I’ve always appreciated catching a glimpse of a fleeing red fox. There’s just something about their sleek, brightly colored appearance that has fascinated me ever since my youth.
I grew up on a farm and like most farm boys you were expected to “help out with the chores” beginning at an early age. I think it must have been about the ripe old age of 8 years old or so when my nightly task after school was to chase the cows home from whatever pasture in which they were found grazing. So, after school I would set out with my three canine accomplices (Poochie, Queeny and Sharky) to complete the necessary task.
I distinctly remember one night in particular as if it happened only yesterday. The cattle on this evening happened to be in one of the far pastures which meant about a ½ mile journey to and from the barnyard area. Most nights I would just take the dogs with me and the cows, knowing the routine, would willingly head for the barnyard.
Well, this night was a little different. I was walking on one of the well established cow paths sort of daydreaming when suddenly I was face to face with a critter that I knew instantly was not one of my dogs. Truth be known, the red fox was much small than all of my dogs…but in the mind of an 8 year old it could have just as well been a bear. Both of our eyeballs—at the sight of one another—were likely as large as golf balls.
The fox bolted in one direction and I bolted in the other direction—heading home. That night I remember running so fast that I actually beat the cows home. I soon came to the realization that I didn’t really chase the cows home each night…they were simply conditioned to see a young boy with his dogs…and they used this to prompt them to head home for “the good stuff” that dad would throw in the feed bunk.
That night I described my hair-raising experience to my father informing him that there was a wolf out in the pasture and that a young boy should not be chasing cows out there. Of course he laughed, and used the experience to do a little teaching about nature. Soon he had me convinced that it was not a big, bad wolf I had seen; rather, it was a red fox. Absolute proof came when he showed me a picture from a book and I confirmed that was the culprit causing shivers to run up and down my young spine.
Ever since this memorable day over 30 some years ago I have held a special place in my heart for red fox. I’ve trapped fox…I’ve hunted them…but most of all I have appreciated their existence in the ecosystem. Sure, they’re a predator and they can do some not-so-good things to our pheasant and duck populations during nesting season, but nature is not always kind that way and we must accept it. When populations get out of control that is when trapping and hunting play a vital role in wildlife management.
In recent years the fox population here in southeastern Minnesota has been what I would say was somewhat depressed. I could go a couple years between occasional sightings which was unusual. Typically, I would see them either in a road-kill state or running from one side of the road to the other during my travels. But not lately. “Mr. Red” has been a hard customer to find…and probably for several reasons. By no means is this scientifically deduced, but I think one of the big reasons the red fox has become so scarce lately has a lot to do with the population boom of the coyote. Twenty five years ago there were few coyotes to be found in this part of the state. Today, however, the coyote population is way out of control and it’s certainly suppressing the fox population to points where they are hardly seen anymore—at least until this year.
The Red Fox has a cousin, of sorts, the gray fox which to some extent can also be competition. It seems in areas where gray fox are quite prevalent the red fox population tends to be more suppressed. While red fox tend to prefer the more open meadows and fields, the gray fox, on the other hand, is more of a woodland dweller. In fact, one of the gray’s capabilities has been noted that it can climb trees—you will never find a red fox displaying this sort of behavior.
Indeed, during the past week I have seen three live reds and two dead ones lying along the road. I can honestly say that I have not witnessed this many fox during the past five prior years…so obviously the population must be on the rebound. Like most animals in nature, fox populations tend to run in cycles…and according to one of my old trapping manuals it stated that typically fox populations peak during years that end in “5.” If this holds true, then the next couple of years could be banner years for those of us who fancy seeing “Mr. Red.”
© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.