This section is from the book "Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting", by J. Otho Paget. Also available from Amazon: Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting.
When badgers are very numerous they become a nuisance in another way, and that is by opening the earths after the earth-stopper has been his rounds. They do good, however, in keeping the fox-earths clean and making fresh ones. I believe a foul earth is one of the causes that either originate mange or help to develop it. I should be very sorry if any one should think I had shown just cause for the badger's extermination ; but I do consider they ought occasionally to have their numbers reduced.
I seem somehow to have wandered away from our original theme, the fox ; but now, with your permission, I will begin at the beginning, and consider the animal from his birth upwards. The vixen goes with young nine weeks, and the middle of March is the usual time for cubs to be dropped. Although the vixen is by no means faithful to one husband, she generally shows a preference for one, and he it is who helps to find food for the family. Unfortunately, the dog-fox is sometimes killed in the last few days of the season, and it is then a hard task for the mother keeping the larder filled for herself and the family. In that case the cubs never thrive properly, are ever ready to break out with mange, and the poor vixen will boldly seize either hens or lambs in the daytime. This, of course, annoys the farmer, and swells the bill for compensation. It is the nature of a fox to hunt for his food, and if he gets into the habit of seizing the first thing that comes to hand, you may be certain, if he has not already got the mange, that it will not be long before it appears. Rats, mice, and beetles form the chief diet, and a healthy fox will travel miles in a night searching for these dainties. I believe he enjoys the pleasure of hunting for his food quite as much as we do hunting him. The next time a fall of snow stops hounds from going out, put on a pair of shooting-boots, and make your way to the nearest earth or covert. Find the track of a fox going away, and follow him in his wanderings of the previous night. You will learn some interesting details of the animal's ways, and if you can succeed in bringing the tracks back again to the covert, you will, I am sure, thank me for having brought the idea to your notice.
I am very much averse to feeding foxes, and believe that it gets them into bad habits. There is no harm in helping a vixen when she has a large litter, with fowl heads, rabbits, or young rooks, but never indulge her with meat. When the cubs are big enough to look after themselves, you can gradually discontinue their allowance. What you want is to feed the vixen well, so that she shall have plenty of milk for the cubs; and if they are well nourished for the first two months, they will get a start that will carry them over any difficulty they may meet in the future.
You must remember that hunting for his food not only keeps a fox in good health but also keeps him in condition, and a fat fox will never show you much sport. If you will examine the billet of a wild fox you will find very few instances where black beetles have not formed the larger part of his previous meal. I have no idea whether chemists have ever discovered any medicinal properties in the black beetle, but I believe it has the virtue of cooling a fox's blood and thereby warding off the mange.
The vixen usually draws her earth out a week or two before the cubs arrive, and when the earth-stopper finds this has been done, he should never close up the entrance on a hunting-day. It is much better that an old dog-fox should occasionally get to ground than a heavy vixen be killed. Fortunately there is very little scent with a vixen in cub, which is, I suppose, a provision of nature; but unless a certain amount of care is exercised she may get killed in covert. If hounds are out of blood, a huntsman is not to be trusted always in the matter of vixens, and the master should see to this himself after the first of March.
When the cubs are six or seven weeks old they will come to the mouth of the earth and eat any dainty bit of game that their mother may bring them. At three months the vixen will have generally moved them to a covert, if the earth is elsewhere, and then they will begin to hunt for themselves, though I think it is more for fun and the following of a natural instinct than to get food.
In countries where dry sandy earths are scarce the vixen has her cubs in a hollow tree or some convenient sheltered spot, but they are always in danger of being killed by a wandering sheep-dog, and it is safer to make earths, which they will generally use. There are many objections to artificial earths, and I think the greatest is that it gives the fox-stealer a very easy chance of carrying on his nefarious trade. They also are a means of spreading the mange, but directly this disease declares itself they should be all closed until the district can show a clean bill of health again. There are several different methods of building these earths, but I think the best is the horseshoe shape, as that plan avoids draughts. They must, of course, be well drained, and it is better if they have a little slope. If pipes are used, those at the entrance should not exceed eight inches in diameter, and if a chamber is made in the middle — the bend in the horse-shoe — it should be built of blue brick and cemented, but the chamber should not be too big, and it must not be high enough for a fox to stand upright. Foxes, I regret to say, are not quite as clean in their habits as some animals, and they will soon foul a too roomy earth. If it is decided to build a chamber, the top should be covered with a slate slab, and plenty of soil over that to prevent inquisitive people from looking in. When there is plenty of lying in a covert, I think it is a good plan to close your artificial earth for July and August, so that it may have a chance of getting sweet and clean. If the vixen lays up in a place where she is in danger of being molested, balls of waste soaked in paraffin should be poked into the hole with a stick, and she will then soon take the hint to move them elsewhere. Small farmers who have rabbit-warrens to keep down the butcher's bills are not always pleased to have a litter of cubs quartered on them in the spring of the year when the rabbits are breeding, and the huntsman must see that the vixen shifts her nursery to a more friendly neighbourhood. The huntsman or master must make it his business to keep in touch with the earth-stoppers during the summer, and he should know the exact whereabouts of each litter. When one district is rather short of foxes and another in the same hunt is overstocked, it is advisable to remove a vixen with her cubs to some covert where there is no litter. The mother and little ones should be dug out and taken direct to the covert where they are wanted, then they should be put in an artificial earth and the vixen stopped in for a week. Of course they must be fed every evening, and as the vixen is in a strange country where she would not know her way about, it is as well to provide food all through the summer. Moving cubs is a very delicate operation, and the huntsman should personally superintend. The best time to move, I think, is when the cubs are about three weeks old, as then they are beginning to grow too heavy for the vixen to carry far, and it must not be forgotten that her first inclination is always to get home.