A sudden realization

As you know, we’ve been trying to trap phantom raccoon Number Eight for a very long time now. Weeks ago, our live trap caught it but somehow failed to remain closed, releasing this farm visitor into the night. After another similar failed attempt the next night, Number Eight became wise to our trap and continued its nightly visit to eat the bait, but always failed to trigger the mechanism. I could not understand how this was possible, and as the days of trapping turned to weeks without success, I was constantly thinking of new and interesting ways to trap this varmint. And then, just the other day, I had an epiphany.

I was on the phone with  a friend while looking out the kitchen window, which has a lovely panoramic view of our little “kingdom”: the front yard, orchard, most of the pastures, and both roadways. As I talked, I saw a red fox make his way into our orchard from the roadway. He stopped near the trunk of our producing pear tree and began to dig something out of the grass, chewing and chewing when he was successful. As I watched, he moved over a bit and again pulled something from the grass below the pear tree and began to eat. I realized that the fox was eating fallen pears — I hadn’t realized that a fox was such an omnivore!

Suddenly my mind began to swirl with new ideas. The fox had traversed our yard on almost exactly the same path where I had found some of Number Eight’s scat. Now, this part gets a bit graphic, but it’s necessary in order to understand my sudden comprehension. Weeks ago, Number Eight had obviously been eating mulberries, since its scat was full of seeds and grasshopper legs. More recently, however, there were fewer seeds since the mulberry trees had finished fruiting. In the last few days, I’ve seen more grasshopper legs, bits of fur or hair, and other unidentifiable stuff — no seeds. I had been thinking that this scat had come from a small raccoon, but a fox was a much better fit as far as size since what I was finding was just a bit bigger than cat droppings. Our raccoons generally leave much bigger droppings.

The fact that the fox was eating pears — and lots of them — explained why I was recently seeing totally different droppings than over the past weeks. It also explained why I was finding this scat all over our yard without the dogs picking up the scent. Our dogs have gotten used to the local fox den across the street, and they now mainly chase raccoons, trying to follow their scent to a home base. Since we’ve been trying to trap Number Eight, our dogs have lost interest in tracking. Obviously, Number Eight is not likely our eighth raccoon at all, but instead is more probably Fox Number One!

If, indeed, I’ve been trapping a fox, it better explains why it was able to escape our trap the first two nights. A fox is much longer than a raccoon. When caught in the trap the first night, it’s very possible that its tail prevented the door from shutting completely — and the door could therefore be opened from the inside. A small raccoon with its shorter body would have trouble managing this. After two nights of getting slammed in the door, the fox may have figured out the triggering mechanism and simply avoided stepping on it. If we’ve been luring a fox into the trap rather than a raccoon, there is no need to do any further trapping. But I’m not entirely sure.

All of the data does seem to indicate that we’ve been trapping a fox rather than a raccoon, but I still feel the need to confirm. I can do this by setting the trap on top of the hay in the barn. If we’ve been trapping a raccoon, it will have no problems climbing to the top of the hay in the barn to eat the bait from the trap. On the other hand, if we’ve been trying to trap the fox that I saw today in the orchard, he or she won’t be able to climb the seventeen-feet-high side walls that are essentially perpendicular to the ground. If I find that the bait is still in the trap after two nights on the hay pile, I think we can safely assume that we’ve been mistakenly trying to trap one of this year’s foxes instead of our eighth raccoon. If the bait is gone, then I know I’m still trapping Number Eight, a Mensa raccoon that loves a challenge and can’t wait to outwit the humans at Peeper Hollow Farm!

I think we may be at the end of this year’s raccoon trapping, since I do suspect that Number Eight might be the fox. I will let you know what I find!

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