As part of the much anticipated morning session of the 2012 Masters of Foxhounds Association Biennial Staff Seminar, held April 21 and 22 at the Westfields Marriott in Chantilly, VA, was an intense, in depth discussion of the red fox. Moderator Tony Leahy presided over panelists Tommy Lee Jones (Casanova), Tony Gammell (Keswick) and Bob Ferrer (Caroline).
Addressing the relationship in the wild between fox and coyote, Gammell said that in Much discussion at the 2010 Staff Seminar concentrated on hunting coyote; as coyotes continue expand their population and territory nationwide. This year, the discussion was focused solely on hunting the red fox. Addressing the concern of possible red fox extinction specifically in Virginia, Casanova Huntsman Tommy Lee Jones discussed the fact that large populations of red fox flourish amongst other natural predators in varied areas across the country, even in seemingly inhospitable climates such as Yosemite National Park. “There is hope for foxes here,” he said. “The introduction of coyotes has forced us to change, and red foxes have to change their behavior.”
However, “Casanova has declared war on the coyote,” he continued. Coyotes function in a rather militaristic manner, sending emissaries out to investigate the lay of the land. The scout returns to the pack to report on its findings, namely food supply, and the pack either continues into new ground or retreats. “We take out the scouts by offering a $150 bounty on each dead coyote.”
While coyotes in Casanova country have shifted toward Marine Base Quantico, red foxes have begun lying closer to housing developments and golf courses, in turn displacing gray foxes, which incidentally, Casanova has not hunted in fifteen years.
“Red foxes are crafty about getting away from coyotes,” said Lee. “They are moving into thickets and we have to break them out across fields.”
Lee has changed his strategy as well. Whereas in the past, he would approach covert quietly, now he makes noise, which triggers coyotes to leave town. “The coyote leaves, but the red fox sits tight,” he explained.
While the red fox must adapt to the presence of coyote, so must the foxhound. When asked about his methods of breaking hounds off coyote, Lee smiled and said “The same way I break them off deer.”
“If you don’t teach them what you want to run, how do you know when they’re on a riot?”
Tony Gammell, huntsman for Keswick, located near Charlottesville, VA, echoed Lee’s sentiments about a vibrant red fox population in the Commonwealth, in spite of the coyote invasion. “Twenty five, thirty years after the coyotes started arriving, there is still plenty of red fox in Virginia,” he said. “They have reverted back to protective mode.”
Gammell explained that most often, big farming operations in Keswick territory have more foxes, and that while it is more trouble to run red fox because they are not running in a natural sense, he will not hunt coyote. “It can be a bit like chasing a barn cat around,” he joked. “I hope that red foxes continue to adapt.”
Gammell clearly enjoys the constant tests presented by exclusively hunting red fox. When asked why Keswick only pursues red fox, he conclusively stated, “The challenge is there with Beagles or Stag Hounds. Foxes are elusive and the biggest challenge to hunt in Ireland and the UK,” he said. “In the US, it’s gone off the Richter Scale. If you’re going to be good at something, be good at it and stick to it. It’s better for hounds to hunt one thing.
Our older hounds only speak on red fox. We teach the pups to hunt red fox. When the puppies fire up on something else, the older hounds don’t know they are not on a fox,” he explained. “When hounds get on coyote or deer, it is due to people’s inability to train them.”
Gammell also likened training hounds to fox to the training methods used with sniffer dogs at airports and other ports of authority, where they are trained to hunt for particular items, in their case, contraband such as illegal drugs or explosives.
“It’s a personal choice between fox and coyote,” he explained. “I don’t think you have to hunt coyote. Hounds will draw over and through them because they are looking for red fox.”
Keswick country, there is generally enough food for both species. “Fox get on with wolves, bears, and etcetera. We did put dog food out for a long time, but it didn’t work much. My theory is to let Mother Nature take its course.”
He suggested that hunts with tighter territory face different trials in their pursuit of red fox, and that it takes time, but in the long run, hunting red fox is safer for hounds. “Some territory,” he offered, “just isn’t big enough.”
Bob Ferrer, United States Marine Corps (Retired), MFH and Huntsman for the Caroline Hunt (which also offers a bounty on coyote) between Richmond and Fredericksburg, made the choice to hunt fox over coyote when he founded the pack in 1999. “Our decision to hunt fox was personal. We have a lot of roads across our territory. Having lost hounds before, we didn’t want to go through that again,” he said. “Hounds will be safer hunting fox.”
“Know your country, know traits of foxes,” he said. “Deploy your pack like the military. Read extensively; this is not a new sport and there are great things to read. Keep learning.”