Becoming a Better Predator Hunter by Craig Steele
In the mid to late 80’s, I was very blessed as my dad would pack me on many of his predator calling excursions. This planted the seed for me at a very young age. By the time I was 11, my friend & I had decided to make our first solo predator excursion. The first evening we drove Kenny’s Honda three wheeler to a wash sitting just off a mountain. We could hear coyotes talking as we hurried to our stand. Back then, I was told if I heard coyotes howling, they would NOT come to the call, but even at a young age, it just didn’t make sense. So, we continued to ignore these rumors & made it to the palo christi tree. Within two to three minutes of blowing on the call, we had a big male standing less than thirty yards from us. The very next day, we drove to a new spot, and it didn’t take long for a pair of coyotes to come barreling in from the wash below us. First double!
I have spent many days calling, reading and scouting since that time, both successfully and many times not. Through twenty years of calling & over thirty-two years of being around it, you learn a lot! With that said, I still have a lot of stuff to learn, and I enjoy listening. I want those that read this to take away two things: first, I am by no means the world’s greatest predator hunter; second, neither are you.
Why B.A.S.S Masters isn’t called…
What the hell does the B.A.S.S. Masters or fishing have anything to do with predator hunting? You asked…
Why don’t they title B.A.S.S. Masters, “F.I.S.H. Masters”? Because they aren’t fishing for cat fish, pike, or bluegill; it is a BASS tournament. The fishing world has grown to identify that just because you are fishing, does not mean you are fishing for every type of fish. Many fish are predatory fish, but even these predatory fish live and act differently from one another. Good anglers will use different gear & tactics in order to catch different types of fish. Ok…what does this have to do with predator hunting? Everything!!! Far too often, guys pick up the calls and say, “we are going predator calling.” To become a better predator caller/hunter you first need to recognize that predators are different. Whenever I head out to the field, whether it be scouting or calling, I have it in my mind what specific species of predator I want to target. Although it’s not an exact science, you can sure see your success rates go up by recognizing bobcats, foxes and coyotes are all predators, but extremely different.
Probably the easiest way to isolate different types of predators is by identifying the terrain they typically live in or use. Coyotes generally use the most variety of terrain. Territorial coyotes will often seek areas with less human pressure during the day. Typically, these areas will consist of cover or topography dynamics which will allow them to defend or keep this territory year after year. Bobcats love cover and especially box canyons that have a drainage (wash) which leads to their nightly hunting grounds. Gray fox live in steep terrain with cover, as it is their only way to avoid their bigger cousins!
With that, there is always the exception to the rule. Bobcats and coyotes have a lot of transition areas, as do grays & bobcats. Generally speaking, this is when predators are transitioning from their feeding to bedding area or vice versa. These transition areas are usually better in the early morning and late evenings. Again, this is not an exact science, and you can never use the terms “always” or “never” in the wild.
Know your predator & scout.
In order to better understand the behaviors or tendencies of the different types of predators you are targeting, I would encourage you to use our biggest information and sharing tool, the internet, to research them. You can find a lot of different studies and articles on predator behavior which will help you better understand the animals you are pursuing. By having a better understanding of how they tend to behave, you will increase your ability to locate them at different times of day and during different weather conditions. With this, I would also caution you, as none of it is exact science. Even my views are based on experience, educated guesses & theories. Sometimes gut feelings and experience are what makes the difference. These come with time.
Scouting for predators can increase your odds tremendously. Terrain, as stated above, will dictate a lot when it comes to scouting. Look over topo maps and use Google Earth (with OnXmaps land status overlay) to familiarize or identify different terrain. I also like to find “soft spots.” These are areas with less human traffic or disturbances. Soft spots generally produce the best results for me. They are much easier to detect with a GPS (with land status and topo features) and scouting efforts.
Finding scat and tracks are obviously a basic tool for finding predators, but they can be misleading. Predators can travel great distances, depending upon prey densities and territorial issues. Weather and time of day might also devalue your predator scat and track findings. Glassing and other methods during daylight hours will also help you hone in predators. Scouting is not always simple, and you have to be diligent in your efforts.
Sounds & calls.
We are inundated with a million e-sounds and a million hand calls. A couple of different realistic distress sounds and a few different animal vocalization sounds are all I typically use. I have blown and heard guys play the best sounds in the world on more than one occasion, only to see nothing show, stand after stand.
I do personally like busier sounds for bobcats and greys. For coyotes, I like deeper distress sounds, and my preference of coyote vocals. I do typically start a little lower in volume for the first few minutes and then CRANK it up in the middle. I will typically play my sounds constantly if I am calling for bobcats & greys, but with coyotes, I will pause between series. By no means am I saying these are the only ways to call!
E-callers are far and away worth the investment if you want to consistently call bobcats. Typically, bobcats come straight in, which makes them difficult to see if you are hand calling. Yes, it can be done, and I have done it, it’s just a lot harder to see them when you are out of breath and your eyes are watering. Keep in mind, not all bobcats creep in. It all just depends, and I have actually seen more trot in than creep, especially during the middle of the day.
I really love calling coyotes with hand calls! Nothing beats having a pair of coyotes barreling in on you or running up your backside. With that said, e-callers are coyote killing tools. With e-callers, you can call effectively in funky wind conditions. By this, I mean if you walk out to the stand, and you feel the wind coming up your back, you can set the call off to the side 25-100 yards and still make a quality setup. If you are blowing a hand call, it will be a tougher stand to be successful on.
All predators are callable.
Probably the most overused terms I hear are “call shy” and “educated.” Yes, I do believe you can mess with a predator’s physiological state if you call him in and launch three rounds of #4 buck next to his head. What I don’t believe is he will never come to a call again. In fact, I have called coyotes back in within seconds after doing this. If you do it enough, it really makes you revaluate the term “educated.” Many times, callers (even veteran ones) will use these terms loosely if they go out and have a bad day. It has almost become an epidemic excuse for why predator callers aren’t more successful. Bobcats, coyotes and foxes do not think like us, and if they did, they would NEVER come to a call, because they would all be educated by now. Second, they do all have different personalities and personal experiences which will influence how they respond. Remember, they are creatures that live in the wild 24-7-365. Every moment of their lives is a territorial and survival battle. They must eat! They must either fight or flee to survive! This does not stop, and many times this is why they won’t approach a call.
In my opinion, predator hunters far too often are searching for predators that have never been called before. I call this the, “Pot of Gold Effect”. Personally, I think it can be a waste of time. I would much rather spend my time finding high population densities, callable topography & territory. Why? Well, even IF you do find a coyote that has NEVER heard a call before, there is no guarantee he will come running in. Territorial issues, personality and personal experiences will all be deciding factors. Keep in mind, humans are not the only things killing coyotes, bobcats or foxes. Other coyotes, lions and wolves are what they have to deal with 24-7-365. It is a battle everyday, and this directly affects a predator’s physiological state.
Two things I firmly believe will make any predator respond to a call: call them where they feel comfortable and get to your stand undetected. Some predators may feel comfortable coming from a mile, and for others, it is 200 yards. Again, this will depend on territorial issues, personalities and personal experiences. So, before you give up and starting preaching how educated the predators are, use a little common sense.
Obviously, we didn’t cover every topic or scenario. That wasn’t my goal with this article. My goal was to help make ANY level of predator hunter revaluate their thought process in order to become a better predator hunter. I have learned a lot about predators over the years, but I will always have something else to learn or re-evaluate. Learning from different data, thoughts, people and experiences is what allows you to be the best predator hunter you can be.
Stay humble, stay hungry and never stop learning…