he hottest trend in Western hunting today has nothing to do with big antlers. Instead, it's something you can do year-round, with no bag limit in most cases. Best of all, private landowners will most likely greet you with open arms, even when they've closed their land to most other types of hunting. I'm talking about hunting predators—critters like coyotes, bobcats and fox.
"There are several reasons for the increased popularity of predator hunting, and coyote hunting in particular," said Ralph Lermayer, editor of Predator Xtreme magazine, a leading authority on varmint hunting. "For one thing, it's been documented that deer and elk, as well as wild turkeys in some areas, suffer a high fawn or poult mortality rate directly related to predators, especially coyotes. In most cases you're allowed to hunt predators 12 months a year, there's lots of public and private land available, and in recent years prime coyote hides have brought a decent price at fur auctions."
If all this sounds as good to you as it does to me, you might want to try your hand at calling predators. Here are 12 advanced tips from Lermayer, a man who's been successfully thinning Western coyote numbers for 4 decades, to start you on the right track.
1. Where legal, using an electronic caller will make you an instant expert. Using the actual recorded sounds of prey species will add instant authenticity and variety to your calling. Remote control models allow you to place the speaker up to 100 yards away, which will give you an advantage, because when predators approach, their attention will be directed toward the source of the sound. Begin with low volume and gradually increase the volume as the stand wears on. Territorial sounds are often effective when predators aren't responding to food-source sounds, or when you're calling in areas that have been heavily hunted. These sounds might include canine pups in distress, coyote vocalizations, and fighting sounds, such as two gray fox having at it. Territorial sounds are particularly effective during the mating season when canines and felines are staking out territories and diligently guarding their boundaries.
2. Always try to take an elevated position with good visibility, but pay careful attention to your back cover so you're not skylined. Keep your movements to a minimum once your calling sequence begins and have your rifle positioned to shoot in the direction you expect the predators to come from. Try to set up with the wind in your face or for a crosswind.
3. Classic rabbit-in-distress or rodent-in-distress calls work well year-round. However, predators are opportunists and will take advantage of whatever they perceive to be an easy meal, and during spring that's often newly born elk and deer fawns. However, you have to be careful when using mule deer fawn-in-distress calls in particular, because you might call in a very angry doe. Believe me, a mule deer doe can and will come looking for you with fire in her eyes!
4. Limit your calling sessions to 15-20 minutes per location for coyotes and fox, and 30-40 minutes where bobcats are prevalent. Unlike coyotes and fox, which usually arrive relatively quickly, bobcats come in slowly and cautiously. The distance you travel between stands is determined by what kinds of animals you're hunting, the weather, the terrain and a host of other factors. In open terrain, where sound carries great distances, you might want to put a mile or more between stands to ensure you are calling to a fresh pair of ears. In hilly or brushy country, where vegetation and breaks in the topography cut the distance that sound will travel, you might need to only move 1/4-mile between setups.
5. For general-purpose Western predator hunting in open country, flat-shooting .22-caliber centerfire rifles work best—cartridges like the .222 Rem., .223 Rem., .22-250 Rem. and .220 Swift. In dense cover, 12 gauge shotguns loaded with buckshot or some of the hot new tungsten No. 2 or No. 4 loads can be deadly out to 50 yards. When hunting with a buddy, one of you should carry a rifle while the other packs a 12 gauge. That way you can cover all potential shot opportunities.
6. If you plan on selling your predator hides, use solid bullets where legal to leave a small exit hole. If not, rapidly expanding soft-point or hollow-point bullets are best.
7. Head-to-toe camouflage is very important, as is choosing a pattern that matches the natural cover—a sage brush pattern in sage brush country, for example. It's also important to remove any "shine" from your gear. This includes gun barrels, belt buckles and other equipment.
8. Landowners can be a good source of hunting information. Before heading out to hunt, ask them if and where they've seen coyotes, fox or bobcats. If you're on your own, remember that predators tend to hang around primary food sources, such as small prey animals like rabbits, squirrels, quail, etc., and that usually means heavy cover near water sources.
9. It should go without saying but bears repeating: You must watch the wind at all times. Coyotes will try to get downwind of your setup and if they smell you, it's over. Keep open shooting lanes downwind.
10. Where legal, decoys can be helpful. Fluttering wings, vibrating rabbits and more are available and work well to add another dimension of believability to your setup. Any calling setup can be enhanced by something as simple as tying a couple of old turkey wings to a branch where approaching predators can see them fluttering in the wind.
11. If you're just getting started in the predator hunting game, there are a number of good instructional DVDs, videos and cassette tapes on the market that will help you learn the basics of hunting and calling predators.
12. Always share the results of your hunts with the landowner. Tell him what you saw and what you shot, and offer to take him along with you if he shows any interest. You never know, it just might open the gate for future hunts on his property.