With nearly 20 years of predator hunting under his belt, Steve Frye knows a thing or two about fox hunting. However, it only took the Pennsylvania resident a few outings to learn red foxes and gray foxes are different creatures. They live in different habitat, respond to calls in different ways and are only similar in one way: They are fun and challenging to hunt.
When Frye wants to target gray foxes, he seeks out thick cover, often so thick it’s virtually impossible to walk through. Places like regenerated clear-cuts, pine plantations and other areas of thick, young trees are prime gray fox country. He also finds good numbers of grays in swampy terrain and deep woods, although mature hardwoods tend to hold fewer predators because they have less food and cover for small mammals and birds.
“If I’m going to try to call red foxes, I’m going to hunt farmland that has lots of crops, pastures, brushy fencelines and maybe some smaller wood lots. Dairy farms are great red fox habitat,” he explained. “I rarely find reds in gray fox cover and grays in open country.”
Frye quickly learned that grays can be downright reckless, charging in often within minutes of the first sound of food. Sometimes within seconds. Frye recalled one gray fox that was not only in his face, but on the ground from a single shot of his shotgun in 14 seconds. He rarely stays in one place for more than 15 minutes when he’s targeting grays because “if they are coming, they’ll be there that quick.” Grays will, however, often travel in pairs, so he’ll continue to call even after he’s fired a shot.
Red foxes aren’t quite as reckless. In fact, they can be downright shy, refusing to close the distance at all. Frye has called numerous reds that simply sat down along the edge of a distant fence line only to wander off for no apparent reason. A few will actually come straight in, but Frye has never had one rush in like many gray foxes do. Others will close the distance, but only after some coaxing from a finisher-type call like a mouse squeaker. In fact, Frye uses different calls on reds than he does grays. He’s had better success on reds with hand-held calls like Knight & Hales’s Triple Threat and his own calls (www.sfcustompredatorcalls.com), and he favors high-pitched sounds that imitate birds in distress or small rodents like mice.
Frye’s favorite early-season gray fox call is a fox pup in distress sequence from either a FoxPro or a Knight & Hale eCaller electronic call. However, as the season progresses, he stops using that call.
“I’ll switch to some other food-type call, like a wounded rabbit. I’ve even called in quite a few with a prairie dog distress call and a sage rat distress call. I don’t think the specific call is as important as using something that sounds like an injured animal that might be an easy meal,” he explained.
He admits that no two animals of either species is the same, and one red might respond well to a particular sound while another might ignore it completely. Of course, that’s what makes fox hunting so fun and challenging.
Whatever he uses, Frye starts out by calling at a fairly low volume for about 20 seconds. If no red foxes come in within the first five minutes or so, he’ll turn up the volume a little and try another 30 to 45-second sequence. He waits a little longer and gets a little louder each time until he’s certain he’s exhausted the spot.
Between each calling sequence, Frye will scan the area with his red-lens spotlight, paying close attention to any ground downwind of his location. Red foxes are extremely careful about circling downwind and it’s not out of the question to get busted before you even know the animal is there. That’s just part of it, admitted Frye, but with a little practice, some luck and enough time in the woods, you’ll be able to call in reds and grays with just a slight change in tactics.