January 28, 2021
Following the close of most big game, upland and waterfowl seasons hunters are left with few choices of game which we can pursue. Sure, we can go on a ranch hunt, travel overseas, or just wait it out until turkey season begins but it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you hunt big game, upland, waterfowl or small game, the simple fact that you are a hunter means that you have a vested interest in maintaining predator populations in your area.
If you are a deer hunter then fawn recruitment is huge for the future of your pursuit. For upland bird and waterfowlers the future is all about nesting success. Most waterfowl and upland birds’ nest on the ground which means they are very susceptible to predation.In the US we lose roughly 4,000 acres per day to urbanization which means less suitable habitat for both the game species we pursue and the predators which prey upon them. Small, isolated pockets of habitat make it much easier for predators to find their prey. As hunters we have little control over habitat changes and habitat loss on a large scale, but we do have some amount of control on how many predators are on our local landscape. With the collapse of fur markets over the last three decades, fur trappers are becoming scarce and hunters are taking it upon themselves to pursue these local predators with firearm in hand.And aside from the ecological benefits of maintaining predator populations, it is just a boatload of fun going afield with a call and having coyotes, bobcats and fox respond. Anytime we interact with an animal as part of the hunt it makes for some of the most excitement one could have afield. If you’ve never tried it you should, because predator calling surely joins the ranks with turkey and elk hunting when it comes to animals’ response.
In some state’s predator hunting is open year-round but for many the season revolves around the fur and when the animal’s coats become prime. Furs generally becomes prime in mid-fall and remains prime through the dead of winter. Furs become prime due to photoperiodism which means the thick undercoats come in due to the amount of daylight. While locker room talk about killing predators may seem like the time of year doesn’t matter and the only good coyote is a dead one, the fact is that the vast majority of hunters don’t senselessly kill animals. They only do so when there is some form of utilization. In this case – the fur.Predator hunting during the winter is also when hunters have the most success. During the winter months there is far less available food for predators while they simultaneously need more energy to stay warm. This means during the winter a hungry coyote is far more likely to respond to a rabbit in distress call versus in the summer when the hedgerows are full of baby bunnies and ground nesting birds. Aside from the lack of food, winter is when predators breed. January through February is essentially the “coyote rut” and both males and females can be very responsive to the calls of intruders or possible mates.
As mentioned above, predator hunting is very interactive which means for the most part we are calling and the animals are responding. Whether you hunt during daylight hours or in the middle of the night with lights and thermal optics, calling is almost always an integral part of the hunt.Electronic calls are extremely popular with predator hunters as they can make dozens of different sounds and be operated remotely, allowing the hunter to take cover downwind in a place of good visibility.Manual calls (i.e. mouth calls) have been used for decades and can prove extremely effective. These calls vary in shape and size and require the hunter to blow through the call making distress sounds or the sounds of other coyotes.Baiting is another option for hunters which generally involves the use of roadkill (the bait) and some patient hours waiting for a hungry predator to come looking for an easy meal. Baiting is extremely effective and can be used in conjunction with calls. *Be sure to look at local regulations regarding the baiting of predators.The last method of predator hunting is to use dogs. A few well-trained dogs can be very effective at running down predators, allowing the hunters to utilize GPS collars to find and dispatch the game.Regardless of which method we choose to hunt predators, we must pick the right firearm and caliber to give us the best opportunity for harvest and the best odds for maintaining a useable/saleable pelt. Flat shooting calibers with lighter grain ammunition that don’t make big holes in the fur rule the ranks of the predator hunting world.
Jesse St. Andre - Avid Hunter & Author