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Keys to Successful Predator Calling
By Major L. Boddicker, Ph.D.

Key 1: Use the Predators' Senses to Your Advantage

At 1998 Varmint Hunter’s Jamboree, a young guy came up to me and asked me where he could get the “real” secrets of how to call predators. I have heard that before, like all of us old timers are really holding back that secret trump-card that we play only when we are calling by ourselves.

It is hard for me to listen to the question because the answer to it is simple: You get the best information on how to call varmints from your old friends in VHA, no “secrets” held back. Success is how you use the “secrets” that we teach year after year. The secret we can't pass on is the students' motivation and dedication to learn and to practice what we teach.

There are in print, on cassette tapes, and in videos, hundreds of efforts to teach hunters the methods of calling. Since I am between exotic adventures, I thought I would take another shot at writing up a series of instructions on how to call, from a different perspective. “Keys (1-6)” will take the elements of calling and dissect them one by one. I hope these keys will help you become a more successful caller.

The scientific order, Carnivora (flesh-eating mammals) contains the scientific families of predators: Canidae = dogs, Felidae = cats, Ursidae = bears, Mustelidae= weasels, and Procyonidae = raccoons. All of the mammals that belong to these families share similar characteristics: They all eat other mammals to one degree or another. Their eyes, ears, noses, tastes, and touch senses have adapted over time to some degree of predatory preference in food selection.

Any sound, smell, sight, taste, or touch that stimulates their food search behavior will attract them to some degree. All of these animals are also, to some degree, social. That means for some time period—some very short, some long—individuals of these species get together for hunting, breeding, loafing, or playing. Their own odors, colors, shapes, sounds, and flavors attract each other.

For example, skunks emit that very skunky smell to repel predators that want to eat them. They also use that musk to identify themselves to potential mates and fight their competition. All of the carnivores use musk glands, urine, and feces to signal others of their species and competing species of their territorial spacing and presence.

Why do coyotes poop on roads? It is to mark the boundaries of their territories. Why do coyotes and foxes lick their balls? Because they can! The genitals are used as multiple tools to urinate from, breed from, and accurately mark their territories. That means the genitals need to be cleaned and maintained so the odors and accuracy of the applications are accurate.

All of the animals that a caller hunts contact life through their five senses: taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. Research has shown that the more of these senses that are turned on in an animal by a stimulating source, the stronger and longer the animals is attracted to it. To get the maximum attraction of an animal to a hunter, the hunter needs to tickle some or all of these senses. An example is a trap-set that contains the following elements: a great-smelling call lure, a piece of rabbit fur, a great tasting food lure, a sound producer (call or electronic squeaker), and a nice soft comfortable spot to place its foot directly over the trap pan. That combination catches the most animals because it brings the animal in and keeps it there to be effectively caught. A calling stand is at its best if all five senses are stimulated.

Use a great sound. A great sound will trip the hearing, smell, and taste senses of the predator.

It helps to provide an eye teaser—a decoy or piece of fur.

Use some type of scent. It doesn't hurt anything at a stand, so the predator identifies the prey smell or predator smell with the sound. Skunk musk or fox/coyote urine are okay. So is rabbit urine.

Give the predator a nice comfortable approach path so its touch senses are not violated. Line your calling up so the predator can get to you in soft dirt or snow, on cleared and safe game trails, and on an approach that makes it comfortable. Don't try to call it across an interstate highway.

Each sense is very important to consider when and where you are calling. Most carnivores do not like to walk or run in mud. Most normal callers don't either, so when it is muddy or raining, forget calling. Stay home and reload shells.

Wind causes a quick dilution of odors and ruins the directional function of it. Carnivores sense that, and it works to reduce the strength of their responses. They don't want to come to a prey sound when they can't smell for danger. When it is windy, calling generally is poor.

Does this all sound too complicated? It shouldn't because it isn't. The Keys written in the following Varmint Hunter magazines will explain in detail how each predator family has different characteristics that need to be considered when calling them. Each group of animals has its own secrets.

Why do carnivores come to calls? Carnivores have at least five reasons:

Carnivores are hungry and want to eat what is making the sound.
2. Carnivores are territorial and defensive and are coming in to protect their space, their mate, pups, or food source.
3. Carnivores are horny and want to breed.
4. Carnivores are curious. What the heck is making that noise?
5. Carnivores want company with which to play, to groom, to go on a party hunt, and to bond.

Why do carnivores come to calls? Carnivores have at least five reasons:

1. Carnivores are hungry and want to eat what is making the sound.
2. Carnivores are territorial and defensive and are coming in to protect their space, their mate, pups, or food source.
3. Carnivores are horny and want to breed.
4. Carnivores are curious. What the heck is making that noise?
5. Carnivores want company with which to play, to groom, to go on a party hunt, and to bond.

Reason 1.

Carnivores are hungry and want to eat what is making the sound.

So, how do you sound like a plum or watermelon? Generally speaking, carnivores will all eat mice or the young of all of the prey. During April through August, use lower volume, higher-pitched mouse, rabbit, and prey distress cries. From September to March, use adult prey sounds adapted to the area and season. Cottontail and jackrabbit squalls work to some degree any time. Guinea pig, flicker and starling squalls, pig squeals, and fawn bleats are great for variety, particularly in the warmer months.

When food is hard to come by and when temperatures are cold, requiring lots of food to keep predator energy levels high, predators are more interested in calls.

Reason 2.

Carnivores are territorial and defensive and are coming to protect their space, mates, pups, and food sources.

A squalling prey means some other critter is eating the home predator's food and violating their territory. There is a strong protective reaction from one predator to another that is violating its space. So, either a prey distress cry or territorial challenge of the predator's rival are useful in calling in carnivores. Particularly during the breeding and whelping seasons, territorial challenges are effective for bears through foxes. It is a matter of survival. Carnivore adults are normally protective of their young, so distress cries of the young predators are good for bringing in the parents or other adult predators.

For some carnivores, the distress of others is very attractive. A yelping wolf call will call in other wolves, which are curious, territorial, or want to join in kicking the wolf that is at a disadvantage.

Carnivores defend their space, so when they hear something killing their food, they want to get in on the kill, take the kill away, and chase the intruder out.

Reason 3.

Carnivores are horny and want to breed.

During the breeding seasons, predators that want to breed advertise it with vocalizations and scent. Making territorial calls during the breeding seasons is often very productive for calling, when prey distress calls are not working.

Reason 4.

Carnivores are curious.

Carnivores are relatively intelligent critters and are curious about different sights, sounds, and smells. They will often investigate sounds even though they have never been confronted with the sound before.

African animal distress cries are very attractive to American predators. Coyotes respond strongly to African springhare distress calls even though there is no way a coyote has ever heard a springhare. Loud, squally noises in the C-sharp musical note range are simply triggers which call for the carnivore to check out the source. So, predators respond to strange, squally, and squealy sounds of most any kind to one degree or another. Strange sounds should be tried especially when the regular calling and electronic calling are not working.

Carnivores have been noted to come in and investigate the following strange sounds: human babies crying, small girls screaming and giggling, screeching windmills, whistling natural gas leaks, wind whistling across bottle tops and .30-06 empty brass, Wally Brownlee of Target Shooting, Inc. trying to use Crit'R·Calls, Iron Butterfly CD's, violin music, etc. Don't get discouraged if your predator calling doesn't sound perfect.

Reason 5.

Carnivores want company with which to play, groom, go on a party hunt, and to bond.

They are more-or-less social, therefore, for a variety of reasons, the sounds carnivores make are great for attracting each other. The wolf and coyote communications are widely recognized as useful for calling these predators in for shooting. Fox, cat, coon, and bear vocalizations are effective for calling them to the gun too.

For most carnivores, interests change over the months of the year, depending on their breeding status, changes in food availability, and weather. Calling strategies are most efficient if they change with the seasons and conditions.

A great hunter knows the habits and vulnerability keys of his prey, and plays those keys in a well-executed plan.

When I decide to go calling, my mind computes which carnivore species are available, a quick check of the wind, weather, soil conditions, vegetation cover, relief in the land, access, food sources for the predator, approach routes, and the biological status of the predator. From that information, I choose both the area I am going to hunt, the characteristics of the stands I will choose, and the sounds I will use. All of that computes in my mind in a few seconds.

On the great majority of days, my selection of tools is very simple—clothes, gun, ammo, and predator call are the same. A comfortable sitting pad is included to keep the butt out of the cactus and away from the rattlesnakes.

Calling basically is simply a very repetitive series of places you sit to give you the best chance of calling up a predator and put you in a position to shoot it. Most great callers use the same squally rabbit, puppy whine, or fawn bleat squall, over and over again. They will choose a different sound only for specific situations or special time of the year.

Predators have the ability to remember good and bad experiences. They respond to rewards and punishments. That is why baiting works. Baiting works for all of the carnivores to a greater (bear and coyotes) or lesser (cats) degree. By strategically placing dead hogs, sheep, cattle and horse parts, and baits, you can count on predators eating these baits and moving away to rest and digest the food close by. The same principle works around cow, sheep, elk, deer, antelope, and prairie dog herds. Learn to set up carnivore hunting stands near currently used food sources. For bear calling, acorn, berry, and carrion sources are good places to call near. I write in more depth about using food sources to locate predators in the individual keys that will follow over the next few issues.

Carnivores are individualistic which means each one may act differently from every other animal at a given time. They are habitual so will usually react much the same. Often when an animal is called in and missed, it can be called in again at a later time, from the same place, and it will run up the same trail. It will feed, loaf, and travel day after day at the same place or same general area. They all use convenient travel-ways and geological features to move from one place to another. These can be used to the caller's advantage to guide the animal to him and predict the predator's approach path.

Predator calling has its own magic. It is easy to learn and available anywhere carnivores are found. Calling can be adapted for successfully hunting every carnivore species. An experienced hunter will use different techniques to call coyotes, bobcats, bear, and fox.

One of the great features of predator calling is the surprise it offers. I have called predators from the size of weasels to African lions, had Peruvian jaguars and African leopards growling at me, and had a black bear sow and cub looking at me from 20 feet. Three African natives (humans) stalked me at 1 a.m. in guerilla country, thinking my call was an impala fawn caught in a fence. Intensely exciting? Damned right, and I love it! Knowing a mountain lion may be hunting you is intense fun. Having a coyote jump over your lap gives you heart palpitations every time. When calling, you are being hunted!

Remember, when calling you are also the hunter. Your five senses need to be on alert and need to be sharp and responsive, to produce the best results. Reach out to the predators' senses to insure great success.

Great hunting!

Next: Key #2—Guns, Cartridges, Clothes, Optics, and Paraphernalia

Captions for Photos

1. Canidae. Dogs, foxes, and wolves are typical carnivores. Note the extremely large nose, forward-pointing eyes, and large ears on this coyote. It is loaded with tools for the hunt.

2. Felidae. Cats depend more on their eyes and ears than their nose. Note the development of the eyes and whiskers for dealing in heavy cover in the dark.

3. Ursidae. Bears show an extremely well developed nose, with eyes and ears having much less importance.

4. Lures (urine and musk) and baits (food items with sweet, sour, and salty tastes) are useful in calling as well as in trapping.

5. The coyote fur doll decoy (in the background) is an eye-teaser for calling. It says a coyote is over where the rabbit is dying, so it is okay, and it is violating the home coyote's space. You can see it helps bring coyotes in close.

6. Boddicker with a coyote successfully called in. Note the differences in the development of the eyes, nose, and ears between canids (coyotes) and primates (man). The only advantage we have over canines is our touch (hands) sense. That gives us a huge advantage. A coyote can't blow and maneuver a predator call.

7. All cats are attracted to much the same sights, sounds, and odors. Decoys and great prey and cat sounds work great to call them in. Lonnie Jackson called in this nice cougar with a Crit'R·Call.