When Foxes Flew (Against Their Will)

Baseball is considered the American pastime. Soccer, in places where it is not called “soccer,” is the sport of sports in many other places. There is also cricket, rugby, curling, dart throwing, and even things like extreme ironing. People will go to great, great lengths to entertain each other, often in competitive ways.

And sometimes, that gets extreme — like in the situation below.

It’s not abundantly clear what that’s a picture of — a bunch of people in what looks to be a field. 

The picture is from a German book from 1719, titled “Der vollkommene deutsche J├Ąger,” or “The Perfect German Hunter.” The book is a hunting manual, detailing all sorts of animals and plants and everything else a would-be hunter needs to successfully trap a fox or the like. There are lots of images — you can flip through a scan of an old copy here — and eventually, you’ll find an image like the one above.

What you’re seeing is something called fuchsprellen or “fox tossing,” and that’s literally what’s happening here. The game, as summarized in the book Hunting Weapons from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, was as brutal as you’d expect. Participants paired up and took to the arena armed with what was, basically, a long blanket but made of rope or cords. The organizers released foxes into the arena and the teams had to cajole a fox onto their blankety-thing. Then, using it as a slingshot, the partners propelled the fox into the air. Here’s a larger version of the image, and if you look closely, you’ll see a half-dozen or so creatures flailing in the air above. Those are foxes. The ground, per the above-linked book, “was covered with sawdust or sand as to not kill the [animals] too quickly.” But eventually, most of the foxes (and other animals subjected to the sport) died. Per “Hunting Weapons,” at one of the better known fuchsprellen competitions, “687 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers, and 21 wild-cats were tossed to their deaths.” And of course, many of the human participants were injured by the wild animals along the way.

Fox tossing disappeared from our collective culture by the end of the 18th century — and that’s probably a good thing, for all concerned.

Bonus fact: Foxes aren’t native to Australia but you’ll find a lot of them there, and it’s a problem — according to the Australian government (pdf), they’re an invasive species that “have played a major role in the decline of a number of species of native animals and they also prey on newborn lambs.” But their introduction into Australia wasn’t an accident — it was for sport. Per the same pdf, “the European red fox was deliberately introduced to Australia for recreational hunting in 1855.” The population soon made a home for itself in the wild; today, there are more than 7 million roaming the nation, and some have even figured out how to climb trees in order to eat koalas.

From the ArchivesSwitzerland’s Kind of Gross, Incredibly Effective Anti-Rabies Weapon: You want to keep foxes away from chickens. But what do you do when foxes are spreading rabies? You use chickens. (But only parts of them.)