After my success calling coyotes, I’ve decided to go for something quite a bit tougher.
I want to bring you photos of a gray fox that I’ve called in during the day.
This is going to be a challenge. Trust me.
I’ve seen coyotes abroad in the afternoon. I’ve also seen red foxes cross the road in front of me, and the only reasons I’m not focusing on them is that most people have seen them before and the area I’m working with is not superior red fox habitat.
I’ll be honest with you. I’ve only seen one gray fox out in the day, and I’ve written about it on here a few times. Let’s just say that I thought it was a cougar running down the hill at me! But then I realized it was awfully small.
This challenge is made difficult because gray foxes aren’t social animals in the same way coyotes are. Through howling with the diaphragm at night and getting some response howls, I was able to figure out about where the coyotes were, and by trial and error, I was able to get myself into a spot where one could be called in.
Gray foxes don’t howl. They make some vocalizations, but almost all of them are signs of distress or aggression. The gray fox call I have, which is also a diaphragm, makes many odd vocalization. It’s actually very easy to make the raspy warning bark that these foxes are known for. Unfortunately, because that sound is an alarm bark, it really can’t be used to attract them. The sound I make is supposed to mimic a fox fight, which is supposed to tick off the resident pair to come in ready to fight the brawling intruders.
Coyotes tend to find resting places that are usually some distance from logging roads. That way, they aren’t going to be bothered by people as much. Gray foxes tend to choose the most inaccessible thickets in the steepest of hollows. It’s not that you have to walk a long way. It’s that you have to be ready to do some mountaineering to get there.
So this weekend, I tried my hand at gray fox calling. I called one in, but it happened just as it was getting dark, and I honestly wasn’t expecting it. My camera was set to take photos a long distance out, and this thing just sort of appeared on a log about 8 feet from me. I couldn’t get the camera adjusted in time before the fox jumped off the log and ran off.
The challenge is that I’m after a small dog, which varies from the size of a Yorkie to the size of Jack Russell. It prefers dense thickets in really hard to access terrain. It is very rarely seen in broad daylight. It’s very stealthy in how it moves through the forest, and it’s gray. I don’t know if you’ve seen West Virginia in late March, but the entire forested landscape is gray. You can look out from a high point and see nothing but gray, gray, gray.
I know that some people might think this a bit odd. You see gray foxes in your suburban neighborhood all the time. What’s the big deal?
The thing is that those suburban gray foxes aren’t exactly like ones found here. The ones here are heavily pressured. They are deemed an agricultural pest because of what they can do to poultry. They aren’t as hard on poultry as red foxes are, but that doesn’t mean they never lift a chicken. Their pelts are worth something, and they often are caught in traps set for red foxes.
I am also beginning my gray fox quest just a few weeks before the vixens give birth. If the local gray foxes were trying to stay hidden before, they really are now. Very young gray foxes are at the age when they are most vulnerable to coyote predation, and instinct tells the parents that they have to choose really hard access den sites.
I also want to show you what a strange animal a gray fox actually is. There is no other canid quite like it. I have a deep lamentation that we call this animal a “gray fox” and not something that points to its uniqueness. This is the most genetically distinct of all dogs. It last shared a common ancestor with all the rest of the dog family some 9-10 million years ago. It’s the last survivor of its lineage.
This is the only canid in the Americas that is adapted to climbing trees, and it’s the only canid I know that has a black stripe running down its tail, which can be raised and lowered like a hackle.
I know this is going to be a challenge, but I think it’s worth it.