In the last issue of THE JOURNAL OF THE TEXAS TROPHY HUNTER magazine, I related that for the first time in many years, our sponsors were wanting “how to” information on hunting, especially predator hunting. Since I have called predators for well over 50 years and made every mistake in the book, (some on more than one occasion), I feel qualified to offer a few tips that will hopefully make you a better hunter. While predator hunting is no doubt that fastest growing hunting sport, it seems that most predator hunters in Texas hunt at night and the difference between calling in the daylight and dark is more different than night and day.
Tip #1, possibly the most important is “how to sit down”. Now I know this may sound extremely basic and I am sure that many of you are thinking that I am trying to be cute. But the truth is that if I told 10 hunters to sit down at a tree so that they could shoot the 180 degrees directly in front of them, all 10 would sit down with their back to the tree, paralleling their shoulders to the area that I told them to be able to shoot. Sitting in this fashion will allow you to comfortably shoot a little more than half of the area but what about the other 80 degrees that you are responsible for covering?
If you shoot right-handed which the majority of hunters do, sit down with your left shoulder pointed into the middle of the area that you are responsible of shooting. In doing so, you will find that you can cover almost 180 degrees without having to reposition your body. The drastic motion of changing where you are sitting while a predator is in view will generally spook the animal resulting in having to take a shot at a fleeing critter. If you shoot left-handed, the reverse is true. Sit with your right shoulder pointed into the middle of the area of responsibility.
Tip #2, a coyote and most predators are going to go downwind of the source of the sound. For this reason, calling into a light crosswind maybe the ideal setup. If you see a coyote responding to your hand calling or the electronic predator call sitting out in front of you, having an idea of where the coyote is going will increase your chances of killing him. Most predators and especially a coyote, feed with their nose so they want to check out the situation with their most trusted sense.
The more cautious a coyote is, the wider the circle to get to the downwind. If a coyote has never been called and is very aggressive, it may run right to the source of the sound before trying to get a whiff of what he hopes to be supper. The line and speed that the critter is taking will help you determine where he is going. When calling bobcats, don’t worry about the wind as a bobcat depends on their eyes and ears, not so much their noses.
Tip #3, gunfighter rules. Set up with the sun over your shoulder so that an approaching critter is illuminated by the sunlight, making him easier to see. Having the predator look into the sun as he approaches also makes it much more difficult for him to see you. Sit in the shadows of trees, brush or rocks with something behind you that will break up your silhouette. If possible there should be no obstruction between you and the area that you plan to shoot.
When calling vast open terrain such as the Panhandle or northeastern New Mexico, there are times when I have to decide if I want to take the sun or the wind. In this situation, I will generally take the sun in my favor as a coyote is going to show himself when trying to gain wind advantage. This is not the case in most of Texas as there is simply too much cover and the coyote will wind you before you can see him.
Tip #4, be a bird watcher. If I am calling in South Texas, the Harris’s hawk is one of my greatest allies. Usually hawks will arrive in short order after hearing the distress cries of my calls, hoping to be able to feed on a few scraps that might be left over from the squealing rabbit. The hawk will light in a tree close to the caller and will sit there observing the situation until he/she sees an approaching predator. As soon as the hawk sees a predator approaching, it will begin making a high pitched squealing sound. For years I have wondered why the hawk makes that sound when it sees the predator approaching and I have decided that it is vocalizing because it is excited and knows that dinner is about to be served. On several occasions, I have seen coyotes running from long distances to me with a hawk flying right over them, screaming all the way to the call.
If I am calling out west, ravens are the birds that I depend on for air support. When hunting the Panhandle, New Mexico or Arizona or other open terrain, I will stop on hilltops or ridges and glass for ravens as they will follow coyotes, especially when the coyote is feeding or hunting. Much like hawks, ravens will respond to distress cries and will vocalize when they see an approaching critter. A raven can make a wide variety of vocalizations but the call that he makes when he sees a predator is a shorter more guttural or raspy sound in a short series.
Another bird that will help you when calling bobcats is the wren. Wrens hate cats and when a bobcat walks through their living room, the little bird will follow the cat, flying from limb to limb right over the cat while scolding it with an excited almost chattering sound. Many times when calling senderos in South Texas wrens have told me where a bobcat was going to step out as you can hear the bird scolding as the cat approaches.
It seems that Caracaras can be found across most of Texas in this day and time. When I was a youngster growing up just west of Devine, it was rare to see a Caracara. Today, I am finding them as far north as Big Spring. In the Brush Country, it is rare that a Caracara is not the first critter to respond to my calling. At this time, I have not found this bird to be of any great help to tip me off if a predator is in the area.
What I have noticed is that a Caracara will call other birds to it when feeding. I have witnessed this many times when shooting a deer or coyote and leaving it on the ground undisturbed for a short time. A Caracara will land close to the kill and when it begins to feed or peck on the carcass will call other Caracaras to join in. It is this feeding call that I have seen coyotes respond to and a sound that I plan to record as I feel it might be very effective, especially on call shy coyotes.
Tip #5, use a decoy if calling with an electronic caller that is operated remotely. When calling with electronics, I set the call in an opening as I am trying lure predators into that opening for a clean shot. If the call is setting in an opening with little cover around it, I want something to make the set up appear to be more realistic. Don’t waste your money on a motorized decoy that eats batteries and makes noise. The best decoy you can employ is a turkey tail feather secured to a stick or fiberglass rod with approximately 8-10 inches of lightweight monofilament fishing line. Not only will any light breeze give it life, it will also tell you the direction that the wind is blowing at the source of the sound (see tip #2).
The feather is especially effective on bobcats as many trappers tie a feather to a limb and suspend it over a trap. Since bobcats depend primarily on their vision when hunting, they will readily see any motion created by a dancing feather and that is all that is needed to put the cat in the trap.
While this is not a hunting tip, there is another thing that I feel many hunters, especially youngsters need to learn and that is respect for the game you pursue. If you do not respect the coyote or bobcat then you will never be good at this game. Many times I will be driving miles across a ranch and someone hunting with me will ask if I am ever going to stop and make a call as they have seen 50 places where they would have already stopped. My response is simple, when I sit down to make a call, I want EVERYTHING possible in my favor. This is because I respect the predator that I am hunting and know that he/she lives there and knows everything about it. I am simply a trespasser that is going to try to sneak into the living room and then trick him/her into coming to me in the daylight.
If you keep these five simple tips in mind when calling predators in the daylight, you will no doubt be much more successful and experience less dry stands. I am no different than any of you, making calls and getting no response is not much fun, especially if I walked a quarter of a mile of more to do it.
Gary Roberson is Host of CARNIVORE, Pro Staffer with Ruger, Trijicon, Walls Hunting Apparel, Hornady, Swagger Bipods and Mossy Oak.