Years ago, I heard about a family of predator hunters from Pennsylvania who called and killed red fox with success of mythological proportions. The rumors were they were stacking up more fur nightly than most hunters could manage during an entire season! The family was the Martins and its reputation was starting to spread. Recently, I became re-acquainted with the Martin name when I became Facebook friends with Cliff Martin. I was simply in awe as Cliff would post pictures of his nightly call results. One of the refreshing aspects of Cliff’s posts is that he does not throttle any call brands or hunting accessories, he simply motivates other hunters to get out and hunt for themselves!
While surfing the Facebook posts, a thought came over me. I said to myself, “This guy is clearly ultra-successful at calling red fox. I bet other hunters would love to hear exactly how Cliff goes about his hunting.” I reached out to Cliff and he was open to any questions and to sharing his tactics, experiences and viewpoints on calling predators.
Introducing The Fox King
Thirty-four-year-old Cliff Martin lives in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, which is approximately an hour northwest of Philadelphia. He grew up on the family farm and credits hunting with his father, Leon, for developing his woodsman ship skills. Cliff’s occupation as a carpenter affords him time to hunt.
Martin began hunting predators 15 years ago when a childhood friend introduced him. While he also enjoys pursuing whitetail deer, Cliff states predator calling is his preferred type of hunting. He adds that targeting red fox is his favorite predator to hunt. No doubt that is due to his tremendous success at bagging red fox. When asked, Cliff reports he typically shoots four to six red fox each night when hunting solo and seven to eight when hunting with a partner. His best night came with a staggering 20 red fox! Cliff states his average yearly total is 110 red fox — good grief! So what’s the secret behind Cliff’s remarkable success!
The Martin Method
Cliff takes his hunting seriously and fully prepares for each calling season well in advance. His process includes gaining permission for as many farms as possible. Cliff says the key is to gain permission well before winter. In fact, he spends seven Saturdays a summer seeking permission. Once permission has been granted, he examines the terrain for potential set up locations. “All scouting is done in the summer, not during the season,” says Cliff. Most all of his hunting properties are located within an hour drive of his home.
You might be surprised to learn that all of Cliff’s success comes while hunting under the darkness of night. He does not target red fox at all during the light of day. He saves those hunting efforts for targeting coyotes in late February when the Pennsylvania fox season has closed. Because nighttime is so productive, Cliff has solid advice for new predator hunters: “Get used to shooting your firearm at night, whatever you use. It’s a whole different game at night! All hunters should be practicing shooting at targets in dark.” He also stated new hunters shouldn’t get frustrated when hunting at night.
Being persistent is part of Cliff’s plan. For example, he claims if he is at one of his productive farms and does not see any fox, he will go back later in the night when predator movement seems to be on the rise in other locations.
Cliff says that he cannot say he has one particular hour of the night that is better than the others. “However,” he states, “I always seem to do better when hunting before a change in the weather. It could be a noticeable temperature change, a slight front that is moving in or just before a big storm. Those nights seem best.” Cliff does not bother to hunt when the weather is inclement. A light rain is all right, but if heavy rain or snow comes he prefers to not be hunting because he does not want the bad weather to take a toll on his equipment. Cliff’s impressive season totals could lead one to believe he hunts every conceivable night. However, he actually hunts only two or three times a week. “Friday nights are for all-nighters!” he enthusiastically states.
Let’s Go Hunting
Cliff attempts to be as quiet as possible during his approach to the stand. This includes discussing vital setup plans with partners while in the cab of his truck as opposed to while in the field. They go over landscape layouts and probable predator approach routes in addition to setup locations. Cliff stresses he always scans with his light as he walks to a calling location. “Many times the fox are already in the fields and I have to call to them right from the spot,” he states.
Cliff says he typically sets up at least 100 yards from cover that may be holding predators. If the snow is deep or if the moon is bright, Cliff will move closer to cover because he feels red fox will have a hard time traveling or not feel secure moving in the bright moonlight. Interestingly, Cliff always stands up while calling and scanning and shoots from a standing position with use of a tripod shooting rest!
Just as many hunters have searched for the perfect fox gun that combines reliable accuracy, knockdown power and minimal fur damage, Cliff has tried many different rifles in the past. He started with a .17 Remington and a .22 Hornet then switched to a .17 Hornet. For the 2015-16 season, he again switched to the .17 Super magnum and has found that to be his favorite fox hunting caliber. Feeling that these calibers may be a little light for coyotes, he relies on his .204 and .22-250 when pursuing the big dogs!
Cliff scans for incoming fox using a Night Eyes headlamp and shoots under the glow of the Ernie Wilson Carnivore Magnum 2 red LED light. When the glowing eyes of a fox appear, Martin leaves his headlamp on and then turns on his shooting light.
By now, it’d be realistic to imagine sharing a stand with Cliff to see just how he calls to the red fox. What is he doing different to foster that success? Cliff shared how he does it and there are some definite nuggets of information that will prove helpful.
Cliff uses hand calls 90 percent of the time. He does employ the use of an electronic call for specific circumstances. For example, on a bright night he will place the remotely controlled e-call out in the field while he hides in the shadows of available cover whether it is a hedgerow, woods edge or other available structure. Interestingly, he frequently has his FOXPRO Fury on, rather using the timer on the remote to help keep track of the time on stand. Cliff’s favorite hand call is the Tweety call from Verminator Predator Calls. His typical calling sequence is to blow the call for two series of 30 to 60 seconds. He then waits one minute and repeats the sounds for two more series. After another minute of rest, Cliff reaches for another hand call and performs the sequence all over again. He repeats this procedure, going through as many as five hand calls! The other calls he favors include a closed-reed Gray Slayer from Bees O’Brien, Major Boddicker’s Crit’R Call and the Griz’n Gray from FOXPRO Game Calls.
An analysis of how Cliff utilizes the factors of calling also sheds light on how to bolster success. He employs a specific technique for using volume during his stand. He starts using a lower volume so it sounds natural and does not spook nearby predators. Then, as the stand progresses, he increases the volume to reach out to distant predators. So far, there is nothing unusual about that. However, at the end of the sequence, he backs the sound volume back down. As soon as he started to do this, he noticed that he was becoming far more successful at calling fox during the tail end of the stands. It seems as if the fox that were responding at the end of the sequence were shying away from the loud volume but kept approaching when the volume was lowered. In any event, it is a calling tactic that other hunters may want to emulate to increase their own success.
As far as duration of stand length is concerned, Cliff says that during the early season his setups typically last 10 to 12 minutes. During the late season, he extends his stand to 20 minutes. No matter what the season, Cliff always sticks around and continues to call after successfully shooting a fox. He stays and calls for an additional 15 minutes because other fox while usually be in the vicinity and will still be susceptible to subsequent calling efforts. This is especially true when a female is killed first as the male nearly always comes back looking for the mate.
Down On The Farm
As I was still astonished by Cliff’s fur take, I asked him if his success was sustained throughout the calling season. “As the season progresses it gets tougher to have great nights,” he mentions. According to Cliff, November is typically his best month to put fur down. During the winter of 2015, December was an especially productive month, but he really could not pinpoint the reason, despite hinting the unusually pleasant weather could have played a role. Despite his success, he does notice an annual lull in his calling productivity. He notices during each January there is a two-week period when the fox do not seem to respond. Then, toward the end of the month things start to pick back up.
As was mentioned earlier, Cliff has a lot of land access to hunt. Some farms he will visit only a few times during the calling season. Other farms get called more frequently, typically every couple of weeks. He does not worry about over calling the farms when he is successful there. In fact, when he kills a fox or two at a specific farm he will return within a week or two and call from the exact same setup. However, if he or a partner
misses a shot then he must reach into his bag of tricks on subsequent visits. The first thing he does is alter the setup location so the fox are presented with a different situation to investigate. He also alters the sounds used and he believes that fox may have remembered a certain sound and equate it to a prior bad experience.