Predator hunting is quickly becoming one of the hottest trends among sportsmen. Try it and you’ll see why. The thrill of watching a fox slink down an old logging road as you ready your gun can be as exciting as watching a whitetail slip through the woods. Red and gray foxes will both respond to a call, but in many ways they are completely different animals. From a hunter’s perspective, perhaps the most important difference is that they favor different habitats, said Virginia predator hunter John Carr.
“Generally reds prefer open farmland with pastures, crops and the brushy fencerows and creek bottoms in between that open ground,” said Carr. “Gray foxes prefer the opposite habitat: thick, brushy woods and pine plantations. It’s not out of the question to find the two species on the same farm, but it’s not very common.”
While red and gray foxes may not share many of the same characteristics, the hunting methods are pretty similar, said Carr, at least the basic methods. Both respond well to a cottontail-in-distress call, either a hand-held mouth call or an electronic call like a Foxpro digital, but Carr prefers a fox-pup-in-distress call for grays.
Also, both animals are most active at night. Carr scores during the waning hours of daylight and the first few minutes of morning light, but he has his best success under the cover of darkness. He uses a scope-mounted light with a red lens, clicking it on within five minutes of calling. That’s often all it takes for gray foxes to come in, but reds can take a little longer, so he’ll switch on his light every few minutes to sweep the ground.
In fact, gray foxes can seem as foolish and reckless as a teenager while reds are far more cautious and suspicious, often sitting still for 10 minutes or more before making their next move. They circle downwind, pausing along the way to test that wind for danger and to scan the ground for anything that might look out of place. Sometimes, they won’t come in at all. Carr has watched more than a few red foxes simply wander away as if completely disinterested in the notion of an easy meal.
Gray foxes, on the other hand, can charge in with little regard to wind direction and they are far more forgiving if a hunter makes a mistake. It’s not uncommon to have two or even three foxes come in at a time, offering an honest chance at a multiple bag from a single stand. Even if a gray fox comes in alone and Carr shoots, he’ll continue to call. He’s had other foxes come in only minutes after he killed the first one.
When he does call, Carr likes to sit where he can see approaching predators far enough away so he can swing into shooting position before they fox gets within range. In red fox country, that can mean upwards of 200 or 300 yards. In the brushy cover typical of gray fox habitat, the most he can see might only be 25 or 30 yards. Carr tries to sit on the edge of a pine thicket or along a trail or logging road within the thicket because gray foxes will often slip down the edge of thick cover or right up a trail in order to avoid making too much noise. Because the cover is so thick and visibility is limited, he often carries a shotgun loaded with No. 2s. If he’s hunting with a partner, he’ll carry a .17 HMR while his partner sits with a shotgun across his knee.
“I usually carry my rifle if I’m after reds because the shots will often be much farther,” he said. “The .17 is extremely accurate and I’ve killed woodchucks beyond 200 yards with it and I have no doubt it would drop a fox at that distance, also.”
So what do you do with a fox? For some, harvesting fur is a great way to make a little extra money. Last year, red fox pelts averaged about $23, while grays brought nearly twice that. There’s no telling what they’ll bring this year, but for many hunters, a red or gray fox is a prize that’s too valuable to sell. Tan the hide or have the whole thing mounted. Either one makes a memorable trophy.