We finally outfoxed one in Pennsylvania
Most faithful readers know I’ve been trapping for several years now with a fair amount of success on skunks, opossums, raccoons and “catch-and-release” house cats – pretty much what one would expect running a 50-yard trapline on a semi-suburban 3.5-acre property.
While I’ve seen occasional sign of mink and coyotes, I’d be pleasantly surprised to find one of these on my morning rounds. They are rare visitors and I seldom target them. But one species I’ve been trying to catch for more than three years now without success is the elusive red fox.
I’ve had near misses, close encounters, traps pulled from the stake and all kinds of other conundrums keeping me from being successful, but my five-year-old son and I really had a goal of catching a fox on our small family property this year.
We know they’re here because we’ve gotten trail cam pictures, seen them on multiple occasions with our own eyes, and they cleaned out more than a half-dozen of our farm ducks one snowy winter evening; the tragic tracks left behind in the snow told it all.
So this year, we really buckled down and kept the line running longer than usual. When our initial bait wasn’t yielding much more than the less-desirable critters we frequently catch, I turned to a Facebook friend (who recently posted photos of his 100+ fox season) for help.
I asked him what he uses for bait, and he was kind enough to drive a variety of his leftover lure and bait canisters over to my house. It turned out the dried dog food I was using won’t cut it for foxes. He gave me a few quick pointers and wished me luck. The next day, I eagerly remade my dirt hole sets with the putrid concoctions of soured meat, gland lures and reeking brown slime he provided.
Two days later, we missed something with a snapped trap. The next day, we sadly had a trap pulled from the stake, and despite my best efforts of combing the property, I could not locate the trap nor the critter that yanked it out. In this hard learning moment, I dug out some old rebar from the barn and double staked every one of my sets to prevent future issues. I also went online and ordered some new traps and heavier stakes to keep them securely in place from now on.
The lost trap was from the same location I had caught a skunk a week earlier. There was some scat and evidence of digging there, so I remade the set, desperately with a number 11 double long-spring (instead of the preferred 1.5 coil-spring typically used for foxes) until my replacement traps arrive.
With freezing overnight temperatures, I opted to use some loose straw to conceal and cover my trap instead of sifted dirt, and I added some more bait to the hole I previously hollowed out. To prevent the fox from stepping on the long metal springs, I folded them back to one side and added some blocking with a broken branch to divert the animal into stepping on the pan instead of the non-business portion of the trap. Now to wait.
Since I’m able to drop off my son at kindergarten daily, we enjoy making our rounds in the brief period of daylight between sunrise and when we must depart for school. It’s always exciting to check the traps, most times empty, but always with a slight chance of success.
One morning this week, I started down the driveway toward our barn where we feed the family flock before checking the line. In glancing up on the hill, where I knew the closest trap to be, I spotted an orange ball and almost couldn’t believe my eyes. I rushed back to my pokey son, who was still nonchalantly munching on a bagel at the house and shouted, “Buddy, we caught a fox!”
My boy instantly downed his breakfast and put on his winter hat, and we eagerly rushed to the location of our catch, where we admired a beautiful male red fox taken on the old long spring of all things.
We were so happy to finally have had success after years of trying and even more so that we achieved a trapping goal we had set at the onset of the season. After dispatching and hanging the fox, we rushed to make it to school on time, where I’m certain my boy was the only kid in the class bragging about the fox he and Daddy caught that morning.
After school, we drove our fox over to our friends Ryan and Renee Carpenter, who run R&R Trading Post in Jonestown, where they do a tremendous job of making really nice fur garments and other custom products from trappers’ catches. This fox will be tanned, and we’ll save the pelt to always remember our first canine catch together on the property.
It was a very special and memorable day with my boy — may there be many more still to come. But for now, we’re just happy to have tasted a bit of trapping success. We worked hard for this moment, and we finally outfoxed one!