Hunting Gray Foxes: Ghosts of the Hardwoods

Take this five-step approach to calling in and killing more gray foxes.

Hunting Gray Foxes: Ghosts of the Hardwoods

The setting sun cast the canyon in shadow. We still had an hour of shooting time left, and I wanted to spend the rest of the hunt at this stand. Still too young to legally hunt, my 9-year-old daughter Alyssa was seated on a foam pad at the edge of the canyon to my left. Wearing my oversized camo jacket and a facemask, she looked ready to hunt, and beyond cute. I adjusted my seat, donned my own facemask, turned toward Alyssa and gave her the nod. 

I had been stopping by this spot for the past few weeks exploring the possibility of calling it. During my last brief hike, I found dozens of fox tracks and some scat. The tracks were new and old, telling me the smallish canines were using this area regularly. Now, I was perched on the edge of the canyon with my daughter, and it was time to see if anyone was home. 

Alyssa slowly reached for the pink closed-reed call on her lanyard and started calling. Practicing often to her mother’s dismay, Alyssa had gotten good. The raspy sound echoed off the canyon wall, and I smiled under my face mask. She made it sound like someone was running a rabbit through a woodchipper. I knew if any predators were close by, we wouldn’t have to wait long. 

At the end of her second series, I caught a flash of cinnamon-colored fur cutting through the brush below us. My shotgun was already mounted, the forearm cradled in my hand and resting on my knee. I raised it and waited for the fox to reappear in the next brush gap. A second later he was there looking right up at us. The shot came on instinct and the gray fox fell there in the brush. 

I’ve called in lots of gray foxes over the years, but that evening stand with my daughter more than 12 years ago will remain my favorite. After that trip, we started scouting more areas and understanding what to look for when targeting grays. Once you know where they live and what they prefer habitat wise, you should be able to call them into range consistently. Here are the basics of what we look for and how we set up.

Thick cover near a water source is ideal for targeting gray foxes.
Thick cover near a water source is ideal for targeting gray foxes.


Where I hunt grays, I pay close attention to habitat. Gray foxes prefer dense hardwood or mixed hardwood vegetation. In my opinion, the thicker the better. When I’m scouting new places to hunt, I look for heavily brushed canyons near a water source. These areas hold a solid food base of small mammals such as mice, voles and cottontails for gray foxes to prey on. These thick areas also offer plenty of cover for these small predators to hunt and move through undetected. 

When I locate a good-looking area, I’ll dissect it through a hunter’s eye. I’ll look for different places I can sit that will accommodate different wind directions. Much like coyotes, gray foxes often circle downwind of the sound before approaching. Picking a good vantage point for a desirable wind will tip the calling odds in your favor. 

As important to a good calling position is identifying clear and useable shooting lanes in this thick cover. With brief hunting encounters in thick brush, identifying clear and open areas where clean shots can be taken beforehand is very important. 

Good lanes should present clear firing corridors that are visible from where you sit. I like a sitting position that offers at least three good shooting lanes for approaching animals. A seated location, no matter how awesome it looks, is useless if shooting lanes are absent or obscured. Take some time to identify an ideal spot and it should benefit you when it comes time to hunt it.



Once I locate a good calling spot, I make sure gray foxes are using it before I set up. For whatever reason, those that look solid to hunters might not hold grays and might not be worth calling. Spend some time in the area looking for fresh fox prints. They are roughly half the size of coyote prints and look similar to small dog tracks. Finding both new and old tracks will push a location up on my calling list. 

Much like coyotes, gray foxes tend to leave scat — often small and dark — in the same areas as a territorial marking. Fresh scat and plenty of prints indicate the area is heavily used by gray foxes. When I inspect new places, I try to move through the area during midday. I do this to avoid bothering foxes when they are more active during the early morning and evening.

Gray foxes are social animals and often vocalize when in groups. I’ve heard them in the evening call out to each other across canyons — short, very gravely barks usually produced in groups of twos or threes. I’ve been able to mimic the barks back to them and get them to respond. If you hear them vocalizing in an area, chances are good you can call that spot with success.

A beautiful gray fox taken by the author using a wooden closed-reed call. Such calls from Lohman, Dan Thompson and Haydel are his favorites
A beautiful gray fox taken by the author using a wooden closed-reed call. Such calls from Lohman, Dan Thompson and Haydel are his favorites


While I have shot gray foxes with a rifle on several occasions, the tight brushy terrain they tend to inhabit lends itself to using a shotgun. Gray foxes seldom stay still for very long when coming to the call and love to weave through cover when approaching. Hunters are usually offered only flashes of fur through the brush when interested grays commit. Swinging a shotgun and snap shooting at quick targets is far more effective than trying to do the same with a rifle when hunting the thick stuff for grays. 

As with any game, shell size and load heavily depend on what you’re going after. I used to just drop a couple of 3-inch Dead Coyote loads into the autoloader and have at it. I soon discovered that this load has way too much muscle for an 8-pound animal at close range. Smaller shot sizes —No. 2s and No. 4s — out of a 3-inch shell has done well for me in most thick, brushy situations. 


With close-quarters calling in thick cover, the main goal is to get the animal close — within shotgun range. This obviously means the source of the sound needs to be close to the hunter. In my opinion, using mouth calls is the best way to do this. I carry a few on a lanyard within easy reach. I find this much easier than operating an e-caller remote. 

I’ve become used to the wooden, closed-reed variety and I have several brands that have proven effective. Calls from Lohman, Dan Thompson and Haydel have all helped me put fur on the ground. However, my hands down favorites right out of the box are the Dan Thompson series, which require zero tuning. When blown correctly, they get the job done. 

When I do use e-callers, I place them behind a bush directly out in front of me, no more than 15 feet from where I’ll be sitting. This requires the fox to come around the bush between me and the caller to investigate, offering a relatively open shot. I pick a high-frequency sound with a rapid cadence, and I let it run the entire time I’m on stand. My main reason for letting it play is that I don’t want to be messing with the remote while I’m hunting tight cover. Action can happen fast, and opportunities are often brief. From start to finish, your eyes need to be focused on searching the terrain when you’re calling the thick stuff for grays.

Positioning electronic callers close is key to pulling gray foxes into shotgun range.
Positioning electronic callers close is key to pulling gray foxes into shotgun range.


Locating good habitat and looking for sign is important when it comes to calling in the right areas. However, calling in gray foxes and killing them consistently are two entirely different things. If you’re not set up correctly and ready the second you start calling, I guarantee you will miss animals. Therefore, I consider setting up properly the most important step for killing more grays. 

Once I decide where to sit, I don’t just plop down my hunting chair and call it good. As a right-handed hunter, I am far more comfortable swinging my shotgun from right to left, so I set my chair up strongly favoring my right side, giving me almost 180 degrees of easy swinging from my extreme right to my extreme left. I orient my chair position with the shooting lanes I’ve identified. This sets me up so I am in a comfortable and ready position for any animal that responds to the call out in front of me. 

Before I call, I make sure my shotgun is mounted and ready. Nothing quick or good happens when your shotgun is laying in your lap. I place the butt of the shotgun firmly against my right shoulder and mount it as if I’m ready to take a shot. Cupping the forearm with my left hand, I rest the firearm on my left knee. The shotgun is essentially mounted, but the barrel is lowered and resting on my knee. All I have to do to get on target is raise the shotgun, point and squeeze the trigger. 

If I’m mouth calling the stand, I can apply enough back pressure with my left hand resting on my knee, keeping the shotgun firmly pressed against my shoulder. I reach under the butt of the shotgun with my right hand, grab a call on my lanyard and easily work it while maintaining a mounted position. When I’m calling solo and using mouth calls, this is how I set up and call.



A week after Alyssa called in her first gray fox, we were back at the same spot trying again. The slight wind dictated that we set up exactly where we had during our previous visit, and wind or not, Alyssa didn’t want to change anything. We set up, got comfortable and started calling. 

Alyssa blew on the call for close to 15 minutes. She’d call for about 30 seconds, resting for about a minute in-between. I could tell she was getting tired. I was looking to my right and was just about to end the stand when she suddenly started calling again with a lot more excitement. 

I slowly looked left and watched as she nodded her head down toward the canyon. I searched for 15 seconds before I caught movement 30 yards out. The fox had approached from way left and was circling our wind. Alyssa stopped calling and the gray fox poked just his head into a shooting lane out front. The shotgun was already pointed there, and he fell after the shot. 

Alyssa mentioned that she had seen two foxes come over the ridge about 100 yards out, but saw only this one get close. We collected our animal, took some cool photos and headed home. To this day, if I mention the fox spot, Alyssa knows exactly where I’m talking about. 

Gray foxes are curious creatures and often come in quickly when you start calling. Staying prepared the entire time you’re on stand and doing a little pre-hunt scouting will increase your odds of success. Picking out your calling spot beforehand and identifying quality shooting lanes should give you more shot opportunities when chasing these cinnamon-colored ghosts of the hardwoods. Just like we are, I guarantee once you start, you’ll become addicted to the excitement of hunting thick cover for gray foxes.


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