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Fox hunting popular in Pennsylvania

Mike Papp's first attempt to extend his time outdoors didn't work out so well.

Tired of sitting around after the late deer and small game seasons ended, he tried trapping. But the demands -- having to check your line every day, having to flesh hides night after night and having to move sets constantly -- didn't mesh with his already busy schedule.

That's when he discovered fox hunting.

Papp, who lives in Wexford, fell in love with the sport 20 years ago and has been hunting foxes every winter since.

"If I could make money at it, I'd do it every day. It's that much fun," said Papp, an officer in the Pennsylvania Predator Hunters Association. "Every time you go out, it's a new lesson. That's why they win most of the time. But that's also why I go out as often as I can, to up the odds."

More than a few people have been following in Papp's footsteps recently, said Matt Lovallo, furbearer biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Predator hunting is perhaps more popular in Pennsylvania now than it's ever been.

Most of that is probably attributable to interest in coyotes, he said, but foxes are getting more attention, too.

Hunters and trappers killed a combined 40,551 red foxes in the 2005 and '06 seasons, for example. That's up considerably over the long-term average of about 30,000 animals.

Gray fox harvests are always smaller, and last year was no exception, totaling 17,616 animals. That's true despite the fact that grays are typically a little less wary than their red counterparts, Lovallo said.

"They just, for whatever reason, respond much quicker to a call," Lovallo said. "They may respond to a call within two to three minutes, whereas a red fox may take 20 to 30 minutes to come check things out. Grays often just barge right in."

That said, foxes are generally wary, Papp said. There are a couple of things you need to remember if you want to get one.

First, reds and grays have excellent senses of smell. To call them in, "you have to fool their nose first," Papp said. That's why he washes himself and his clothes with scent-free soap before going out. He also likes to hide inside a blind that has a carbon filter to help eliminate odor.

Second, foxes have good eyesight, so Papp uses decoys to focus their attention on something other than himself.

"Sound is going to bring them in initially, but once they come in, they start to look for movement. If they see that movement, they almost come in on a rope," Papp said.

Third, foxes learn quickly, Papp said. If you call one in to a particular spot with, say, a rabbit in distress call but don't kill it, don't expect it to respond to that same call coming from the same spot.

"You have to try to mix it up, so you don't always sound like the same guy," Papp said.

In addition to the standard rabbit in distress call, he always has things like a mouse squeaker, woodpecker, puppy distress calls and a challenge call on hand.

He'll call -- softly at first, then gradually louder -- for two minutes or so, shining his red or green light around the woods near the end of each sequence. If he doesn't get any action in about 30 minutes, it's off to another spot a half mile away. The gray hours right before dark, when foxes "seem to go on the prowl," are often most productive, he added.

Any time spent chasing foxes is a bonus, though, Papp said.

"Basically, I'm always looking for ways to extend the season. Predators like foxes seemed the way to go," Papp said.


Fox hunting season

Pennsylvania's fox hunting season continues through Feb. 16.

There is no limit on how many foxes you can take per day.

For information on getting started hunting foxes, visit the Pennsylvania Predator Hunters Association Web site at www.ppha.us , where hunters share tips and tactics via a forum and several links.

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