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            As I bounced down the old abandoned two-track dirt road and rounded the bend, it was easy to see my fox set had seen some action. Pieces of scattered dead sticks that had once been neatly arranged as my set blocking were now strewn across the road where the set had been. The gravely landscape had a few tell tale lines in the dirt where the drag chain had been “sawed” through the loamy soil by the struggles of a captured animal. Anxiously watching for tell-tale movement, I saw a few gobs of scattered fur and my heart sank – my captured gray fox had provided a filling meal to a hungry coyote. That was the ninth fox eaten by coyotes that day. Bummer!

            Unfortunately, this scene was to repeat itself many times over that season – 39 times to be exact. At $40+ per fox, it was hard to swallow those kinds of losses. I tried lots of ways to keep the coyotes away from my sets, but the tinkling trap chain apparently had the effect of a dinner bell. I even made sets specifically for coyotes and managed to take a few, but it slowed me down a lot, cut my equipment and my fox catch in half, and catching a $12 desert coyote was not something I could get real enthused about anyway. I made plans to come back next fall before the gray fox season opened and snare coyotes (the coyote season is open year round in my state), but I wondered if there was something I could do NOW to cut my losses.

            That’s when I started thinking about using cage traps to catch grays. To my pleasant surprise, I found grays readily enter a cage trap, and their generally bold approach to lures and baits made them susceptible to a well-placed cage. I discovered many other advantages to using cages. For example, many areas with good fox populations that I always avoided either because of human traffic, or the possibility of catching someone’s prize bird dog, were now prime set locations producing dozens of fox. Set locations close to a well-traveled road (it is illegal to set a steal trap larger than a #1 close to the road in my state) also added to my increasing tally of fox. Moreover, I was happy to learn that the rules and regulations in my state pertaining to the use of certain animal parts, and exposed baits in general, did not apply to cage traps. The cages were, strangely enough, easier to conceal than I thought they would be, and the captured animal was hidden out of sight instead of bouncing around in the open with a trap on its foot. I also found cage trapping was much simpler than using steel traps. There were no pan covers, drags, stakes, hammers, or dirt sifters to worry about. Best of all, the sturdy cage trap would protect the captured gray fox from marauding coyotes. 

Since then, I’ve taken a lot of grays in cages and have developed some ideas about how to improve the use of cages for catching this little canine. Here are a few of the tips and tricks I’ve learned to consistently take fox. Regardless of the type of set I will construct with the cage, I prepare each location the same. I look for an area where a fox will be traveling and can see the cage door from a distance. This may mean the edge of a sandy wash or near a road or trail, the edge of a thicket or hedgerow, or even along a ditch or creek bank. Look for a spot that is fairly level. You will need some vegetation to conceal your cage, so look for a big bush or low hanging tree branches. In my area, pinion or juniper trees provide good concealment.

Once I find the right spot, I take my cage and with a sawing motion, push the cage back and forth into the bush or the tree a few times. Any limbs or branches that impede progress are removed with my shears. Cut just enough limbs or branches to allow the cage to fit, but leave the rest for concealment. Once I have established a basic footprint of the cage’s outline, I withdraw the cage and set it aside. Then, taking my garden hoe/rake tool, I work the soil to loosen it down a couple inches and make it level. Once the ground has been softened and leveled, I put the trap back in place. Using some of the dirt I raked up to bed the trap, I cover the bottom of the cage with a half inch or so of soil, spreading it smooth. You want at least a half an inch of dirt covering the floor of the trap because the fox won’t want to walk on the exposed wire of the cage bottom. I also toss a handful of dirt on the trap pan to help conceal it. 

A trapped animal like a fox will bounce around quite a bit in the cage – much more than a bobcat -- so use some rocks or larger tree limbs and stabilize the cage by placing them on each side of the cage. Now use the tree branches you’ve trimmed and cover the entire trap, especially along each side near the door and the rear of the cage. Place a few branches on top of the cage as well to prevent a fox from viewing the contents of the cage from any nearby high spot of ground. Be careful to avoid putting large tree limbs on the cage itself, because the fox will be tempted to climb up the limb and inspect the cage from above, or he may even walk on top of the cage and trip the door. It is critical to understand that if the fox can get access to view the bait or lure from any other part of the cage besides the front door, he may satisfy his curiosity from that vantage point and leave without being caught.

When it comes to attractants, it’s important to know that a gray fox is a glutton, a pig disguised in fox’s fur. Often a gray fox will have fat stores on its body that rival those of a coon. Capitalize on that fact by using more food-based baits and lures. I like to use ground bacon, simmered in lard. After the mixture has cooled, add in a few ounces of ground beaver castor and fish oil to make mouth-watering bait no gray fox will ignore. Toss a couple ounces of bait in the back of the cage, and dribble a few crumbs from the door, over the pan and to the back of the trap. Hungry grays just cannot resist following the “bread crumbs” into the back of the cage.

Another tip to increase your take of grays is to move your cage after each capture. My theory here – and its only my theory—is that a captured grey releases enough odor into the trap bed (by way of urine, feces, etc.) once captured that it offends the senses of other greys, at least for a few days until the odors dissipate with the effects of sun, wind, rain, snow, etc. Granted, this may sound odd to some, but trust me – I’ve done enough experimenting with cages side-by-side, and with the use of trail cameras pointed at the cages, to tell you that I’m convinced it makes a difference. Sure, you can just leave the cage in the original location for a few days while the odor dies down, but I want to catch fox every night, night after night. You only have to move the cage a few feet – just out of the contaminated trap bed – to make a difference. Generally if I catch a fox under one tree, for example, I will move the cage to the next tree.

Cage trapping gray fox is an exciting and productive way to increase your catch, taking advantage of set locations that you may have previously avoided. In some cases, they may allow you access where concerned landowners do not allow trapping with traditional steel traps. Cage traps will never replace steel leg hold traps, but they provide a great alternative in some situations that will put more fur on your stretchers and a bigger fur check in your pocket.


Tracy Truman

Las Vegas, NV.