Plants & Animals
Wildlife lovers can find this secretive, bushy-tailed and black-footed furbearer statewide.
A few years ago, a fellow named Kevin Brinker called to ask me if I would be interested in photographing a family of red foxes he had discovered residing under his barn near New Haven. I’d only seen a few red foxes in my lifetime so I was eager just to get a glimpse of the critters, let alone photograph them. The following weekend I stationed myself near Brinker’s barn in a hunting blind and waited to see what daybreak would bring. Shortly after sunrise, a tiny fox pup came out into the open and stared at my blind with youthful curiosity. The click of my camera shutter frightened it back into the shadows of the barn but it quickly returned for another look and soon became oblivious to my intrusion. Over the next two years I had many more encounters with the foxes at Brinker’s, but I’ll always remember seeing that first pup like it was just yesterday.
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is found statewide but is most common north of the Missouri River. Growing a bit larger than the gray fox, the red fox has a thick coat of red fur with whitish cheeks, throat and belly. Legs are adorned with black boots and the bushy red tail is streaked in black with a white tip. Red foxes prefer forest borders and adjacent open lands where they can pursue their favorite quarry: rabbits and mice. Other foods include birds, voles and even insects. One evening in early summer I sat in my truck and watched a new litter of pups gorging on fat June bugs under Brinker’s garage light.
Red foxes mate in winter and litters are born by March or April, typically four to seven pups. By the time the pups reach 10 weeks old, they are tagging along on hunts with their parents. By fall, the young foxes are on their own, dispersing into new territory. A Missouri furbearer, red foxes are prized for their pelts and may be legally hunted and trapped (for information on trapping seasons and regulations, visit for mdc.mo.gov/node/88). The Conservation Department closely monitors the red fox harvest to ensure their population is sustained for future generations.
By midsummer of that first year I had photographed all of the pups, but I’d never seen one of the parents. It wasn’t until the following year that I made my first image of an adult red fox at Brinker’s property. It had just returned from an overnight hunt and was drenched with dew. While the new crop of pups had fully accepted my presence, the adult was extremely wary and disappeared under the barn only a moment after I captured its image. I found it funny that a piece of foxtail was lodged in its mouth just as I clicked the shutter. That evening as I reviewed the image, I felt a sense of completion to all of my visits to Brinker’s barn. Along with countless photos of the pups, wrestling in the grass and napping in small patches of sunlight, I finally had a shot of one of the secretive adults.
—Story and photo by Danny Brown