This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
The young fox's education, varied and thorough, steadily proceeded. Though the vixen-cubs were slightly quicker to learn, they were more excitable, and consequently did not benefit fully by each lesson. Vulp soon began to hunt for his own sport and profit. In the meadow above the wood he would sit motionless, his eyes fixed on the ground, till the voles came from their burrows to play beneath the grass-bents; then, with a quick rush, he would secure a victim directly its presence was betrayed by a waving stalk. With the same patience he would watch near a rabbit warren, till one of the inhabitants, hopping out to the mound before her door, gave him the sure chance of a kill. But in the wheat-fields on the slope his methods were altogether different. To capture partridges required unusual cunning and skill, and such importance did the vixen attach to this branch of her field-craft, that, before initiating her youngsters into the sport of hunting these birds at night, she instructed them diligently in the methods of following by scent, training them how to pursue the winding trail left by the larks that fed at evening near their sleeping places, or by the corncrakes that wandered babbling through the green wheat. Vulp's first attempt to capture a partridge chick resulted in failure. The vixen-cubs " fouled " the line he had patiently picked out in the ditch around the cornfield, and, "casting" haphazard through the herbage, alarmed the sleeping birds, and sent them away to a secure hiding place in the clover. But his second attempt was crowned with success, and he proudly carried his prey into a sequestered nook amid the gorse, where he enjoyed a quiet meal.
The cub was fully six months old before he knew the precise difference between stale and fresh scent, or between the scent of one creature and that of another, and how to hunt accordingly; and several years, with many dangers and hair-breadth escapes, were destined to pass before he became expert in avoiding or baffling the numerous enemies— chiefly dogs, and men, and traps — that threatened his life. And yet, during the first few months of his existence, he gained sufficient knowledge for the needs of the moment; and when August drew on towards the close of the summer, and he was three parts grown, he had so extended his nightly rambles that the "lay of the land" was familiar for miles around the covert. His outdoor existence—for now he was wont to sleep in a lair among the gorse and the bracken, instead of in the stuffy "earth" — gave him strength in abundant measure, while his scrupulously clean habits, the care with which he removed even the slightest trace of a burr from his sleek, brown coat, and the plentiful supplies of fresh food which he was able to obtain, naturally preserved him from mange and similar ailments to which carnivorous animals are always prone. For the present, indeed, life meant nothing more to him than the sheer enjoyment of vigorous health, at home by day amid the grateful shadows of the bushes and the trees, or basking in the sun, and abroad at night in the cold, clear air of the dewy uplands.
Just as sportsmen occasionally meet with a run of ill-luck, when for some apparently unaccountable reason they either fail to find game, or fail to kill it, and, to intensify the annoyance, an accident occurs that leaves a bitter memory, so Vulp, during one of his long rambles over the countryside, failed entirely to find sport, and gained a decidedly unpleasant experience. If only his mother had not taught him that in a season of scarcity a weasel might reasonably be considered an article of food! One summer night, as he started on his usual prowl, the covert seemed strangely silent. With the exception of a solitary rabbit that bolted to its burrow when the young fox crossed the clearing, and another that disappeared in similar fashion when nothing more than a slight crackle of a leaf betrayed Vulp's whereabouts near a bramble-clump, every animal had apparently deserted the thickets. So, leaving his accustomed haunts, he crossed the furze-clad dingle, and watched near a large warren in the open. But there, again, not a rabbit could be seen. A field-vole rustled by over the leaves; the cub made a futile effort to capture it, stood for an instant listening to its movements, then thrust his nose into the herbage in another vigorous but vain attempt; the vole, like the rabbits, had sought refuge underground. An owl, that had frightened the cub about five months before when first he ventured outside his home, rose from the hedge, and flew slowly down the valley with a little squealing creature in her talons; she, at any rate, had not hunted in vain.
At last Vulp struck a fresh line of scent which, though particularly strong and uninviting, he took to be that of a weasel. It was mingled with the faint odour of a field-vole that, doubtless, had been pursued and carried away by its persistent enemy. The cub followed the trail, hoping to secure both hunter and victim, but it soon led him to a hole in the hedgerow, and there abruptly ceased. He was about to turn from the spot, when the eyes of the supposed weasel suddenly gleamed at the mouth of the hole, but disappeared when the presence of the cub was recognised. The fox, retreating to a convenient post of observation behind a tuft of grass, settled down to await his opportunity. A few minutes elapsed, and the pursued creature came once more in sight. It appeared like a shadow against the sky, lifted its nose inquiringly, quitted the burrow, sat bolt upright for a moment, then, reassured, proceeded towards the covert on the opposite side of the path. With a single bound, the cub cleared the grass-tuft, reached out at his prey, missed his grip, bowled the animal over, and, turning rapidly, caught it across the loins instead of by the throat. Unfortunately for himself, the fox had made a slight miscalculation. With a scream of rage and pain, the polecat —for such the creature proved to be—turned on the aggressor, and instantly fastened its formidable teeth, like a steel trap, on his muzzle. Vulp had been taught that his fangs, also, were a trap from which there should be no escape, and so he held on firmly, trying meanwhile to shake the life from his victim. He pressed the polecat to the ground, and frantically endeavoured to disengage its hold by thrusting his fore-paws beneath its muzzle; but every effort alike was useless. A scalding, acrid fluid emitted by the polecat caused the lips and one of the eyes of the cub to smart unbearably, and the offensive odour of the fluid grew stronger and stronger, till it became almost suffocating. At last the polecat convulsively trembled as its ribs and spine were crushed in the fox's tightening jaws, its teeth relaxed their hold, and the fight was over.