21            Grey Fox

                         VULPES VIRGINIANUS.--Schreber.
                           [Urocyon cinereoargenteus]

                                   GRAY FOX.

                               PLATE XXI.--MALE.

     V. griseo nigroque variegatus, lateribus et partibus colli lateralibus
fulvis, genis nigris.

     Gray, varied with black, sides of neck and flank, fulvous; black on the
sides of the face between the eye and nose.


     FOX OF CAROLINA, Lawson, Car., p. 125.
     GRAY FOX, Catesby, Car., vol. ii., p. 78, fig. C.
     GRAY FOX, Pennant, Synop., p. 157, 114.
     CANIS VIRGINIANUS, Schreber, Saugethiere, p. 361, 10 to 92 B, 1775.
     CANIS VIRGINIANUS, Erxleben, Syst., p. 567, 10, 1777.
     CANIS VIRGINIANUS, Linn., Syst. Nat., ed. Gmel., vol. i., p. 74, 16, 1788.
     CANIS CINEREO-ARGENTEUS, Erxleben, Syst., p. 576, 9.
     CANIS CINEREO-ARGENTATUS, Say, Long's Expedition, vol. ii., p. 340.
     CANIS VIRGINIANUS, Desm., Mamm., p. 204.
     CANIS CINEREO-ARGENTATUS, Godman, Nat. Hist., vol. i., p. 280, fig. 2
     CANIS (VULPES) VIRGINIANUS, Rich., F. Boreali A., p. 96.
     VULPES VIRGINIANUS, Dekay, Nat. Hist. of New-York, p. 45.


     Head, considerably broader and shorter than that of the red fox, (Vulpes
fulvus;) nose, also shorter, and a little more pointed; teeth, not so stout;
ears, a little longer than in the latter animal, of an oval shape, and thickly
clothed with hair on both surfaces; whiskers, half the length of the head.
Body, rather thicker and more clumsy in appearance than that of either the swift
fox, (V. velox,) or the red fox; fur, much coarser than that of the other
species.  Legs, rather long; nails, strong, slightly arched, visible beyond the
fur; soles, with five stout tubercles, not clothed with hair; tail, large,
bushy, clothed like the body with two kinds of hair; the fur, or inner hair,
being soft and woolly, the outer hairs longer and coarser.


     There are slight differences in the colour of different specimens; we will,
however, give a description of one which is of the colour most common to this
species in every part of the United States.  Head, brownish-gray; muzzle, black;
a broad patch of dark brown runs from the eye to the nose, on each side of the
face; whiskers, black; inner surface of ears, dull white; outer surface of ears,
sides of neck, outer surface of fore-legs and thighs, tawny; a yellowish wash
under the throat, and along the sides; chin, and around the mouth, dark-brown;
cheeks, throat, and under surface of body, dull white, occasionally tinged with
a yellowish shade; under surface of hind and fore-feet, yellowish-brown; upper
surface of feet and legs, grizzly black and white; nails, dark-brown.  The soft
inner fur on the back, which is about an inch and a half long, is for half its
length from the roots, plumbeous, and pale yellowish-white at the tips.  The
long hairs which give the general colour to the body above, are white at their
roots, then for more than a third of their length black, then white, and are
broadly tipped with black, giving the animal a hoary or silver-gray appearance.
It is darkest on the shoulder, along the back and posterior parts.  The fur on
the tail has a little more fulvous tinge than that of the back; the longer hairs
are much more broadly tipped with black.  When the fur lies smooth, there is a
black line along the upper surface of the tail from the root to the extremity;
end of brush, black.  Some specimens are a little lighter coloured, having a
silver-gray appearance.  Specimens from the State of New-York are rather more
fulvous on the neck, and darker on the back, than those of Carolina.  In some
specimens there is a dark spot on the sides of the throat about an inch from the
     We possessed for many years a beautiful specimen of a variety of the Gray
Fox, which was barred on the tail like the racoon, and had a dark cross on the
back like that of Canis crucigera of GESNER, which latter is regarded by Baron
CUVIER as a mere variety of the European fox.



     Length of head and body  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 28
     Length of tail (vertebrae)  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 12 1/2
     Length of tail to end of hair  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 14
     Height of ear.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  2 1/2
     From heel to end of nail .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  5


     Throughout the whole of our Atlantic States, from Maine to Florida, and
westwardly to Louisiana and Texas, there are but two species of fox known, viz.,
the red fox, (V. fulvus,) and the present species, (V. Virginianus,) although
there are several permanent varieties.  The former may be regarded as a
Northern, the latter as a Southern species.  Whilst the Northern farmer looks
upon the red fox as a great annoyance, and detests him as a robber who is lying
in wait for his lambs, his turkeys, and his geese, the Gray Fox, in the eyes of
the Southern planter, is the object of equal aversion.  To ourselves, however,
who have witnessed the predatory dispositions of each in different portions of
our country, it appears that the red fox is far more to be dreaded than the
gray; the latter is a pilfering thief, the former a more daring and cunning
plunderer.  When they have whelps, the females of both species, urged by the
powerful pleadings of their young become more bold and destructive than at any
other time; the red fox produces its young very early in the season, sometimes
indeed whilst the snow is still remaining here and there in large banks unthawed
on the ground, and becomes more daring in consequence of being stinted for food;
whilst the present species, having its young later when breeding in the Northern
States, and finding a more abundant supply of food when inhabiting the Middle or
Southern States, is less urged by necessity to depredate on the poultry of the
     We have never, indeed, heard any well authenticated account of this species
having entered the poultry-yard of the farmer; it is true, it will seize on a
goose, or a turkey hen, that happens to stray into the woods or fields and make
its nest at some distance from the house; but we have not heard of its having
attempted to kill pigs, or like the red fox, visited the sheep pasture in
spring, and laid a contribution, from day to day, on the young lambs of the
     The Gray Fox is shy and cowardly, and the snap of a stick or the barking of
a dog will set him off on a full run.  Although timid and suspicious to this
degree, his cunning and voracity place him in a conspicuous rank among the
animals that prey upon other species weaker than themselves.  The wild turkey
hen often makes an excavation in which she deposits her eggs, at a considerable
distance from the low grounds, or makes her nest on some elevated ridge, or
under a pile of fallen logs covered over with scrub oaks, ferns, tall weeds and
grasses; we have often seen traces of a violent struggle at such places; bunches
of feathers scattered about, and broken egg-shells, giving sufficient evidence
that the Fox has been there, and that there will be one brood of wild turkeys
less that season.  Coveys of partridges, which generally at the dusk of the
evening fly into some sheltered place and hide in the tall grass, arrange
themselves for the night in a circle, with their tails touching each other and
their heads turned outward; the Gray Fox possessing a considerable power of
scent, winds them like a pointer dog, and often discovers where they are thus
snugly nestled, and pounces on them, invariably carrying off at least one of the
     On a cold, drizzly, sleety, rainy day, while travelling in Carolina, we
observed a Gray Fox in a field of broom-grass, coursing against the wind, and
hunting in the manner of the pointer dog.  We stopped to witness his manoeuvres:
suddenly he stood still and squatted low on his haunches; a moment after he
proceeded on once more, but with slow and cautious steps; at times his nose was
raised high in the air, moving about from side to side.  At length he seemed to
be sure of his game and went straight forward, although very slowly, at times
crawling on the earth; he was occasionally hidden by the grass, so that we could
not see him very distinctly; however, at length we observed him make a dead
halt.  There was no twisting or horizontal movement of the tail, like that made
by the common house-cat when ready to make a spring, but his tail seemed resting
on the side, whilst his ears were drawn back and his head raised only a few
inches from the earth; he remained in this attitude nearly half a minute and
then made a sudden pounce upon his prey:  at the same instant the whirring of
the distracted covey was heard as the affrighted birds took wing; two or three
sharp screams succeeded, and the successful prowler immediately passed out of
the field with an unfortunate partridge in his mouth, evidently with the
intention of seeking a more retired spot to make a dainty meal.  We had a gun
with us, and he passed within long gun-shot of us.  But why wound or destroy
him?  He has enabled us for the first time to bear witness that he is not only a
dog, but a good pointer in the bargain; he has obeyed an impulse of nature, and
obtained a meal in the manner in which it was intended by the wise Creator that
he should be supplied.  He seized only a single bird, whilst man, who would
wreak his vengeance on this poacher among the game, is not satisfied till he has
killed half the covey with the murderous gun, or caught the whole brood in a
trap and wrung off their necks in triumph.  Condemn not the Fox too hastily; he
has a more strikingly carnivorous tooth than yourself, indicating the kind of
food he is required to seek; he takes no wanton pleasure in destroying the bird,
he exhibits to his companions no trophies of his skill, and is contented with it
meal whilst you are perhaps not satisfied when your capacious bird-bag is
     That this Fox occasionally gives chase to the gray rabbit, pursuing him in
the manner of the dog, we have strong reason to suspect.  We on one occasion
observed a half-grown rabbit dashing by us with great rapidity, and running as
if under the influence of fear; an instant after wards a Fox followed, seeming
to keep the object of his pursuit fairly in sight; scarcely had they entered the
woods when we heard the repeated cry of the rabbit, resembling somewhat that of
a young child in pain, and although we were not eye witnesses of his having
captured it by sheer speed, we have no doubt of the fact.  We do not believe,
however, that the Fox is an enemy half as much to be dreaded by the family of
hares as either the Bay lynx, or the great horned owl, (Strix Virginianus.)
     In the Southern States this species is able to supply itself with a great
variety and abundance of food, and is consequently generally in good condition
and often quite fat.  We have followed the track of the Gray Fox in moist ground
until it led us to the scattered remains of a marsh hare, which no doubt the Fox
had killed; many nests of the fresh water marsh hen (Rallus elegans) are torn to
pieces and the eggs devoured by this prowler.  In Pennsylvania and New-Jersey,
the meadow-mouse (Arvicola Pennsylvanica) is often eaten by this species; and in
the Southern States, the cotton-rat, and Florida rat, constitute no
inconsiderable portion of its food.  We have seen places where the Gray Fox had
been scratching the decayed logs and the bark of trees in order to obtain
     This species is not confined exclusively to animal food; a farmer of the
State of New-York called our attention to a field of corn, (maize,) which had
sustained no inconsiderable injury from some unknown animals that had been
feeding on the, unripe ears.  The tracks in the field convinced us that the
depredation had been committed by Foxes, which was found to be the case, and
they were afterwards chased several successive mornings, and three of them,
apparently a brood of the previous spring, were captured.
     Although this Fox is nocturnal in his habits we have frequently observed
him in search of food at all hours of the day; in general, however, he lies
concealed in some thicket, or in a large tuft of tall broom-grass, till twilight
invites him to renew his travels and adventures.
     On a cold starlight night in winter, we have frequently heard the hoarse
querulous bark of this species; sometimes two of them, some distance apart, were
answering each other in the manner of the dog.
     Although we have often seen this Fox fairly run down and killed by hounds,
without his having attempted to climb a tree, yet it not unfrequently occurs
that when his strength begins to fail he ascends one that is small or sloping,
and standing on some horizontal branch 20 or 30 feet from the ground, looks down
on the fierce and clamorous pack which soon comes up and surrounds the foot of
the tree.  We were on one occasion, in company with a friend, seeking for
partridges in an old field partially overgrown with high grass and bushes, when
his large and active pointer dog suddenly started a Gray Fox, which instantly
took to its heels, pursued by the dog:  after a race of a minute, the latter was
so close upon the Fox that it ascended a small tree, and our friend soon came
up, and shot it.  We were unable to obtain any information in regard to the
manner in which the Fox climbs trees, as he does not possess the retractile
nails of the cat or the sharp claws of the squirrel, until we saw the animal in
the act.  At one time when we thus observed the Fox, he first leaped on to a low
branch four or five feet from the ground, from whence he made his way upwards by
leaping cautiously and rather awkwardly from branch to branch, till he attained
a secure position in the largest fork of the tree, where he stopped.  On another
occasion, he ascended in the manner of a bear, but with far greater celerity, by
clasping the stem of a small pine.  We have since been informed that the Fox
also climbs trees occasionally by the aid of his claws, in the manner of a
racoon or a cat.  During winter only about one-fifth of the Foxes chased by
hounds will take to a tree before they suffer themselves to be run down; but in
summer, either from the warmth of the weather causing them to be soon fatigued,
or from the greater number being young animals, they seldom continue on foot
beyond thirty or forty minutes before they fly for protection to a tree.  It may
here be observed, that as long as the Fox can wind through the thick underbrush,
he will seldom resort to a tree, a retreat to which he is forced by open woods
and a hard chase.
     In general, it may be said that the Gray Fox digs no burrow, and does not
seek concealment in the earth; we have, however, seen one instance to the
contrary, in a high, sandy, pine-ridge west of Albany, in the State of New-York.
We there observed a burrow from which a female Gray Fox and four young were
taken.  It differed widely from the burrows of the red fox, having only a single
entrance.  At about eight feet from the mouth of the burrow there was an
excavation containing a nest composed of leaves, in which the young had been
deposited.  We have on several occasions seen the kennel of the Gray Fox--it is
usually in a prostrate hollow log; we once, however, discovered one under the
roots of a tree.  In the State of New-York we were shown a hollow tree, leaning
on another at an angle of about forty-five degrees, from a large hole in which
two Gray Foxes had been taken; they were traced to this retreat by their
footsteps in the deep snow, and from the appearance of the nest It seemed to
have been their resort for a long time.
     This species, in many parts of the country where caves, fissures, or holes
in the rocks, offer it a safe retreat from danger, makes its home in such
places.  Some little distance above the city of New-York, in the wild and rocky
woods on the Jersey side of the Hudson river, a good many Gray Foxes abide, the
number of large fissures and holes in the rocks there-abouts furnishing them
secure dwelling places, or safe resorts in case they are pursued.  In this
neighbourhood they are most easily killed by finding the paths to their hole,
and, after starting the animal, making the best of your way to near the entrance
of it, while he doubles about a little before the dogs; you can thus generally
secure a shot at him as he approaches his home, which if the dogs are near he
will do without looking to see if he be watched.  The Gray Fox is frequently
caught in steel-traps, and seems to possess far less cunning than the red
species; we have never, however, seen it taken in box-traps, into which the Bay
lynx readily enters; and it is not often caught in dead-falls, which are very
successful in capturing the racoon and opossum.
     The Gray Fox does not possess the rank smell of the red fox or the European
fox; as a pet, however, we have not found him particularly interesting.  It is
difficult to subdue the snappish disposition of this species, and we have never
seen one that was more than half tamed.  It does not at any time become as
playful as the red fox, and continually attempts to escape.
     This species affords good sport when chased, winding and doubling when in
favourable ground, so that when the hunter is on foot even, he can occasionally
obtain a "view," and can hear the cry of the pack almost all the while.  When
started in an open part of the country the Gray Fox, however, generally speeds
toward some thickly grown and tangled retreat, and prefers the shelter and
concealment of a heavy growth of young pines along some elevated sandy ridge;
having gained which, he threads along the by-paths and dashes through the
thickets, some of which are so dense that the dogs can hardly follow him.  He
does not, like the red fox, run far ahead of the pack, but generally courses
along from seventy to a hundred yards in advance of his pursuers.
     We have been told that the Gray Fox has been run down and caught in the
winter season, by a remarkably fleet pack of hounds, in forty minutes; but a two
hours' chase is generally necessary, with tolerably good dogs, to tire out and
capture him.  As many as two or three Foxes have been occasionally caught on the
same day by one pack of hounds; but in most cases both hunters and dogs are
quite willing to give over for the day, after they have captured one.
     From Maryland to Florida, and farther west, through Alabama to Mississippi
and Louisiana, fox-hunting, next to deer-hunting, is the favourite amusement of
sportsmen, and the chase of that animal may in fact be regarded exclusively as a
Southern sport in the United States, as we believe the fox is never followed on
horseback in the Northern portions of our country, where the rocky and
precipitous character of the surface in many districts prevents the best riders
from attempting it; whilst in others, our sturdy independent farmers would not
much like to see a dozen or more horsemen leaping their fences, and with
break-neck speed galloping through the wheat-fields or other "fall" crops.
Besides, the red fox, which is more generally found in the Northern States than
the Gray species, runs so far before the dogs that he is seldom seen, although
the huntsmen keep up with the pack, and after a chase of ten miles, during which
he may not have been once in view, he perhaps takes refuge in some deep fissure
of a rock or in an impenetrable burrow, which of course ends the sport very much
to the satisfaction of--the Fox!
     In the Southern States on the contrary, the ground is in many cases
favourable for this amusement, and the planter sustains but little injury from
the passing hunt, as the Gray Fox usually courses through woods, or worn-out old
fields, keeping on high dry grounds, and seldom during the chase running across
a cultivated plantation.
     Fox-hunting, as generally practised in our Southern States, is regarded as
a healthful manly exercise, as well as an exhilarating sport, which in many
instances would be likely to preserve young men from habits of idleness and
dissipation.  The music of the hounds, whilst you breathe the fresh sweet
morning air, seated on a high-mettled steed, your friends and neighbours at hand
with light hearts and joyous expectations, awaiting the first break from cover,
is, if you delight in nature and the recreation we are speaking of, most
enlivening; and although we ourselves have not been fox-hunters, we cannot
wholly condemn the young man of leisure who occasionally joins in this sport; at
the same time let him not forget that whilst exercise and amusement are
essential to health and cheerfulness of mind; the latter especially was not
intended to interfere with the duties of an active and useful life, and should
never be more than a relaxation, to enable him to return the more energetically
to the higher and nobler pursuits which are fitted for an intelligent and
immortal mind.
     In fox-hunting, the horse sometimes becomes as much excited as his rider,
and at the cry of the hounds we have known an old steed which had been turned
loose in the woods to pick up a subsistence, prick up his ears, and in an
instant start off full gallop until he overtook the pack, keeping in the van
until the chase was ended.  Although exercise and amusement are the principal
inducements to hunt the Fox, we may mention that it is also a desirable object
in many parts of our country, to get rid of this thievish animal, which exists
in considerable numbers in some neighbourhoods.
     We will now return to our subject, and try to make you familiar with the
mode of hunting the Gray Fox generally adopted in Carolina and Louisiana.  The
hounds are taken to some spot where the animal is likely to be found, and are
kept as much as possible out of the "drives" frequented by deer.  Thickets on
the edges of old plantations, briar patches, and deserted fields covered with
broom-grass, are places in which the Fox is most likely to lie down to rest.
The trail he has left behind him during his nocturnal rambles is struck, the
hounds are encouraged by the voices of their masters, and follow it as fast as
the devious course it leads them will permit.  Now they scent the Fox along the
field, probably when in search of partridges, meadow-larks, rabbits, or
field-mice; presently they trace his footsteps to a large log, from whence he
has jumped on to a worm-fence, and after walking a little way on it, has leaped
a ditch and skulked toward the borders of a marsh.  Through all his crooked ways
the sagacious hounds follow his path, until he is suddenly aroused, perchance
from a sweet, dreamy vision of fat hens, geese, or turkeys, and with a general
cry the whole pack, led on by the staunchest and best dogs, open-mouthed and
eager, join in the chase.  The startled Fox makes two or three rapid doublings,
and then suddenly flies to a cover perhaps a quarter of a mile off, and
sometimes thus puts the hounds off the scent for a few minutes, as when cool and
at first starting, his scent is not so strong as that of the red fox; after the
chase has continued for a quarter of an hour or so, however, and the animal is
somewhat heated, his track is followed with greater ease and quickness and the
scene becomes animating and exciting.  Where the woods are free from
under-brush, which is often the case in Carolina, the grass and bushes being
burnt almost annually, many of the sportsmen keep up with the dogs, and the Fox
is very frequently in sight and is dashed after at the horses' greatest speed.
He now resorts to some of the manoeuvres for which he is famous; he plunges into
a thicket, doubles, runs into the water, if any be at hand, leaps on to a log,
or perhaps gets upon a worm-fence and runs along the top of it for a hundred
yards, leaping from it with a desperate bound and continuing his flight
instantly, with the hope of escape from the relentless pack.  At length he
becomes fatigued, he is once more concealed in a thicket where he doubles
hurriedly; uncertain in what direction to retreat, he hears, and perhaps sees,
the dogs almost upon him, and as a last resort climbs a small tree.  The hounds
and hunters are almost instantly at the foot of it, and whilst the former are
barking fiercely at the terrified animal, the latter determine to give him
another chance for his life.  The dogs are taken off to a little distance, and
the Fox is then forced to leap to the ground by reaching with a long pole, or
throwing a billet of wood at him.  He is allowed a quarter of an hour before the
hounds are permitted to pursue him, but he is now less able to escape than
before; he has become stiff and chill, is soon overtaken, and falls an easy
prey, turning however upon his pursuers with a growl of despair, and snapping at
his foes until he bites the dust and the chase is ended.
     The following anecdotes of the sagacity of this animal, we hope, may
interest our readers.  Shortly after the railroad from Charleston to Hamburgh,
South Carolina, had been constructed, the rails for a portion of the distance
having been laid upon timbers at a considerable height from the ground,
supported by strong posts, we observed a Fox which was hard pressed by a pack of
hounds, mounting the rails, upon which he ran several hundred yards; the holes
were unable to pursue him, and he thus crossed a deep cypress swamp over which
the railroad was in this singular manner carried, and made his escape on the
opposite side.  The late BENJAMIN C. YANCEY, Esq., an eminent lawyer, who in his
youth was very fond of fox-hunting, related the following:  A Fox had been
pursued, near his residence at Edgefield, several times, but the hounds always
lost the track at a place where there was a foot-path leading down a steep hill.
He, therefore, determined to conceal himself near this declivity the next time
the Fox was started, in order to discover his mode of baffling the dogs at this
place.  The animal was accordingly put up and chased, and at first led the
hounds through many bayous and ponds in the woods, and at length came running
over the brow of the hill along the path, stopped suddenly and spread himself
out flat and motionless on the ground; the hounds came down the hill in pursuit
at a dashing pace, and the whole pack passed and did not stop until they were at
the bottom of the hill.  As soon as the immediate danger was over, the Fox,
casting a furtive glance around him, started up, and ran off at his greatest
speed on his "back track."
     The Gray Fox produces from three to five young at a time.  In Carolina this
occurs from the middle of March to the middle of April; in the State or New-York
they bring forth somewhat later, Gestation continues for about three months,

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     The Gray Fox is scarce in New-England, and we have not heard of it to the
north of the State of Maine; in Canada we have heard of its occasional, but rare
appearance.  In the vicinity of Albany, N.Y., it is not an uncommon species;
south of this, through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, it is about as abundant as
the red fox.  In the Southern States, except in the mountains of Virginia, it is
the only species and is abundant.  It exists plentifully in Florida,
Mississippi, and Louisiana; it is found on the prairies of the West, and we have
received a specimen from California, scarcely differing in any of its markings
from those of Carolina.

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     This species was noticed by LAWSON, CATESBY, and PENNANT.  SCHREBER, in
1775, gave it a specific name; he was followed two years afterwards by ERXLEBEN,
and in 1788 by GMELIN.  In the meantime ERXLEBEN, SCHREBER, and GMELIN published
a variety of the Gray Fox, which was a little more cinereous in colour, as a new
species, under the name of Canis cinereo-argenteus.  RICHARDSON was correct in
having applied the specific name of Virginianus to the Gray Fox, but he erred in
referring the Western kit-fox or swift-fox, (V. velox,) to C.
cinereo-argentatus.  To us, the short description of these authors, of C.
cinereo-argentatus, appears to apply more strictly to the Gray Fox than to their
accounts of C. Virginianus, the latter, we know, is intended for the present
species, as it is the only fox in Virginia, with the exception of the red fox,
which exists sparingly in the mountains.  The views of DESMAREST in regard to
our American foxes are very confused, and the translation by HARLAN partakes of
all the errors of the original.  RICHARDSON did not meet with this species in
the Northern regions he visited, and on the whole, very little has been said of
its habits by any author.