Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Great Manky Fox Hunt

Gibson ran to the sliding glass doors, barking like a manic off his meds. My first guess was the pegs were out, enjoying a romp in the snow. But when I came to the window I saw a scene no farmer likes to witness. A manky fox was tearing apart a chicken not thirty feet from us. The fox was winning the fight with the bird, but it didn’t look much better. It was thin and sickly looking, his pelt drab and seemed more the size of a cat than a proper fox.

With a chicken keeper’s haste I grabbed my little .22 rifle, the firearm I am the most comfortable with and most accurate. (Had I stopped to think I would have grabbed the .20 gauge and finished this story in one pellet load) I stepped out on the porch and aimed at the fox's lungs right behind his front legs, and shot. As I pulled the trigger he turned and instead I hit the dead chicken. Feathers exposed and I screamed an expletive that sounded a lot like "What the Fox!" Then I loaded another round in the chamber and must have hit the theif. He dropped the bird and took off into the low brush and bracken around the stream. I pursued with a whoop of triumph.

You need to imagine this scene. A scrappy red fox slinking through the snow-heavy bushes. Me, in breeches and kilt, sporran and felt hat. Not time for a coat, just a wool sweater and rifle in both hands I stalk after him. My eyes dart through the foot-deep snow and brains, and I see his ears pop up over an snowy rose bush and slide back down. This is something out of a cartoon, I thought. He is gone before I can try another shot.

And so I crossed the cold stream that divides us, my rubber boots making me feel immune to the challenge. I ran through briars on the other side, the canvas of my kilt fine armor for the task. Gibson barked from the house. Annie slept.

I followed him, taking a shot again and was nearly certain this time I hit him. I saw his head and body duck. He ran off across the street and into the think brush of the neighbors 200+ acre property. I set down my rifle and walked out into the road, and saw his clever footprints next to mine. There was no sign of bloodtrail. He was long gone, or under thick brush. I let out a frustrated sigh. The fox was dead, dying, or scared off and most likely the last of those options.

He would be back and if I didn’t get him once or twice a day a chicken would disappear from this farm and those splendid eggs would be just a photograph. I’d also need to start all over with new birds, an expense and time suck I wasn’t wiling to give up for a fox. For a coyote, sure—the song dogs are welcome on this property—but not a fox. I walked back to the scene of the crime and followed the feathers and prints to the dead rooster. One less crow welcomes the dawn.

The roo was in bad shape, so instead of dressage him for the crock pot I tied him with a piece of twine to the same tree I saw him being killed at. I buried the twine in the snow and left it there, tethered in place as bait for return of the fox. My hope is his strungle with the tied foot gives Gibson enough time to sound the alarm again and me to take aim with the right gun. My .20 gauge is right by the glass doors now. Lesson learned.

Hopefully I'll get him or already did, and if that sounds unkind then you either don't raise chickens or can afford to buy all the free-ranged eggs and chicken dinners you'd like. Things are tight here, and the chickens are my livestock and therefore in my care. It's my responsibility to them to thwart whatever predators I can, so they can raise more chicks and keep the breeds and chicken story alive here at Cold Antler Farm. Plus, I always wanted a fox head on my wall. I wonder if taxidermy is a skill worth learning for extra income? (This is how I think now...)

Hopefully the hunt ends soon!


Blogger Robin Follette said...

Taxidermy FYI - I'm paying $450 to have my white-tail buck done in a shoulder mount. There are seven taxidermists in my area (northeastern Maine) but the demand is so high it takes about a year to get a large game animal back. Something to think about.

Sorry about the chicken! I lose more to bobcats than everything else combined. I hope you get him. If he's this ratty in December he'll be miserable if he survives another month.

December 13, 2014 at 6:01 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Robin are you serious?! 450! For a shoulder mount?! I'm looking into this. I have a basement!

December 13, 2014 at 6:09 PM  
Blogger Becca said...

Taxidermy, especially for trophy mounts or restoration, is very lucrative from what I understand. Google "vulture culture" and you'll probably find the giant taxidermy community on Tumblr. Look into it.

December 13, 2014 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger Elaine said...

just wondering; why would a coyote be more welcome than a fox? Don't they raid livestock as well?

December 13, 2014 at 6:44 PM  
Blogger Erica said...

I understand your frustration. I've lost chickens to foxes, hawks, raccoons and weasels. A hawk swooped down within 10' of me when I was in the chicken run. The audacity! I also ran out hollering after hearing a ruckus and saw a fox running off with a chicken. By the time I got around the coop and saw him carrying a chicken away I found the first chicken he had nabbed flapping and dying. I think when I yelled he dropped the one then grabbed another so he killed two. The chicken coop and run is in the woods. The options are either keeping them locked in the 10x12 coop all day or risk the elements outside but have a more natural life in the sun and dirt eating bugs. I figure if I was a chicken I'd choose the latter.

December 13, 2014 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

I say hunt him down and shoot him. You can skin him out and when his pelt is ready hang it up. Coyotes are a problem in Illinois where I am. Poor chickens...every animal wants to eat them:(

December 14, 2014 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As an urban dweller with no livestock or firearms, I loved your explanation of your "harsh" comments about killing the fox. So well said. So authentic. A true testament to what is required to live another way of life.

December 14, 2014 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger Robin Follette said...

Oh yes! I'm serious! I normally wouldn't spend that much money for something I can't eat but it's my first deer and I've put a LOT of food up this year so I have a few extra dollars.

December 14, 2014 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

I love the story... but not the line "barking like a manic off his meds." :/

December 15, 2014 at 2:24 AM  
Blogger Momma/Deb said...

If you made a sturdy coop, you wouldn't have to complain so much about losing your chickens. Easier than running after a fox in the snow. Yea, the mental health comment was uncalled for.

December 15, 2014 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

Just my opinion, but a sturdy coop will not provide the chickens the free range that they enjoy. And while one could do a travelling coop, I see that my chickens enjoy roaming all over and choosing their scratch areas. And fox usually attack during the day. Raccoons, weasels, mink, rats, coyotes usually attack during the night. At least in my experience:)

December 16, 2014 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Ginny said...

I am also curious why the coyote over the fox. I would go the other way around, but both wouldn't really be welcome around my coop. Fox is a totem, though, and I'd think there would be more to fear from a coyote getting other things in addition to the chickens, including going after others that it perceives as competition for food.

December 30, 2014 at 7:58 PM  

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