A DROLL FOX-TRAP
By C. A. Stephens
When I was a boy I lived in one of those rustic neighborhoods on
the outskirts of the great "Maine woods." Foxes were plenty, for
about all those sunny pioneer clearings birch-partridges breed by
thousands, as also field-mice and squirrels, making plenty of game
There were red foxes, "cross-grays," and "silver-grays;" even black
foxes were reported. These animals were the pests of the
farm-yards, and made havoc with the geese, cats, turkeys, and
chickens. In the fall of the year, particularly after the frosts,
the clearings were overrun by them night and morning. Their sharp,
cur-like barks used often to rouse us, and of a dark evening we
would hear them out in the fields, "mousing" around the
stone-heaps, making a queer, squeaking sound like a mouse, to call
the real mice out of their grass nests inside the stone-heaps.
This, indeed, is a favorite trick of Reynard.
At the time of my story, my friend Tom Edwards (ten years of age)
and myself were in the turkey business, equal partners. We owned a
flock of thirty-one turkeys. These roosted by night in a large
butternut tree in front of Tom's house—in the very top of it, and
by day they wandered about the edges of the clearings in quest of
beech-nuts, which were very plentiful that fall.
All went well till the last week in October, when, on taking the
census one morning, a turkey was found to be missing; the
thirty-one had become thirty since nightfall the previous evening.
It was the first one we had lost.
We proceeded to look for traces. Our suspicions were divided. Tom
thought it was "the Twombly boys," nefarious Sam in particular. I
thought it might have been an owl. But under the tree, in the soft
dirt, where the potatoes had recently been dug, we found
fox-tracks, and two or three ominous little wads of feathers, with
one long tail feather adrift. Thereupon we concluded that the
turkey had accidentally fallen down out of the butternut—had a
fit, perhaps—and that its flutterings had attracted the attention
of some passing fox, which had, forthwith, taken it in charge. It
was, as we regarded it, one of those unfortunate occurrences which
no care on our part could have well foreseen, and a casualty such
as turkey-raisers are unavoidably heirs to, and we bore our loss
with resignation. We were glad to remember that turkeys did not
often fall off their roosts.
This theory received something of a check when our flock counted
only twenty-nine the next morning. There were more fox-tracks, and
a great many more feathers under the tree. This put a new and
altogether ugly aspect on the matter. No algebra was needed to
figure the outcome of the turkey business at this rate, together
with our prospective profits, in the light of this new fact. It was
clear that something must be done, and at once, too, or ruin would
swallow up the poultry firm.
Rightly or wrongly, we attributed the mischief to a certain
"silver-gray" that had several times been seen in the neighborhood
It would take far too much space to relate in detail the plans we
laid and put in execution to catch that fox during the next two
weeks. I recollect that we set three traps for him to no purpose,
and that we borrowed a fox-hound to hunt him with, but merely
succeeded in running him to the burrow in a neighboring rocky
hill-side, whence we found it quite impossible to dislodge the wily
Meanwhile the fox (or foxes) had succeeded in getting two more of
Heroes, it is said, are born of great crises. This dilemma of ours
developed Tom's genius.
"I'll have that fox," he said, when the traps failed; and when the
hound proved of no avail he still said: "I'll have him yet."
"But how?" I asked. Tom said he would show me. He brought a
two-bushel basket and went out into the fields. In the stone-heaps,
and beside the old logs and stumps, there were dozens of deserted
mouse-nests, each a wad of fine dry grass as large as a quart box.
These were gathered up, and filled the great basket.
"There," said he, triumphantly, "don't them smell mousey?"
They did, certainly; they savored as strongly of mice as Tom's
question of bad grammar.
"And don't foxes catch mice?" demanded Tom, confidently.
"Yes, but I don't see how that's going to catch the fox," I said.
"Well, look here, then, I'll show ye," said he. "Play you's the
fox; and play 't was night, and you was prowling around the fields.
Go off now out there by that stump."
Full of wonder and curiosity, I retired to the stump. Tom,
meantime, turned out the mass of nests, and with it completely
covered himself. The pile now resembled an enormous mouse-nest, or
rather a small hay-cock. Pretty soon I heard a low, high-keyed,
squeaking noise, accompanied by a slight rustle inside the nest.
Evidently there were mice in it; and, feeling my character as fox
at stake, I at once trotted forward, then crept up, and, as the
rustling and squeaking continued, made a pounce into the grass—as
I had heard it said that foxes did when mousing. Instantly two spry
brown hands from out the nest clutched me with a most vengeful
grip. As a fox, I struggled tremendously. But Tom overcame me
forthwith, choked me nearly black in the face, then, in dumb show,
knocked my head with a stone.
"D'ye see, now!" he demanded.
"But a fox would bite you," I objected.
"Let him bite," said Tom. "I'll resk him when once I get these two
bread-hooks on him. And he can't smell me through the mouse-nests
That night we set ourselves to put the stratagem in operation. With
the dusk we stole out into the field where the stone-heaps were,
and where we had oftenest heard foxes bark. Selecting a nook in the
edge of a clump of raspberry briars which grew about a great
pine-stump, Tom lay down, and I covered him up completely with the
contents of the big basket. He then practiced squeaking and
rustling several times to be sure that all was in good trim. His
squeaks were perfect successes—made by sucking the air sharply
betwixt his teeth.
"Now be off," said Tom, "and don't come poking around, nor get in
sight, till you hear me holler."
Thus exhorted, I went into the barn and established myself at a
crack on the back side, which looked out upon the field where Tom
Tom, meanwhile, as he afterward told me, waited till it had grown
dark, then began squeaking and rustling at intervals, to draw the
attention of the fox when first he should come out into the
clearing, for foxes have ears so wonderfully acute, that they are
able to hear a mouse squeak twenty rods away, it is said.
An hour passed. Tom must have grown pretty tired of squeaking. It
was a moonless evening, though not very dark. I could see objects
at a little distance through the crack, but could not see so far as
the stump. It got rather dull, watching there; and being amidst
nice cozy straw, I presently went to sleep, quite unintentionally.
I must have slept some time, though it seemed to me but a very few
What woke me was a noise—a sharp suppressed yelp. It took me a
moment to understand where I was, and why I was there. A sound of
scuffling and tumbling on the ground at some distance assisted my
wandering wits, and I rushed out of the barn and ran toward the
field. As I ran, two or three dull whacks came to my ear.
"Got him, Tom?" I shouted, rushing up.
Tom was holding and squeezing one of his hands with the other and
shaking it violently. He said not a word, and left me to poke about
and stumble on the limp warm carcass of a large fox that lay near.
"Bite ye?" I exclaimed, after satisfying myself that the fox was
"Some," said Tom; and that was all I could get from him that night.
We took the fox to the house and lighted a candle. It was the
Tom washed his bite in cold water and went to bed. Next morning he
was in a sorry and a very sore plight. His left hand was bitten
through the palm, and badly swollen. There was also a deep bite in
the fleshy part of his right arm, just below the elbow, several
minor nips in his left leg above the knee, and a ragged "grab" in
the chin. These numerous bites, however, were followed by no
serious ill effects.
The next day, Tom told me that the fox had suddenly plunged into
the grass, that he had caught hold of one of its hind legs, and
that they had rolled over and over in the grass together. He owned
to me that when the fox bit him on the chin, he let go of the
brute, and would have given up the fight, but that the fox had then
actually attacked him. "Upon that," said Tom, "I just determined to
have it out with him."
Considering the fact that a fox is a very active, sharp-biting
animal, and that this was an unusually large male, I have always
thought Tom got off very well. I do not think that he ever cared to
make a fox-trap of himself again, however.
We sold the fox-skin in the village, and received thirteen dollars
for it, whereas a common red fox-skin is worth no more than three
How, or by what wiles that fox got the turkeys out of the high
butternut, is a secret—one that perished with him. It would seem
that he must either have climbed the tree, or else have practiced
sorcery to make the turkey come down.