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New Jersey Swamp Fox

 

This is actually the Blog Entry of 29 January 2014, but I liked it enough to make it a page of its own ...... updated with the picture 20 April 2018.

Spent the morning at The Swamp today. Got into the woods just after first light and backed up against a tree. We had about 3 inches of powder-snow fall last night plus several inches of older snow underneath. Visibility would be excellent once the light was good. Slight wind, temp 10F/-12C. My outfit was a little strange today because I couldn't find my Woolpower Turtleneck, so I wound up wearing a cotton T-Shirt under a cotton shirt. Yes, cotton kills, but I was near home, my family knew where I was, I had a cellphone and I would never be more than a mile from my truck. So I went with the convenience of the garments at hand. I also wore a prototype WeatherWool Vest that I've been playing around with, and my old original proto All-Around Jac. On bottom I wore light Woolpower Longjohns and one of our very first prototype pants. I was plenty warm making like a statue for the first 90 minutes or so I was there. But I could really feel the difference between my arms and my torso, protected by the Vest. I also wore the WeatherWool Mouton Hat, and my head was positively toasty. No question I would have been fine in much colder weather.


I was hoping for some venison, but the only critter I saw of any size was a smallish coyote that appeared only fleetingly. After it was gone I started thinking maybe it could have been a fox, but it seemed too big and too gray, although it showed before the light was really bright.

At around 8:15 or so, I decided to start moving. I'm not much for taking a stand for whitetail. Not sure why, but I much prefer to stillhunt, which to me means sneaking around very slowly and as quietly as possible, and trying to spot critters before they know I'm there. I hadn't gone but 75 yards when I was surprised to find the very fresh track of a big (for the area) running whitetail. I didn't see how the tracks could have been made after I'd taken my stand against the tree – I should definitely have been aware of a running deer. So I figured I must have spooked the deer when I first walked in. Which means the deer would be thoroughly calmed down by now, and maybe I could follow the track and get a shot?

My first surprise was how far the deer, which was alone, ran. It was bounding pretty good for a couple hundred yards. When it did slow down, it didn't meander, it was walking straight. I generally had really good visibility, and tried to keep an eye peeled way out front, and stopped to glass often. But as happens so frequently, I did not see the deer until after I spooked it, and saw a tail bounding away. Well, I stopped looking down and headed straight for where the deer had been, hoping maybe I could cut the distance and then sneak in after the deer calmed down. I doubted it had really made me … I had the wind in my favor. But after going a little further, I saw a second tail bounding off, and when I picked up the tracks again, I was now following three smaller deer and I had to wonder what the heck happened to that single big track I'd been on?

While I stood wondering what was what, I was startled by a red fox running past me only 25 yards to my left. The fox was really zeroed in on something out there, in the same direction the deer had run. Foxes do act strangely at times, but this being the end of January, and, I think, the beginning of the fox breeding season, I had an idea what was going on. I slowed down and very carefully followed the deer tracks, stopping frequently to look for the deer and the tracks with my binos.

The deer were walking, but headed straight for the Rockaway River, and I followed the tracks all the way to the riverbank where they crossed. The Rockaway is a small river, and right now the water was fairly low and slow. The deer probably did not have to swim to reach the other side. But here in The Swamp, crossing the Rockaway is something the deer do frequently, without hesitation, even in winter, and regardless of the water level.

I caught a movement about 100 yards off in a meadow on the other side of the river, and realized it was a red fox. When I put the binos on the fox, it seemed clear to me this fox had just been swimming. Looking down, I could see the fox tracks enter the river at the same spot as the deer tracks. I guess it should not have surprised me, but I did not really picture foxes swimming across the river! The fox began a strange series of moves on a fallen branch at the edge of the meadow. He was climbing on it and rubbing on it and generally giving it much more attention than I ever thought a fox would. Focusing on another moving critter, I saw a second fox streak across the meadow and disappear into the woods. The first fox stood and watched the newcomer, which shortly thereafter ran back out and joined the first fox in making various moves on the fallen branch. Next, the two foxes stood on their hind legs and began to dance. They tapped each other with their front paws, and I think they were also tapping paw to paw, almost like dancers joining hands. They pranced around some on their back legs, face to face. Then dropping back to four feet, one of the foxes began to slowly move away while the other, the male I guess, was pretty interested in the other fox's back end, and was putting his front feet on her back.

I'd never seen anything like this, and felt really lucky to be seeing it! But it got better. A third fox came racing in from the right, and joined up with the other two. The three of them ran into a thicket where I could not see, but it certainly sounded like a short fight broke out. They vocalized briefly, but loudly. Adding to my surprise were two turkeys, running toward the sound of the fox fight. In my experience, turkeys hate to fly, and they even hate to run. But these two birds were really making time as if they were very interested in the fox proceedings. That doesn't make any sense to me, but that seemed to be what was going on.

 

Turkeys are not afraid of this North Jersey Red FoxThis is a trail-cam picture given to me by my friend Tom Allgor.
This pic was taken about 5 miles from The Swamp, and I just included
it here because it seems to show that turkeys are not afraid of foxes.
Geese are not afraid of foxes either.

Losing sight of the foxes and the turkeys, I moved around a bit and busted up some ice. At the sound, the deer I'd been tracking jumped into focus. Evidently they had crossed the river and immediately bedded in some grass and fallen logs where I had been unable to see them. They must have been within 20 or 30 yards of the dancing foxes. I guess they were watching the foxes???!!! Turkeys and deer are interested in fox mating rituals?

The deer did not seem to care much about my presence, which was not the usual whitetail behavior. They stood broadside for a bit, looking at me and looking at the thicket where the foxes had disappeared. I could have taken one or even two easily (and legally). Maybe they were reading my body language and could see I was no longer really hunting? That sounds weird, I know, but hunted whitetails definitely distinguish among human activities ... although at The Swamp they normally regard all people as hunters, all the time. Anyhow, the deer were only 80 yards away, according to my rangefinder binos. I've been told it’s OK to shoot deer in that spot. But I don’t have direct permission, and at that point, frankly, I was more interested in seeing what was going on than I was in hunting. But nothing else happened. The deer moved off, and I didn’t see the foxes or turkeys again.

I was out of time, but the morning was so lovely I decided to stillhunt my way back to my truck. I was happy to see a group of goldeneyes and another group of black ducks on the Rockaway. Neither type of duck is seen very often here in The Swamp, at least by me.

As I tiptoed along, I came to one of the drainage ditches that had been dug here back in the 1950s by the Army Corps of Engineers. Unless it is very dry, the ditches normally hold a few feet of water. And often ducks. But with the cold snap we'd been having, the ditches were frozen solid in many places, and it occurred to me that if I didn't bust through the ice, the ditches would afford a really cool path for stillhunting. And they did! The ice had a couple of inches of fresh snow on it, and I could move in almost total silence. Plus, the ditch concealed me ... the land on my right was at waist level. And on my left side, the berm created by the digging came up to my shoulders, so I could see well over the berm, but only my head would be visible to any deer on my left. With a little breeze in my face, this was just perfect!!! Except that I never did see another deer.

However, as I eased along the ditch, I came upon some fresh coyote tracks. And following along in the ditch, in the path of the yote, took me pretty close to the spot where I'd started the morning, and where I thought I'd seen a yote. So it’s likely I actually did see the yote that made the tracks in the ditch.

Altogether, this was a really great morning, and a fine way to end my deer season!! We are very low on deer meat now, BUT we still have plenty of moose and pronghorn from previous years in the deep freezer. I guess we’ll finish those off by early September, when the 2014 deer seasons begin in The Swamp.