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M&J Outdoor Communications » Sly As A Fox


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Sly As A Fox

From the road, Eagle Creek Swamp looked as dark and as foreboding as any ancient dungeon.

“Once your eyes get accustomed to the night, it’ll seem like high noon back in there, what with the snow and this full moon,” said my Dad, Mick, who by my best guess must have sensed my reluctance to voluntarily walk into the blackness. “Besides,” he continued with a smile, “with that Model 500 stuffed with those 3-inch copper-plated BBs, you’re the nastiest thing out there in those woods.” Good old Pop. He always did have a way of making things better.

And he was right as our hike across the ice-covered beaver marsh turned out to be an easy walk in the moonlight. Arriving at the snowy hump that was the marsh’s main beaver lodge, we separated. The plan was for me to do the calling and look north, while my father, some 75 yards away, would cover the ground to the south and east.

The squall of the cottontail in distress split the 10-degree cold like a jeweler’s chisel. Thirty seconds of high-pitched cries, then silence. No artificial light was necessary, thanks to Mother Nature’s illuminating contribution of both snow and moonglow. Another 30 seconds of the bunny’s demise was followed by another period of quiet.

Without warning, the air was cleaved with the crash of my father’s Remington 1100. An eerie silence followed, a quiet that was soon broken with my Pop’s - “Over here, Jake.” A handful of tentative steps later, I was kneeling at my father’s side helping admire the prime grey at his feet. “Stood out plain as day against the snow,” said Dad, shouldering his prize. Even in the darkness, his ear-to-ear grin was unmistakable. “Ready for some hot coffee,” he asked, turning toward the truck and his waiting steel Thermos. A cup never tasted better.

To many outdoorsmen, there’s nothing more exciting than the adrenaline rush that comes with changing one’s role from hunter to hunted. And that, in a nutshell, describes predator hunting. Likewise and in turn, both hunter and predator hunting can be most used to describe Mister Tad Brown - a gentleman who, by his own admission, loves nothing more than immersing himself totally in this wild role reversal, and stepping up to the challenge of going one-on-one with some of North America’s most wary game animals - the predators.

Currently, Brown makes his home in Preston , Missouri , which itself rests in a beautiful rugged little piece of the Midwest known as the Missouri Ozarks. Here, he serves as the manager of product development for M.A.D. Calls, a position which allows him to experiment with an incredible variety of predator-related gadgets, often alongside M.A.D. founder and fellow fanatical predator caller/hunter, Mark Drury. Now 42, Brown has been trapping since the age of eight, but it’s been within the past two decades that he’s turned much of his attention to the Show-Me State’s phenomenal predator population. Today, Brown stands as one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the hunting of furbearers such as coyotes, fox, and bobcats. According to him, though, his expertise in the art of out-smarting these wily critters wasn’t always what it is today.

“My first successful predator hunt? Well, an old man had an old Burnham Brothers record player. It was a regular 45 record. I went to school with his boy, and one afternoon he said that he’d take me and his boy. And I remember that the boy was going to operate the player. The old man went to the left and I went to the right. Well, by the time I got over to the log they told me to go to and sit down, the boy shot. He had called in a coyote and killed it. And I mean I was hooked,” said Brown.

“Well I couldn’t afford a record player,” he continued, “so I went on down to the hardware store and bought the first predator call I could get my hands on. And I just kept trying and trying and trying, and then one night in the moonlight, me and a buddy called in a grey fox and I killed it. I was really hooked after that.”

Today, some 25 years after that old man played the role of predator disc jockey under those starlit Missouri skies, Brown tours the Midwest and points east presenting the latest in fox hunting tactics, strategies, and innovations, a handful of which he was more than kind enough to share.

Tad Brown on foxes

My question: Which is more challenging to bring to a call - red fox, or grey fox? Or is there even a difference?

Tad’s response: “A grey fox, to me, responds to anything well. Rabbit distress, bird distress sounds, loud calling, soft calling. He seems to respond well. But I do seem to have better luck with reds. They seem more cautious to me. If I think I’m calling specifically to a red fox, I’ll start out with a low, coaxer type call. And often times that’s all I’ll use is that coaxer call,” said Brown. “Now, I don’t know, but I have called in reds unexpectedly using a regular predator call; still, when I’m specifically focusing on reds, I use that coaxer call and have better luck.”

My question: Okay then, Tad, what is it specifically about a grey that makes him respond to a call better?

Tad’s response: “I think that part of the reason that grey fox respond to a call better is that they’re more aggressive and they’re not as afraid. I mean, if a red fox is responding to a call and a coyote pops out on the scene, that red is gonna get the hell out of there. But a grey fox? I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think a grey fox might take his chances. He’s a little more ballsy - even with a coyote. (NOTE - At this point in the interview, I let out a not-so-subtle hummmmm , an unintelligible groan that Brown immediately translated as my being a non-believer; hence, his next statements). “A grey can climb a tree, and he can climb quite well. He’ll run in a bush or go underground. You know, a red’s really nice and smooth and silky, where a grey is - well, he’s a brawler. I’d compare the grey fox to the farm hand and the red fox to the city slicker that works in the downtown office.”

My question: Simple question here - Day hunting? Or night hunting?

Tad’s response: “Over the years, I’ve had much better success at night. I think that nighttime is the fox’s time, especially reds. My experiences with red fox are somewhat limited, just because we don’t have many red fox in my part of the country. I’m more about greys and coyotes and bobcats. But I think that the red fox is spookier and feels more comfortable under the cover of darkness. The greys - well, they’ll respond at daybreak and in the evening, but I’ve never had much success with greys during the day.”

Variety of sounds - A bird distress is one of my favorites. You think of a fox, and you think of him eating a rabbit. In reality, he eats more rodents - rats and mice and voles - but he also eats a lot of birds. Ground-nesting birds. Fox are death on birds, especially at night. They just clean up on birds. I don’t know if folks realize that. If you’re a believer in animals getting call-shy (NOTE - Brown is definitely not a believer).I mean, if you’re hunting an area where guys are running around blowing a rabbit distress call, try a bird distress sound, and I think it’s gonna blow your mind the response you get.

Location - I like locations - a natural blind beside a harvested cornfield, for instance - for two reasons. One, the natural blind provides me with some cover. And two, the cornfield provides mice and rats and other things for the predators to eat. If you can find a little island of brush and logs and such around an agricultural field, you can bet that’s going to be full of rabbits and mice and birds and such. And the predators know this.

Camouflage - It’s very important. You know, a lot of times a deer will come into an opening and look at you. Even if you’re wearing blaze orange, if you keep perfectly still, he’ll turn his head and keep walking on. Very seldom will a fox do that. They’ll step into a field, they’ll turn and look at you, and the gig’s up. Ninety percent of the time when they turn, look at you and you make eye contact with them, you’re nailed. They’re sharper. They’re more wary.

How do hunters set-up wrong - Number one, they silhouette themselves. That’s the most often made mistake I see predator hunters make. Animals of all kinds can recognize the human silhouette, and predators recognize that as a threat. Often, they’ll pick out your silhouette before you even know they’re in the country.

Seen and gone - I can promise you that the predator caller calls in and never sees much more game than he ever lays eyes on. And a hell of a lot more game than he calls in and harvests.

Decoys - Number one, when that fox pops into an opening, you want to give him something to look at that gives him the confidence that yes, he is responding to a realistic situation. Number two, and when he does spot your decoy, he keeps his eyes on that decoy and not on you. If you need to flip your safety off or move your gun just slightly, him staying focused on that decoy will allow you that little bit of movement that otherwise you couldn’t get away with. And number three, you can use that decoy to put that fox in a good shooting situation. It can help move him out into the open a little better, or it can simply bring them closer and into shotgun range. I like rifle shooting, but I dearly love shotgunning predators.

Decoys II - For fox, I tend to use something subtle than I would with a bobcat or a coyote. Fox are smaller, more fragile things, and I kind of approach that way in both my decoys and my calling. Usually with fox, I’ll just use a small piece of rabbit fur or a handful of feathers thrown on the ground. Sometimes I’ll hang the fur from a low branch or bush, but usually I’ll just throw it on the ground. With fox, especially red fox, the signs of a kills - feathers, bits of fur, that kind of thing - seems to be more alluring than the entire prey animal itself.

Shotguns - Yes, I am a big shotgun fan. The reason why is quite similar to why I’m a big hand-call (mouth call) fan. Growing up, most of my predator hunting was at night in the moonlight, and because of the night hunting, I hunted with a shotgun 90 percent of the time. Now-a-days with this new ammunition and these new turkey chokes, it would blow a person’s mind just how far you can consistently kill fox. My turkey gun is also my favorite predator gun.

Greys - more aggressive. Reds - less aggressive; take a little more time. Approach much slower. Real cautious - will circle you a lot. A partner downwind of you, he’ll get the majority of the shooting. Real comfortable in open country and circle around.