Fox hunting guide

Species guide: hunting the wily fox

Foxes (Vulpes Vulpes) are a member of the Canidae family which also includes dogs, wolves, coyotes, dingoes and some 30 other species. The European fox is the most common variety, both in Australia and overseas, but there are many subspecies of fox around the world.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have hunted them in Canada, where the subspecies is a lot smaller in body size than our European foxes. During the winter months, however, they feature a much thicker hide and bushier tail, probably due to the fact they live in extremely cold conditions.

Fox hunting guide

Fox hunting provides excellent sport with rifle, shotgun or bow , and there are a number of techniques you can employ.

A brief history

The European fox was first introduced into Australia in the late 19th Century. They were released in Melbourne for sporting purposes, to be hunted on horseback. By the late 1800s their remarkably quick adaptation and subsequent spread through Victoria made the fox a nuisance to society and a pest to landholders, but arguably an asset to hunters.

By the early 1900s the cunning red dog had been sighted as far west as Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. Since then they have flourished throughout the country, but tend not to be found in significant numbers where other predators like wild dogs are present.

Location, habitat, behaviour

The red fox, sometimes referred to as Reynard, has today spread through most of the southern two-thirds of Australia. There have been claimed sightings in Tasmania but with no real proof that they exist there.

The fox has adapted remarkably well to our countryside and is also found on the fringes of suburbia. It’s not uncommon to sight a fox around urbanised landmarks such as Sydney Airport and the ACT’s Capitol Hill. In fact, I’ve seen them around many suburbs, streets, parks and beaches in NSW, and I’m sure this would be the norm in other states.

Fox hunting guide
Fox prints are easy to identify: they’re like a small dog’s

Foxes may be found living in a variety of habitat. A typical Reynard will often take over a rabbit or wombat burrow or may even choose to live in dense vegetation such as a blackberry bush or thick overgrowth. An indication of their presence is usually a strong, musky odour, food remnants around their burrow or long, twisted droppings, usually tapered at both ends. Studies indicate a fox has an average territory of two to five square kilometres, but that can be governed by food source and availability.

While the fox is usually nocturnal, it is not uncommon to see them during daylight hours. They have an excellent sense of smell used to detect their quarry and to identify competitors and potential predators like us humans. Diet will include small mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs and even fruit or sweet vegetables, however, his favourite diet is young lamb, chickens and rabbits.

Foxes do not bark like a dog, but instead can often be heard around mating time giving a throaty yelp or screech to attract a partner.

Fox hunting guide
Fox populations can be huge in good areas, where it’s not difficult to knock over half a dozen without going far

Both the male (dog) and female (vixen) become sexually mature in their first year, with mating season occurring around June or July. The gestation period for foxes is 51 days, after which a vixen will usually produce three to four cubs, although mother nature varies the number a vixen will produce depending on food availability and the general condition of the fox.

Babies are referred to as cubs and born hairless, blind and deaf. Within two weeks they start to grow fur, see and hear. At four to six weeks their blue/grey colour begins to change to a red coat. The dog hunts for the family while the vixen tends to her young. Once cubs reach a certain age they begin to stray from the den and fend for themselves, eventually moving into new territory.

Firearms and calibres

There are many ways to hunt the wily red coat and a variety of calibres to choose from. In the mid- to late-1970s, when fox pelt prices were at a record high, an appropriate calibre was required to do the job with minimal skin damage. The .17 Remington, released in the early ’70s with a 25gn hollow point, was undoubtably the correct medicine, producing little more than a pinhole in valuable fox pelts.

Fox hunting guide
Calling in foxes with a whistle, and hitting them with a shotgun, is a very effective hunting method

Today, due to a substantial lack of demand, fox skins are almost worthless to the fur trade and so foxes are hunted more for sport or pest control than profit. A thick winter pelt, however, makes a fine memento of the hunt. Minimum calibre equals minimal pelt damage.

That said, the .22-calibre rimfire is all that’s required to take care of a fox, although this will limit the safe effective range to around 50 metres. Other common calibres include the .22 magnum and .223, which are both used widely. For those who choose to hunt with a 12-gauge shotgun, loads using No 2 or BB are good medicine for the humble fox.

Hunting techniques

Spotlighting is a very effective way to control fox numbers around lambing paddocks, but nothing beats the thrill of watching a fox eagerly come to the whistle. To do so, first choose a vantage spot to whistle from with a good field of view and down-wind to prevent him from catching your scent. Ensure you are in a position where your body outline will be camouflaged and not sky-lined. If you do it right, Reynard may come within metres of your location and can be dispatched using a .22, .22 magnum or shotgun.

As a rule of thumb, a fox will not come to the whistle during mating season, or in areas where rabbits are non-existent, as the shrill of a whistle is designed to imitate a rabbit in distress.

Flushing foxes from blackberry bushes, thick vegetation and bull rushes is also another great method for hunting them. For this I’ve used well-trained dogs to flush them out or simply walked along a creek at first light with my trusty 12 gauge and a charge of BBs. Game dogs such as the fox terrier or Jack Russel are ideal company when flushing foxes as they are small enough to run through and around tight bushes and ferns.




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Tony Pizzata

Tony's hunting career spans more than 50 years, from small game here in Australia through to big-game hunts around the globe. His first article was published in Sporting Shooter magazine almost 40 years, and he has worked full-time here as National Sales Manager and Field Editor for over 35 years. Tony's contribution to Sporting Shooter's solid foundations spans its printed history as well as its move to a digital future.