dinner bell to a buzzard.  The odor carried on the warming morning air currents.  Soon a few buzzards were circling above the cornfield.  Their heads turned from side to side to find the skunk.  Soon one spotted the black furred animal and the big black-gray bird glided to the top of a lightning killed tree and watched the animal for signs of life.
            Satisfied the skunk was dead, the scavenger bird landed at the edge of the cornfield and awkwardly walked the few remaining feet to the skunk and started feeding.
            By this time a few more buzzards arrived overhead, they too had gotten the odor of the meal ticket on the rising air currents.  They settled by the first buzzard and dined on the carcass of the skunk.
            The groundhog carcass draped across the fork in the sumac bush was starting to bloat and a ripe odor was starting to emit from it.  The buzzards caught its odor and soon had it located.  They stood on the ground, eyeing the morsel in the sumac bush.  One buzzard sprung into the air and landed upon the carcass.  The weight of the bird along with the weight of the groundhog was too much for the small sumac bush and it bent almost to the ground.   The other birds rushed in and the bloated animal was dragged from the small bush.  The bush rose back to its normal position after being relieved of its burden.
            The feast on the animal began with a half dozen or so birds pushing and jockeying for position to get some of the meal.  The sound of a metallic click was heard and one of the birds tried in vain to rise on outstretched wings, only to be pulled back to the earth by the restraining trap.  The other birds paid no attention to the plight of the struggling buzzard that now was starting to tire from its efforts.
            The next morning the sheep man had the buzzard riddled corpse of the skunk to contend with and the buzzard in the trap at the sumac bush.  The man was rather exasperated to say the least with his efforts to catch any fox.
            He recalled the clerk’s words at the hardware store, “I hear fox are hard to catch in a steel trap.”
               He took the traps home and put them in the burlap sack to be stored in the machinery shed.  He reasoned that if he was to learn to trap fox, he must get some information about it from someone who knows more about it than he does.

Chapter 12 - The Pro Trapper

            That evening at the crossroads store there were about a half dozen men sitting on benches in front of the store.  They were smoking, chewing tobacco, talking and drinking soft drinks.  When the talk got around to fox, the sheepman inquired to the group that if somebody knew how to trap fox, they might be able to cut the local fox population down.
            One of the bench sitters stated that when he was a boy of eight or ten years old, his granddad used to be able to trap them.  That was about forty years ago.  He got a good price for the fur too.  If I remember right he got twenty dollars for some.  That was a lot of money in those days.  He just trapped on our farm and maybe on a neighbor’s adjoining fields.  He trapped within walking distance after the morning chores were done.
            He got twelve one winter and I remember us losing some calves and lambs due to a late cold damp spring.  The money he got for those fox helped us get seed grain and fertilizer that year.
            There was one thing granddad would not do and that was to take somebody along on his trap line.  He said that someday he would show me how to catch fox.  A couple of years later he passed away and didn’t leave any of his knowledge behind to anyone.  There always seemed to be some mystery connected with his success at catching fox.  I know that several times men had asked to show them how to catch fox, but he never showed or told anybody that I know of.  One man came up from Big Rock, that is about seventy-five miles away and offered to pay granddad to show him how to trap fox, but the man left disappointed.
            The old bewhiskered man with the cane spoke up, “Yes, I remember how everybody around here thought Bill, that was your grandfather, was a real wizard at catching fox.  Somebody said he had a secret scent he sent away for to catch fox with.”
            He continued, “I’ve heard that man down state is a real fox catcher.  They say he sometimes catches over two hundred in the winter.”
            The sheepman stood up and asked about this trapper’s name and where he lived.
            The old man replied, “I heard the name, but didn’t remember it.  Maybe our county game warden could tell you.  When the Game Department stocked all those pheasants on that state game reserve, the Game Department hired him to rid the area of all predators so the stocked birds would have a chance to take hold.  Now that area has some of the best pheasant and rabbit hunting around, so I hear.”
            The store was near closing time and everybody made small talk about what they had to do tomorrow.
            The next morning the sheepman telephoned the county game warden and got the name and address of the trapper down state.  The warden recommended him highly as having lots of “know how” about fox.
The sheep man tried to call the trapper by telephone, but couldn’t reach him.  Evidently, he had an unlisted number or didn’t have a telephone.
            The sheep man made plans to go and try to find this trapper next Sunday.
            It was about an eighty-mile drive to the little town that was the address of the trapper.
            Sunday at noon a signpost with Ford Mills on it meant this was she sheep man’s destination.
            Ahead was a combination gas station and general store.
Ford Mills only had about 12 to 15 houses in it.  He stopped by the gas pumps of the gas station and told the proprietor to fill the tank.
            He ambled inside where it was cooler and opened the soft drink cooler, selected a bottle and opened it.
            The smell of kerosene, cheese, binder twine, leather, dill pickles and other unidentified smells filled the dim, cool interior of the store.
            Several men were sitting on the porch and he walked out and introduced himself and inquired about the residence of the trapper.
            The sheep man learned the trapper lived about two miles further down the highway, turn left at the first road and he lived in the second house on the right.
            He paid for the drink and gas.
            Soon he was at the left turn off down the gravel road.   The first house was a large white farm home with gleaming white barns and outbuildings.
            The dusty gravel road dipped lower around a sweeping turn and a one-story bungalow came into view.  There were three or four outbuildings in the back.  A Jeep truck was parked by one of the buildings.  A canoe was laying on its side against the building by the truck.
            There was also a well cared for garden with its straight rows and lush green foliage giving promise of a good supply of vegetables.
            A rather tall, slender built man came out on to the porch when the Chevy truck turned into the driveway to the bungalow.
            The sheepman and the tall man exchanged greetings.  They introduced themselves and the traveler was invited into the house.  The furnishings of the front room were somewhat worn, but clean and looked comfortable.
            The trapper introduced his wife, a rather plump pleasant looking woman, wiping her hands on her apron.
            The woman asked the guest if he would have dinner with them as they were just ready to sit down.
            The man declined the invitation to dinner, but he told her not to hurry the meal because of him.
            He settled himself into an easy chair and picked up a magazine from an end table within easy reach, as the trapper and his wife disappeared into the kitchen.
            He looked at the cover of the magazine and was surprised at its title, “Trapper’s Journal”.
            He opened the magazine and started to thumb through it.  There were stories about fishing, trapping, hunting, root digging and a classified section of advertising everything from hunting clothes and dogs, to traps, trapping equipment and fishing gear.
            He started to read a story about bear hunting just when the trapper emerged from the kitchen, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth and sat down on the sofa.
            The sheepman told of how he got the trappers name and started his reason for coming to see him, which was to learn to trap fox.
            The trapper sat there not saying a word. 
The words of “how to trap fox”, seemed to hang in the charged atmosphere.
            The sheepman could feel that he might have said the wrong thing first.  At any rate he at once realized this was not going to be easy.
            He fished a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and offered the trapper one, which was declined.
            Then the uneasy guest told of the lambs and poultry he and his neighbors had lost over the past few weeks.  He also told of the chase and his failed attempt to trap the fox.
            The sheepman went on to explain that something had to be done as the fox were cutting into the communities means of livelihood.
            The trapper sat and listened.
            After a brief silence he told the sheepman that he understood the farmer’s problem.  It also was problem for the trapper.
            The guest asked how this was the trapper’s problem, being all this was taking place so far from him.
            “It’s a long story”, stated the trapper, “and if you listen to what I have to say, maybe you will see and understand my side of it.”
            “I’m not against the landowners, farmers, hunt club groups, Wildlife Depts. Of different states, hunters, dog owners or any other person or group of persons, but they all enter into what I’m about to say,” the trapper continued.
            I learned to trap at an early age in the west.  I went and lived with my grandfather on a large sheep ranch after my parents were killed in an auto accident.
            Coyotes and cats were the main predators of sheep on my grandfather’s ranch.  After a few years, I got rather good at catching these predators.  If a neighboring rancher was having a predator problem, they would send for me.
            Then the Federal men came in and started a predator control program through out the sheep raising area of the state.
            Soon they would have trouble with an individual predator that was trap-wise and somehow the Federal trappers had heard of me.
            Their supervisor for the area asked if I would give them a hand at catching the problem predator.
            Being young and in my late teens at the time, I jumped at the chance to show off my skill.
            Generally in a span of a few days, I had the trap-wise animal.
            One day the supervisor asked why I didn’t try to get on the force.  He told me about the benefits and the pay.  It sounded good and to my liking.
            He gave me some forms to fill out and I mailed them in to the district office of that area.
            After a few weeks a letter came from the district office, asking me to go to the state capital to take a test.  This would be a breeze because at that time I thought I knew it all about trapping.
            Well, didn’t they come to ask me for help to catch some animal that they couldn’t?  Of course they paid me, but I never worked for them over a week at a time.
            I went to the state capital and took the test.
            I still say it wasn’t a fair test for what they wanted me to do.  It was a civil service test and questions on it didn’t pertain to the job I wanted to do.
            In short, I flunked the test.
            Several days later the supervisor came to visit me and he already knew I had flunked the test.  He said he was sorry that I did not pass, because the need for my kind of “know how” was greatly needed throughout the range of the coyote.  At that time, the range of this animal ran roughly from the Mississippi to the west coast and from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.
            We had supper together and talked “trap talk”.  He told of how he was afraid that a poison program was being thought about by the “higher ups” in Washington.
            I could feel that he was against using poison.  He also stated that if an animal would come to a poisoned bait, that same animal would come to a bait with a well concealed and constructed trap guarding the unpoisoned bait.
            With a poison program the poisoner has no way of being selective.  What ever takes the poisoned bait dies, and whatever eats the first victim of the poison also dies.  A chain reaction is started.
            (We lost lots of good forbearing animals and birds of all descriptions because of the poison program, which was started.)
            The Second World War came along and I spent a few years in it.
            When I got out, I went back to the ranch.  It didn’t take me long to dig the traps out of the shed where I had stored them four years ago.
            All the while I was in the service, I planned on a long trapline in the mountains to the west of the ranch.  In those mountains were marten, lynx, mink, fox, mountain coyotes ermine, a few beavers, and wolves.
            I had trapped that area for fur before I had left for the service.  With all the young men in the military service and the older ones away at defense jobs in the cities, I assumed the population of the animals should have built up to sizeable proportions in the mountains.
            However, when I got to the old line cabin in the mountains and started to prospect out the intended traplines to see what animals were there and locate good set sites, I found that the animals were actually scarce.  There was no snow yet, but if you know animal sign, you can tell if the animals are around or not.
            I found almost no sign of mink, coyote, marten or wolf.
            A new poison was developed for use by the Federal men and they really plastered it around.  The poison took its toll of almost all carnivorous animals.  This poison was called 1080.
            I stayed at the line cabin a few days, but didn’t set any traps because of the scarcity of animals.
            I left there and went north to the Platte River country to trap for muskrat, beaver and mink.
            The mink were even somewhat scarce in the Platte River basin, because the poison program was so wide spread.
            Then the following few years the price of fur got so low that a long trapline couldn’t be operated profitably.
            I traveled eastward and got a job driving a semi-truck, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do.
            I got to see lots of country from the cab of the big truck.
            I wanted to have my shoes on the green grass or in powdery snow, I wanted to walk in the shade of towering trees.  I wanted to wade or swim in the clear looking streams that I drove the big semi over.
            I wanted to smell of water soaked willow leaves along some lake’s edge.  I wanted to fill my nostrils with the smell of a wood campfire along with the resinous smell of pine trees.  I wanted to hear the riffle of a stream, the sigh of the wind in the trees and the chirping and twittering of birds at dawn’s first light.
            The job I wanted, I couldn’t find.
            One day I had a load of fence wire to be delivered to a game farm.
            While I was backing the truck to a building where the wire was to be unloaded, the axle broke and it took two days to get a new part and get the semi fixed.
            While it was being repaired, I found out the fencing was to protect the small game birds and animals being raised on this game farm from predators.
            I talked to the game farm manager, then the owner and convinced them I could do a better job of predator control than they could hope for with any type of fence.
            “To make a long story short, I worked there for five years.”  Said the trapper.
            “This place consisted of several thousand acres, some of it was marshland and used for waterfowl rearing.”  He continued.
            He continued, “ While I worked on this game farm, the word traveled fast and far about the success the owner had with raising small game and game birds under more or less natural conditions.  This game farm was so successful that biologists and men high up in different state game departments came to see how the food patch planting was carried out, how food was distributed in bad winter weather, how cover growth was planted or artificially constructed, how rearing young birds were cared for and how they were being adapted before being turned out.”
          He mentioned that all this can be seen now in some state game management programs.
          The trapper also told the sheepman that his main job was predator control, but he also helped with the planting, feeding and other work on the farm.
          He smiled widely and said, “The landowners surrounding the game farm were glad for me to trap their land as there was somewhat of an overflow of game animals and birds from the game farm and the surrounding landowners welcomed them.”
          Then with a bit of sorrow in his voice, the trapper said, “The owner of the game farm unexpectedly passed away and a real estate firm bought the game farm. It was to be made into a housing development.  When the farm finally shut down, I worked for several state game departments doing predator control work part time.”
          He explained, “They would hire me to clean up the predators in a specified area prior to a wild turkey, pheasant, or quail release.  I couldn’t get a permanent job with them, as I couldn’t pass the civil service tests.  I’ve only got an eighth grade education.”
          The trapper went on to explain the price of fur started to slowly rise and I trapped for fur during the winter and did odd jobs during the summer.
          He also told him that there was a university in the state west of his that received a grant from the government for a study to see how much of a coyote’s diet consisted of wild life, bruits and berries and domestic birds and animals.  The professor in charge of the study got in touch with the trapper by mail and asked if he would come for an interview. The interview resulted in him getting the job of catching the coyotes for the study.
          This program was to run for twelve consecutive months.  He could trap anywhere for coyotes in that state.
          The stomach of each coyote had to be removed and placed in a jar of formaldehyde and the jars sent to the university once each week.
           At the lab in the university, the stomach contents would be analyzed to ascertain what the coyote had eaten.  The trapper had told the professor that he could tell him now within a few percent of what the stomachs would contain for each month.   But the trapper didn’t have a degree from a college or other school of higher learning and what he knew didn’t count.
            The grant had been made and the program was to be carried out as planned.
            Long before the year was up, the money ran out and the professor notified the trapper that the program would be terminated.  The trapper told the professor that the money already spent would be thrown away unless the full cycle of a year’s study was made.  The animals that were analyzed were caught from May to October and at that time of the year, food is abundant for the coyote.  He went on to explain that the fruits and berries are gone in October and the coyote would have to go on an almost straight meat diet.
           The facts taken from the study said the coyotes diet consisted mainly of fruits and berries.  Only a small percent of the coyotes diet was meat.  What meat there was found was mostly harmful rodents.  This is what is taught to biology students and others going into the field of wildlife.
           The trapper knew this was wrong.  He had lived with these animals the year round.  He knew their habits, fears, dislikes and almost their thoughts.  He didn’t claim to know it all.  If he lived to be two hundred years old, he would still learn more about them.  Not just the coyote, but all animals.
           The trapper’s wife came into the living room after finishing the dinner dishes and asked if the two men would like some coffee or a soft drink.  The trapper and guest both chose coffee.
           The woman spoke to the guest saying that once you get him started talking bout trapping it is almost impossible to get him to stop.
           The trapper looked at his wife and gave her a knowing smile.  He sipped the aromatic coffee and looked deeply into the steaming cup, and continued talking about trapping.
           The trapper told the sheepman about an outfit that owned a big feed mill.  They paid landowners or anybody that has the facilities to raise turkeys for them.  The mill furnished the turkeys a few weeks old and the mill also furnished the feed.  These people were paid so much per turkey at market time.  Any turkeys lost though disease, theft or predation was a lost to all concerned.
            The fox population had grown to such proportions in that area which consisted of about two or three counties that the mill was having a hard time getting anyone to take on raising their turkeys because of the predator problem.
            So, the trapper got the job of thinning down the fox population and he was very proficient at trapping foxes.  He still works for the mill two months of every year. 
The mill pays pretty good for doing it.  They still lose a few turkeys to the fox, but it is no way as bad as it was before he started working for them.  The raisers are happy, the mill owners are happy and so is the trapper.
          From that story, the trapper went to another one about a woolgrower’s co-op.
          He went on to say he wasn’t against all woolgrower’s co-ops, but his particular one hired me to trap for them.  He had a hard time getting them to come to his price.  After all he had his expenses.  Finally it was agreed that he would get so much per coyote and so much per bobcat.  The cat pay was only good from March to July as that was when they worked on the lambs.  This was way back in the high country and he kept ahead of the sheep herds and had the grazing land pretty well cleaned up a head of them as they moved to higher elevations as the seasons progressed.
           The co-ops main office was about a hundred and fifty miles from where he was trapping and every two or three weeks, he would take his catch to them.  The president of the co-op would write a check for what he brought in.  He wasn’t getting rich, but was making about the same wages as a skilled bricklayer or machinist.  However, hourly employees work only eight hours and any work over that time they received premium pay for it.  The trapper put in many more hours.  He would be on his way to the first traps with his headlights on and generally didn’t get back to the trailer till after dark.
           The difference was that he liked his job and enjoyed doing it.  He had trapped there for better than two months and on one of the trips to the main co-op office to turn in his bounty for payment, he was informed that the president was away for a few days and I could get the check when he returned.  He couldn’t wait around for the man to come back because he had traps to check.  He went back to the high country and trapped for almost two more weeks before he came in to collect his piled up bounty.
           The president of the co-op was also the county’s prosecuting attorney, and was also a county commissioner in one of the counties he was trapping in.  When the trapper got up with the co-op president, he told the trapper that he had bad news for him.  Because the four counties that made up the co-op had run out of  bounty money, the day after the trapper cashed his last check, about four weeks prior.
           The trapper didn’t understand this and told the president so.  He went on to explain in his political, apologetic way that what ever the four counties would put up financially, the co-op would match it.  The trapper didn’t know anything about the counties putting up any money for bounties.  He assumed it all came from the co-op.  The president told him that he had caught more than they had anticipated.
          The president had no explanations about why the trapper wasn’t notified that the money had run out.  They just let him go on and spent his time and expenses for their own good.
          The co-op had asked the trapper back a couple of times since then, but he wouldn’t go.  He also notified all the other professional trappers he knew about the outfit so they wouldn’t get taken by them.
          The trapper declared he’d never trap for bounty again.  Any trapping assignments he’d take on would be for a flat rate depending on the animals, size of the area and the amount of time to do the job.
          The sheepman was sitting on the edge of his chair listening to all this and didn’t even notice his coffee was getting cold.
          The sheepman spoke up and asked, “Why do you do this kind of work if it is so uncertain?”
          The trapper looked deeply into his empty cup with a far-away gaze in his eyes and said, “Everyone has something they are good at.  Wildlife is my strong suit.  The pay is rather short, and I know at times it seems like everything and everybody is against the trapper.  Laws are made about trapping that look all right to the layman, but then the man on the street knows little or nothing about wildlife or trapping.  Politicians get in on the act proclaiming to do something about ecology and wildlife, but there is little or nothing being done.  License fees in some states run pretty high.  I’ve paid as low as $15.00 for a non-resident license and as high as $200.00, depending on the state.  Then there are the do-gooders that think they have all the answers by outlawing guns, traps, archery or other forms of harvesting the surplus wildlife.  If it wasn’t for the so called gun nuts and sportsmen’s dollars going for license fees there wouldn’t be any game management except private hunt clubs.  For the trapper there are long hours, rain, mud, snow, high water, unwanted catches, trap and fur thieves and deep drifting snow.” 
          The trapper continued, “However, I guess there must be the challenge of it all.  It has its rewards also.  There is the clean fresh air, exercise, beautiful sunsets, the early morning dawn where you can almost hear the sun rise with all nature coming awake to a new day.  Out there is peace and solitude, no boss looking over your shoulder and no time clock to punch.  Not all my living comes from the trapline.  This place was left to my wife by her parents.  We raise a couple or three pigs to butcher each fall.  The garden supplies us with almost all our produce.  We either can or freeze the surplus and store apples, potatoes, turnips, carrots and cabbage in the cellar for later use.  In the off season from fur trapping if I don’t have a predator assignment I work for local construction outfits, helping them build houses, barns or other buildings.  I sometimes make long runs for the Cattle Shippers located over in the next county if one of their truck drivers is sick or they have a lot of cattle to transport a long distance away.”
          The trapper stood up and stretched.  He carried his coffee cup and the guest’s cup to the kitchen.  He returned and took his place on the sofa.
          The trapper then spoke to the sheepman about his problem.  “By what you have told me, all this poultry and lamb killing has been taking place in one locality of only a few farms.  It sounds to me like the work of a family of red foxes.  When they have a litter of pups, the pups must be fed.  The old pair will gather in anything and everything that can be fed to the pups.  This problem you have with the foxes in your area can be taken care of in a few days.  This is how I would work it if I was to trap those fox.”
          The sheepman leaned toward the speaker so he wouldn’t miss a word being said.
          The trapper continued, “I would look the area over where the foxes have done their killing and try to judge the range of these fox.  You see, each family of fox has a definite range or territory that they live in.  It will vary in size depending upon terrain, amount of natural food and other factors.  They won’t usually leave this range unless harassed quite a bit by man and dogs, but the main reason they leave their established domain is food conditions.  If there is little or no food, they will move on.  I would use from five to eight traps to do the job on these fox.  I wouldn’t set all the traps in one field either.  Take a two hundred acre farm, and I might set two to four traps on it.  I know all the fox are not on this one piece of property.  A fox doesn’t know a property line fence from any other fence and their range could cover up to a thousand or more acres in farm country.  It could very likely be more in woodland or desert type terrain.  Farmland has more fox food in it per acre than large tracts of timberland or prairie type terrain.”
          The sheepman was nodding his head in agreement with what the trapper was saying.  He moved uneasy on the sofa and cleared his throat.  He opened his mouth as if to speak, then hesitated.  He clasped his hands in front of him and thoughtfully looked at them. 
          The trapper looking sincerely at the sheepman said, “I don’t want you to think I’m trying to put you down or trying to discourage you from trapping or attempting to trap those fox.  What I’m going to say is coming from similar past experiences with men that had the same problem as you and your neighbors have.  If I would show you how to make the set to catch fox, your inexperience would cause the fox to know what was going on and they would avoid all your sets.  You may get lucky and catch a fox or so, but once the rest are educated, they can give even a pro trapper a rough way to go.  The pro trapper will get the educated foxes, but it will take longer and time is what the trapper can’t afford to lose.  The educated fox doesn’t look any different than any other fox.  I’ve tried to help others such as you, but the only ones that really learned to trap fox or coyote were the men that could or would devote almost all their time at learning the habits, range and learn to read fox sign.  Most men with an occupation, whether he was a farmer or a skilled draftsman can’t devote that much time and usually ends up quitting in disgust and saying it can’t be done.  The reason for the failure is that they haven’t learned the fox and his ways.  You raise sheep, I know that you can almost predict what a sheep will do under all given circumstances when you are working or handling them.”
          The sheepman smiled and nodded his head in agreement then stated that he didn’t want to go into trapping in a big way, but just be able to rid his premises of these fox.  Maybe you know of a book that can tell me how to catch fox. Could be the kind of traps I was using were the wrong kind.  I don’t know but I am willing to learn.
          The trapper reached over to the end table at the end of the sofa and picked up a copy of Trapper’s Journal.  Opening it up about three quarters of the way through, said, “There are all kinds of books in this magazine on trapping and trapping supplies.  You can have this copy as they sent me two of them this month.  Also there is much to be learned by reading the trapping stories that are published in the magazine, but sometimes you must read between the lines of some of the stories.”
          The sheepman accepted the magazine and ran the palm of his hand over the front cover of it.  He then took out his watch and said he must be going as he has his daily chores to do.
         The trapper saw him out to the Chevy truck and they said their goodbyes.

His wife came from the kitchen as the trapper entered the house, and he told her that if those fox live for another month they probably will pull a raid on that turkey flock and I’ll have a job offering to trap them.  That farmer who just left is all up in the air because fox killed a couple of his late lambs.  He will probably send away for one of those trapping books and if he buys one written by a “fly-by-nighter” he won’t five trapping fox another thought.  Maybe I should have showed him how to make a fox west, but I’ve done that before and in the end, all I even got for my trouble was a lot of educated fox and the person’s I tried to show how that what I showed them was a lot of bunk.

Chapter 13 - Berry Time

            The vixen found some wild strawberries ripening on a south slope of an abandoned field.   She layed down the grouse she was carrying and ate a few of the ripe berries.
The pups saw her approaching from their vantage place, on top of the sawdust pile and ran pell-mell to see what she had brought for their hungry stomachs.
            The grouse didn't last long among the hungry pups.
            It was dark when she led the pups around the sawdust pile, past the pond and along an overgrown road of sorts that had been used to skid logs from along the hill to the sawmill.
            She picked the easiest route for the puts to the abandoned field where the wild strawberries were growing.
            The young pups found that the small, juicy, sweet berries tasted good.  They used their noses to find the red gems hidden under and among the green ground cover.
            The trip back to the slab pile through the dew covered grass and foliage left the foxes wet from their berry picking adventure.
            Soon the eastern sky had a hint of dawn in it, and the tired young foxes disappeared deep among the piled slabs for some sleep.
            The old female fox left traveling in a northerly direction.  She was intending to check on other strawberry patches which she had found while on previous hunting trips.
            She skirted wide around a field of red clover where the sound of a tractor and the purr of a mowing machine were cutting hay.
            She stopped by a farm pond for a drink.  A movement along the edge of the cattails with their tall leaf blades waving in the light breeze caught her eye.  It was something swimming in the deeper water out from the tall green cattails.  She stood motionless watching the small vee-like disturbance on the surface of the water.
            She backed behind the screening cattails, and then she trotted along the edge of the pond where the water, the cattails and grassy shore met.  Soon she was abreast of the swimming animal, which she recognized as a muskrat with three smaller muskrats following close behind.
            Their small squeak-like voices could now be heard as they played in the clear warm water of the pond.
            The fox would have liked to capture them, as their dark red meat was delicious.  But she knew that she couldn't out swim them.  Her only hope would be if they came ashore to feed on the roots of the clover and grasses.  Soon the muskrats disappeared among the cattails where a mound shaped dome of cattails had been piled by the adult muskrats to serve as their home.
            In an abandoned grown up pasture field with elderberry bushes growing in the scattered clumps with their white blossom cluster hanging heavy, tall sparse timothy with its heads covered with super miniature blue blossoms and the field daisies nodded their white and yellow heads in the breeze.
            Here she found a large patch of wild strawberries.  The patch continued all along the upper slope of this field.
            That night after darkness had fallen, she led the pups to the big wild strawberry patch to feed on the juicy, red sweet berries.
            While the pups foraged for the berries, the adult female went to the upper edge of the field, which was bordered by a wooded area and kept watch from this higher vantage point.
            The night breeze brought to her a new smell.  It was of something good to eat.  Her nose led her to a large tall cherry tree growing along the fence, which was hanging heavy with its small dark sweet fruit.  This was a real find for the foxes.  She sounded forth with a bark, which was promptly answered by one of the young foxes.
            Soon the four pups were coming in her direction and she could follow their progress by the tall sparse growing timothy in the field.  Many of the timothy heads were covered with pollen.  The pollen covered heads of the timothy sent off a puff of pollen whenever a pup would brush by one of the slender stems.
            She led them to the cherry tree by the fence, and a new taste treat was enjoyed by the pups.  The cherries when fully ripe, would fall to the ground.  The sweet odor of the ripe fruit in the grass and ground foliage under the tree was easily found by the noses of the young foxes.
            Soon the first hint of dawn showed on the eastern horizon, and the vixen didn't relish her pups being exposed to hostile eyes in the daylight hours.  She knew it would be full daylight before they were even half way back to the protective slab pile.
            She began looking for a safe place for the pups to stay in this immediate area.  A quick scouting trip along the edge of the woods and she found where a large red elm tree had been blown over some time ago.  Its prone length was covered with wild grapevines that had climbed to its uppermost branches. Now the tree was dead, laying on the ground but the wild grapevine was in full foliage.  Beneath this vine covered dead tree trunk would offer a temporary sanctuary for the pups.
            Brush showed up late in the day carrying a young white turkey.  The pups made short work of the bird and then they went back under the vine-covered log for the rest of the day.
            Darkness came and the ripe cherries that had fallen during the day were searched out, and then they went to the wild strawberry patch.
            A nest of young cottontails had been born in this field and they were now just big enough to leave the nest and forage for themselves.
            The vixen saw one of the young rabbits hopping among the wild strawberry plants.  She thought this would be a good time to start the pups on hunting and killing on their own.  She called the pups to her and they soon understood they were to catch the small cottontail that she pointed out to them.  Their efforts were almost comical, as the pups were in their clumsy stage of growth.  The young rabbit would dart and turn quickly.  The pursuing pups would fall over each other in their attempt to wheel and turn with the intended victim's dodging among the tall grasses and clumps of bushes in the field.
            Finally the tiring young cottontail was caught by Puff Face and the young rabbit let out a piercing scream.  This startled the young fox so much that she dropped the squealing rabbit and it continued to make good its escape.  White Feet seeing it heading for a clump of elderberry bushes, dashed towards the fleeing rabbit and pounced upon it with both front feet.  His jaws clamped over the head of the squirming victim and put it out of its misery.
            The vixen noted that White Feet handled himself well.  The other pups were not allowed in on the feast of the rabbit.  It belonged to White Feet because this was his first kill unassisted.
            With all these sweet cherries and strawberries nearby, why make the journey back to the slab pile?  The vine covered log was serving their daytime needs very well.
            The third night while in the big strawberry patch, one of the young female foxes strayed away from the rest of the berry picking foxes.  Her nose kept finding ripe berries ahead and always there seemed to be the bigger ones just a few steps ahead.  She heard something move a few yards from here and she raised her head to see which one of her brothers or sisters were there.
What she saw was something black and white.  She went forward to investigate.  There was a large skunk and four much smaller skunks eating strawberries.  The small back and white striped furry animals fascinated the young fox.
            She moved in closer to investigate them.  All this while, the mother skunk had not noticed the presence of the young red fox.
            The young female fox reached out a black paw to playfully roll one of the white stripers over.  Just then, the mother skunk looked up and saw the red fox attempting to molest one of her offspring.  With her black tail standing erect and all flared out, she rushed at the surprised fox.  The fox jumped back from the charging skunk.
            The large back and white skunk stomped up and down with its short front legs.
            The big skunk turned and proceeded to leave with the young skunks following her in a single file.
            The young red fox rushed at the retreating young skunks.  This sudden act of aggression was too much for the mother skunk.  She wanted to leave peaceably, but this harassing fox must be taught a lesson.
            She rushed at the fox again and let fly with her yellow oily scent.  The spray hit the fox full in the face and it stung the young foxes eyes terribly.  It even stung the inside of her mouth and nose.
            The young fox whined and rubbed its face in the grass and earth by folding her front legs back under her belly and pushing with her back legs.  First she would rub one side of her face in the grass in this manner, then the other side of her face.
            The strong smell of the skunk reached the other berry picking foxes and they came to investigate.  They found the young fox trying to rid herself of the smell.
            The new name for this young female fox would be - Phew.
            The wonderful days of early summer were upon them.  With the cherries and strawberries, the parent foxes didn't have to spend so much time hunting meat for the pups.
            Brush would be gone for several days at a time.  Every few days he would return with an animal or bird for the pups.
            The rest of the young rabbits that roamed in the big strawberry patch were finally caught by the young foxes. 
The vixen stayed close by, keeping watch, sometimes though she would go on a scouting trip to locate anything hostile that might endanger the pups.
            On one such scouting trip she found a grouse setting on a nest of eggs.  The nest was well camouflaged from overhead predators such as crows, jays and other feathered egg eaters.
            The vixen didn't bother the nesting grouse, but went back to the vine covered elm log.   She gathered the pups together and they went in the direction of the nesting grouse.  The mother fox cautioned the young hunters to be very quiet now as they were approaching close to the grouse with its nest at the edge of a hazelnut patch.  She led her pups as close as she dared.  She instructed the young foxes to wait until she got into position some distance on the other side of the patch of hazelnut bushes before the young foxes were to make their rush.
            The vixen took a roundabout route and positioned herself about fifteen yards from the hazelnut bushes.  Now the grouse was between her and the eager pups.
            The young foxes rushed towards the grouse and it left on whirring wings only to awkwardly land a few yards from the nest dragging one wing.
            The pups saw the brown bird rise from the hidden nest.  They saw it awkwardly land and they were quick to give chase to the seemingly hurt bird.
            The grouse's efforts were to lead any predators away from the precious eggs by putting on the "broken wing act".  The half running and half stumbling bird was leading the four pups away from the nest.
            The vixen had seen it all happening while she lay in the short green foliage and brown leaves of the woods floor.  The grouse would pass within a few feet of the waiting fox.
            The pups were almost certain they could catch the crippled bird.  They were rushing as fast as they could, all the while falling or running into each other and stumbling over sticks and other hindering obstacles in their way.
The waiting vixen sprang at the "sham-hurt" acting grouse as it came near.
            The grouse sprang into the air with the dragging extended wing suddenly beating in unison with the other wing. The bird rose straight up.  The rushing female jumped as high as she could and got a few feathers for her effort.  The grouse dodged and twisted in its flight among the overhead limbs and it landed about sixty yards away and resumed the broken wing act.   The old female knew it would be useless to try and catch the grouse.
            She led the disheartened pups back to the concealed nest and showed them the eggs.  The pups devoured them all with lip smacking noises.  They even licked the remaining liquid from inside the fragile shells and from where some had spilled on the brown leaves.
            It was a hot summer day and Brush was laying on a breezy shady knoll with the overhead leaves of the aspens quivering on their flat stems in the gentle warm breeze.  This high knoll overlooked a small flat valley with its checkerboard pattern of blue - green oats and wheat with a hint of yellow starting show.  Each field a different color, the deep green of soybeans, the gray green of timothy with the warm breezes making flowing waves across its expanse.  Corn now hid the brown earth beneath its broad green leaves.  The fence rows standing as a dark green border to each field.  In the distance a farm pond was shimmering.
            Higher up on the sides of the hills, the fields were the same colors as those in the valley.  Their only difference was that they followed the contour of the hills and fencerows.
            The yellow sweet clover was in bloom and was infested with nectar gathering bees.  Soon the taller and later blooming white sweet clover should be in bloom and yielding its nectar and pollen to the humming bees.
            The bluish purple top knot of thistles were starting to show here and there.

Chapter 14 - Another Attempt

           The sheep raiser read the magazine, which the trapper had given him from cover to cover.  He studied the advertisements offering scents and lures for catching animals.  He selected an ad, which claimed to have thousands of fox to its credit, from beginners to professionals alike.  Instructions were to come with the order.

In due time a small package with a one ounce bottle of lure arrived by mail.  It contained a dark, thick liquid.  On the label, the instructions read; "place three to five drops so animal must cross trap to reach lure."

The man was curious as to what the secret smell in the small bottle was.  He unscrewed the tight fitting cap and raised the open bottle to his nose, then inhaled deeply.  With a surprised look and bulging eyes he quickly lowered the bottle from his nose.

A sound almost like a gag issued from his mouth as he screwed the cap back on the awful smelling bottle.

The woman of the house, watching her husband open the bottle saw the look of surprise on his face when he smelled the bottle's contents.

The aroma reached across the room to the woman.  With a shriek she let her husband know he was never to open that bottle in the house again.  "Don't even bring it back in this house", she yelled at him as he disappeared out the back door.

During the next few days the sheep raiser kept watching for signs of the foxes while he worked the fields of his farm.

One day he saw fox tracks in the dust of the tractor road that followed beside a fencerow to the fields on the hill.  The implement behind the tractor obliterated the fox tracks with its wide heavy wheels.

The next day the man saw the fox tracks again along the same road in the dust.  He knew they were fresh, as yesterday the hay baler had run over the previous fox tracks.

When he returned to the house at noontime, he brought back to the fields with him two traps and the newly acquired bottle of lure.

The tractor road followed a fencerow that was strewn with rock and stones of different sizes and shapes that had been taken from the fields.  He gathered some of stones and constructed a crude cubby.  It was a structure about eighteen inches high and about two feet long with an opening facing the dusty tractor roadway.

He then set one of the traps and concealed it at the entrance of the cubby.  He dipped a stick in the lure bottle and placed the smelly stick back in the stone cubby.

Driving the tractor, he went to the upper edge of the cut over hayfield and carried three bales of hay about twenty yards into the woods.  He placed the first two bales about eight inches apart, then set the third bale of hay on top of the eight-inch gap between the first two bales to form the roof over the created passageway.

Again he dipped a small short stick into the lure bottle and placed it well back into the passageway.  The second trap guarded the passageway to the lure stick.

He screwed the cap on the bottle and dropped it in his pocket.  Along with the lure bottle in his pocket was a couple of short bolts, a few nails and a Barlow type pocketknife.  He then resumed his hay-gathering chore.

During the course of the afternoon's work, the bottle got jostled around and finally the cap loosened.  The first hint that the cap was loose came when the escaping smell from the oozing contents reached the nose of the man.  He thought nothing of it at the moment, only that the lure was powerful stuff.  It could even be smelled through the glass bottle.  Soon a damp place was felt against his leg and he reached into the pocket and withdrew the leaking bottle.

The slimy, smelly liquid was on his hands and he wiped them on this pant legs.  He tightened the cap on the bottle and placed it in the open top toolbox under the tractor seat.

When he returned to the house, he dared not enter because he knew the smell on his trousers would bring the wrath of the woman down upon him.

Today was laundry day and he took a pair of this freshly washed and almost dry trousers from the clothes line, and then went into the barn to change.

What he didn't realize was the smell of the lure was also on the bare skin of his leg where the bottle leaked.  His being around the smell for several hours made him accustomed to it and didn't notice the still present odor.

The dog came into the barn and showed more interest than usual to the man.  The dog found where the man had hung the soiled trousers and pulled them from the nail on the barn wall and began rolling on them.

The man verbally reprimanded the dog for his actions and again hung the soiled pants on the nail.

Soon the man went to the house for the evening meal and he was promptly ejected because of the vile smell on him.  A shower and a complete change of clothes made him acceptable at the supper table.

The man went back to the barn after supper to finish his chores and the dog had once again pulled the trousers from their place on the wall and was rolling on them.  This time the man hung them well out of reach of the dog.

Late that night the dog went to the cattle-watering trough for a drink.  When he passed the tractor parked by the barn, there was that tantalizing smell, like the smell on the soiled pants, coming from the tractor.  The big collie inspected the tractor from the ground, but couldn't locate where the smell was coming from.  He then jumped up on the floorboard of the tractor, sniffed among the controls and soon located a small bottle in the toolbox under the tractor seat.  He picked up the bottle in his mouth and carried it to the front lawn and played with it.  He rolled on it and tossed it into the air.  After a while he tired of the new plaything and took it out behind a tool shed and buried it.  He then covered it up and urinated on the covering.

The sun was well down and the deepening shadows of nightfall cooled the land.  Brush moved from his daytime hideaway to a much used tractor road that would lead him close to the man made pond.  The tepid water would quench his thirst.  He was trotting along the dusty road when he stopped abruptly.

His nose smelled something that he had never smelled before and it was such a tantalizing odor.  He had no choice; he had to investigate the intriguing smell.  He checked the faint breeze and the strange aroma seemed to be coming from the vicinity of the fencerow.

He circled and jumped up on a large anthill so he could see better.  He located a pile of stones with the enticing odor emanating from it.  The smell of man was now noticeable and he cautiously circled the stones closer.

The hated man smell kept the fox from approaching any closer.  He left in the direction of the farm pond and lapped the thirst quenching water.

In a pasture, he found some wild strawberries.  While eating the strawberries, he jumped a rabbit and gave chase, but the rabbit eluded him.  Oh well, strawberries don't run and are easier to get.

He kept thinking about the stones with the strange odor coming from them.  He goes back to the stone pile with the wonderful odor coming from it and studies it.  He walked back and forth many times in the dust of the tractor road.  Finally before leaving he defecated on a tuft of grass in the middle of the road and left for the high breezy shaded knoll to spend the day out of the hot sun.

             Early the next morning the man stopped his tractor several yards from the stone cubby to inspect the trap site.  As soon as he stepped from the tractor he saw the fox tracks in the dust along the road.   The fox tracks were so thick they almost overlapped each other.

             He found the trap at the stone cubby undisturbed, so he proceeded to the other trap where the set was constructed with three bales of hay.  This set had a large opossum in it.  The gray shaggy animal almost had a grin on its face as the man approached it.

             He layed a stout stick across the opossum's neck and pressed the stick down with the weight of his feet to immobilize the animal's head while he released it from the trap.  The opossum scurried off with its bare tail raised.  The man then reset the trap. He reached into the toolbox for the lure bottle to relure the set, but the bottle was gone.

            He remembered placing the lure bottle there yesterday and couldn't understand what had happened to it.  He hoped there was enough lure still at this set to attract a fox.

            He started to climb upon the tractor when the yelping and frantic barking of his dog was heard in the vicinity of the trap by the fencerow.

            The man found his dog in the set and the was beating his tail on the ground, happy to see his master, hoping he would get him out of this toe-pinching predicament.  The man scalded the dog for following him.  After releasing the dog, the man reset the trap.

            That night Brush visited the stones again, but now there was the smell of dog along with that of the man.  He urinated on a tuft of grass and went to the pond for the refreshing water.  He hunted mice in the cutover hay field, then his nose told him of that tantalizing smell again.

            This time the smell was coming from the woods bordering the hay field.  The fox circled into the woods and saw the three hay bales.  That was a strange place to see bales of hay, thought the big fox.

            He circled closer and his nose found the smell of the opossum along with that of the man.  But what was that other enticing heavenly smell?

            He laid flat on his belly and inched forward toward the opening between the hay bales.  The fox was using all his senses to locate anything hostile.  A few inches from the opening, he located the smell of rusted metal.  He deftly and lightly scraped the crumpled leaves from the metal thing.

            A claw hooked over a trap jaw and he lightly pulled the trap from its hiding place.  He didn't like the smell of this strange metal thing, but it hasn't attempted to hurt him.  He stood up and rolled the trap over with is nose and the saws of the trap snapped shut on the brown leaves.

            The fox jumped back at the sound.  He didn't approach any closer to the smell, which he couldn't see.  He left this place after laying a long dropping on the rusted metal.

            He then visited the stone cubby and bellied in close to the opening in the stones.  This place had the strong smell of dog about it.  He uncovered the rusty metal and rolled this trap over and it also snapped shut.

            He worked a couple of the stones loose, but still couldn't find or see what was making that wonderful aroma.  One stone rolled free and he poked his nose in the crevice.  He found a stick about the size of a lead pencil with the odor saturated on it.

            He grabbed the stick and carried it to the center of the tractor road.  There he rolled and played with it.  After a while he carried it out in the cutover hay field and buried it in a shallow dug hole and then urinated on the covering.

            The next day the man took home his snapped traps, knowing a fox snapped the traps.  He admitted to himself that he had a long way to go before he learned enough to catch foxes.  Now at least he could get them to the trap
            He still wondered what happened to that bottle of lure.

Chapter 15 - Squatter's Rights

During the absence of the red fox family, a large, old rust colored groundhog took up residence in the slab pile.  This animal had seen many summers come and go.  His face had a crescent shaped scar over one eye and another scaly gray scar that ran from the tip of his nose to the flat forehead.
          This was no ordinary groundhog.  He was old, and it could be said he was past his prime in life.
          Like all wild animals, when old age approaches they prefer to live by themselves away from others of their own kind.
          They get senile, crotchety and hard to get along with.  They find some secluded place to spend their remaining days. 
          He selected this place because it had food, water and shelter.  There was lots of sweet clover growing along the edges of the skid roads along with the grasses around the edge of the pond.
          Deep among the piled slabs, it was cool.  It would also ward off the chilly days of autumn.  At the very bottom of the layered slabs, he selected a place to make a burrow.  Here the earth never even got wet because of the water shedding layers of the slabs in the pile.
          It only took a couple of days to excavate a nice cozy chamber.  The chamber was a couple of feet lower than the bottom most slabs of the pile.  He would spend the mornings and evenings basking in the warming rays of the sun on the side of the sawdust pile.
          The vixen tested the hot muggy air with her nose and she acted rather restless.  Soon the far away rumblings of thunder could be heard.  She knew the vine covered elm log would not offer the pups much protection from the fast approaching summer thunderstorm.
          With the four young foxes following her, they headed in the direction of the slab pile that lay almost three miles distant.
          There was an eerie stillness that always precedes a bad thunderstorm.  The lacey white heads of the Queen Anne's Lace stood almost perfectly still.  The light changed with the sun being hidden by the ominous storm clouds.
          Soon a much cooler air could be felt coming from the northwest.  It almost felt good to the panting, hot pups. 
          They entered a hay field that had been partially mowed.  The mowing machine had made about ten rounds around the large field.  This cut edge afforded easier walking next to the fence where the bordering bushes would offer sanctuary in case of a dog or man encounter.  One jump and they could quickly disappear.
          As they walked along the edge of the field, the vixen noted how fast things had changed while she and the pups spent several days camped by the wild strawberries and the cherry tree with its ever-abundant fruit.
          Out in the unmowed hay, there was yellow dock standing.  It had turned dark brown with maturity.  There were also black-eyed susans nodding their yellow heads in the tall hay.
          Along the fence there was staghorn sumac starting to form heads at the tips of their stubby branches.
          The wind velocity had begun to pick up now and the cool wind blew across the field towards the foxes.  The rumblings now grew much louder and once when she glanced back over her shoulder to take a hasty nose count, the sky was almost cut in two by a streak of jagged lightning.  This was followed by a loud thunderclap which made the pups all run to the trotting vixen's side.
          The wind now was blowing the leaves on the overhead trees along the fence till the lighter undersides of the leaves showed.
          Ahead lay the cut over tract of woodland with the protective slab pile in its center.  It was still almost a mile away.
          They left the hay field and entered the cutover timberland.  The force of the summer storm was steadily increasing as the angry gray boiling clouds moved in.
          The sound of the first splattering raindrops seemed loud on the foliage.  The hurrying foxes moved among the downed tree tops and vines in the direction of the sheltering slab pile.
          Soon the moaning of the wind increased as it moved through the few trees left by the woodcutters.
          Hail started to pelt the foliage and stripped some green leaves from their twigs.  A hailstone the size if a robin's egg landed in front of Puff Face.  She stopped and smelled it then ran her red tongue over its smooth cold surface.  The hailstone was the coldest thing she had ever felt.
          She then picked it up in her mouth and dropped the cold white thing back on the ground.  She ran to catch up with the rest of the pups.
          Lightning was playing across the dark bo8iling clouds.  Small twigs and green leaves were coming down more fiercely all around the scared young foxes.
          The vixen moved onward towards the waiting slab pile.  She kept her bearings on direction by landmarks that were now quite familiar to her.  About thirty yards ahead was a large red oak tree, which was left behind by the logging operations, and it was dead in the top.  The dead top indicated it had bad wood in the center of its trunk.  Its uppermost limbs were twigless and leafless.  The uppermost gray limbs were silhouetted against the dark sky.
          With a blinding flash, lightning hit the tall red oak tree.  The charge of lightning raced down the dark trunk of the tree.  The tree almost seemed to explode.  The air around it was filled with pieces of flying bark and long splinters from the main trunk.  Then there seemed to be some white smoke coming from the newly formed yellow cracks running the length of the main trunk.  A ground shuddering crash of thunder followed almost simultaneously.
          (This is a common law of physics.  When the moisture in the tree received the charge of lightning, the heat of the electrical charge turned the tree's sap into steam.  When moisture is turned into steam, it naturally has to expand.  This resulted in the flying bark and long slivers of wood now standing out from the tree trunk.  The white smoke that came from the cracks was the trapped escaping steam, which quickly dissipated.)
          Now it really began to rain in torrents.  The wind kept up its howling through the trees and a crash could be heard in the distance.  Breaking tree limbs and twigs could be heard, followed by a loud thump as a tree crashed to the ground.
          The wet foxes kept licking the rainwater from their faces as they steadily moved along.
          Suddenly the party of dripping foxes stepped out onto a muddy skid road that would lead them to their destination only a couple hundred yards distant.
          They moved past the pond beside the big sawdust pile and Phew had to stop and look at the pond's surface.  She had never seen it with the heavy falling rain on its surface before.  With the thousands of raindrops falling on the pond every second, the pond's surface took on a light gray color.
          The foxes quickly moved under some overhanging slabs where it was relatively dry.  They began shaking and licking themselves and each other dry.
          The vixen made a fast tour of the slab pile and found that a groundhog had taken up residence deep inside it.  She could tell it was an old groundhog by its smell, although she had not seen it yet.
          The rain started to slack off a bit and the main violence of the storm was over.  Soon the sky started to lighten and the rain quit altogether except for the dripping from the overhead foliage.  Everything looked so green after the storm bath.  The sun showed hesitantly for a few seconds and the shafts of sunlight seemed to make the overhead green leaves translucent.  The rumblings of thunder could be heard diminishing in the distance.
          The young foxes climbed to the top of the damp sawdust pile.  They played and romped as only the young of a canine family can.  
          Suddenly, White Feet stopped running in mid-stride.  He stood statue still looking in the direction of the slab pile about thirty yards distant.  The other pups were quick to realize that he had seen something of interest.
          All four foxes saw it then.  There was a large rust brown groundhog walking and climbing to the top of the slab pile.  The young foxes stood in silence and watched as the animal gained the top of the weathered slabs.
          The groundhog reared up on its hind legs and surveyed the area in the direction of the small pond. 
          Phew moved into a more advantageous position so she could get a better view of the animal.  The alert groundhog caught her movement and he only turned his head in her direction.
          The young pups and the standing groundhog eyed each other for several seconds.  He then lumbered down from the slab pile and went in the direction of the pond.
          The pup's hunting instincts took over and they made their way in the direction of the disappearing animal.
          When the eager pups reached the edge of the open grassy area by the pond, they spotted the animal eating the grass that grew in green abundance there.
          White Feet darted back into the protective cover of the undergrowth to go around the grass eating groundhog and get on its downwind side.
          The three curious pups knew that White Feet would soon appear beyond the feeding groundhog.  Once the scar faced animal stood on its hind legs to survey the surrounding area.  Soon it went back to its feeding.
          White Feet saw the animal stand up and he froze perfectly still.  When the animal resumed its feeding the young fox started to stalk closer to the unsuspecting groundhog.
          The three waiting pups could now see White Feet had stalked to within about thirty yards of the groundhog.  The over eager trio of foxes rushed towards the rust brown animal.  They dashed through the still wet grass and were upon the startled groundhog almost before they knew it.  Phew feinted an attack and ran around to the opposite side of the teeth chattering groundhog.  The harassed animal then started to run towards the slab pile.
          White Feet made a fast rush and grabbed the fleeing animal by a back hip.  This caused the groundhog to wheel and make a grab for the tormenting fox's head.
          White Feet could tell his teeth didn't even penetrate the tough skin of the groundhog.  When the groundhog wheeled on him, White Feet deftly dodged the gnashing, big yellowish incisor teeth.
          This attack by White Feet triggered the rest of the young foxes to join him in his attack.  The three pups all piled in on the big groundhog.  Each pup had a mouthful of tough hide in its mouth, but found they could not get their teeth to penetrate through the thick hairy skin.
          The scar-faced animal protected himself as the only way he knew.  He grabbed a black nose with one strong four-toed front foot and with the other front foot he got a hold of the neck of the fox.  The then pulled the head of the fox towards his mouth and sank the big incisor teeth into something soft.
          The young fox whose nose was in a vise-like grip started to twist and squirm for all he was worth.  This elusive action maybe saved him from a worse disaster.  The groundhog's teeth went through the black velvet smooth ear of the fox, close to where it joined the red fur at the base of the ear.  The frantic efforts of the young fox trying to get away from the groundhog caused the teeth to slit and tear the back ear all the way to its tip.  This caused the young fox to let out a yelp of pain, at the same time it broke free of the big groundhog.
          The other young foxes jumped back when the cry of the pain was heard.  They saw their brother with bright red blood running down over one side of his face.  They also saw the ear slit from top to bottom and the outside part of the ear kind of drooped.
          From this day on, this male fox would be known as Lop Ear.
          The vixen had been resting in a dry nook at the edge of the piled slabs and the cry of pain from one of her pups quickly brought her into action.  As she ran around the edge of the slab pile, a big rusty brown groundhog was met heading for an opening in the piled slabs.  She sidestepped the rushing groundhog and went into the grassy area where she learned what happened.
          As the sun went down behind the trees, the old scar-faced groundhog disappeared deep into the slab pile.
        The vixen had left early the next morning to see if she could find a berry patch close by.  That same morning the pups watched as the brown groundhog ate the clover that grew along the edge of one of the nearby skid roads.
          On a ridge where an outcropping of light gray limestone protruded from the hillside, she winded the sweet smell of back raspberries.  Upon investigation, it showed that the vines had been picked over somewhat.  The vines had been pulled down so the dark seedy juicy fruit could be reached easier.
          The vixen knew this was the work of raccoons.  The almost human-like front paws of the raccoon are used with much dexterity.  An adult raccoon standing on its back legs and reaching with its front legs, can easily reach over two feet high.  This is how the back raspberry vines got pulled down.
          She prospected out the size of the patch of this new delicacy and found it extended all the way around the lope of the hill to the woven wire fence with a cornfield on the other side.  The very tips of tassels were starting to show through the tops of the high green corn stalks.  She planned to bring the pups here to feed on the berries, but she also knew that a close watch must be kept so the raccoons and the pups didn't meet accidentally.

          She vaguely remembered sometime in her past tangling with a raccoon in a blueberry patch.  There she learned the ringed tailed, black masked raccoon fights with all four sharply clawed feet and a mouth full of very sharp teeth.

(This is the end of this story.  Dad passed away before he completed it. )