"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Trapper's Guide for New Predator Hunters

Predator hunting has not taken off in my parts the way it has in other regions of the country. It should. In the South and East - where in the last 20 years has experienced a coyote explosion - the terrain is varied, from old timber to thick swamps where sound does not flow as freely. This makes predator calling challenging. Woodsmanship is more important than calling skill or strategy.

Knowing this, I asked CJ Williams of the blog Trapping Supplies Review to give us a trapper’s insight on how new predator hunters can get closer to the game they seek.

He turned on this and belted it out of the park!

Trappers and hunters are the closest of kinfolk - trappers being the finest of woodsmen, in my opinion - and I appreciate him sharing his knowledge. Be sure to visit his blog regularly.

*****PLEASE NOTE*****Check local game laws on seasons and bag limits. In Florida, coyote may be hunted year-round; bobcats from December 1st – March 1st, and there is NO open season for red or gray fox.

I'm among a dwindling few who find trapping to be the greatest outdoor challenge. Trapping forces you to be a student of your prey, to intimately know their habits and habitat and, ultimately, to get that animal to put its foot where you want him to put it.

The best woodsmen I know are trappers. Heck, the best woodsmen ever - the Mountain Men - were trappers. If you ask this modern Mountain Man Wanna-Be the best way to hang a coyote's pelt in your fur shed, I'd recommend the foothold trap as the tool of choice.

However, trapping is not ideal in all circumstances. Severe weather conditions can give the best trapper a headache, and setting traps in areas where there may be domestic animals is just asking for a headache. This is why I got into predator hunting a few years back. I started out just using my knowledge gained from the trapline and learned a few other basic things along the way. I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I've had enough success to pass on a few basic words of advice.

Predator hunting has exploded in popularity over the last few years, and with that explosion has come an army of experts writing on the subject in countless books and magazines. Some have it down to a science, taking into account every variable, every circumstance and every scenario. As for me, I like to keep things simple. I'm a firm believer in the KISS principle....Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Rule #1 is get out there and do it. Seriously. If you try to learn every trick in the book, and think you will be unsuccessful unless you do, you'll never really enjoy this sport. Even if you just have a gun, a caller, some camo and what little you'll learn in this article it's enough to get started. Invest some time. One of my very first hunts (alone and with little knowledge) was rewarded with a beautiful gray fox. That experience taught me that it's not quite as hard to do as some make it out to be.

Secondly, I'd suggest you put in some good time scouting for sign. Just take long walks during the day looking for trails, scat and tracks. Use Google Earth to look for natural travel routes and pinch points in the terrain you plan to hunt. Take note of outstanding features, especially the high points of the landscape, and keep them in mind for places to set up and call. A commanding view is always desirable.

I like to hunt right at sunrise and just before sunset with natural light. I've had the most success in the early morning hours, so I like to be at my first stand while it is still dark. Plan your route ahead of time and get in as quickly and quietly as you can.

One thing to remember is that most predators will approach your call from downwind. Pay attention to wind direction, and if you are hunting alone keep the wind at your back and your eyes peeled downwind. If you have an electronic caller with a remote control, place your caller downwind. If you hunt with a partner, station the caller upwind and the primary shooter downwind. That way when they circle around they'll circle right into the shooter's lap. The downwind approach is just a general rule. I've seen a few predators approach at high speed on the shortest path possible! It depends how hungry they are and how much hunting pressure they've been subject to.

The areas I hunt in Southwestern PA have pretty dense cover, so I use a shotgun most often. For more open areas I use a .17 HMR or .22 Mag. You will hear many guys say this is not enough gun to anchor a coyote, but I disagree wholeheartedly. The larger centerfires some guys use may be needed out West for 500 yard shots, but not in my neck of the woods. The bigger calibers cause too much pelt damage.

Full camo and strict movement discipline are a must, especially when hunting in close quarters in wooded areas. Try to break up your outline with the surrounding cover, and control your scent as much as possible. I've used cover scents such as coyote urine and skunk essence, and I believe there is some benefit to this tactic. I know from the trapline that predators are very curious when they smell skunk essence, and I use it as a long distance call lure with success while trapping when the weather is coldest.

Speaking of weather, my experience has been consistent. The colder and nastier the weather, the better it is for predator hunting. I believe in the coldest stretches of January and February they are hungry and just a little more desperate. I generally stay on a stand for about a half hour before moving on.

One thing I learned the hard way: always be ready for action. You may only have a second to shoot. If you let your guard down for a moment, that's exactly when a predator will come into view. Murphy's Law applies in the woods more than anywhere else.

As for calls, I use the simple Johnny Stewart electronic caller and find it perfectly adequate. It costs about $100 and has a wide selection of sounds available for it. It is not remote, but it has enough cord to set it up at a respectable distance from your stand location. Mouth calls are handy, and I use them on occasion, but I find the electronic caller is much better if you are not well practiced with the mouth calls. There are other high-tech, expensive, remote callers on the market, such as FoxPro, but I never felt compelled to drop $600 on one when my humble Johnny Stewart works quite well.

Lastly, never get discouraged. You will connect with a coyote soon enough if they are in the area and you are persistent. Predators have phenomenal senses but they aren't super geniuses. You are smarter than they are.....but even if you're not, it works just as well to be too dumb to quit. Keep at it. Pretty soon you'll be hooked.

This is one simple trapper's approach to predator calling. I don't like to complicate things. It doesn't take a ton of gear or endless hours of research to be successful. What it does take is attention to a few simple details and time spent in the field, the more the better. Scout, call, scout and call, then scout and call some more. Keep it simple, and you'll have some pelts in no time.


LB @ Bullets And Biscuits said...

I live in Delaware and this is the first year we've heard of coyote sightings in our area so I don't think we will be doing much coyote trapping....but we've been trapping fox for about a year. We've been stumbling along with it so this post has been informative. Thanks!

CJW said...

Thanks LB! I wish you the best in your future predator hunting adventures. If you are just starting out with trapping try going after raccoons for a while. They are easier than fox and you'll be able to pile up the pelts and get some early success and confidence! Good luck. CJ