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by Anthony Busico
For many people, predator hunting starts as a half-hearted trial or simply a way to extend the big game hunting season, yet it quickly becomes a passion. The challenge of matching wits with an animal that hunts its prey is addictive for some, and I believe it sharpens your skills for other types of hunting as well. The benefits of keeping predator populations in check cannot be ignored either. Whether you are an avid wingshooter, turkey hunter, or even big game hunter, helping to manage the density of coyotes, bobcats, raccoon, and other predators should be a concern. But getting into predator hunting can be a daunting task. Hunting magazines and websites are full of guys with custom long-range rifles and expensive calling systems. You don’t necessarily need a lot of extra gear to get into predator hunting. In fact, you probably already have the essential gear to get started. Coyotes are the most common type of predator found in the US, so much of the information found here is related to chasing them. Depending on your location and the game laws in your state, you may get to pursue other predators such as bobcats, or even badger like the one pictured near the end of the article.
Predator hunting can be done in most states with a rifle, shotgun, and bow. I live in western Utah so my first preference is a rifle. While a .22 or .22 Magnum can be enough to take down a predator, I don’t like to run the risk of wounding an animal. I recommend your trusty deer rifle for coyote hunting. My first ‘yote was with a 30-06 shooting a 165-grain soft point deer round. It gets the job done without a problem. However, after years of predator hunting when I really caught the bug, I built a .223 rifle specifically for predator hunting. Like I said - it's addicting. The .223 caliber is the perfect round for predators in my opinion. I also carry a shotgun on most hunts. It’s a lot of extra weight, but you know you’ve done something right when you get a coyote into shotgun range. Hunting with a shotgun should appeal to the duck hunters out there as well. I carry BB shot through 00 buckshot, depending on what I have available. Slug ammunition and specialized coyote rounds such as Dead Coyote!® by HEVI-SHOT® work well if you want to go that route. A good bi-pod or set of shooting sticks is invaluable no matter what type of gun you choose to take. Remaining as still as possible during long sits can be tough, and you will tire out quickly if you just try to prop the gun on your knee.
As for archery hunting, mechanical broadheads are a good idea. If you bow hunt for deer or other big game, the broadheads you normally use for those hunts will work fine. Keep in mind that a coyote’s body and vitals are pretty small, so you must be proficient with your equipment if you choose to hunt with a bow.
You probably already have most of the clothing you need, especially if you are a deer hunter. Predator hunting requires long sits of 15 minutes to an hour in one spot with minimal motion, so comfort is key. I’ve taken coyotes wearing blue jeans, but why hinder yourself when there are more comfortable options out there. It goes without saying that you should wear a camo pattern that reasonably matches the surroundings. A dark tree bark pattern will stick out like a sore thumb in light-colored sage grass.
You will never beat a coyote or bobcat’s nose, but eliminate as much human scent as possible by washing your clothes in scent-free detergent and keeping your outerwear in a scent-proof bag or storage box until you get to the field. As with big game hunting, setting up downwind of where you expect the animals to be is critical.
Last but not least, a good seat cushion or low-profile hunting chair is a life saver on some hunts. I know several guys that use their turkey vest on predator hunts because of the comfortable seat cushion and extra pockets.
There are numerous options when it comes to predator calls. Personally, I prefer to use handheld calls because it adds to the challenge of the hunt. Handheld calls allow me to vary the length, volume, and tone of my calling sequences better than an electronic call. My top choices are the Ultimate Coaxer and the 2Fur calls. The variety of sounds produced between these two calls more than get the job done for me. There are 3 main moods to bring in a coyote: hungry, curious, and angry. I can cover all three of these with my handheld calls.
Don’t get me wrong – electronic callers can be effective and they definitely have their purpose. They can be programmed with lots of different sounds and they can get really loud. I just prefer to use handheld calls because I already carry enough gear and I like to stay mobile without having to retrieve and relocate the speaker unit. Plus, I enjoy the art and skill of doing the calling myself versus letting a machine do it for me.
Choosing A Hunting Location
The coyotes do this for us - we hunt areas they already use. Again, if you hunt deer, turkey, or waterfowl, you’ve probably already seen sign or have a general idea where there may be a huntable population. There are several of ways to find coyotes. Finding their tracks and droppings in an area is #1 on my list. I also like howling from a quiet roadway just after dark and listening where the return howls are coming from. After locating the ‘yotes, you have a great starting point on where to hunt the next day. If you know coyotes are in a specific block of woods or in a sparse brushy area, don’t go directly to that spot to hunt and start calling. Find a location downwind from that area you can sneak into and make them come to you.
Most landowners are glad for you to do some predator control on their property. We'll talk in a future blog post about getting permission to hunt private land and etiquette for hunting on someone else's property.
As you can see, getting started in the world of predator hunting does not take a lot of extra hunting gear beyond what you already have. It's a great way to get more time outdoors when most other hunting seasons are closed, and the skills required to be a successful predator hunter will certainly make you a better deer, elk, or turkey hunter. As with any new hunting venture, check your state game laws before hitting the field to be absolutely sure of season dates, bag limits, and firearm regulations.