By Chris Christian
When the general hunting season ends, a lot of hunters exit the woods for the year and don't think about hunting equipment until the next season.
There are some who don't want to leave the woods just yet. These are among the growing number of hunters who simply shift their sights to predators, and there are plenty of opportunities for them to succeed.
Coyotes and bobcats
The most popular predators are coyotes and bobcats. Both are well distributed through the lower 48 states. In fact, coyotes have so rapidly increased their range that they are even showing up in major metropolitan areas.
Calling them into gun range is a challenge that will test a hunter’s skill, and the late winter season is one of the most productive times to do it. Not only are these predators wearing a prime winter pelt that makes an impressive trophy, but their food supplies are reduced. The Young Of The Year (YOY) deer, turkey, quail, rabbits, squirrels and other forage species have grown to the point where they are no longer easy prey. That makes coyotes and bobcats more active, and further ranging, in search of a meal. And, far more likely to investigate any potential food source than they might have been during the easy days of the summer and fall.
Choose the right camo
Although predators may be hungry, they haven't lost their innate caution. Nor, have they gone blind. Both the coyote and bobcat have excellent vision and depend upon it heavily. That makes effective camouflage critical for success, and what worked well during deer season may not be the best choice now.
Unlike hunting deer from an elevated stand, a predator caller is going to be right on the ground, mixed in with whatever vegetation is available. In addition, the simple act of calling is going to pretty much pinpoint the caller's location. Becoming “invisible” is a major asset, and that means matching your camo pattern to the existing background. However, during the late season, that background can be quite a bit different than it was a couple of months ago.
Winter die-off will replace a lot of green with browns, grays and blacks. A bright green camo pattern against that background will silhouette the hunter. Savvy hunters will adjust their camo to that new background, and that doesn't always mean a completely new outfit. Often, just matching the upper garment to the bare limb, late-season colors will suffice.
As well, don't neglect a face mask and gloves. They can be very important and their omission can ruin a hunt. The mere act of blowing a call, shifting a gun or scanning the terrain for the quarry generates movement. A bright face or unshielded hands moving against even the best camo background will be quickly spotted.
Many experienced hunters will go a step further and bring a section of camo netting with them.
There are a number of companies that offer them, and they are not expensive. They can quickly be stretched between nearby limbs or brush, and with the hunter crouched behind it their movements are hidden.
Be the food source
Once the hunter is hidden, it's time to get the critter into range by pretending to be an easy food source. It doesn't take a lot of calls to accomplish that.
A dying rabbit call is effective on both coyotes and bobcats, but where you hunt can dictate the model you use. East of the Mississippi the higher pitched cottontail version is best. In the western states, the coarser jackrabbit pitch is often more effective.
Another call hunters will want is a woodpecker in distress. Again, it's effective on both, but bobcats sometimes find it more appealing.
If coyotes are the quarry and there are any red fox within that geographical area, a red fox pup in distress call should also be on hand. Coyotes and red fox are predators competing for the same resource — and sworn enemies. Red fox will kill coyote pups any chance they get, and coyotes will enthusiastically eliminate any red fox they can find.
Although both predators respond to the same calls, they do it a bit differently. Coyotes are normally quicker to come to a call, and will circle down wind before coming in. Veteran coyote hunters seldom spend more than 20 minutes at one stand, on the theory that if one was around they'd be there by now.
Bobcats take their own sweet time, and most hunters figure an hour at a stand is minimum. Bobcats also prefer continuous busy sounds, and many experts will tape a mouse squeaker to their gun's forearm so they can continue to call as they bring the gun to bear.
Tips on the right firearm
While the proper camo and calls can be critical for success, the choice of firearm is less so. It doesn't take much to drop a critter that seldom tips the scales beyond 35 pounds. The .22 Magnum rifle is a favorite with farmers and ranchers, and many hunters (more concerned with eliminating predators than collecting a pristine pelt) find their deer rifles more than adequate.
If pelt damage is a concern, the .22 centerfires are a perfect choice, with the ubiquitous .223 Rem the most popular. Virtually any 55-grain soft-point or polymer-tipped bullet will drop a coyote or bobcat quickly, and with little damage to the trophy.
Handgun enthusiasts can also get in on the action. A .357 Magnum launching a 125-grain jacketed hollow point has plenty of power beyond 50-yards, and the .41 and .44 Magnums will reach a lot further! Most modern revolvers have provisions for mounting an optical sight, and a low-power handgun scope or LED sight will significantly improve field accuracy.
Shotguns are an overlooked option, but if the terrain is thick and the ranges under 40-yards, they can be deadly. And, with the right load, your turkey gun is a perfect choice.
A 12-gauge, three-inch Magnum load of #4 buckshot holds 41 pellets, each about the same size as a .22LR bullet, and launches them at a higher velocity. A little experimenting with choke tubes (Mod and Imp Mod often pattern heavy shot better than a Full choke) should find one that will keep eight to 10 pellets on a 9-inch paper plate at 40 yards, and that's plenty of power with minimal pelt damage.
It doesn't take a lot to get into predator hunting. And, for those that relish a challenge in the woods, it makes the end of the general season a bit easier to take.