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Keys to Successful Predator Calling
By Major L. Boddicker


Key #6—Tactics of Predator Calling


February 21, 2001, 20° F, wind out of the northwest at 5 mph, with a storm two days out. Two friends and I went calling in the mixed sandhills and crops of eastern Colorado. A 130-acre irrigated cornfield sat on the north side of the road with 60 head of pregnant cows in it. A big sandhill peeked out just on the north edge of the cornfield. A sagebrush-covered pasture extended to the northeast and west of the cornfield. The history of the spot was great—called 27 times in 25 years, nine coyotes shot there.

We drove to the edge of the cornfield, parked the truck, and walked 50 yards up and over the crest of the hill. The shotgunner was in the middle, riflemen on both sides. All of us spread out our sitting rugs in front of yucca plants, and then laid back into the plants. The wind was straight into our faces. I gave a lone howl, then a hunting call on the Crit'R·Call Magnum. Four coyotes immediately howled back in a group yip howl, ½ mile out straight into the wind. Safeties went off and we got ready.

I called using a low-volume, high-pitched rabbit squeal. The coyotes were sprinting in. They dropped out of sight in a low spot. We shifted to get ready to shoot. All four coyotes were in a close bunch when they popped into view. They were on top of us. I was ready to shoot when Stan pulled the trigger on my big 10 ga. and dropped the one I was sighted in on. I pulled off on another one and click; I had a misfire. Blam, the 10 ga. went off again and another coyote folded. I worked frantically to clear the misfire and get a new round in. Blam, the Big 10 barked again, and I could hear a loud coyote ki-yi. My rifle was now ready. I could see one coyote about 200 yards out about to top the crest of the hill. The crosshairs went where the coyote would be in the next 10th of a second, and I pulled the trigger. Kerwhoop! I nailed it!

When the smoke cleared, we found three dead coyotes and one that managed to escape with steel shot in its butt. When you can put it all together like that, it makes for great excitement. We saved our rancher friend some calves.

Great tactics make the difference!


Picking Stands

Sit low in a high place with the wind on your face. Within your sight radius you should see predator food and areas of loafing, playing, and escape cover. The predator should have a comfortable approach lane to get to you. Repeat this simple formula and tactic over and over.

If you are in dense vegetation, get up on a ladder, vehicle, tree stand, windmill, or tree. Locate the breaks in the vegetation that gives you visibility and shots. Capitalize on camouflage.

Hiding the Vehicle

Hide the vehicle behind a hill, in a draw or depression, or behind a fence, building, or bale pile. Another option: Make a camo cover for the vehicle, or bribe your wife to make one in her spare time. The bribe worked for me.

Effective Gun Layout

Lay your guns out so you can instantly get to them. I put my gun across my lap with my left hand ready at the trigger, ready to bring it up into place. I call with my right hand, ready to drop the call and shoot instantly. If I take both rifle and shotgun, I lay the rifle across my ankles, the shotgun is held at the ready on my lap. If I need to switch, the shotgun goes slowly onto my lap; I pick up the rifle with the left hand and am ready to shoot. The guns are positioned so I have to move the least to get a shot. Guns are always moved slowly into position unless the coyote has already bolted.

Approach to Stands

Stop the vehicle, and keep the door slams and talking to a minimum. Take your time so a coyote close at hand will turn its attention back to what it was doing, before you top the hill. Try to approach the stand out of the skyline, walk around the hill until the final move up and over the crest. Do things quickly; don’t walk around the stand area looking for the exact sweet spot to sit on. Do that after you have called. Before you go out to call, consider putting quiet mufflers on the vehicle and quiet the rattles and squeals.

Remember that calls bring predators to you; you don’t have to walk to them. Walking eats up time you want for calling new places.

Calling

Pick out a prey distress cry that is common to the area and start it at a low volume, slowly working up to a very loud volume, then dropping it back down to a realistic volume. When a predator appears, drop the volume to realistic, but repeat the squalls or squeals quickly and excitedly. When the predator is in shooting range, stop and shoot.

For coyotes, introduce the calling with a lone howl or hunting call; wait several minutes then use a prey distress call. Use a combination of coyote or fox sounds and prey sounds. It does not hurt for partners to both call at the same time. Think about your delivery to fit the species you are calling.

It does not hurt to script and practice your delivery choices—bark-bark-wwWWHH OOOO oooo—30-second delay—waah waah, waah, waah, waah, waah.

Time Management

Move! Organize your routes, walk quickly to and from stands, and make the time count. I call from five minutes to one hour depending on the place and species that I am hunting. Most of my stands on normal days are 20 minutes, by watch. Then I move at least ½ to 1 mile before I call again. It is safe to assume that if a predator hears you, it will come or it won't. So assuming that the call sounds travel 1+ mile, how long will it take the animal to get to you? Twenty minutes or less.

There is no law keeping you from staying 60 minutes at each stand if you want. In my experience, less than 5% of the animals will show up after that. It gives you a better chance to get to a new stand and call new predators.

Move Quickly and Call to Many Animals

Predators have a statistical density—only so many animals will be in an area. The more animals you can expose to the call, the better chance you have of getting several to come in. Try to make 15 to 20 stands per day. Try not to call the same country with your sound, so space the stands at least one mile apart unless the weather or vegetation cuts the distance of your calling.

Where Do You Locate To Give You the Advantage?

Sit on the front side of a hill or elevated position so the predator has to look up to see you. Generally, they do not look up until the last 50 yards. It gives you time to plan and to adjust the calling as the animal's behavior indicates what it is doing. This is the most-used strategy. The disadvantage is the predator can see you, your movements, glints of light, etc. The advantage is you know what is going on. If you miss, you get follow-up shots.

Sit on the backside of the hill. Some great coyote hunters sit back behind the hill so that when the predator tops the hill, it is at very close range and can be shot with a shotgun or open-sight rifle. The hunter is out of sight for most of the predator's approach so glint, camo, and movements are not so important. The disadvantage is that you cannot see what is happening on a large scale, like multiple coyotes coming in. If you miss, you have little time for follow-up shots. The advantage is that the predators are very close when they show up. That makes for exciting action.

How Many People at a Stand Are Best?

One person who is efficient is the professional level ultimate. There is no one to make mistakes. One person offers the smallest amount of movement, noise, and odor, with the fewest suspicious things to stop the predator from coming in. When I am hired to kill coyotes, I go by myself so I know and control Murphy's Law. The disadvantage is there is no one to witness the 800-yard running shot.

A calling partner is great if he/she can shoot, is cool, has great eyes and ears, is safe, brings great lunches, insists on driving his great heavy-duty 4x4, and knows how to call. For every extra person there is more noise, more smell, more safety risk, more screw-ups, and fewer calling stands because it takes longer to organize and move people. The advantages are more eyes to see the predator's approach, and more bullets will be in the air to kill the predator. I have called predators within ten yards of 60 people, so it can be done.

Shotgun, Rifle, or Both?

I like a semi-auto .308 Heckler and Koch shooting a 125-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip or 110-grain Hornady V-max bullets. It is great for close range, long range, and for running shots.

A 10-gauge Ithaca or similar semi-auto with the heaviest load of T-shot or 4-Buck available works well out to 40 yards. Both of these guns at each stand really gives you an advantage. But it is clumsy to carry two guns. Often it is better for the caller to take the shotgun only; the partners can do the rifle duty.

Shotguns are great for making doubles and triples at very close-range coyotes. When calling in very tight cover when shots will be less than 50 yards, the scattergun is great.

The caller should attempt to call the predator as close as it will get, and the shotgunner should take the first shot. If the predator drops with one shot, immediately resume calling and anticipate another predator showing up.

The left-hand shooters sit on the right side, right-handers on the left, for safety and quick responses.

Define Field of Shooting

Generally speaking, we have a rule: If the predator comes into range in the 45° of range you are covering, you get the first shot. The second shot can be fired by anyone who can safely shoot, then Molly-bar-the-door. We don't cross over the other hunter's zone unless it is obvious that the hunter cannot see the predator, but another hunter has a safe shot.

Calling Close Range

Calling predators in close can get very exciting. The safety of shooting should be maintained so hunters are safe. There should be no shooting within 30° of a partner. Watch the background so livestock, buildings, and other structures do not get accidentally shot. Shotguns and open-sights work fine.

The 50- to 60-Yard Rule

I prefer to bring a predator in to about 50-60 yards, stop it with a change in calling, and then shoot it. The predator generally is not on alert so stands well. The scope is clear and sighted-in for 100 yards. If a miss is made, follow-up shots are possible, and using yelper sounds, often the missed predator will stop and give you another shot.

The Long-Range Shot

Since calling is great fun, some callers love to set up for long-range shooting, using ultra long-range calibers and rifles. The technique is fun but long-range scopes, rifle rests, precise ammunition, and sight-in time is needed. The calling techniques can be relaxed. Park the truck in the open and call from it. Coyotes will show up on ridgelines and places from which they can see. They will generally sit out there at 300-1000 yards, smugly thinking they are smart and safe, when their lights go out.

Coyote talk, using howls and yelps, is often very effective for setting up long-range shooting.

When Do You Decide to Shoot?

The predator tells you. If it is in range of the gun, in a safe spot, in a position so an efficient kill can be made, shoot! If the predator approaches, stops, tests the wind, and then locks up on the caller or hunter, ears sticking up, eyes focusing straight at the caller, and within range, shoot it. If not, keep calling. If it refuses to advance, shift into a higher-pitched, more excited call of lower volume. Repeat. If it still doesn't move, make several puppy whines, ki-yi calls, and then change to a howl. If it is range, shoot.

Sometimes the coyote, when it breaks from such a lockup, will start trotting in a circle toward the wind or escape-cover. Shoot as soon as a good shot presents itself. The critter has your number and is suspicious. It is making a delicate maneuver to escape, or at least get into your scent. Often the predator can be stopped with a sharp bark, whistle, or change in the call delivery.

How Do You Shoot At a Running Predator?

Shoot at it, in front of it, to the side of it, depending on how far away it is and how fast it is running. It is like leading a pheasant. I like 10-shot clips so I can adjust my shooting based on my misses. Get a lot of lead in the air so the odds are increased on your side. Practice on jackrabbits, cottontails, and squirrels with a .22 until you get proficient.

I like a 2.5 to 3.5 variable scope that I keep on low power unless I have a long-range standing shot or need to use the 9-20 power for scoping long range. The low power gives me a large field of view for making running shots.

Tactics for Hiding

Use yourself and your clothes for your portable blind. Blend in. You can build blinds in some situations from tumbleweeds, baled hay, broken-down buildings, and machinery. Use existing plants and stuff for blinds. Your vehicle can be a blind. Build a camouflage cover and paint optical illusions on it and call from the pickup bed or open top, ditto a trail bike or 4-wheeled ATV.

Movement Tactics

There are several different tactics that are useful in calling predators. Drive and park at selected calling stands chosen according to the rules for picking stands earlier in this article. Drive as close as you can to the stand and walk fast.

Walking and calling is a technique that is useful in heavy cover and rough terrain where the callers walk ½ mile down ridges, or over ridges, and call down into the side ravines, into the wind.

Some will follow tracks in snow until they feel they are within hearing range, and then they will call. They drive around after a fresh snow, find tracks, track the predator until it indicates it is looking for a bed, then set up and call.

Another tactic is to howl at coyotes, plot their locations on a map, then drive or walk to the approximate location and call into the wind.

When coyotes respond and are shot, the callers then walk roughly ½ mile in the direction from which the first coyote came and call again. Generally, when walking, the callers keep the calling volume rather low so as not to alert coyotes from long ranges.

Some callers in open, flat country will drop two callers off at a likely spot and the third hunter will drive off. He may call a mile or so away, but will return in 20-30 minutes to pick up his friends and then drive to a new stand and drop.

When you learn these tactics and practice them, you do them without effort and don't really think about them until you go hunting with someone who doesn't know calling tactics.


March 10, 2001, Mountain Valley in Colorado, 9000 feet elevation, 28°F, wind west at 5 mph, 12 inches of crusted snow, and 100% overcast. I went calling with three friends, none of which was an experienced caller. At the first place (suggested by one of the guys), the stand was a ¼-mile walk through the crusted snow. So we went slowly, and it hurt. It took one hour for the round trip, and we didn't call at all because there was a cowboy feeding cattle from a tractor where we were to call the coyotes from. We discovered this when we got there. Thanks Murphy!

The second stand was wrong for the wind, had fresh snowmobile tracks through it and poor visibility due to dense willows.

Time for a refresher course in tactics: Let us drive north and south on county roads that overlook creek and river bottoms, with calving cowherds. Let us park back from the snowfree rims, drop over and sit down, looking down into the creek bottoms. Let us call loudly and pull the coyotes out of the brush and up to us.

In the next six stands, we called in six coyotes and killed four of them. Two coyotes came in from over 2 miles away. They were dark dots on the snow. It took them 45 minutes to make it. All four were killed within 125 yards, standing shots. They did not have a clue. One coyote got away—no shot because one of the guys set up wrong, and the coyote got to within ten yards of him but he did not see it. The rest of us could not shoot for safety sake. The other coyote came behind one that was killed and was too far out for my 10-gauge, and I was the only one that saw it.

Tactics make a big difference to success. Don't get anal about them though. Many different tactics work.

A caller from the Texas mesquite country wrote to me about his tactics for heavy brush. He has an 8-foot ladder, which he has modified by bolting a swiveling bar stool seat on the top. He painted it a camouflage color, welded four rings to the leg bases, and he stakes the legs down to give him stability. The ladder is loaded onto a special rack on the side of the truck and is driven as close as possible to the stand. The ladder is set up in a clear spot in the thick brush. The hunter climbs up in it and calls. He shoots the coyote, bobcats, and foxes with a .357 mag. pistol and short-barreled shotgun. He said the biggest problem he has is getting into position so he can shoot the predator without blasting the legs off the ladder. It is clever!

Tactics are a big key to success.


Next: Key #7—The Senses—Generally Speaking