Predators That Got Away and What I Learned from Them
Realtree pro staffer Mark Zepp doesn’t remember all the predators that he’s killed over decades of hunting, but the ones that got away he remembers right down to the smallest detail – and that has made him a better predator hunter.
“I have called literally thousands of coyotes,” Zepp said. “I certainly haven’t killed that many but I’ve called and studied and looked at them.” And learned from them.
Sometimes past hunting partners will ask him if he remembers “that coyote we called here or there and killed and I’m like, ‘No. It’s always the handful that got away you remember’.”
One of those predators, a red fox, taught him a lesson he follows to this day. It was his very first attempt at predator hunting.
Zepp, a farm kid from Ohio, was 13 and had just returned home from showing cattle at the National Western Stock Show in Denver where he had purchased a Crit’R Call from Major Boddicker, a legend in the coyote-calling field. He set out to try the call, carrying a 17-caliber rifle. “Back then, red fox were worth 70 or 80 bucks apiece, which was like $700 now,” he said. “I had put one shell in that rifle and I had about 10 in my pocket. Of course it would hold a half a dozen but I just put one in there.”
You can guess where this is going.
He sat down and blew on his new call for a few minutes “and here came a red fox,” he said. “I just absolutely could not believe it. He stopped out there about 70 yards and, of course, I missed him and he took a half-dozen steps and stopped again but I didn’t have any more shells in the gun. I was fumbling for those shells in my pocket and that sucker just kind of sauntered off and I tell you I never went to a stand again for the rest of my life when I had only one shell in my gun.”
It was a lesson learned early in his predator-hunting career.
“I learned something on the very first stand I ever made and it has haunted me and haunted me and haunted me,” he said. “Thirty years later here I am still talking about it.”
Hunters should believe a predator will come in and be ready when it does.
“You have to be prepared. I think you just always have to be optimistic and ready for something to come,” he said. “When people start in this sport and get involved in it, they really don’t believe it’ll work. Even guys who would come out to hunt with me back when I was hunting all over the country. A coyote would finally show up at a stand and they were just so excited to just see one. They’d say, ‘I can’t believe one showed up’ and I was like ‘what do you think we’re doing out here? You can’t believe one showed up?’ ”
“There comes a time when calling has to turn into killing,” he said. “Something to remember is to stay very optimistic – and make sure you have enough shells in your gun, for sure.”
Zepp was a dedicated predator hunter; living for a year and a half in his van, traveling and hunting from place to place. Nowadays, his Zepp’s Predator Calls, DVDs and other products are available on his website.
One time, in Washington, after knocking on doors, he got permission to hunt a large ranch and spent the day calling coyotes. “I don’t remember all the coyotes that I called and killed but I sure remember the two that I didn’t; that I should have, and getting to be all these years later that’s a couple more that I think about, where and how they came in.”
On the first one, Zepp missed what should have been a routine, easy shot for him. “I just sort of rushed the shot a little bit too much,” he said. “I didn’t have a good set of shooting sticks, which I think are highly, highly important.
A set of sturdy shooting sticks is “almost as important as your rifle,” he said. “You just have to be able to hold that thing steady and be comfortable with the shot.”
But back to the hunt. “I remember calling that rascal in. He was just walking in from 200 yards, taking his time and I had probably too much time to sit and think and I just let him keep coming. He’s sauntering in and I’m watching him and it’s a beautiful day and he got to about 80 yards out there and I’d been thinking about it forever and just kind of rushed a bad shot ‘cause I did not have a good hold with the way I was sitting and I missed that sucker and, unlike that red fox that took a couple steps and stopped, he did not give me that opportunity.
“I had plenty of bullets in my gun but he went into warp drive and got behind cover quick. I missed him and I still see it … that sucker just looking at me and running away.”
Later that same day, another lesson was learned.
He had located some coyotes in a valley and set up above them to do some howling to bring them in. There was a rock ledge about 10 feet above him, to his right.
“I remember when I sat down I thought I probably should move a little bit so I could see that ledge, see that entry point a little bit but I was comfortable and there was a good, nice view there. Boy, I could see a country mile, literally miles below me, and it thought that’s where those coyotes were anyway and I called for, I don’t know, 5 or 6 minutes and I looked up and that coyote was just standing there on that ledge looking at me not 10 yards away to my right.”
A right-handed shooter, Zepp was situated in such a manner that it was not a simple task to swing on the coyote.
“So I have to pivot the whole way around to get the shot and, boy, by the time I had moved my hind end 2 inches he was probably 200 yards out there,” he said. “I stood up and took a couple steps and he was nowhere to be seen.”
Lesson learned, but it’s a lesson that isn’t always easy to teach.
Over the years, he’s encountered similar situations, similar setups, while hunting with partners. “I would always tell my partner, ‘Now, you watch that ledge above me.’ And they would look at me like “you’ve got to be kidding me, you coyote hog you, because you know that rascal’s going to be coming from this valley you can see down.’ ”
On several occasions, “a handful of times,” about five or 10 minutes into Zepp’s calling sequence “my partner is shooting and killing that coyote that came in from above, from that backside where you think they’ve got to do a lot of climbing and maneuvering to get around to that point where they are looking down on you.” But, sometimes they do that climbing and maneuvering, rather than coming from the direction from which you are just sure they’ll make their approach, he said.
Zepp said he has learned a lot from predators that escaped, but those lessons have helped him be more successful on other hunts.
“Those animals got away, but they were the demise of several hundred others over the years, I can promise you,” he said.
“I think it’s like anything else in life,” he said. “You have to learn from your mistakes and not make those mistakes again. It doesn’t matter if it’s football, baseball, basketball, whatever game you’re playing, you can’t continue to make those same mistakes. It’s no different from any other sport.”