I exhaled strong gasps of air through the plastic mouth call, cupping my hand on the barrel accordingly, sending eerie, squalling, bone-chilling sounds of a rabbit in distress out across the valley floor, penetrating nearly a mile into the foothills beyond.
No more than 5 minutes went by when I caught movement about 200 yards down slope. It was a coyote, heading straight to me.
I was tucked away in some granite boulders. My hunting partner was planted in some bushes 40 yards to my left. I couldn't see him, and I was hoping he had the 'yote in view as well.
In one instance the dog was in clear view, but then he disappeared in a small canyon sharply below me. I expected him to pop back into view any second. I dared not move a muscle, as these sharp-toothed canines have eyes like hawks.
Adrenaline flowed as I could hear the sage bushes rustle only a scant 20 yards away. The coyote was now on some rocks, peering around with beady eyes. I was partly in shock and excited. Clearly in plain view, with only my back against a rock, I couldn't believe the 'yote didn't bust me. I must have looked like I was part of the rock wearing Realtree camouflage.
Once the coyote jumped off the boulders, I quickly came to my feet. All I could see now was his backline moving rapidly across the brush line. I hit full draw and swung with my 20-yard pin sharply in view, but at this point, ol' wiley had it all figured out and broke into a mach-like lope. The shot was hopeless, and I eased the bow down.
During the off-season, I find no better medicine for staying sharp and keeping acquainted with the adrenaline rush of hunting "bigger" game than bowhunting predators. These crafty animals make for a great challenge and a worthwhile adversary to prepare you for big-game season.
Also, calling predators with a bow in hand is an inexpensive endeavor. Nearly anywhere in the Lower 48, you'll find promising places to hunt predators close to home. Coyotes, fox and bobcat are all highly adaptive critters, and they abound in a variety of habitats, from Western deserts, to Midwest prairielands, Rocky Mountain foothills, Eastern woodlands, and virtually all agricultural country.
The choices of hunting areas are better for the bow slinger since restrictions are usually less severe when using archery equipment inside city limits. It all adds up to a win-win proposition for any bowhunter wanting to stay in game and fill the off-season with some serious fun.
However, as you'll find out, bowhunting predators can be quite challenging. To be successful, you must apply dedication, persistence, effective hunting technique and the use of good camouflage in order to consistently make kills. In a lot of ways, it's just like deer or elk hunting, only the stakes aren't as high and the price of admission is only a few bucks worth of gas money, a couple plastic mouth calls and a general hunting license.
In this article, I'd like to offer some tips for calling in predators when bowhunting. I believe they will minimize the learning curve involved and maximize your success afield.
Find the Hotspots
Although predators could lurk just about anywhere there are fields and foothills, it's best to home in on where they are most concentrated. This will ensure better calling action without covering a ton of area or spending way too much time calling.
The best way to identify hotspots is by fresh sign. When hunting coyote or fox, drive the backroads and look for fresh dung along the shoulders of the road and in nearby washes. With bobcat, you'll have to scout by foot more, as they tend to walk along well-used roadways less than coyote and fox.
Mouth vs. Electronic Calls
If you often hunt alone, then using an electronic caller is advisable. Bowhunting is a close-range sport, and the movement you'll make to cup a mouth call and blow on it will often foil your cover as a coyote, fox or bobcat approaches. For this reason, electronic callers are more effective, since they allow you to place the speaker away from your exact location while doing all the calling for you. You just sit back and wait for the shot to appear.
Of course, you can also vary volume by keeping the control box at your fingertips. Situate it so you can do this with little movement. Electronic callers are also extremely versatile, playing more sounds. An abundant supply of different calling CDs and chips are available for today's units. You can make virtually any wild animal sound you want with today's callers.
Also, walk game trails, brushy areas, rocky slopes, and forested regions, looking for scat, especially atop rocks if prevalent in the area. Smallish-sized droppings similar in shape to that of a coyote with fur or seeds in it identify fox dung. Bobcat scat is usually more blunted on the ends and segmented, and often has fur and bones in it from their prey. Remember, cats feed heavily on rabbits, mice and especially small birds.
Coyote tracks are quite easy to see in soft sand and mud. They are about the size and shape of a medium-sized house dog. Fox tracks are the same, only smaller. Whereas bobcat tracks are much harder to see and clearly identify, unless the imprint is in snow or soft soil. The distinct trademark of a "cat" track is the "two valleys" or three bumps along the main foot pad. The trail will also have no nail markings, since their nails are retractable, unlike coyote or fox. Coyote and fox have "one valley" or two bumps on the main pad and leave behind nail impressions as well.
Call only in areas where there are lots of fresh tracks and droppings to prevent dull calling results.
Once you feel like you've found a good location to hunt, next is getting a feel for where to call. You don't just want to call from any spot. Instead, look for areas that offer a good place to hide while giving you a prominent view of landscape. To bowkill a predator, you must see it in plenty of time so you can come to full draw and prepare for the shot. Otherwise, you could get caught off-guard, spoiling your efforts.
Look for a bush, rock or tree to sit beside. In a lot of cases, it's best to sit in front of cover instead of behind it — this way you can expand your shooting lanes. Also, do your best to keep the sun at your back, which will make it more difficult for an approaching predator to see you.
As you move from one calling station to another, it's best to head into a headwind or crosswind, keeping your scent from drifting into promising areas. Also, keep in mind, as the animal approaches the sounds of your call, it'll likely try to swing around your position, attempting to "wind" the area before coming closer. For this reason, try to set up your calling station with a shot in mind as it attempts to do this. Coyotes are notorious for this tendency.
The distance between calling stations will once again vary depending on terrain and the game you're hunting. Generally speaking, move at least 1/3 mile between stands for coyote, and 1/4 to 1/3 mile for fox and bobcat.
The best time to call is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This is when predators are most active and out looking for food. However, if the weather is chilly, overcast and even drizzly, calling all day can be quite productive I've found.
Your technique and what types of calls you should use depends largely on what you're hunting. For coyotes, rabbit in-distress calls work excellent. Choose jack-rabbit type sounds for open-country hunting, especially when it's breezy outside, since these have greater volume to pull in coyotes from long range. For wooded or agricultural regions, go with cottontail sounds.
Also, try to match the volume of your calls as best as possible, based on the weather and the terrain you're hunting. If you are in brushy, rocky country, where visibility is limited, call at a lower volume to prevent spooking game. In open plains or desert country, call louder.
When hunting fox or bobcat, cottontail in-distress, rodent and woodpecker calls all work effectively. You'll simply have to experiment for what calls work best and which don't. Unlike coyotes, appropriate call volume is critical when hunting red fox and especially bobcat. Gray fox seem more tolerant of abnormal call volume.
Calling time will vary on the specie hunted as well. For coyotes, it's advisable to call up to 20 or 30 minutes, depending on terrain. Fox require about half that time to call in. And bobcat can be called for 45 minutes and even longer.
When first setting up to call, I like to begin my series at medium volume, working up the sounds a bit after 5 minutes or so. I find in most cases, if something is nearby, they'll usually walk into view within this timeframe.
If not, then expect the animal to be coming from long distance. This is why after about 5 minutes I increase the volume to maximum sound. When in brushy or rocky terrain, I tend to pause my calling more. Whereas, in open areas, I call as long as I can stand, pausing very little.
Really, unless you have a veteran caller show you the ropes, the only way to acquaint yourself with effective calling pitch and sound is to buy calls that come with an instructional DVD, or purchase an electronic caller that does all the calling for you. This way you can listen to recommended calling sounds.
Generally speaking, with coyotes and grey fox, I prefer making the loudest, most distressing sounds I can make with the call if nothing arrives after 10 minutes on stand. Coyotes and fox are usually quite aggressive and come in hard. With bobcat, however, I like to keep the volume low and the pitch consistent, as these animals often take their time when coming in, timidly tiptoeing from bush to bush.
It's not advisable to call on ultra-stormy or windy days. Such conditions prevent calling sounds from traveling well and the wind often blows quite erratically, making your scent more difficult to monitor. Also, on stormy days, predators rarely are out and about, so why bother?
On the other hand, one of the best times to call is right after a storm has passed. The weather is usually ideal at this time — calm and cool — and predators have been holed up for a day or more, hungry as ever. A well-blown rabbit call means dinner on the table. It all adds up to unbelievable calling action for you.
Camouflage is Crucial
Proper concealment is nearly as important for predator calling as it is for turkey hunting. An effective multi-season pattern such as Realtree's EDGE or Realtree Timber works well for concealing you in various types of terrain. The key is to blur your body's outline and match the camo to the terrain. For this reason, I often use a leafy cut upper garment and hat.
I also believe in head-to-toe protection, which means always using camo gloves, headnet or face paint, and covering any shiny bow finish with camouflage tape or dull spray paint.
Bowhunting predators is a wonderful way to keep your hunting skills fresh and alive. Give it a try. I'm quite confident the rush and excitement will blow your mind.