Backpack Predators: Run, Gun to Success

Predator management should be part of any good whitetail management plan. These weekly tactics, ideas and suggestions from Trapper & Predator Caller can help you with your predator problems on private or leased lands.

By Randy D. Smith

Large acreage units of public and walk-in hunting land are often overlooked by coyote callers because of the difficulty of accessing and retrieving game over long distances. Callers tend to work the boundaries of these units where truck access is relatively easy. After a while, this half-mile deep border corridor doesn’t produce very well and the ground is generally left alone.

This land can be very productive for calling if the hunter is willing to go in deep and work a hunting strategy. Calling large acreages on foot means that the caller has to travel long distances in a relatively exposed condition. Going in deep means that the caller needs to plan on walking in at least a mile farther than most hunters do. A good plan includes finding good calling ground. Consider isolation, elevation, concealment, game travel corridors and access when choosing a prime calling site.

Identify a location

I look for remote spots where hunter traffic is light and wildlife enjoys relative isolation, as well as ground where I can get some elevation advantage.

I like to call from hillsides or hillside cuts where I can look down on a relatively broad plain or open valley. I pick sites that offer a concealment advantage such as a brush pile, rock formation or even tall foliage that will break up my outline. I like to be near wild-game travel corridors leading from grazing or watering sites to good rest areas. Coyotes habitually follow the same trails and will often use them when responding to a call.

None of these steps will do the caller any good unless a well-planned entry and exit route is developed. Exposure during the approach will likely kill any chances of surprising predators. I never move over the top of an open ridge or hill if I can avoid it. I approach my calling sites by following the slopes of hills or even by walking the base of low areas and valleys.

A topographical map can give the caller an idea of how to best work public land. I like to work my way in, calling as I go, during my first exploration of new territory, but I am watchful for future sites where I want to be calling during the first half hour of the day. I like to make my approaches with the wind in my face or at a crossing angle.

Follow a land layout route where connecting valleys or low areas link to common calling points. I like to plan my route so that I can spend an hour or more at a mid-day vantage point and work my way back to prime calling areas toward sundown. I normally call from points at least ¼ to ½ mile apart. Since I normally plan to make my calling efforts last at least half a day, I work out into the center of the area and then work against the wind back to my truck.

Essential gear, supplies

I like to use a fanny pack to carry supplies. I keep my load relatively light, but I take along enough supplies to be certain that I have everything I will need. Carry essential supplies — plenty of water and energy food, a small first aid kit, small calls, extra ammo, a compass or GPS, binoculars and orange marker tape. In my side pockets I carry backup batteries, extra calls, cassettes, small decoys, a sound card case, extra gloves, socks and cold weather facemasks. A skinning knife and plastic trash bag sprayed with insecticide allow me to carry out my coyote hides.

I normally carry at least one electronic caller, and often carry a pair. I carry a disassembled Johnny Stewart Preymaster II in my fanny pack and usually a compact Minaska M1 or Flextone Echo. I have a hand call assortment that includes a howler, loud screamer, medium range screamer and coaxer. If it is breeding season, I also take an open-reed mini-howler or Bitch Talk open reed calls to do chirps, barks, ki-yis and whimpers.

I sometimes take a Feather Dancer decoy for bobcats. It breaks down and fits in my large fanny pack pocket. I usually place it next to or near my remote speaker. I especially like to use this decoy if I am shooting from a fairly exposed position. Decoys tend to concentrate the predator’s attention on the call, so I am less likely to be seen.

Cimarron Hills Hunt

A recent calling effort on the Cimarron Hills Wildlife Management Area north of Woodward, Okla., is a good example of how this style of calling can work. The area covers several thousand acres, and scouting convinced me that it held a high number of coyotes. An access road runs along the entire south border of the property. I watched for sign and glassed the ground from the road two weeks before I planned to make a day calling trip. I planned for an entry point if the wind was coming from the north and another entry point if the prevailing winds were to be from the south.

Because of the open nature of the ground, I chose to leave my shotgun behind and carry a Rock River Arms .223 Coyote Carbine with a variable power 4-12X Bushnell scope. I worked down the base of canyons, moving as quickly and quietly as possible into the prevailing wind. I did not call until I was well past the half-mile marker.

I picked my first call sight over a shallow pond with open banks. I placed a Flextone Echo next to the water no more than 20 yards in front of me and sat up in the shadows of a sharp cut. I opened my calling session with a mouth howler, making two lonely announcement howls. I listened for a response but had none. I then switched to the electronic call, playing a loud jackrabbit distress cry. I allowed it to play without pause for 10 minutes. With no sighting, I added my mouth call — a very loud jackrabbit distress — and combined the two for another 10 minutes. With no sightings, I broke set, retrieved my electronic call and pushed on for another half mile down the same cut.

I set up on my next site overlooking a broad, open valley. I placed my Flextone at the base of a shallow cut as I passed by and worked up that shallow sloping cut to a point where Yucca plants would help break up my outline. I was a bit out of position for the prevailing wind, so I sprayed myself with a scent neutralizer to reduce my scent trail. I called the exact same pattern using the same calls.

The Flextone had played no more than three minutes when I caught movement to my right advancing up the valley toward my call. I adjusted my cross sticks and put my rifle butt to my shoulder while continuing to follow the coyote. When it was within 100 yards, I switched to my scope to monitor the coyote as it came in. At 50 yards, the coyote stopped and suspiciously eyed my call unit. Too late. I put my round in the coyote’s left front shoulder and it went right down. It was the largest song dog I took last season. I estimate that the coyote weighed more than 30 pounds.

I worked on down the valley and called two more sets before calling it a day at 11 a.m. I walked back to the coyote I shot and carried it back to my truck. I’d have liked to have taken more, but I had managed to take a large male in a heavily called area.

Ottawa February snowstorm

Cecil Carder and I called in a heavy, windy, snowstorm later that winter near Ottawa, Kan. It was a miserable day to be out calling in 4-degree weather, an 8-inch snowstorm and more than 20-mile-per-hour winds, but those were the days we had for a Knight & Hale promotional hunt to test new mouth calls. We used the same backpack in strategy, following the low, wooded ground working into the wind, going out and working crosswind, coming back in a broad, circling arch. Because of the high winds, we called every hundred yards or so when favorable terrain and shooting opportunities presented themselves.

We used the Flextone, playing a loud cottontail distress call, and I backed it up using a new Knight & Hale loud cottontail distress call in unison. I always hung my Flextone at least 4 feet off the ground to try to get as much range as possible. I always started my call sequence with some howls. We shook loose some coyotes, but the wind and terrain made it difficult to take any shots. Still, if the weather had cooperated just a bit, I’m sure we would have connected on at least two using this strategy.

Our partner team of Mike Mattley and Bryce Townsley managed to take two that day using the same strategies. I consoled Cecil. Just because we didn’t get any coyotes didn’t mean that we didn’t do things right. We had some pretty severe conditions against us that day. Frankly, I was pleased that we had any responses at all.

It pays off

Run-and-gun backpack calling works very well in broken, hilly and partially wooded terrain. It doesn’t work very well if the caller has to cover large stretches of open ground between sets. As long as the caller can remain hidden when moving from one site to the next and get back into country seldom called by others, this strategy will pay off when traditional close-to-the-truck calling will usually fail.

Randy Smith runs and guns in central Kansas and beyond.

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