The ridge top lay only 20 yards above after my stiff climb to reach it. I quickly lurched over the last few yards, topping out to kneel and suck in a lung full of much-needed air. The expansive view was exactly what I’d hoped for — a big canyon running far downhill. It was the kind of setup I just love for mountain coyotes.
By Art Isbert
Trapper & Predator Caller Magazine
I have lived in or next to mountain country all of my life. By mountains, I should point out that I don’t mean towering peaks covered in last winter’s snow even in the middle of summer. California’s Coast Range Mountains are a perfect example. They range from 2,500 to 3,500 in feet in elevation, but they are mountains nonetheless.
Because I have also spent a lifetime hunting these elevated lands in and out of state for mule deer, black- tailed deer and elk, I’ve also done a whole lot of predator hunting in these same elevated lands for coyotes, foxes and bobcats. The landscape alone makes predator hunting a different game in timing, tactics and setups. It’s the lay of the land that dictates all the most important choices hunters must make.
I’ve also done a lot of predator hunting in more traditional country, such as thick brush lands and Western deserts. Here seasons, elevation and weather play a far less important role than in high country.
HOW TO HUNT HIGH
One of the most important factors to success in mountain hunting predators is elevation and where you choose to make your calling stands. By this I mean picking setups in such sweet spots as saddles, ridges and even game trails predators travel on.
The advantages are many. For starters, these spots generally have an expansive view of open country around and below. That means the caller can pick up a moving coyote coming up while it’s still far out, change calling tone or volume as it climbs closer, and position himself for an accurate shot when the moment arrives — all big pluses.
Another lovely feature is your calls will get out much farther, cover more prospective ground and reach more predators than you would in lower elevations with brush or timber. Calling from high points often means you’re calling not into just one spot but also down two or three canyons, basins or little pocket flats below all at the same time. Because so much ground can be covered, I like to make my mountains stands last for at least 25 minutes before moving. Predators have to climb to reach you and often can come from a long way. Give them time to get there.
It’s equally wise to use high-volume calls, whether you choose the mouth-blown variety or electronic callers. You want your calls to ring out into canyons, dark timber and lower trails as far as possible. Because of the terrain high-country stands are set in, you might not make as many stands as you would in easier flatlands. Up here, you want your stands to cover as much ground as possible. Far-reaching calls fill that bill while giving you the best chance to bring in an animal.
WHEN TO CLIMB
Predator hunting can be pursued at any time of the year in mountain country just as you would anywhere else. However, there are differences worth taking note of, especially where coyotes are concerned. The game that large and small predators hunt and kill, such as rabbits, deer and even elk, are not found in every canyon and basin no matter how good they look. Mountain big game is always spread out, often over considerable distances.
That carries over into predator hunting, too, and it means timing can play a big role in your success. The largest predator we’re talking about in this context is the coyote. A single coyote would be hard pressed to take down a deer by itself. Sure, over deep snows, two or three coyotes might take down a deer. Coyotes typically concentrate their hunting on the young fawns of deer and elk born in early spring though, are they far more successful.
Coyotes know does and cows like to choose grassy meadows, basins and little flats off top country to give birth to their young. These are exactly the places a predator hunter also should look for to set up and work in. Two simple additions give that hunter an even greater edge. On stand a regular screaming rabbit call can be used as an attention-getter for the first half of your calling cycle; then it’s wise to switch to a fawn bleating call. The addition of a full-sized fawn decoy set out in the open while calling is a deadly combination few coyotes can resist.
A second seasonal high point comes after the first snows have fallen. The deeper these snows pile up, the longer predators must stay out each day to hunt and the farther they must travel to fill their stomachs. Three or four inches of snow might not affect a coyote’s hunt- ing schedule, but a foot or more certainly does. It can also begin to move does and fawns down out of higher country to the snowline where temperatures and life is easier. The predator hunter should work this dividing line elevation reading tracks and sign for current use. When you find it, make your stands there.
So far we’ve discussed predator hunting in mountain country modest and tall. Many of these same points can also apply nicely to other elevated areas across the nation not considered mountains at all.
In the vast prairie land of middle America, rolling grassy plains are dotted with rough buttes, ridges and coulees rising above surrounding country. Coyotes, foxes and bobcats live, hunt and raise their young in these places. All three hunt in surrounding grasslands for mice, rabbits, ground squirrels and birds but return to these islands of higher cover. Making your stands on long points, rocky outcrops and timbered ridges gives you a good view of what’s around and what might be coming in below. These places are little islands of life — perfect ambush points to call from.
In the Far West and Southwest, true desert conditions change hunting markedly. Here sagebrush and mesquite flats can run unbroken for miles below towering limestone cliffs dotted with crevices and caves. This is some of the finest bobcat country found any- where, along with coyotes aplenty. Bobcats love to do their hunting along the rocky scree at the base of high cliffs where they den in caves. They hunt day and night. It’s not unusual when calling in a jumble of big boulders to suddenly find a ’cat only yards away that has approached on padded feet. I’ve never had a bobcat come in at a run as coyotes often do. Their feline nature simply does not allow it. They’re stalkers.
Because bobcats can birth their young at any time of the year, there is no spring high point when they must hunt more or longer to feed young kits as coyotes must do when their young are dropped in spring. That means hunting in this great, silent land for ’cats is as good in the mid-summer as late winter.
Coyotes often den along cliff bottoms or on the side of canyon slopes, but they do most of their hunting in wide-open brush flats. Because winter snows are non- existent or very light even on the highest rims, weather does not play as big a role as it does in true high country mountains. However, one feature of this land does, and that is water of any kind regardless of how small. Be it a seep, spring or rainwater pond, water draws in all kinds of life, large and small. Any time you find water, you’ve found the perfect spot to make your stand in. These tiny oases are the key to great predator hunt- ing in arid or desert lands.
On the eastern side of the continent in the South and Northeast, long famous mountain chains rise in the Deep South and run all the way north to the Canadian border. In recent years the coyote has moved in, establishing itself to become the most numerous predator of all, as it has successfully done in so many other places across the nation. The same timing, tactics and setups described earlier for Western high country apply here equally as well.
Elevation, wherever you find it, is the key to successful predator hunting from coast to coast and border to border. Even better, you can find it just about every place you look.
This story originally appeared in the DDH sister publication Trapper & Predator Caller and is published to help deer hunters interested in predator hunting and management.
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