Off-Season Scouting Tips for Great Predator Hunting

Predator hunting is fun and part of a good deer management plan.

Predator hunting is fun and part of a good deer management plan.

You can debate whether there’s a real off season for the diehard predator hunter. You can’t debate that there’s only one fur season. Regardless if you hound the predators in the warm-weather season you should put any spare time into planning for future fur hunts. Get your hunt preparation out of the way now so you pursue fur when guard hair glistens.

By Mark Kayser
Trapper & Predator Caller Magazine

Summer Vacation, Fall Fur
Who doesn’t look forward to some summer fun on a vacation full of water, ball games and … predator scouting? Yes, you heard right. With some creative planning you can have your summer vacation fun and scout for predators in a new location. You simply have to plan your travels through a new area you’ve had on your radar with predator potential.

First, make a hit list of all of dream hunt locations. After putting that list together see if you can tie in a family vacation destination along the route or even in the same end vicinity. For instance, if you feel like Grand Canyon National Park is on the top 10 you will be within a day’s drive of millions of acres worthy of coyote, bobcat, mountain lion and black bear potential. Midwestern theme parks, Major League Baseball games, any waterfront resort and even mega shopping centers have potential to be the basis for a great family vacation. Many are within minutes of great predator hunting.

After you dial in an area it’s time to dial in your family. Killing two birds with one stone has its merits. You can scout and plan for a future hunt, plus bring the family along for summertime fun. If you’re thinking “why combine the two?” the answer is simple. It saves your vacation time for calling time later when predator furs are prime.

On past vacations I’ve worked in scouting and planning in the early morning hours as family members slowly readied for a day of vacation. I have also been known to take evening drives after dinner to look over new country, listen for evening coyote serenades and even check for access. You may lose some sleep compared to the rest of the family, but you’ll be miles ahead when you return with ammo in hand. And you’ll save more vacation time for hunting!

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Hello, Mr. Green Jeans
Nowadays there’s no real downtime for farmers and ranchers, but the longer summer days mean that busy landowners may not be as irritated by a drop-in visit. Reacquaint with landowners to ensure you have access when fur season arrives.

Whether you’re attempting to acquire new hunting property or hunting a traditional favorite, stop by and visit with deed holders. It’s always a good idea to let your past landowner friends know of your future hunting intentions. Never take permission access as a forever contract. And if you plan on landing a new hunting location you’ll want the landowners to get to know you so they feel comfortable in their decision to give you the key to the gate.

Loss of hunting land is the number one reason hunters become dissatisfied with hunting according to past studies completed by Responsive Management, an internationally recognized research firm. That isn’t breaking news for most of you. Western predator hunters have millions of acres of national forests and expansive parcels of Bureau of Land Management to hunt. But in many areas of the country you’ll be obliged to request access by knocking on doors and building landowner relationships. This will take knocking on more than one door so spend a few summer days visiting landowners in your predator hunting area to ensure places to call when the frost coats the pumpkin patch.

Would You Take a Survey?
If you’re out and about looking at far-away hunting locations or meeting with local landowners be sure to survey the current crop of predators. Listening for vocal coyotes is a no brainer as the sun sets, but looking for clues on tight-lipped predators like cats, fox and bears require intensive snooping.

Mark Kayser is a diehard hunter who pursues deer and predators whenever possible. By doing the latter, he helps deer populations and also learns more about the land for winter whitetail hunting.

Mark Kayser is a diehard hunter who pursues deer and predators whenever possible. By doing the latter, he helps deer populations and also learns more about the land for winter whitetail hunting.

As I wrote earlier, any dawn or dusk scouting should include brief stops to listen for the serenade of coyotes. To save time, use your howler or electronic caller to incite a yapping response. Depending on the time of your warm-weather outing, coyote parents will respond with a territorial declaration and later pups will answer simply to exercise their lungpower.

Coyotes don’t always answer a howl and other predators simply don’t communicate in that manner. If you face these difficulties you’ll have to be a sleuth. Begin by locating dusty trails, farm roads and muddy riverbanks, and search for tracks. You also need to educate your- self on scat identification so you can determine what critter is leaving droppings along these same routes.

In drier environments the best place to scout are water sources since predators require a daily fill just like deer and livestock living in the neighborhood. And if you do make a solid landowner connection, stop by and ask landowners or hired help on what they’ve seen. Even if the person doesn’t hunt predators they likely have seen coyotes or fox pouncing in a nearby pasture, or bobcats slinking along fence lines. Their sightings can reaffirm your hunches or possibly lead you to a future predator-calling site.

One summer evening I stopped to put my Nikons to use while snooping in a valley lush with alfalfa. As the sun slipped away I remembered I had my Hunter’s Specialties Gallows caller (www.hunter- spec.com) behind the seat of the truck. Pushing the right buttons I ripped a howl to see if a coyote would answer since the landowner said I could also hunt coyotes. All along the winding valley coyotes lit up and I marked that location for a winter return.

Become a Sniper
Warm weather spurs chores like roofing your house, fertilizing the lawn and painting your garden shed. It should also include shooting practice, especially if you could be facing long shots on up- coming hunts.

Whether you're hunting deer or predators, practice the same techniques and get accustomed to your rifle. Becoming proficient at shooting long range targets can help with wily predators, and deer during your hunting seasons, too.

Whether you’re hunting deer or predators, practice the same techniques and get accustomed to your rifle. Becoming proficient at shooting long range targets can help with wily predators, and deer during your hunting seasons, too.

Long-range shooting requires good form, but it’s mainly common sense knowledge. For starters, you need to have a firm foundation from which to shoot. Since you probably won’t want to be bogged down carrying a portable bench, research and then invest in shooting sticks, or bipods. Once the rifle is planted and the target is solidly acquired through the scope, you need to make sure you use consistent form while holding the rifle and consistent form while depressing the trigger.

Every time you shoot make sure you grip the rifle the same, keep the same distance from the scope and depress the trigger in the same manner. Controlled breathing also can tighten your groups at extreme distances. Many seasoned long-range shooters take several large breaths and hold their breath to calm their body perfectly and shoot between breaths. Others relax themselves by studying the target.

Practice and repetition will go a long way in insuring your form is perfected, but to insure even more accuracy you may want to experiment with new riflescope designs like Nikon’s new Advanced BDC Reticle that when teamed with their Distant Lock technology creates a first focal plane world where aiming points remain the same regardless of the magnification setting.

Another inexpensive alternative to re- search for perfection is ammunition. See if a new recipe makes your rifle even more accurate. While testing Hornady’s new Precision Hunter ammunition (www. hornady.com) with the ELD-X bullet, my 3-shot groups tightened and routinely measure 1⁄2-inch M.O.A. from Bergara B-14 Hunter in 6.5 Creedmoor (www. bergarausa.com). The ELD-X bullet is designed around a heat-resistant tip that withstands change under extreme velocities to maximize accuracy at extended distances. Innovative bullet design also allows the ELD-X to expand under high or low velocities for maximum terminal damage at short, and long range.

Test Trip
Up until now your warm-weather efforts have all been for planning. If all of this preparation is keeping you awake at night with anxiety there’s nothing to say you can’t take a test run to give your gear and scouting a trial run. Pelts may not be prime, but opportunities for successful setups are beyond prime, especially if coyotes are your game. Young of the year pups and dominant adults respond speedily to a variety of calls. Plus, sum- mer calling success can be just the motivation to spur beginner callers into the enjoyment of a lifelong sport if you allow kids and spouses to participate.

Summer offers the best opportunity for predator management if you have an end game of helping all wildlife. Game managers hoping to increase both small and big game numbers can use summer predator hunting opportunities to put a dent in the predator population by keying in on coyotes all-too-eager to reach the dinner bell.

Predators, particularly coyotes, do affect game populations. There’s no question the coyote is one of nature’s most efficient predators and numerous studies validate that they prey on fawns al- most exclusively in early summer. If you are trying to manage for a higher deer density on a particular property, a few summer hunts are a good idea. You can confirm your scouting, check your rifle accuracy and excite a new hunter. Plus, you may save a fawn for a future deer hunt down the road.

Warm months have plenty going on without adding in another series of chores, but if you want to find success when the fur is prime you can’t ignore this window for planning. If may be the off season for prime furs, but it’s prime- time for predator planning.

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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