The Wiles of the Fox, 1932

Lionel Edwards (1878-1966) was a British painter and illustrator who focused primarily on scenes of sporting life (we have highlighted some of his work on our blog in the past). He was an avid huntsman and over the course of his life hunted with most of the packs in the United Kingdom. In his book, The Wiles of the Fox, Edwards gives us a series of anecdotes accompanied by sketches, which describe exploits he has witnessed foxes use to escape the hounds.

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The Wiles of the Fox: Some Notes and Sketches Sketches by Lionel Edwards. London: The Medici Society and The Sporting Gallery, 1932. National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of John H. Daniels, 1994.

The contest in a fox hunt is between the hounds’ ability to follow the fox’s scent, and the fox’s ability to elude them.  At first glance it seems an unfair battle, an entire pack of hounds versus a single fox.  But in the foreword of his book Edwards estimates that only one in five foxes discovered by hounds is caught.  He goes on to praise the fox’s skill saying…

“Granting that few foxes are killed in comparison to those found by hounds, there are other people besides my Todhunter who have difficulty in realizing that catching a fox is not as easy as it sounds.  A huntsman, from youth and inexperience, conceit or old age, or a hundred other causes, often contributes to his own defeat, and the fact remains that among the many partners of the chase, the only one who makes few errors is usually the fox!” (p.7-8)

The stories fall into several categories.  First are tricks that hide or confuse the fox’s scent trail.  Whether or not the fox realizes the effect of such maneuvers and engages in them intentionally is up for speculation.  These activities include things such as…

Running along the tops of walls:

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On the Top of the Wall

Escaping along roads:

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Fox Running the Road

Or rolling in manure:

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Manure

Sometimes foxes escape through outside assistance. This could make use of other animals to distract the hounds, or when a second fox’s scent confuses the hounds into losing track.

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Changing foxes

A final type of escape relies on the fox’s natural agility, which allows it to sometimes bolt through a pack of hounds unscathed or sail over them from the top of a bank.

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Flying Fox

If you would like to learn more about Edward’s life and work, NSLM holds many examples of his illustrations, as well as several biographies about him. Foxes are known for being crafty, and animals can often surprise us with their behavior. Leave us a comment below to share your surprising animal stories with us!


 

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Erica Libhart has served as the MarsLibrarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

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