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Fine memories of the red fox

When I was a youngster in Jamestown, I spent an inordinate amount of time on weekends chasing cottontails and jackrabbits, but once I got a taste of red fox hunting that was my favorite winter pastime.

Some would say I was nuts, but I would walk from our house on Eighth Avenue in the dark, and return home after dark. I would have walked 15 miles … maybe more … and carrying an unloaded firearm through town every time. (I never was once stopped by a police officer! I wonder what would happen today under a similar scenario!)

I wore a white painter’s suit over my insulated clothes, and carried a .22/250 Rem. in Model 700 Remington. (Jake bought one of the first .22/250s off the line in 1965 and allowed me to use it any time I wished.) It gave me a great deal of pleasure to be using my own handloads, usually 55-grain Hornady Spire-Point bullets in Remington cases.

In those days if I had a canteen of water and a bit of food I could walk all day, which I often did. I’d find a fresh track, which I could tell easily if the tracks were sharp around the edges, and then I’d set out, glassing ahead with my binocular and moving along over the winter landscape. Once I reached the edge of a draw or some hilly landscape, I’d sit in the snow and blow on a predator call.

I had half dozen calls made by an equal number of companies — all effective — and I still have most of them in a cigar box beneath one of my gun cabinets, representatives of days that for me will never come again.

Oh, the predator callings … it could be complete boredom with nothing responding, or unbelievable excitement. One time north of Jamestown I sat on a flat piece of prairie 25 yards from a deep ravine, and when I called a red fox came running out of the ravine right at me! The fox was as startled as I was when I whipped the rifle into position. The fox abruptly turned, still running.

Somehow I found it in the 6X scope and killed it with one shot. The fox was within 20 feet of me when it turned, and about 25 yards when I shot it.

Twenty years later I climbed up through a foot of fresh snow in some big hills above the upper Missouri River in Montana, sat in the snow and emitted some pathetic wails on my predator call. I had shot a red fox about 20 miles from this place and thought there might be others in the area.

After my first plaintive calls, I heard a swish in the snow, turned and saw a coyote barreling toward me. I swung the rifle, almost touched the coyote, which turned quickly and ran into the draw below me. I killed the coyote at about 75 yards as it was running up the opposite hill. The episode left me a bit shaken because if I had not turned when I had, I believe the coyote would have run into me and possibly bitten me.

Most of the red foxes I have taken have been with a .22/250 — either Jake’s old Model 700 or the Finnish deluxe grade Sako that I bought in 1970. I sent the money back from Vietnam for my folks to buy the rifle.  As I remember, it was about $220 — more than I earned in a month from the Marine Corps in those days, including combat pay. I shot enough foxes between the time I got out of the Corps — Dec. 10, 1971 — and when I resumed college during the first week of 1972 to pay for the rifle. I still have the rifle.

About 20 years ago I bought a .222 Rem. Model 700 Classic in one of Remington’s runs of classic calibers. It is the only rifle I own that will consistently shoot half-inch groups at 100 yards, and that with three different kinds of powders. How I wish I had that rifle in the 1960s and early ‘70s! I have a 6X Leupold scope on it, and it is the perfect red fox rifle, not as destructive as is the .22/250 when you sell the pelts!

Whatever claim I had in hunting big game can be attributed to the red fox and my years in North Dakota. Coyotes continue to displace red fox all over the fox’s range, including central North Dakota, and that troubles me because there is not a finer animal to hunt in winter than the red fox.

Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has                                                   been a columnist for The Sun since 1974