When I think of predator calling, namely coyotes, I envision vast Western landscapes with ragged mountains framing the horizon. It is these settings on which I’ve enjoyed most of my predator-calling success. But this certainly isn’t universal. Not all predator callers — especially those in the populated East — have wide-open, unlimited calling territory at their disposal. Many predator callers must operate on a series of fairly compact properties. This requires more care than hunting vast public lands. Here is how to succeed when predator calling smaller properties.
(© Tom Rassuchine/Banded photo)
I immediately recall two scenarios where coyotes are super abundant but access is limited. While attending college the raw fur market was going strong and I desperately needed every nickel I could scrounge. The countryside around Lubbock’s Texas Tech University is nearly unbroken farmland with the occasional playa lake, mesquite pasture or CRP parcel reserved for wildlife. Access was hit-and-miss, habitat largely limited to weedy corners or CRP pastures. I’d gained permission to only a dozen spots so I was forced to make the best of them.
Today, while I’ve access to seemingly unlimited timber-company, state and Forest Service properties further afield, I live on the edge of a small Idaho town, in a neighborhood consisting of 20- to 80-acre parcels of private lands holding scattered houses. The neighborhood is filthy with coyotes, but various neighbors object to hunting. This is to say many of the California and Northeast transplants — a common Western theme as Baby Boomers embrace retirement — don’t believe cute, fuzzy critters should be harmed.
Both of these situations involve spotty access, and require approaching calling setups with great care to assure consistent success. The biggest dilemma is blowing your hunt before it even begins.
Consider Bedding Areas
(© Patrick Meitin photo)
Before every hunt ask yourself where predators are likely to be laid up at the moment, or where they are presently hunting. The beginning goal is to slip in and set up undetected so you have a viable shot at success at all. After all, on smaller properties, the predators you’re courting may be only a few hundred yards away when you begin calling.
Identifying potential bedding cover is generally easy on smaller properties, as habitat is typically limited. Sometimes this cover is located on off-limits properties — even preserves or refuges — calling luring them to your side of the fence for shooting. These are normally thicker areas that receive little or no human disturbances. In West Texas, for instance, these loafing areas were wholly obvious due to the relative lack of cover. In forest or farm country this could include brushy hillsides, river bottoms or even vast CRP fields with tall grass or brushy cover.
Stealth is always the best approach no matter where you’re calling, but is especially vital on smaller properties. Ditching your vehicle is most pressing in open areas. In West Texas, for instance, I often used oil-field pumps and holding tanks to disguise vehicles, sometimes a shelterbelt or slight road dip. While moving into position to set up it was important to stay under cover whenever possible, walking along ditches or behind windrows, as examples.
In Idaho woodlands I’m careful to avoid making racket while traversing crunchy vegetation, opening creaky gates or even while crossing squeaky barb-wire fences, crawling beneath them instead of climbing over or pushing wire down to step over. Avoid walking high ground or directly across open pastures. And obviously, push vehicle doors closed gently, avoiding slamming doors, and talking only in hushed whispers.
More important than all else is paying close attention to wind direction in relation to these potential bedding or hunting areas. Stop well back from your parking and/or calling spots and carefully test the wind, tossing dust or light vegetation into the air and noting how it falls. This dictates where you park and access routes. If current wind bearings require a longer walk to skirt obvious cover or ditch your ride, so be it. If a property is such that prevailing wind makes a designated parking spot or access route dicey, save that spot for more favorable winds. If predators smell you coming in, and then hear your resulting calls, it doesn’t take long to educate them against future efforts.
Mix It Up
(© Patrick Meitin photo)
With the wild popularity of predator calling today, it’s safe to assume varmints in patchwork properties (especially those close to town) have likely been played to previously. In some cases, like my Idaho situation, I’m pretty certain I’m the only predator caller in the neighborhood, but in Eastern farmlands, in particular, you can never make this assumption. Coyotes and red foxes, most pointedly, are quick studies. If they have been subjected to shoddy approaches by other hunters, or escaped a hail of bullets after responding to calls, they quickly correlate standard-issue dying-rabbit sequences with danger.
Rabbit and fawn distress calls are the obvious starting point of course, but be prepared to change gears if results are less than inspiring in areas where you know with certainty predators reside. With coyotes in particular, if you’re being greeted with mocking yipping each time you call, it’s time to mix things up, to program something different. Electronic callers make this easy.
Hungry winter predators are opportunists. While garden-variety rabbit squeals might make farmland predators suspicious, they might respond greedily to fighting woodpeckers or raccoons, whining puppies or distressed bobcats, just as examples. Another small-parcel approach I follow is starting calling sequences subtly. Instead of blasting out an opening, I start with muffled rodent squeaks, slowly increasing volume for the first 10-15 minutes. This is less likely to startle nearby predators, their acute hearing bringing them in to investigate.
Smaller properties introducing more frequent human or domestic dog run-ins make predators understandably wary. On “virgin” Western terrain I typically give winter coyotes about 30 minutes to respond to calls. When hungry and free of suspicions coyotes, in particular, generally respond greedily, running full tilt toward the promise of a free meal. Predators on smaller properties are more likely to approach calls cautiously, stalking in quietly, scoping out the situation carefully. This general reluctance slows the pace and means more time is required for predators to show themselves, even if they’re holed up only a couple hundred yards away. On smaller properties closer to civilization I’ll often give predators up to two hours to respond to calls if I’m confident of their presence.
I also place a premium on extreme camouflage here, donning shaggy suits for instance, and tucking more tightly into cover. I do this because while anticipating sneak approaches I periodically employ binoculars, watching edges for slinking varmints or one staring uncertainly from inside shadows. If I do spot a hung-up predator, this provides the queue to switch back to more subtle rodent squeaks and/or activate seductive motion decoys. If this fails to do the trick, I take a solid rest and take the shot as presented.
Don’t become discouraged if only small calling properties are in the offing. If predators are present they can still be called, it just requires a more careful approach and attention to details. This is more challenging predator calling, but also more rewarding.