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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Fish & Wildlife > Wildlife Resources > Animals > Red Fox Red Fox

INTRODUCTION

foxHis bark pierces the silence of a winter night. He runs on legs of coiled spring-steel. He does not just persist, he thrives with the challenges of a modern foe - the face of man. Those who know when they themselves become only a memory, the red fox will dance on their graves.

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a small wild dog. It has a pointed muzzle, prominent ears and a long, bushy tail tipped in white. They appear yellowish-red from a distance. A closer look will reveal the white belly, throat and inner ears. Other color phases occur, but they are not common. These variations are silver (black fur with white hairs sprinkled among the black), cross (a portion of the fur is black and a portion of the pelt is red, and the black fur runs across the shoulders and along the back forming a cross when seen from above), and black (all fur is black; this is also known as the melanistic phase). The long guard hairs making up their colorful pelt cause them to appear larger then they actually are. The average adult weighs from 8 to 14 pounds.

DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE

Red fox are usually found in open, dry areas. Old fields, pastures, brushland, farmland, and other non-forested areas are preferred. They are abundant in some areas which are under intensive cultivation. They occur in all Indiana counties but are most numerous in northeastern section of the state.

REPRODUCTION

Red fox seldom use dens except for rearing young. A search for a proper nursery begins in December when the pair inspects burrows and previous fox dens. The den selected may be located in the open or in woods. It is well-drained and usually has at least two entrances. One litter is born each year in March or April, 51 days after mating. Litters may range from one to 12, but five or six is the usual number.

Newborn fox are blind until nine days old and are constantly attended by their mother until several weeks old. The male delivers food to his family during this period of confinement. The pups first venture outside the den under guidance of parents when they are a month old. The next two months are spent with parents learning to survive on their own. The family group disbands in late summer, living separately until the life cycle is resumed in December.

FOOD HABITS

Food habit studies conducted here and in other states indicate what is eaten. In general, winter and spring foods are small mammals such as rabbit, ground squirrel and mice as well as game, songbirds and larger insects. Summer diets lean heavily on berries, fruits and grasses, although a large supply of immature birds and mammals are available. Carcasses of dead hogs, sheep and cattle are eaten when the opportunity is there. Small lambs, pigs and poultry are preyed upon by red fox, but modern husbandry practices have reduced these losses.

Some hunters feel the fox predation reduces the availability of their upland game species. It is true that fox eat rabbit, quail and other game animals, and some are highly skilled hunters. Fox predation has been explored many times in widespread areas. This is a complex relationship to unravel because it involves the way in which each prey species react to the environment also occupied by fox. Some conclusions common to nearly all studies are as follows.

  • Fox take foods most readily available.
  • Prey population (rabbit, quail, mice, ect.) fluctuate from year to year regardless of the number of fox present.
  • Reduction of fox has not resulted in measurable increases in small game populations.
  • Red fox predation is a natural force to which prey species have been exposed for countless generations. If the prey could not survive these predators, they would have been lost long ago.

In summary, where many kinds of foods are available in quantity, the proportions in the annual diet are about as follows: mammals (largely rabbits and mice), 45 percent; birds, 15 percent; insects, 20 percent; and vegetable matter (largely fleshy fruits), 20 percent.

HUNTING

The classic confrontation between fox and hound enriches the lives of many Hoosiers. Fox-chasing advocates gather around an evening fire and listen to a pack of hounds unravel the scent-trail of an experienced red fox. Their sport is derived from the sound of hound music orchestrated in the nighttime air.

Red fox pelts are valued in the fur industry. Many sportsmen harvest red fox in front of the hounds. Usually, a group of three or four hunters take stands at locations where visibility is good and where the terrain offers possible route of escape for a fleeing fox. If everything goes according to plan, a hunter will be able to take a killing shot. Most of the time, the red fox has the odds in his favor.

A few, rugged individuals whose trademark is patience will attempt to trail a fox on foot in the winter snows, trying to spot Old Red close enough for a killing shot. Here, the sport is primarily learning the habits of an individual animal from evidence written along the winter trail.

Fox drives by group of hunters also occur, usually in the winter season. A section of land is encircled by a group of hunters, and they press forward closing to a central point. If luck is on their side, a hunter will be able to glimpse a running fox in gun range.

In recent years, the availability of effective predator calls has resulted in a number of sportsmen setting up in favorable habitat at night, attempting to lure individual fox within range by use of a call. These call imitate the sound of wounded prey species, such as rabbit, and an experienced caller can meet with success in taking red fox looking for an easy meal.

TRAPPING

Although red fox are suspicious creatures, a well constructed dirt hole set often leads to their downfall. If care is taken to initiate the burial site of a cache of food, and if steps are taken to eliminate the telltale scent of man or trap, this set results in an ample stack of red fox pelts. There is an art to consistent success in fox trapping, and there are many Hoosiers who have learned these skills. Trapping is an effective fox population control method.

MANAGEMENT

Red fox do not require specialized habitat management due to their adaptability to several food supplies and their tolerance of human activity. They are protected from hunting and trapping when the young are born and learning to survive. They are recognized as an important component of Indiana's wildlife community due to their effectiveness as predators in controlling small mammals, and they are an important animal in Indiana's fur harvest. One of the most interesting attributes of the red fox is its ability to provide challenging night chases in front of hounds.

PREVENTION AND CONTROL

Construct net wire fences with openings of 3 inches or less to exclude red foxes from an area. Bury the bottom of the fence 1 to 2 feet with an apron of net wire extending at least 12 inches outward from the bottom. A top or roof of net wire may also be needed to keep some foxes out of a garden or other small area. A 3-wire electric fence with wires spaced 6 inches, 12 inches, and 18 inches above the ground can help repel foxes. Combination fences with net and electric wires can also be effective.

Flashing lights, such as a strobe light, can provide temporary protection in a small area or near livestock or poultry enclosures. A combination of lights and frightening devices such as radios and timed tape recordings are likely to provide better protection.

Resident landowners and tenants can live-trap a red fox that is causing damage on their own property without a permit from the DNR. The fox must be euthanized or released within the county of capture on property in which you have permission. In order to prevent the spread of disease, the DNR encourages homeowners to safely and humanely euthanize the foxes, if possible. Legal foot-hold traps are more effective than a live cage trap when trapping adult foxes. If you do not want to trap the fox yourself, contact a licensed nuisance wild animal control operator.

Fox depredation is most common during the spring when the adults are raising their young. Damage can be reduced or eliminated by locating and removing the young foxes from the den (usually under a shed or barn). Once the foxes are removed from a den, be sure to cover the entrance to prevent it from being used again.  Foxes have been known to return to the same area to raise their young each year.