Photo: Mark Buckler
Scientific Name: Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Classification: Game species
Abundance: Common throughout state
Species Profile (PDF)
Coexisting with Foxes (PDF)
Gray fox (Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
Gray fox pup (Photo by Linda Valerio Stenzel)
Though both the red fox and the gray fox live in North Carolina today, the gray fox is the state’s only native fox species. Red foxes were brought here from Europe by fox hunters in the early 1700s. Even though storytellers and writers have depicted the red fox as cunning, intelligent and shrewd, the gray fox appears to be winning the survival contest in areas where coyotes have expanded in recent years. As coyotes become more abundant and expand their range into areas inhabited by both red and gray foxes, red foxes are sometimes displaced, while gray fox populations do not seem to be affected. Since gray foxes have the ability to climb trees, it is possible that they are able to escape from coyotes.
The gray fox is slightly smaller than the red fox and is much darker in overall coloration. Gray foxes are sometimes confused with red foxes because of a reddish or rusty coloration on the sides of their necks and on their legs. The overall coloration is best described as a salt and pepper gray with a dark streak extending down the back, along the top of the tail and ending in a black tail tip. Adults may weigh as much as a red fox (7 to 15 pounds) but their shorter legs and shorter fur make them appear smaller. The most obvious sign of the presence of gray foxes is tracks that are similar to domestic cat tracks, except gray fox tracks have claw marks. Since gray foxes are more adapted to warmer climates than red foxes, there is little or no fur between the toe and foot pads, resulting in a more distinct track than that left by red foxes.
Learn more by reading the Gray Fox wildlife profile.
The gray fox is considered a game species.
Fox hunting regulations
Gray and red foxes may only be trapped where provided by state or local law. For more information about fox trapping seasons, visit ncwildlife.org/FoxSeasons.
Controlled Hunting Preserve Operator License - Fox
The presence of gray foxes in neighborhoods is not unusual. As with other wildlife, gray foxes are adapting to changes in habitat. Residential areas can provide food sources and hiding/denning cover (i.e. ornamental shrubs, crawl spaces). Gray foxes will take advantage of a wide spectrum of food (fruit, vegetation, pet food, garbage, small prey) often found in neighborhoods.
Gray foxes can become habituated to humans if easy access to food exists. To avoid conflicts, people should keep neighborhoods clean of garbage, pet food, and bird food. Leaving pet food outside may attract gray foxes, as well as coyotes, raccoons, opossums and skunks. Not only will this cause them to become habituated, but the high concentration of wild animals may result in outbreaks of fatal diseases such as rabies or canine distemper.
Most conflicts that occur between people and gray foxes involve depredation on domestic poultry and concerns about diseases, such as rabies. Properly enclosed poultry in a secure pen and house, coupled with good husbandry practices, can prevent depredations. While gray foxes can contract rabies, interactions between people and gray foxes are rare.
Best Practice for Trapping
Coexist with Foxes (PDF)
Fox and Coyote Populations Study Final Report - April 1, 2012 (PDF)
Fox and Coyote Management Situation Assessment - March 1, 2019 (PDF)
2016-2020 Fox (Red and Gray) Hunting and Harvest Estimate Maps (PDF)
1949-2019 Fox (Red and Gray) Hunting Harvest and Hunter Trends (PDF)
Fox seasons by county
Gray Fox Species Profile (PDF)
Coexist with Foxes (PDF)