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
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.
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.
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
Chapter 7 - The Chase
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 is the end of this story. Dad passed away before he completed it. )