How I got that shot: Red fox hunting along the Yellowstone River

A red fox walks through the snow in Yellowstone National Park. (©Kathy Mendes - click to enlarge)

A red fox walks through the snow in Yellowstone National Park. (©Kathy Mendes - click to enlarge)

By Kathy Mendes

When I first spied the red fox in Yellowstone National Park, we were heading down from Canyon Village to the area around Fishing Bridge and Steamboat Point to try and find a grizzly bear we had seen the day before.

A red fox prowls along the Yellowstone River in October in Yellowstone National Park. (©Kathy Mendes - click to enlarge)

A red fox prowls along the Yellowstone River in October in Yellowstone National Park. (©Kathy Mendes - click to enlarge)

It was late October, and I was in the backseat of our rented SUV, with another photographer driving and a third in the front passenger seat. There was a lot of snow on the road, so we were going slowly and as usual, since I was not driving, I was spotting: looking off into the distance for wolves, bison, coyotes, river otters or any other creatures we could find.

We were driving along the Yellowstone River at a point where the road gently slopes down close to the river.

I noticed the red of the fox against the white snow near the river and excitedly yelled, “Fox! Fox!”

A red fox listens for prey beneath the snow in Yellowstone National Park. (©Kathy Mendes - click to enlarge)

A red fox listens for prey beneath the snow in Yellowstone National Park. (©Kathy Mendes - click to enlarge)

The driver slowed down and stopped and then backed up. Sure enough, it was a red fox with a beautiful, luxuriant, rusty red coat. It looked at us very quickly, but didn’t seem too concerned, so we rolled down the windows and stuck out our three big lenses.

The fox continued to wander through the snow occasionally, stopping to listen with its ears perked up for the faint sounds of small animals under the snow. Now and then, it would stop and put its entire nose into the snow, so all you could see was the top of its head and ears.

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I photographed the fox with a Nikon D300 and 80-400 mm Nikon lens, at ISO 400 with exposure ranging from 1/200 sec to 1/400 sec, f/6.0 to f/9.0 as the light changed on that snowy day. Photographing in the snow can be difficult with some of the snow looking a bit overexposed at the time, but the D300 handles that well and the finished images turned out really nice. The focal distance ranged from 105 mm to 400 mm as the fox wandered close and then away from the road.

After one such plunge, it climbed onto the road, shaking the snow off its nose, appearing disgusted that its prey below the snow had gotten away.

We continued quietly taking photos as we slowly followed the fox along the road. After a bit, it went back down into the snow and started hunting again. It perked up at one point and started trotting excitedly until it stopped and stood totally still, alert and ready to spring into the snow after whatever it had heard or smelled.

There we were waiting breathlessly, fingers on shutter buttons, tensing for the moment it sprang into the air and down into the snow to catch that mouse. But unfortunately, after a minute or two, it relaxed and then trotted off into the forest where we could not follow.

We felt so lucky to have seen such an amazingly beautiful creature in such a wonderful setting. I am in love with Yellowstone!

Kathy Mendes, front right, is a photographer, SCUBA diver and grandma who shares her underwater and topside photos and trip reports of her travels on her website, Diver Maiden.

How I Got That Shot takes you behind the scenes to learn how a top Yellowstone or Grand Teton photographer captured a terrific image. If you have a great shot you’d like to share, please send it to [email protected]

4 thoughts on “How I got that shot: Red fox hunting along the Yellowstone River

  1. Beautiful, I’m envious of your shot. I remember the first time I saw a red fox in the Tetons and thought it was the most beautiful animal I’ve ever seen.

  2. Yes, Kathy foxes are beautiful. I am bias though, for me the gray fox is the most beautiful. :-) Excellent story and images, congratulations on the published article.