Where oh where has my little fox gone.

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Andyva
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Where oh where has my little fox gone.

Postby Andyva » Sat Oct 22, 2016 10:18 pm

Growing up in the late seventies, around here in the wooded ridge tops and cleared pastures of southwest Virginia, we had fox. Reds were bringing 70 bucks, greys maybe 50 for a good while. Reds topped 100 at one point, for the right fox. We had people trapping on our farm. Sometimes one guy would pull out and another guy would see if there were any left. It was the same most every farm in the valley. My Dad shot fox on sight. Because one time old so and so's steer got the rabies and besides, mrs. so and so two miles up the road has chickens. Anybody that groundhog hunted was told to shoot fox, deer hunters were told to shoot fox, and they did. I reckon there were 30 or 40 fox killed between here and the neighbors, year in and year out. You would go out in the evening looking at deer, drive out on a hill and see a fox come out in the edge of a field, maybe another in another field. Sometimes a bunch of pups would come out and you would see a whole herd of them.

I started trapping in 1987/88. The fur market crashed. I had the run of the place with no competition. Even as a novice, I got to where I was putting up a dozen or so. When I started driving, my home range went up, and with absolutely no trapping competition, I started doing pretty good. I wasn't making much money, but I had a big time, and learned a lot. This was about the time coyotes hit the scene, so I had to do a bunch more learning. I started noticing less fox, every year less and less. Now it is easy to say that the coyotes kill them all, I don't believe this exactly it. I've cut a lot of coyote stomachs open, they don't appear to eat them very often. I have found dead fox in the traps, bitten in the back maybe even a mouth full of coyote fur.

So I guess they do kill them just to be killing them, but that seems like a lot of effort for very little reward for the coyote. They do push them out, it seems, now if you want to catch a red, you have to be close to town. Plenty of them living in the city, but there are coyotes there too, believe it or not. You will catch a few reds out in the farm country come december when they disperse, they wander all over, but by springtime they are settled somewhere close to people. The greys seem to be hanging in the thick stuff like they always did, but there are nowhere near as many as there once was.

I always just kind of accepted that the coyotes kill them and run them out. Now that I have actual fox dogs, I have been studying on this. Knowing coyotes the way I do, I just can't see them expending the energy that it would require to run down and kill every fox in their territory. They sure don't need to do it for food, as there is plenty to eat around here.

I started looking more at coyotes impact on fox, which is undeniable, as more of a side effect, rather than a direct action. Something that I noticed in this same time period, back in those days of shooting fox on sight, the reason we were out there was because we were groundhog hunting. There were lots of groundhogs back then. Us boys killed one or two hundred a year, kept running tallies and compared when we got back in school. Groundhogs lived back in the mountains and resupplied the fields as quick as you could shoot a field dry. Now, about the only groundhogs around are somewhere under an old barn, in a rock pile, or in a fence row. Groundhogs in the middle of a field are non-existent now, you don't see holes back in the mountains now either. Plenty of groundhogs in town and in the cities.

Foxes need dens to raise pups. They aren't the best diggers, they usually enlarge an existing den. It is preferable if they have multiple den sites in case fleas or pestilence drives the litter out of a den. According to the coyote bellies I have cut open, the coyotes I have seen running across the road with a groundhog in their mouth and the coyotes I have seen camped out near a groundhog hole in a tall hayfield, groundhogs are very much a part of the coyote diet. So the coyotes are cleaning out the groundhogs, the groundhog holes are caving in, and in addition to not having a safe place to raise young, the fox also doesn't have a place to hide if a coyote does get after him.

In addition to the groundhog phenomenon, the black bear population has significantly increased around here. Old hollow trees that fell over used to lay in the woods forever, but now, if mister bear smells a grub in there, you have a pile of splinters.

In my reading of fox hunting, a practice in England, when they could fox hunt over there, was to make "artificial earths" for foxes. They make a buried den cavity, with one or more pipes going into it. Long chutes made of planks can be substituted for pipes, or stone tunnels. They could send in a terrier and get a fox up and running for the horse and hound people whenever they wanted. They also sent out servants that went around and stopped up the dens to keep a jumped fox from going to ground.

So, I'm wondering, if I copy the artificial earth designs from across the pond, can I make myself a fox honeyhole in spite of the coyotes? Maybe a foxhound training preserve without a fence?
perk
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Re: Where oh where has my little fox gone.

Postby perk » Sat Oct 22, 2016 11:29 pm

Andy, I know some clubs that hunt English style here in va try to den foxes, some say with success.
Coyote do push out game from their home territories, I think the link your missing is the coyote decimates the young foxes each spring/summer. sit outside a den til they come out and snarf him up like a ham biscuit or dog the den up if it's shallow enough. That doesn't take a lot of effort like running down a full grown Fox. Same way you don't see a lot of mature deer killed by yotes, they hammer the fawns. Enough years without young ones the old ones die off population decreases. This is what coyote do to the Fox populations. Have noticed less and less young foxes to run end of ever summer since coyote became more populous here.
All that shooting y'all used to do didn't help either,
Perk
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johnadamhunter
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Re: Where oh where has my little fox gone.

Postby johnadamhunter » Sat Oct 22, 2016 11:29 pm

Great post. Very well written. I have no idea as to the effectiveness of this idea but if you try it please keep us posted.


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Re: Where oh where has my little fox gone.

Postby ands » Sun Oct 23, 2016 2:29 pm

http://www.thehuntinglife.com/forums/topic/83885-artificial-fox-earths/page-2
Great read Andy, be a shame to see foxes disapear altogether from an area. Most artificial earths in the UK are (were) built for pest control and sport, be good to see if you can increase the fox population by giving them somewhere to raise cubs
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Re: Where oh where has my little fox gone.

Postby johnadamhunter » Sun Oct 23, 2016 4:45 pm

Will greys use these?


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Andyva
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Re: Where oh where has my little fox gone.

Postby Andyva » Mon Oct 24, 2016 12:43 am

Perk, I'm sure that the pup snatching is a significant part of the equation. Here is the thing, I know from some of the "urban trapping" I have done, (dirty job, but somebody has got to save all these city people from horrible wild creatures), when dealing with say, a fox with a litter under the shed, (city people don't like nature happening, fleas, odor, disease, you name it) I have two different options. I can use my whole bag of tricks, catch mom, maybe dad, and then set the den up and catch all of the pups. (pups are venturing out if the situation gets noticed) I don't like this option. What I like to do is set something kind of cheesy looking, that mom and dad are sure not to tangle with. Then catch one pup, take it to a wildlife rehabber or whatever, splash some coyote urine around and wait. Those pups will be gone by the next morning.

So I still think it is a lack of suitable dens issue. Coyote is not going to get the whole litter, unless they dig it out, because after he gets the first one snatched from the den entrance, the rest of them are going to hide in the hole and Ma fox is going to move the rest while Pa fox stands a lookout. She knows where a suitable hole is. If there is no suitable hole, that den is going to be a regular stop for the coyotes until the litter is gone.

When I remember fox populations out here in the sticks being the highest, it was when everybody and his brother was a trapper. They can deal with some pretty heavy harvesting. No telling the percentage, if they were deer or some important animal like that, their would probably be hundreds of studies on just how much harvest they could tolerate, but anything that has a litter of young, can usually stand some harvest, and often have a more stable population because of it.

When the fur market crashed, I think there probably were some waves of disease that followed, that knocked the numbers down, and the coyotes timing around here kept them from ever coming back like they were. From what I have read the grays have an edge on the reds because of their smaller home range and more solitary behavior, disease will leave pockets of them.

I don't see any reason that gray fox wouldn't use an artificial den. I've seen litters in old hollow logs. This makes me think that our bear population is impacting the grays , the reds dropped close to twenty years ago, but the grays have seemed to really drop off more in the last five or ten years. Bear are hard on hollow logs.

I wonder about what the gray population was like around here maybe 50 or 75 years ago. People had pictures of fox dogs and barns with the sides covered in gray fox skins. Coon were near extinct, I think a lot of people lived on coon in the depression. WWII saw connections made between old country boys that otherwise wouldn't have been made. People in the deep south still coon hunted, interest was rekindled, coon got stocked, and the days of foxhunting with hounds was over. Up until around that time, people would put the saw to a tree to see if it had a log in it, and if the hollow went very far up, it wasn't worth dragging out, so it laid where it fell. Den tree conservation really wasn't a thing back in the old days, and the fox probably loved it.

Anyway, it's something to think about, if you like hearing a fox race, and have access to old culvert pipes or something like that. I think the size needs to be around nine inches square, or around eight inch pipe, foxes go in but coyotes can't. The only thing I have really been able to turn up as far as a study of any kind, is where they were trying to save desert kit foxes, and they were using six inch pipe for them I think. It gave them a den that a red or grey couldn't steal first.

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