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Wiltz: The foxes I have known

While waiting on the front steps of our Wisconsin home for my fishing partner last summer, a fox trotted out between our home and the home next door. Unconcerned with my presence, he looked at me and proceeded to cross the street. Our chance meeting got me to thinking about fox encounters over the years, and just how broad a territory foxes roam on this planet of ours.

Our environment and its creatures are in constant change, as evidenced by the fox. During the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, I often saw foxes while hunting. In looking through old albums, I see photos of yours truly posing with some hapless fox. Today, I rarely see a fox in the Wagner area. Why? I subscribe to the theory that foxes and coyotes don't mix very well, and I'd bet that our abundant coyote population has driven most foxes to safer climes.

In 1993, I went on my first big game hunt beyond Dakota borders. Partner Don Kaberna and I flew straight north out of Montreal to Kuujjuaq in Canada's Nunavik Territory Ungava region. From there, a bush plane brought us to our camp on the barren tundra. Weather delays had postponed our bush flight, and by the time we finally made it to camp, I was "trigger happy" anxious. We were allowed two caribou bulls apiece, and within the first hour, I had a young bull on the ground.

After field-dressing the bull, I sat on a rock to contemplate my next move. Moments later, a gray-colored Arctic fox was already tugging at the entrails! He scampered back when I got up to slice a piece of meat from the gut pile. I then took a knee, held out the meat, and gently talked to the little guy. Long minutes passed as he came very close, but he never did eat from my hand.

My next out-of-country fox encounter was a 2011 experience halfway around the world, in the Patagonia of Argentina. Tito, my Spanish-speaking guide, and I were hunting the Argentine steppe for red stag when a coyote-sized red fox ran across the trail in front of us, with his jaws clamped to a jack rabbit.

"Tito!" I called, as I pointed to the fleeing fox and then wiggled my trigger finger.

"Si!" Tito responded.

I rolled out of the Toyota and led the pampas predator in my rifle's crosshairs as I fired. He rolled.

Like North America, South American fox species overlap. While the smaller Patagonian fox, chilla, or gray zorro inhabit Southern Argentina, I shot the much larger culpeo fox. I didn't take him home as a trophy, but I do have his fangs, and they are impressive. In May, Mike Hall and I are returning to Patagonia to hunt. I may bring a predator call along, as I don't believe these sheep-killing foxes are familiar with calling.

When I went to Namibia in 2014, it was my third African hunt. Guide-outfitter Jamy Traut and I hunted together for eight days, and I had no particular agenda other than non-trophy fee camp meat animals. On previous African hunts, most of the time was spent driving trails in a Toyota Land Cruiser until one of the trackers spotted game and knocked on the vehicle's roof. I told Jamy that I didn't particularly enjoy vehicle hunting, and asked if we could walk. Walk we would!

In thoughtfulness, because of my debilitating tremor, Jamy had offered that I might ride in the box of the Toyota and actually shoot from a padded bench. Apparently my handicap justified such a move. I passed and told him I could have a fine time if I never took a shot. In Africa, shooting from the vehicle just isn't done. (If you've never read Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," it is an absolute must-read. Even back then, shooting from a vehicle had no place in fair chase.)

Walking on the African veldt enabled me to observe wildlife I would never have seen from the Toyota. We came upon some dens that resembled badger holes. These were home to aardvarks, long-nosed African anteaters. Though they were timid, they showed no fear. How many hunters have chanced upon aardvarks?

It got better! I flushed a crocodile-sized monitor lizard in the long grass. It got me to thinking. If it was warm enough for this reptile to be out and about, what about cobras, mambas, and boomslangs? I studied where I stepped and crawled a lot more carefully.

More than once we came upon a den of the cutest little guys I've ever seen — bat-eared foxes. They looked much like our red foxes except that their oversized ears were rounded at the tips, instead of pointed.

Traveling about England and Scotland, we often saw foxes. I suspect that there are some species of fox most everywhere in the world. See you next week.

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