Homework Pays Off For Predators

When you’re pursuing predators for fun or as part of your deer management plan, be sure to do your scouting and preparation homework prior to the hunt for better chances at success. These weekly tactics, ideas and suggestions from Trapper & Predator Caller can help with your predator problems on private or leased lands.

By Al Morris

If you want to call more coyotes, bobcats or foxes, you better do your homework. I know, I hated homework too. But this type of homework you can, in time, come to love. After all, we’re talking about finding more predators to hunt.

Do your scouting and preparation to increase your chances of successful predator hunting as part of your deer management plan.

The bottom line is you can’t call what isn’t there. You probably apply the same concept to fishing. You know you won’t catch channel catfish in a high mountain lake, and you can’t catch brook trout in Lake Texoma. When you target a specific type of fish, you target a specific type of water.

How do you as a predator hunter know you have animals to hunt and call on the places you have access to?

Spot Coyotes

The best way to find fur is visually, of course. Where in your travels have you seen coyotes, foxes and ’cats? What farm, what piece of property, which BLM land or state property did you see a bobcat or coyote while hunting pheasants, deer or some other game?

This data can make a true wolfer’s head swoon. Seeing these predators gives you immediate info: location in the parcel, time of day and what it was doing. Was it mousing, was it cruising, did you spook it, did it care when it saw you? That real-time 411 is critical to learning an area, old or new.

A few years ago, I was scouting for the World Coyote Calling Championship with my hunting partner Garvin Young. We were cruising along some really good-looking BLM land, looking for good coyote country, when right next to the road, 30 feet away, stood four coyotes. We drove right by them as they waited, looking for any signs of the truck slowing down. We kept right on rolling as they went back to doing whatever coyotes do at 10 in the morning.

We marked the place and even decided after more scouting to start our World Championship at that spot. It turned out to be a very good decision. I’ll tell you about it later, though.

Find Sign

After seeing a few coyotes in the area, the next thing to do is to get out and physically walk around to look for sign. I look for tracks, especially dirt spots in roads that leave pugmarks behind as evidence.

Coyotes travel roads for several reasons, but out West I think the No. 1 reason is lack of cactus or burrs. They have learned they get a lot fewer stickers in their paws if they walk or run the roads. Tires are great for sucking up all the things a coyote does not want in its feet. Roads are usually clear or partially clear of brush and allow easy movement through what would otherwise be a jungle. I have been calling areas of heavy brush or cactus and have seen coyotes a mile away go a half-mile around to get to the road I was calling on just to get to the ruse I created. I love roads. They are the true travel arteries for coyotes.

Other arterial areas include gullies, washes or arroyos. These usually naturally occurring places seem to be focal points to predators. I spend a lot, and I mean a lot, of time kicking in and out of these depressed territories. I look for tracks in these areas, but I like finding scat even more. A log or two can reveal more than you can ever imagine. The No. 1 thing to note, of course, is the main item in the coyote’s diet. In some places it is mice, sometimes it’s rabbits and, in other locales, it’s juniper berries.

In one place we hunted, the coyotes’ main dish was carrots. Yep, carrots. We were cruising along at 70 mph, and Garv hollered at me, “Did you see that?”

“See what?” I asked.

“The bright orange poop on the white line,” he replied.

I got the old truck slowed down and saw that nobody was behind me, so I backed up to the most interesting coyote evidence I had ever seen. Right in the middle of the white line — and I mean right in the middle — was this bright orange log. We scratched our heads and kept driving down the road, noticing around the bend the fields on both sides.

Of course, not knowing what was planted, we stopped for gas in the only station in a very small town. A lady laughed when she overheard us talking about orange poop. Her dad had a huge crop of carrots planted and hated the damn coyotes that were digging them up and eating them. We had a good day of calling right next to those carrot fields. We didn’t have a carrot call, but a nice cottontail rendition did the trick of turning herbivores back to carnivores.

Howl Away

I love to fish, so I’m going to go back to another fishing analogy. When chasing big lake trout out West, my best tactic is to use a fish finder to see those big ol’ arches down 120 feet just hanging out. I’ll drop my jig on them and watch their response on the finder. Many times, I see the fish rise off the bottom and aggressively hunt my jig down. It’s really cool. You can do the same kind of thing by howling for coyotes.

For every day I actually hunt coyotes, I spend three days scouting. Did you get that? It is a 3-1 ratio. Some might call it extreme scouting; I call it insurance. Whether I’m calling in a contest or trying to make a good stretch of video, I scout more than I hunt. I believe it is truly crucial to my success. I have learned during the past 30-plus years of calling that the more I know, the more fur I’ll pile up in the back of the truck.

After I have seen coyotes, their tracks, their travel corridors, the loafing areas, and the hills that allow a coyote to sun and get out of the wind, I start howling the area. I have howled coyotes intensively since 1997, and I’m sure that if I had a dollar bill for every time I howled, I would be a millionaire a couple of times over.

Howling is simple yet very time consuming. You can start a couple of hours before the sun goes down and continue until a few hours after the sun comes up, but what you learn in the dark can make the whole area shine or get scratched off the list completely.

I usually start after the last stand of the day; that time when the shadows take over and our human eyes no longer rule. I think that’s why coyotes are so vocal right after the sun goes down. They are proclaiming their dominance over the night, almost laughing at us and the fact that the dark won’t slow them down on their journey to find a meal. It has been proven that coyotes have 11 to 13 vocalizations they use to communicate with other coyotes. We humans try to discern the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between them. But when I use vocalizations to locate coyotes, I only use a few sounds.

I have found four to five sounds on my FOXPRO that will usually get most coyotes to reveal their location. Coyote locator, coyote group yip howl, coyote pair and coyote pair yip howls will get most coyotes responding in short order. I pull up to an area that has shown promise, choose one of these sounds and play a series of 60 to 90 seconds, and then shut it off and listen. I have howled coyotes in this fashion from California to Alabama, up to Pennsylvania and most points in between, and I can tell you this for fact: If you play these sounds at night, and one of them won’t work, a good ol’-fashioned siren will work almost as effectively.

I will howl a series, wait, try again after a minute or two and wait again. After five minutes, I drive another two to three miles and do it again. If I hear coyotes, I count the starts, those that begin howling — one can sound like two, two can sound like four, four or more can sound like a whole lot of coyotes out there. I will howl all night long some times.

I won’t pin my hopes and dreams of a contest or a videoing session on an area that just looks good. I will know the area is good with a lot of coyotes calling this stretch of real estate home. It’s just like using the fish finder to find lake trout, only I hear the coyotes instead of see them, and instead of jigs, I use a FOXPRO sound to collect them when it gets light.

The Championship

After rolling by the coyotes along the road at the BLM land, Garv and I went up the road a little way and stopped to get out. In the first wash, I cut several coyote tracks and a big bobcat track as well. A lot of sign pointed to a healthy population of predators. We hung out till dark, napping and looking forward to what the night would bring.

As the sun disappeared, our anticipation grew. We drove back to the general area where we had seen the coyotes. It was 30 minutes past light. I put the FOXPRO on the roof of the truck and played coyote locator. I had not even had time to turn off the unit when I could hear two on my side.

Garvin grinned as he whispered, “Holy crap, dude, listen.”

Out his side of the truck came what sounded like a whole army of coyotes letting the world know that this was their time and their place. We smiled as we went two miles down the road and unrolled the windows. To our surprise, three more coyotes were howling at their buddies up the road. We repeated this process for 16 miles. At every stop, we heard a coyote or had one answer back.

I will never forget the next morning as long as I live. It was cold; the kind of cold that makes your nose stick to itself when you breath. The hoarfrost was as thick as I had ever seen — 2 to 3 inches. The sagebrush looked like perfectly flocked trees ready for Christmas.

I stepped out of the truck and walked 150 yards to the first stand. My location was exactly 75 yards directly downwind of Garvin’s locale. He gave me the thumbs up and I thought to myself, “Heck, yes. Push the dang button. I’m freezing over here.”

He played Lightning Jack on a low volume for 10 seconds and turned it off. Surprised that the sound was muted so quickly, I looked his way just in time to see him raise his shotgun and boom coyote No. 1.

Garvin played a little coyote pup distress on the FOXPRO and then went back to Lightning Jack, when out of my peripheral vision came a big coyote from directly behind Garv. The coyote smelled Garvin and changed its direction right to me. A 3-inch load of Hornady buckshot gave us coyote No. 2.

After a little more pup distress and some Lightning Jack, a third coyote showed up at 100 yards. Soon, we had a triple on the first stand. The next couple of stands produced as well, and we ended up with 12 coyotes that day. I could not believe how well our scouting had paid off.

Game Changer

This process has changed the predator calling game for me. I believe it’s the main reason Garvin and I have stayed in the top 10 of the World Championship for 14 straight years. It is certainly the reason I have made so many videos.

Obviously you can’t howl bobcats or foxes, but now I spend more time locating their core home areas — brush piles for ’cats and woodlots adjacent to crop fields for foxes.

Honestly, I believe if you spend more time scouting your predators before hunting them, your predator sightings and fur checks should grow in proportion.

Al Morris of Utah is a member of the FOXPRO Pro Staff.