The red fox is one of the most widely distributed carnivores, found throughout North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa. Red foxes are commonly associated with humans, as the small dog-like creatures thrive on the edges of civilization and in farm country. The thick, luxurious pelt and long, bushy tail made the red fox a valuable furbearer for decades, and the animal was highly sought after by trappers and hunters throughout much of the last century.
Although their pelts aren’t worth as much today, red foxes are still a popular species pursued by trappers and hunters. Foxes are also known to be a nuisance around farming operations, particularly those with small animals, as they commonly raid chicken coops and kill small farm animals, causing a great deal of economic damage to agricultural operations.
Red fox populations have been impacted by the eastward migration and expansion of the coyote over the past 30-50 years. Coyotes outcompete foxes for food and kill any fox they can catch. As coyotes have taken over many areas, remaining populations of foxes have been more concentrated around civilization, backyards and farms, closer to humans than many coyotes dare go.
Red foxes weigh between 5 and 30 pounds with bodies between 18 and 35 inches long. The hair coat of the red fox is an orange-red, with a white patch on the throat, black lower legs and feet, and a mottled color pattern toward the hind end. Their tails are thick and bushy. Foxes in colder climates develop a thick winter coat with long, luxurious hair. Several color variations exist, mainly in northern Canada and Alaska, and include the cross fox and silver fox.
Reproduction, Diet & Habitat Requirements
The red fox breeding season occurs between December and March, depending on latitude. Breeding in most places occurs in January or February. The female fox gives birth to her young in March-April, with an average litter size of 4-6 kits. Breeding, birthing and raising of kits takes place in a den, which is typically a burrow dug into the ground or some other small sheltered cavern. The kits begin to leave their dens at around 4-6 weeks of age, and grow rapidly. They reach adult proportions by about 6-7 months of age.
Foxes are omnivores, with a wide variety of food items in their diet. The bulk of their diet consists of small rodents like voles, mice and squirrels. They also feed on other small mammals as well as birds, fish, insects and a variety of fruits and vegetation.
Red foxes are adapted to a variety of habitats, from the brushy lowlands to the high alpine environment. Most foxes seem well adapted to farmland country, thriving on the edges of forest and field habitat types.
How to Trap Red Fox
During the fur boom days of decades past, fox trapping was considered a mysterious thing to many. Trappers who knew how to catch foxes rarely shared their knowledge, and it was generally accepted that foxes were very difficult to trap. While foxes can be wary of traps and trappers, and in periods of high trapping pressure the average fox surviving in the wild was likely quite educated by the trapper, it’s not all that hard to trap a fox.
Foxes can be caught in foothold traps and in snares. Cage traps can take the occasional fox, but they are generally unwilling to enter cages. They are also occasionally caught in bodygrip traps set in far northern areas.
There are several sets to take foxes with foothold traps. The most popular is the dirt hole set, which will take most any fox that approaches it if set right. The set is a simple hole dug in the ground with bait and/or lure placed in it. The hole, combined with the bait/lure, serves as an attractant to the fox and it spends time standing and digging in front of the hole until it gets the food or satisfies its curiosity. A foothold trap is bedded into the ground in front of the hole and covered with a layer of dirt to conceal it from the fox. Subtle objects can be placed around the trap to guide the fox to step foot on the pan of the trap and fire it.
In addition to the dirt hole set, the flat set can be very effective at taking fox. Instead of a hole in the ground, the flat set uses an object as the attractant and/or backing to hold the lure, and the animal investigates the attractant and is caught when stepping on the trap buried in front of it. With both dirt hole and flat sets, the trap is typically placed about 6 inches back from the hole or backing, but different trappers have different preferences on trap location.
Blind foothold sets on trails can also take fox, but will take most any animal that passes through, so it may not be the ideal set in some situations.
Where legal, foxes can be taken effectively with snares by setting them on travel ways and trails approaching bait stations. Snaring often works better in winter conditions when maintaining foothold traps is ineffective.
Much has been written about trapping, and there is a wide variety of set types that work in catching foxes. Learn what you can, and keep it simple, and you’ll find success in catching foxes. Below are a few resources.