Gray Fox and Getting the Most from Your Trapline
By Wayne Derrick
This article published in Trapperís World, December, 2000
The weather was cold and cloudy with a threat of snow. The tent was up and the fire pit dug. I unloaded the pickup, gathered firewood, set up camp and went to look for sign. The season opened the next day. I found some fox sign not far from camp, looking in the draws and in the brush.
The next morning I started setting traps at first light where I had found sign the day before. At sunup I stopped for a quick cup of coffee and watched the start of the day. It would be a long day, so there was time to enjoy it for now. As the day wore on, the traps were going in good. Lots of sign and very little competition - 40 sets and back to camp just before dark. Supper finished and time to relax and think of the day, the sets made, and wonder what tomorrow would bring.
At daylight, as the last of the coffee was finished, the clouds were red with the coming of the sun and frost was thick on the ground. A welcome morning to the trapper. At the first set of traps, I could see the first catch of the fall. A catÖa pole cat. Well, I could tell it was trapping time now, with the smell of skunk in the air. The second trap held a gray fox caught in a number 2 long spring. Looking around after resetting the fox trap, I could see where the second fox had left on a cow trail. At the trap that held the skunk, tracks of 3 fox came across the flat to circle the skunk. Now I wondered where the other fox had gone. I didnít want to walk around too much so I went on. At the end of the day, and 6 fox later, I was thankful for the success and had put in 15 or so more sets. The next day the first set held another fox, but no sign of the 3rd fox. The day before at several locations, I had noticed several family units of gray fox.
Unlike coyotes, gray fox often donít travel right together, but are scattered out more. So it takes more scouting. At 2 locations I had fox the day before. As the days passed with more fox, new sets in new country, a pattern developed. I noticed before that with gray fox it was catch 1 or 2 and the area went dead. Oh, I had places that would catch 4 to 6 fox, but not many.
As the catch dropped off, I used a method that put a lot of furs on the stretchers. I re-scouted the area again. You see, gray fox will start to use their area a little different. Unlike the coyote, that will leave a whole territory, the gray fox avoids the part of the country that we set. So I was looking for the places they were using to bypass my sets. At the first set the fox were not coming down to the flat anymore, but were traveling the hillside to bypass the sets, while using a small draw to cross to the far side to avoid a larger wash. The other fox used the other hillside to avoid where they had seen their family get in trouble, then go to the other side of a large wash and miss my sets.
So what do you do? I have had people say to wait, they will come back. I have seen on private land where grays would use their territory the same until the next year. So I go to the fox. Yes, it takes time and work, and so much walking. I was using some dirt holes and flat sets. I like to change the kind of sets I use when I go after the ones that they got away. Also, I change my lure. I start to make sets under trees, like scratch up sets. I like to use these sets for cats. It is just a bunch of ground litter piled up into a mound. I like a point at the front of the mound, the lure goes at the point of the mound, and the trap sets close to the point. This set is like where a bobcat has buried something, and fox find the bobcats stash a lot in everyday life. The fox likes to steal the stash of the bobcat, so this is very natural. Another set is a scent post with gray fox gland lure. I like this used either before they get too close to the place they are avoiding, so they are not too much on guard. Not to be overlooked are the places that you find after the first sets have been avoided, because they are kind of keyed up and very easily taken at a scent post set as they want to mark the country after being excited. I use some good coyote gland lure at scent posts for a change. Most bobcat lures are attractive to grays so I use a lot of different smells on grays.
After I put in some good back up sets, I started to catch more grays. It was more work, but I already had traps in the ground. So why leave over half the fox and move? I had to wait for the cats to make the rounds, so I figured I might as well catch some fox while I waited.
Sometimes a person just has so much time and land that they can trap. After they catch a few fox they think that is all they can catch. Just look around. The fox are still there, they have just moved. Set some cubby sets, like for cats, back in the brush where we are taught not to set. Use some cat lures and cat urine and see what happens.
You young people, donít get in a rut. Keep trying new sets, new lures, and have some fun. After all, that is what it is about.