From The ReadersRod Carter | Tennessee

It is January 1970 and I’m in my hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee, after serving 3 years in the U.S. Army. It was good to be out of the Army even though serving my country was a great and rewarding experience. During my visit to Cleveland I stayed with my grandfather, Pappaw, who lived across the road from me while I was growing up.

Pappaw liked to hunt and fish and we had many good times together. I actually spent more time with Pappaw and Mammaw than I did at home. They both were amazing grandparents! I can still hear Mammaw say, “Watch crossing that road!” and “Don’t slam that door!” They had a screen door with a strong spring and if you weren’t careful it would slam shut.

While visiting Cleveland, I ran into my good friend David, who I used to go hunting and fishing with after I got my driver’s license. I was 16 at the time and my parents let me drive our family station wagon, a 1953 Ford straight shift with overdrive. There were a lot of farm ponds in southern Bradley County and most of these ponds had fish — some even had tremendous largemouth bass. David and I enjoyed many days during the summer fishing these ponds. On one of these fishing trips, I caught a snapping turtle on my fly rod. All went well until I finally managed to get the turtle to shore. As I reached down to unhook my popping bug from the turtle’s mouth, he snapped at me so fast his head was a blur. Fortunately, he missed. I then used my pliers to remove the hook. A lesson learned indeed and I still had all of my fingers!

Before David went into the Marines and I went into the Army, were were also into predator calling. We primarily called fox, both red and gray, using a varmint call that sounded like a cottontail rabbit in distress. It was fun and exciting. When a fox responds to a predator call, he is looking for a rabbit to kill and eat, and his demeanor definitely demonstrated it. I was 16 when I called in my first fox. I was helping a farmer who was losing chickens, and fox in the hen house is bad news for the chickens.

During one summer afternoon I met with this farmer and we discussed the damage fox had been doing. He gave me directions to where he thought the fox had their dens. I got back in my station wagon and drove the short distance to an old rock quarry. I parked and carefully got out, making sure to be as quiet as possible while closing the doors. Next, I put on my camouflage jacket and removed my Winchester Model 64 .30-30 rifle from its case and loaded it. Knowing what I know now, I would have chosen my shotgun instead of a .30-30 rifle because fox responding to a rabbit in distress call can be hard to hit when they come fast and unexpectedly. But I was only 16 and thought I knew everything. Later, however, I was to find out differently.

I quietly walked up a road to the quarry. The road consisted mostly of rock, making it possible to walk without making any noise. The afternoon was very still with no wind. Once at the quarry I looked around for something to sit in front of to break my outline.  There was a large rock that looked good so I quietly sat down in front of it.  I had a view of the area around the quarry except what was behind me. After a few minutes I removed my Pied Piper fox call and began blowing it like a rabbit in distress. Not knowing what to expect, I thought I was ready.

After calling for about 5 minutes I had a feeling there was something close — and there was. Off to my right just a few feet from my foot stood a hungry gray fox looking right at me. He had slipped in without my seeing him. The fox made absolutely no noise while walking on these rocks. To this day I still don’t know how he could have gotten that close unless he came up from behind me.

At this point the fox wasn’t sure what to do and neither was I. After a matter of seconds, the fox decided that I was not a delicious cottontail and took off running away from me. I raised my .30-30 and fired two shots in the general direction of the fox. Now, was I excited or what? Needless to say, I missed the fox. Next time I’ll bring the shotgun for sure.

Afterward, I told David about the incident. He was very excited and wanted to go with me so after a few days we went back to the same farm. This time we made our stand in the edge of the woods with a field to our backs. We sat there for a few minutes waiting for the activity in the woods to settle down. Soon I began to blow on the fox call trying to make the sound as pleading as possible. David had his single-shot 12-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot. I had my 12-gauge Remington Model 870 pump shotgun, which was also loaded with buckshot. Now let a fox respond to our call because we were both ready — or at least we thought we were.

I had been calling less than 5 minutes when a gray fox appeared in the rocks in front of us about 30 yards away. As we were getting ready to shoot, another fox came at a trot straight toward us. What do we do now? Obviously the red fox held our attention since he was closing fast. The fox kept coming until he was only about 5 yards from where we were sitting and stopped. Now what? It didn’t take long before that fox decided we were not rabbits and sped away from our stand as fast as he could run. For some unknown reason neither of us shot. Perhaps it was “fox fever.” At the same time the red fox ran, the gray fox disappeared into the woods from where he came. Now here we sat with loaded shotguns looking at each other and asking ourselves how could this happen. After all, we were 16 and knew everything and could do anything. However, the fox got the best of us again! Things must change!

The next time David and I got together we went to another farm that had fox hoping to make it happen this time. We parked my station wagon and walked about a quarter of a mile until we found a group of trees overlooking an open area with woods on the other side. It was a still afternoon with no wind. We sat down and prepared to call in another fox. After calling for 15 minutes without seeing anything, we moved in the direction we had been calling. We traveled several hundred yards through pine woods, not making a sound. We soon reached a clearing and we stopped and found a couple of good places to sit that had very thick pines behind us. In front of us for about 25 to 30 yards the pines got much thicker. This is ideal for calling in a fox, we thought. David and I sat down in the pine woods in front of trees. The pine needles made a soft seat for us; however, at 16 what we sat on really didn’t matter.

After calling for about 5 minutes we spotted a red fox at the edge of the thick pines in front of us. The fox stopped and was just standing there trying to decide where and what we were. The barrel on David’s shotgun was shaking, clearly showing his excitement. Now is that excitement or what? I, on the other hand, was calm, cool and collected — as always.

We both raised our shotguns and fired simultaneously. I immediately pumped another shell into the chamber and shot again. If I remember correctly, I fired the second shot before the fox hit the ground.

We had one dead fox and three empty shells. A chicken killer bites the dust. We both thought we were something else! We walked slowly to the fox with our shotguns ready in case he needed killing again. After close inspection, the fox had indeed met his final fate and we prepared to transport him home. Before leaving, I called my mother on my two-way radio. She answered the base station at home and we told her about the fox and that we wanted to remove the hide to sell.  Mother was a nurse and specialized in the ER and operating room and was therefore very helpful to us since this was our first attempt at skinning a fox. It’s a good thing she helped us or we would still be there skinning. There were many other fox calling stands so we continued with our success.

Word soon got out that we had been calling in and shooting fox. Our friend Eugene wanted to go with us so David and I decided to take him to the farm where I called in my first fox. For some reason, on this hunt I took my Remington Nylon 66 .22 rifle. David brought his .22 rifle and Eugene brought his .22 pump rifle. David and I were now the experts and were going to show Eugene how calling fox was done.

The three of us parked at the old rock quarry. After emphasizing to Eugene that we must be quiet, because sometimes he gets full of himself and likes to talk, we proceeded to the stand where David and I had called in a gray fox and red fox and didn’t shoot. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Upon arriving at our stand we sat down preparing to show Eugene how it’s done. We called like a rabbit in distress with no avail. We knew there were both red and gray fox in the area so we decided to make another stand.

We crossed a field toward woods I had not called. We were almost to the other side of the field when a gray fox came bounding from our left to right heading for those woods. Where he came from, I had no idea. Perhaps he had responded to our call and was late getting there. All three of us saw the fox at the same time. The background was a safe shot so each of us prepared to shoot. David and I raised our rifles getting ready to let the lead fly when Eugene started shooting from the hip. We could see where his bullets were hitting the ground, somewhat in the direction of the fox. This whole episode caused me to laugh before I started shooting. The fox was now about 25 yards away when David and I shot simultaneously. The fox rolled over with a perfect shot to the shoulders. If you listen to our stories you would think we both hit the fox. Good shooting on our part … except there was only one bullet hole. At least another chicken killer bit the dust! And thinking back to Eugene shooting from the hip still brings a smile.

David and I hit a hunting drought when he went into the Marines and I went into the Army, but we both loved calling varmints so after I returned home in 1970 we were eager to go hunting again.

I left Pappaw’s and picked up David then we headed out to call fox. David had an elderly great aunt who had been having trouble with fox so that’s where we were going. The weather in southeastern Tennessee had been colder than usual. There was snow on the ground and the temperature was near zero degrees. This extremely cold weather made the snow crunchy, which is not good when you are trying to find a good calling stand. Every fox within a quarter of a mile would be able to hear us, but we were going to try anyway.

In the military we had been trained to endure anything so we didn’t let the cold temperature bother us. We proceeded down Route 60, called the Dalton Pike, until we arrived at David’s aunt’s place. Her driveway was covered with about an inch of snow. We pulled up to the house and could see David’s aunt outside in the sub-freezing temperature. We got out of my vehicle and went over to greet her and asked why she was outside. She looked very cold and was not dressed warmly enough to stay outside long, and she was already shivering.

She told us she had taken out the garbage and locked herself out of her house. I could tell she was very cold and knew we must get her warm very soon. David and I looked around the outside of the house checking all the doors and windows for a way in. We didn’t want to break a window, but we would do whatever it took to save the aunt’s life. Finally, we found a bathroom window that we were able to open. With both of us working together we managed to raise the window. David gave me a boost, raising me high enough to crawl through the open window.

Once I was in the aunt’s warm house, all I had to do was open the door and let her in, right? Not right away, I found out. Once I was inside, the aunt’s dog starting barking to protect his house. The dog was medium size and didn’t understand what was happening. All he knew was a strange person had come through a window. He barked for a few minutes while I talked to him. Even though he was barking he didn’t seem too aggressive, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I was technically an intruder, and I didn’t know what to expect, so I calmly talked to the dog establishing a non-threat rapport. Finally, it worked.

The dog calmed down and I was able to leave the bathroom and go into the kitchen and open the backdoor. David and his aunt quickly came inside the warm house and all was well. I don’t know how much longer she could have withstood zero degrees wearing only a housecoat and house shoes.  and her neighbors were over a mile away. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure if the aunt really knew at the time just how critical her situation was. I’m just glad she didn’t have to find out.

After we were sure David’s aunt was all right, we collected our guns, tape player with the woodpecker tape and crunched through the snow. The weather was still, overcast and really cold.

We soon found fox tracks and a good place to make a stand. We both found a tree to sit in front of and I placed the tape player on the ground in front of us with the speaker pointing in the direction we thought a fox could be. When we were ready, I turned on the woodpecker sound and moved back to my tree and sat down. I readied my Remington shotgun and waited for a fox. After about 5 minutes the tape player didn’t sound right then it stopped playing the distressed woodpecker sound. I looked around for an incoming fox then got up to see why the sound stopped.

It didn’t take long to find the mess. It was so cold that the take up reel was not working. Now you can imagine what happened when the take-up reel stops turning and the other reel keeps right on as if nothing was wrong. If you imagined the tape all over the crusty snow you are correct. What a mess!

It took a while, but I finally got all the tape back on the reel. Things can always be worse. Since it was so cold and the snow was so crusty causing us to make a lot of noise while walking, we decided to call it quits.

We walked back to the aunt’s house to thank her for letting us hunt and to ensure she was OK. She seemed fine and the house was warm so we packed up our things and headed home with the heater on full blast. Even though we didn’t call in a fox it had been a good afternoon. Hunting with David after several years, and possibly saving his aunt’s life, gave us a rewarding experience.