I've been bitten yet again. No, I didn't litterally get bitten by a fox or coyote, but the passion to pursue them has recently consumed me. Here's a brief background history for those that don't know me. Most of my family grew up in the farm country of western Minnesota. My father and uncles use to hunt and trap fox and other predators during the fall and winter months. They would skin and sell the pelts for what use to be a pretty large chunk of change. While this isn't as big of a sport as it once was, it still has its place in Minnesota outdoors.
I was lucky enough to have a couple of uncles, Loge and Ray (Bod), that would include me on their journeys. During the winter months we would travel the back country roads in search of fox laying in the open fields. Once we spotted one we would have to figure out how to get close enough for a shot. If you know anything at all about these animals, then you realize that they are likely the smartest critters on the planet. It is extremely difficult to get within range of one, and doing so doesn't always ensure that you will be able to make the shot. The cold, wind and extreme snow depths can play a huge part in making it all happen when your target is as small as a fox. I consider it one of the ultimate tests of a hunter. For years I was blessed to learn from a couple of the best predator hunters around. I experienced hunts that I will never forget, which is probably why this passion is now coming back to center stage for me.
Looking at 2010, the game is a little different. Coyote have taken over many of the areas that we use to find our fox. I have been hard at the game during the past few weeks by way of calling, and I will be honest, I have struggled. The coyotes are everywhere, but they have shown me why they are the smartest critters out there. If I zig, they zag, and vise versa. It has been a game of cat and mouse that they have been winning. This was the reason I made a call last Saturday to my mentor Loge, and graciously he accepted the invitation to hit the backroads yet again.
Our morning started out fast and furious. About 1 mile from the farm, and 1 minute down the road, a coyote blasted past us through a ditch. The early morning darkness allowed us the opportunity to hopefully watch the animal bed down for the day, and as we picked a location to view the section to watch the coyote, we were surprised to find a beautiful red fox out mousing around in the same field. After a few moments we made the decision to give up on the 'yote and watch the fox. This is where the hunter became the loser in the deal. After about 20 minutes the fox worked its way to an area that we could set up to call. Instead of waiting for him to lay down, we decided to take matters into our own hands and hit the calls. Joining Loge and I for the day was my good buddy Matt. He and I set out in our full white camoflouge and began a calling sequence. After a few moments it was obvious that we had been outsmarted. Tracks in the fox's location reveiled that somehow during a 3 minute window of us not watching the brilliant critter hit the ditch and left the section. We were calling at nothing and that's just what came to our call. Ouch!
Still holding high hopes because of my lucky charm, Loge, we cruised the country roads looking for the next available opportunity. About 4 hours went by with nothing, then we hit a gold mine. A coyote was working its way through a field, and we had the perfect plan to cut it off. Lucky for us, Matt and I were perfectly set in place to make it happen. Here is where the story gets even better. Matt had the first chance, but missed the coyote 3 times. As I waited on a fenceline for the coyote to come my way, I was absolutely blown away when from the opposite direction a red fox was working the same fenceline right at me. For a split second I didn't know what to do, but I quickly decided that I'd rather have a red than the yote. With only 4 shells in my gun I waited as the fox drew closer, 300 yards, 200 yards, 150 yards. My heart was pounding threw my chest for this opportunity that I so seldomly have. The hard part was that as it got closer it started coming faster, then at about 100 yards it instinctively took a turn and was now running broadside. I was beyond flustered, I tried to stop the fox, but he just kept picking up steam. At that point the perfect standing shot I was waiting for was now running by at 30 mph. I opened up and let 4 shots miss completely. It was at that moment that I turned over my shoulder and watched a coyote stand and look at me and my empty gun. To make it worse, he was standing broadside at less than 100 yards. Ouch again!
For some of you, this story will never make sense and you will think that I am weird for even writing about this. For others, you will be able to relate and understand exactly what was happening during these moments. As I watched my opportunities run away I vowed to make the next opportunity a success no matter what! I had a feeling of total defeit. As we drove over the hill to see if we could spot either of the critters we were blown away by what we had discovered. While the coyote somehow managed to slip into thin air, there were three more fox out in the section. Two of them were bedded down and one of them was out mousing around in the sun. Jackpot!
As we were observing the situation a neighbor approached us and explained that they had just watched another fox bed down about a 2 miles down the road. Jackpot again! Now the only problem was on our end and finding a way not to mess everything up. I was given the first opportunity and decided to try to sneak up on the fox out mousing around. They are tough to sneak up on when they are sleeping, and even tougher when they are awake. Luckily, I had a perfect sneak route through a drainage ditch. As I quietly snuck through the 10 foot snow drifts I would pop up to make sure the fox was still in his spot. Out of breathe, I managed to get within 130 yards. Again my heart was pounding with adrenaline and hopes that I wouldn't mess it up. As I squeezed the trigger my heart sank. The perfect broadside shot again missed its mark and the fox ran out of sight over the hill. I reloaded and hoped for one more chance if the fox would stop in an open area. As luck would have it, I was ready and the fox gave me one more chance at about 350 yards. Bang! This time I somehow managed to make the shot. It was like I had just shot a 200 class whitetail or landed a state record muskie. It finally all came together! Drenched with sweat and adrenaline I finally drug myself and my prize back to the truck and received high fives and laughter from the boys that watched it all go down. Bittersweet!
Next it was Matt's turn. This time I was the lucky one to get to watch. I managed to get a photo of his sleeping target, but that's all we will ever have from that hunt. Matt's dead eye marksmanship proved not enough as he was reminded how difficult these things are to hit. Defeited, he came back to the farmyard that we were waiting in with three empty shells and no fox. It was a good effort, but that fox will again be left to hunt another day.
With two sweaty and exhausted hunters in the truck, it was now the master hunter Loge's turn to try his luck. Unfortunately, this hunt never came to be. As he donned the white's and prepared to step into the field, two snow machines drove through the field and we watched the fox make a B-line for another country. "Oh well, that fox is lucky," was all he said, as we called it a day and headed back to the farm.
The sun had set and our predator quest was over, but it was more exciting than I ever remembered. It was a day of excitement that I'm sure the three of us won't soon forget. It was a roadtrip back down memory lane for me, and as I sit at this computer I can still picture the intense moments that I had in the middle of those snow covered fields. The only thing I can say to close this journal entry is this, you just have to try it for yourself. Until next time, keep on livin' the dream!