Many trappers consider it a challenge to catch the wily old red. Catching a fox is a good day at the office. The red fox is not always an easy critter to catch. In fact. If you don’t know how to properly trap one, it can be very frustrating. I know a few trappers who almost threw their traps flying because old red out-smarted them. I can tell you right off the top, I’m no different.
I once helped trap a 200-square-mile trapline about an hour from my home in North Bay, Ontario. The trapline consisted of at least 20 small lakes and lots of logging roads. This made getting around pretty easy considering that on most traplines, the trapper has to portage all over the place.
My trapping buddy’s name was Derrick and he was a short little non-Native guy with big ambitions. He was going to be the best trapper in the whole damn territory, but first Derrick and I both had to learn a lot more tricks of the trade.
We had made a decision to break the trapline in two; he would trap the top end and I would trap the bottom. This worked out well, but neither of us could get old red. I guess you could say we were being humbled by a four-legged critter who was laughing at us every step of the way.
The part of the trapline I worked had a high population of red fox which at the time I couldn’t seem to catch. I tried all sorts of tactics to try to catch old red, but only ended up with a few squirrels, the odd crow and a rabbit. I had fun live-releasing the crows and, yes, the rabbit made a nice stew.
I was introduced to an old trapper who trapped the trapline next to the one I worked. Ray Savage was his name and he was 68 years young when I met him. He stood about four-foot nothing and that’s in his rubber boots. He could shoot the bull like the best of them, but could this man trap fox.
Fox was his passion and to prove it, he invited Derrick and I to go out to trap a fox, and I mean ONE fox. We walked about a half-mile from Ray’s camp and he told us to watch carefully. He stopped suddenly and an almost sinister smile flashed across his face. He then announced, “This is where we’ll catch us a fox.”
He took an old almost rusty number-two long-spring trap from his pack and wired it to a three-foot-long drag stick. He dug a hole in the side of a sand bank about 12 inches deep and about six inches wide. He paid special attention to not touch any twigs’ or branches with his clothes.
He positioned his trap about seven inches outside of the hole, used wax paper as a trap pan cover and covered the trap with sand. He sprayed fox urine on the trap site to cover his scent and dug into his pack for the lure. The lure was a natural skunk scent mixed with muskrat glands and 100-proof alcohol.
Now folks, this skunk scent usually sends most city folks running for the hills and, even
as a trapper, can still bring a tear to my eyes. We could almost smell Ray’s fox juice from our camp and we were 20 miles away. Yes sir, put a few drops of this stuff on and the in-laws will never come back.
As we walked back to Ray’s camp after setting the trap, Ray told us to come back in the morning and he would have the fox not only trapped but caught by the right foot. Well, Derrick and I looked at each other with a “yeah, right” look on our faces, jumped in the truck and returned to our camp.
The next morning at sunrise we were at Ray’s camp all sleepy-eyed and looking like we rolled out of an old beaver house. Ray was up and bouncing around like a rabbit full of Exlax and, before we knew it, we were on our way down the trail.
It wasn’t long before we came upon the set and, wouldn’t you know it, the trap-and-drag stick was gone. After picking up the trail of drag marks on the old road, we found a full-grown male red fox caught up in some saplings about 100 feet from the set and the trap had hold of its right foot.
Well, my jaw dropped open and I stood there feeling foolish. I wished I had a rock to crawl under. Derrick, he was in the same boat I was in but he was not Native and could blush. As soon as we could gain our composure back we congratulated Ray on his catch.
Ray smiled and let the fox go and told us tomorrow we will catch him on the other foot. Derrick and I didn’t know what to think. Is this man real or has he caught a case of cabin fever? He just let a critter we have been trying to catch go free and expects to trap the same one tomorrow. Just to be sure he would catch the same one he clipped the fox’s ear with a knife before releasing it.
He caught the same fox the next day and by the other foot. We left Ray’s camp with lessons you can’t buy with money. This old trapper not only showed us secrets of fox trapping he never showed anyone, but taught us lessons in being humble. We spent a lot of our spare time down at Ray’s camp drinking tea, watching Ray skin critters, eating his wife’s pastries and gaining as much information as we could. He knew the land and all the animals that lived there. He was a joker, an expert trapper and, most of all, a friend.
I have since learned more techniques to fox trapping and have taken many reds. That old man of the bush is always on my mind when I stop to check a trap and see old sly sitting there. There are many fox stories I can share but this one is one of my favourites and one of my true experiences as an outdoorsman.