It will come as no surprise to hunters that there are among us game-department men who believe a fox will not eat a pheasant or a clutch of pheasant eggs. As for a plump grouse or duck, these dainties supposedly have been removed from the fox's list of groceries too. All that mankind has painfully learned about the fox in the generations since fox hunting began has been set aside as foolishness.
Instead of being known as a skilled stalker of game birds and rabbits, the fox has become, in our minds, an invaluable ally of mankind, devoted to destruction of field mice only. Even in the depths of winter the gallant mouser prefers to scratch through snow and frozen ground to snap at a sleepy mouse.
This is the modern fable of the fox. It makes no difference that the story runs against the ancient truths that are the basis of such folklore as Mother Goose. The experts on game have apparently dreamed it up for a canny purpose. Knowingly or not, they are committed to a policy of "controlled game scarcity." The game-scarcity motive rests on the cynical ground that once predators are controlled there will be lots of game. This in turn means there would be no more costly game boondoggling surveys, and less money available for well-paid sinecures.
NONSENSE ABOUT FOXES
And so they have preached nonsense about the fox from all sorts of pulpits: from federal and state offices, rod-and-gun columns in newspapers, and the outdoor magazines. Their sermons have cast such doubt in sportsmen's minds that there were no protests when professional game managers in New York and elsewhere actually spent several hundred thousand dollars on federal-approved projects concerning the fox?surveys supposed to answer questions like: "What is the relationship between the fox and the pheasant?" and "What is the best habitat for pheasants?"
These questions were answered long, long ago. The Romans carried a breed of pheasant to Britain. They knew the best habitat: a fox-free meadow. As for the question of relationship, it comes down to this?will a fox eat a pheasant?
It is hard for me to admit that I was one of the gunners that fell for this craftiness a long time ago. I even refused to accept the evidence of my own eyes after the pheasants vanished from wonderful cover on and near my farm in Ulster County, N.Y. When I told a state expert that I had seen a red fox carrying a cock pheasant down my orchard lane, I was scolded for even thinking such a thing.
"You crippled the bird and the fox just picked it up."
When I protested that my Labrador, Hot Toddy, had never missed a cripple, I was told that I had too much faith in the breed.
The final and conclusive evidence came the next season when I had listened in vain for the crowing of my pheasant cocks. In desperation I decided to buy some birds and went to a pheasant breeder whose farm lay within the limits of the city of Kingston in the Hudson Valley. When I told him my story he said it would be a useless effort unless the foxes were trapped off my land, the dens gassed, and fox hunts restored. To prove it, he took me into his barn. On the walls there were 47 fox pelts, red and gray. He had given several others to trout-fly tiers.