Whether you're a newcomer to predator hunting across the West, here are four tips to help get you started.
Walking below the crest of an open, rolling hillside, Cory Lundberg stopped in his tracks. "Let's set up right here," Lundberg whispered. Breaking out our seats, settling the guns in the shooting sticks and loading our rifles, we were set.
"You ready?" Lundberg quizzed me. I gave him the go-ahead nod, and he started working the electronic call. In less than 30 seconds a coyote sprinted into view, heading right at us. "When it crosses that fence, I'll howl to stop him, then you shoot," Lundburg instructed, with the yapper still more than 300 yards away. As soon as the words crossed his lips, Lundberg silenced the electric call and howled with his mouth. "Now!" he instructed. "Take him!"
Neither of us realized there were two coyotes, both approaching from different locations. The second coyote I never saw. Lundberg dropped it with a single shot to the brushy ridgeline from where it had come. I watched another coyote farther back, one that emerged from a thick stand of Ponderosa pines. The day was off to a good start.
Whether you're a newcomer to hunting coyotes or any other predators that roam throughout the West, here are four tips to help get you started.
Cory Lundberg (online at www.CodaHunts.com) is a full-time predator hunter, traveling the Western states in search of coyotes, bobcats and more. He's forgotten more about predator hunting than I'll ever know. Spending a day hunting coyotes with him on the fringe of the Rocky Mountains was an education.
"The setup is vital to successful predator hunting," Lundberg pointed out. "You want to be in a position to see in as many possible directions as you can, especially when hunting open ground. You might be in open sage flats, open rolling hills, timber or river bottoms. The key is optimizing your setup, so you can see approaching predators. If you can't see 'em, you can't shoot 'em."
All of our setups that day were on the backside of open, grassy hillsides. The wind was either in our face or blowing crossways. We used the hill as our backdrop, not a tree, rock or other structure.
"When a coyote comes in, it's usually coming in fast, ready to kill a meal, so all you have to do is break up your outline, and you don't need a ground blind or solid structure to do that," Lundberg continued. "If you're fully camouflaged, from head to toe, including a facemask, and can keep still, then sitting on an open hillside is plenty of cover. You just don't want to be sky-lined with a predator that approaches from below." This is where decoys can detract a predator's attention.
CALLS & DECOYS
The use of decoys is nothing new to the world of predator hunting, but hunters can be reluctant to use them. If you're a beginner, this tool is one of the most important. A decoy diverts the attention of approaching predators, allowing valued time for you to settle in for a comfortable shot.
The key with decoys is placing them to the side of your line of sight from where you anticipate a predator to approach. In other words, you don't want the decoy to be situated directly between you and the approaching predator, for fear any movement you make will give you away.
I've had success with decoys ranging from bird wings tied to fishing line, dangling from a bush or tree limbs, to stuffed toy teddy bears stuck on a wire coat hanger and moved about by fishing line attached to a reel that was jerked from the calling site. Montana Decoys makes a great fawn decoy that many predator hunters have success with in the late spring, summer and early fall months. Combine this decoy with a fawn and/or doe distress call, and the setup transforms into a very authentic scenario, which can be highly effective in pressured hunting areas.
Where legal, electronic decoys are perhaps the best option when talking predator decoys. The sporadic, continual movement of electronic decoys means they are working 100 percent of the time. The fact they are operated hands-free ensures there's no movement by the hunter.
Electronic decoys can also be set a safe distance away from the hunter to make sure approaching animals don't bust you. Electronic decoys with a good receiver can be set 100 or more yards away, coming in handy in situations where you're calling across draws or amid big flats and predators may approach from multiple angles. Situate an electronic speaker by a decoy and you're set. Both can be operated with a remote control.
Hand-held calls and diaphragm calls are also ideal tools for predator hunters. Handheld calls can be used to call long-range and toned down to coax in weary predators that may be lingering in nearby brush. Diaphragm calls are good for toning down your sounds and are ideal for stopping a predator to get a clean shot. Practice with your calls prior to heading afield, so you can use them with confidence.
Speaking of clean shots, invest in the best gun, scope and bipod you can afford. Just because you're hunting predators doesn't mean you should outfit your gun on the cheap. Predators are not big targets. You need an accurate, reliable gun with a crystal clear, variable powered scope. A 3x9 scope is a good choice, but don't be afraid to go to a higher magnification if hunting big, open country.
On one of my predator rifles I have a dual scope setup. My primary scope is a Trijicon AccuPoint in a 5-20x50, mounted on an offset Picatinny rail, with a single-power red-dot sight. This dual scope setup allows for long range and up-close shots.
More on Predator Hunting
Many predator hunters choose to carry a rifle and a shotgun into the field. Having both guns equipped with a sling is a good idea for those long hikes. The shotgun can come in handy when predators may close the distance too fast for a rifle shot, or if they suddenly appear at close range due to thick habitat or broken landscapes.
Mounting a bipod to your rifle is a good idea, allowing for a rock-solid shooting rest. However, the West's habitat isn't always conducive to laying prone and getting a clear shot. For this reason, a free-standing bipod or, better yet, a tripod shooting stick, is wise. My favorite shooting stick is made by Bog Pod; they are very stable, and the rest is very close to the fulcrum point, maximizing steadiness.
As for calibers, a flat-shooting rifle is top priority, with .223 and .22-250 calibers being good choices. For shotguns, one that accurately shoots heavy predator loads in 3-inch magnum is ideal.
WHERE TO HUNT
Fortunately, all Western states hold plenty of public-land hunting opportunities when it comes to predators. But don't overlook private land options. In some states, private land can be hunted at night and public lands cannot, so check regulations prior to hunting.
As with big game, predators often gravitate to private lands where food and cover abound. Such places can create ideal hunting situations. If seeking to hunt private land, be absolutely certain to get written permission from the landowner. Know that not all farmers want coyotes dead. Many farmers like coyotes around their alfalfa fields to keep rodent numbers in check. However, farmers often want the badgers that inhabit the same fields as coyotes gone. Badgers dig deep holes that ruin irrigation pivots and farm equipment. States have varying regulations that apply to badger hunting. Know them.
With summer upon us, now is the time to start gearing up for predator-hunting season. Invest in quality gear and spend time shooting your setup so you know exactly how it performs. Establish an effective range and know your shooting distances when afield. The better prepared you are, the more rewarding your Western predator hunting experience will be.
For signed copies of Scott Haugen's popular book Bank Fishing For Salmon & Steelhead, send $18 to Haugen Enterprises, PO Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489. Follow Scott on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter, and online at ScottHaugen.com.