Keys to Successful Predator Calling
By Major L. Boddicker
Key #4: Weather and Country—Coping With the Elements
Beep, beep, beep, beep—that obnoxious alarm rang at 4 a.m. I looked out the bedroom window and was greeted by a nasty blizzard.
"Good morning, Bill. It is nasty out here. What is it like in Denver?" I asked on the phone.
"Bad, but we can make it," he replied.
"Are you and Gordie sure you want to get into this misery?" I queried.
"Yeah," he said.
"Okay, I will see you in about an hour and a half."
"Nuts!" I exclaimed after I hung up the phone. This was one of those days not for wimps. In fact, it was so bad even tough men's men should know better. But callers are extraordinarily tough (some say dumb).
My gear was packed the night before. I use a checklist to back up my memory. Do not forget an essential piece of clothing for calling in cold weather. My gear consisted of one Chapstick, two pairs of 60% wool socks, one pair of light-weight skier’s long johns, one pair of regular jockey shorts, one T-shirt, one Cabela’s chamois shirt, two gray insulated zipper-type hooded sweatshirts, one pair of insulated coveralls (Key, Carhart, or Cabela’s), one set of Cabela’s winter camo shells (pants and hooded windbreaker), two pairs of Thinsulate gloves, one belaclava (pull-over face mask), one Scotch cap with ear flaps (the brim is important for shading the eyes), one set of ear plugs, one pair of sunglasses, one pair of Sorrel-type boots with felt liner, one belt, and one handkerchief. I wore all of this when I was sitting on my calling stands, and I was warm.
At 5:45 a.m., we got into Bill’s big Dodge 4x4 and headed toward Limon, Colorado. The wind was howling at 50 mph+, with snow coming down sideways at an inch per hour. At Limon, I-70 was closed, and vehicles were stacked up at the truck-stop by the hundreds. We stopped for a cup of coffee.
After a short discussion, we decided to go north on Highway 71 and give calling a try since we had come this far. So, out into the howling blizzard we went, slowly grinding our way north on Highway 71. We arrived at the ranch just as it was light enough to shoot. It was a real struggle to get our hunting clothes on—everything we had—as the wind and snow swirled around us. A blizzard is one of God's great works of art to watch and be in. This one ranked right up there.
From the truck, we walked 50 yards into the wind and down into the top of a big ravine. I sat down at the edge of a steep ravine while they sat at the head of another, about 75 yards further. I chose to use a Standard Crit'R·Call and let out a real loud and squally scream. I had not finished my first 12-squall series when a coyote jumped up out of the ravine on my left. Slowly, I raised my rifle as the coyote watched incredulously, trying to figure out what sort of a snowman I was. One shot rolled it back down into the ravine.
After the shot, I made several very loud coyote yelps on the Crit'R·Call Magnum, and then continued loud rabbit squalls. After a five-minute interval, I heard another 2 shots. Gordie and Bill had shot a coyote responding to my calling. I don't know how that coyote heard me, but it came at least ½ mile downwind in the howling blizzard to get to me.
We called in two more coyotes in that blizzard. Both came out of deep ravines and heavy cover.
Weather and time of year are important keys to good calling. Predators are most abundant in June through September. Their numbers take a big tumble in September through December through hunting, accidents, cannibalism, and starvation. From January through April, more die. In April, they start having pups so the numbers go back up quickly. The cycle starts all over again. The most animals respond to calls between August and October. By February, less than half still are alive to hear and to respond.
In the cold months—November through March—predators need lots of food to stay warm and breed. Then they need more food for raising pups and feeding them. April–June are often great months for calling because the predators are hungry.
In early fall, the young animals are out looking for food on their own and having difficulties. They are also inexperienced so generally respond to calls very well. Use medium-volume prey distress sounds. Don’t use strong coyote sounds during this time. Use moderate to weak coyote talk.
In late winter, canines and felines are breeding, so their interest changes from food to sex. That means using cat and canine sounds to call them. Coyote talk works well during this period.
Predators feed in early morning, 3 to 9 a.m., then loaf. From 4 to 11 p.m, they feed again. Then from 11 to 3 a.m., they rest and loaf. They can be called at any hour, but research has shown that they are most responsive during feeding hours.
Find out where your quarry is feeding, and call it there. Trappers, for centuries, have known that all animals feed up just prior to storms, preparing for a long rest while the storm rages. From two days prior to a storm to the first hours of the storm, calling can be dynamite.
During the intense storms, calling is generally poor. Whether it is because they can't hear or just do not want to be out in it, I cannot say. However, it is a rare day that is productive in a dry windstorm or a howling snowstorm. If you have to hunt (callers often have to hunt), then call in heavy cover and storm-protected places. Call louder and at closer intervals.
I have not had luck in rainstorms or while there is muddy ground. Predators do not like to move in wet vegetation and soil.
Wind is probably the key to poor calling in storms. Quiet snowy days seem to produce good calling. When wind gets over 15 mph, responses seem to drop. I have seen coyotes lying in cover during heavy winds, and I have called them. They did not move for any sound I made. After the wind died down, we went back, the coyote was still there (across the fence in a National Wildlife Refuge). I called again. It immediately jumped up, ran directly to us, crossed the fence, and we bagged it. Many times that same scenario has been repeated. Conclusion: Wind above 15-mph results in lower success.
Cold: Below 50 degrees F, cloudy and still days, one or two days before a storm are often terrific days for calling coyotes.
Try to arrange your stands to have the sun on your back so the sun shines on the coyote’s white throat, and the coyote has to look into the sun to see you.
In November 2000, a friend and I went calling in eastern Colorado. The day was sunny with less than a 5-mph wind. There was about 1 inch of snow on half the land, with a recent ½ inch of rain before the snow. We got there at 10:30 a.m., just as the frost went out of the ground, leaving the top ½ inch of soil greasy. I told my friend that we would get nothing until 4 p.m. when it froze up again. Stand after stand we called, and nothing responded right in the middle of hundreds of coyotes. There was no show by Mr. Fox or Mr. Coyote.
At 4:15 p.m., the sun dropped over the Palmer Ridge, and the soil surface froze. We sat against a bale pile, calling into an unharvested sunflower field. In two minutes, a coyote trotted in and I dropped it. I continued calling. Two minutes later, another coyote ran up behind the one I shot. I missed the second one. One mile further down the road, I called in and shot the third coyote. It came in, saw my partner before my partner saw it, and was leaving when I nailed it. One more mile down the road, in the failing light, we sat down in wheat stubble. I called in a dark red coyote and dropped it at 25 feet. Did I expect that? Yes, I have never had luck getting predators to respond to calling over muddy ground. Why? I don't know; I guess they don't like to run in mud.
What is the coldest temperature I have called predators in? Minus 30° F. with a 30-mph wind, wind chill at a -80°, a poor red fox. Generally, they come in cold without wind, sometimes very aggressively.
What is the hottest temperature I have called predators? When denning coyotes in June, I have called in four at a stand when the temperature was at 90° F, but generally when temperatures hit 80° F, responses fall off quickly.
What are the best weather conditions for calling? High relative humidity in the 60 to 80 percent range, one to two days before a storm, with a falling barometer, partial or full cloud cover, 30° – 45 °F, with a 1–10-mph wind, in the dark of the moon. When that combination of weather conditions rolls in, get out in the bush and pull out the predator call. You have action coming!
Carnivores are found all over the world except in Antarctica. They all respond to calling, more or less strongly. Anywhere man can live, you can find carnivores, from the Arctic fox and wolf in the Arctic Islands of the north to the mountain lions and foxes in southern Argentina and Peru. From the open ice flows to the barren mountaintops, there are predators present. That is what makes calling so interesting.
Are predators refugees in modern life, cringing and lurking in islands of wilderness? Absolutely not. They have been found in Central Park on Manhattan Island in New York City, also in downtown Denver, Chicago, and in Los Angeles. In fact, the closer one gets to the suburbs, the higher predator density is. Some of the best calling is at the edge of the large urban areas.
With the exceptions of cougar, bear, and bobcats, most predators will carry populations of 2 to 3 times higher in urban and suburban areas. If you want to have success calling, call near towns, farms, ranches, roads, railroad tracks, and cultivated fields.
Several years ago, a buddy and I entered a coyote-calling contest in Wyoming. We went up several days early to locate coyotes. We drove on and on, looking and finding no sign. The sheep folks don't tolerate coyotes well, and government trappers had really smoked the coyotes out. As a last resort, we drove to the closest big town and drove around the outskirts. Sure enough, there away from sheep and persecution, close to dog-food, housecats, and road kills were the coyotes. We called there during the contest. A combination of bad shooting and lucky coyotes resulted in us getting an unpaid 5th place. We saw enough to get first place. Each carnivore has a favorite niche; you call them on their terms in their places.
Maps are important. Get Forest Service, BLM, or Game and Fish maps to locate public lands open for hunting. Get county plat maps with land ownership listed so you can contact landowners for permission.
Dedicate time to scouting and pre-season permission from landowners. Make up and pass out cards to landowners. Get their telephone numbers so you can inform them when you will come through. Visit with them and offer help with their farm chores when you can, to repay their kindness.
Make friends at school, church, and work with landowners. Don't be bashful about asking them for permission to hunt predators. Most landowners, when properly approached, will give you permission. When you establish that you are responsible and successful, they will introduce you to neighbors. Predator hunters are often very welcome, and that gets you in the door for trapping, and bird and big game hunting too.
Read the maps and read the geological features. Carnivores need vegetation and cover. They hunt and rest there. Creek and river bottoms are productive. Grass, brush, and crops over four inches high are great places to call anywhere. Marshes, sloughs, abandoned farmsteads, Conservation Reserve ground, wildlife refuges, and parks, all hold higher than average carnivore numbers. Calling brings them out of those places and onto property you have permission to hunt.
Locate stands where you can see the predator, but it can't see you. Blend with the background, be it cornfield or cedar tree. Sit low in a high place. Park your vehicle behind a hill, then pop up over the hill and sit in a slight depression in front of a bush or bale of hay, below the skyline.
Generally, I don't use a cover scent. I am just lazy and don't feel I need it to get the predators. However, I am very aware of the wind direction. I want the wind carrying my scent away from the approaching predator. It makes no difference whether it is a side wind or frontal wind; just don't line up with the wind currents carrying your and your vehicle's odors to the varmint.
Do I skip a great location if the wind is wrong? No, I call them anyway, but I expect to take longer shots. Sometimes, air is stratified, so wind currents carry your scent away from the predator even though it is blowing in the predator's direction.
Nothing wrong with cover scents, use them if you like. Put coyote, fox, rabbit, or bobcat urine in a squirt-type shampoo bottle and squirt a half-circle of it around you so the wind carries it in the desired direction. You can put it on you if you like, but I never much cared for such an up-front odor. It doesn't do much for your love life and may get you kicked out of restaurants and bars.
Occasionally, I use a 1-ounce bottle of trapping lure like Carman's Canine Call or other skunk-based lures. Dip a Q-tip in it and toss it out away from you as you set up a stand. That's enough, and it works.
How much do cover scents really add to calling success? Nobody really knows; it is one of those hunting myths where research has not been done on it. We know carnivores have great noses and can separate odors out of a stream of scent. So a dog, fox, coyote, or bear can smell human scent when its nose is sticking in a rotten pig. Will a human that smells like a skunk fool a varmint? I doubt it.
I had the opportunity to hear the famous archer, Fred Bear, answer a question about cover scents years ago. He said he had once been a big believer in them but changed his mind. As he was stalking an Alaskan grizzly to shoot with his bow, he was covered with cover scent (I think it was caribou urine). The bear had its head inside a rotten moose carcass that was stinking to high heaven. The wind changed and blew Mr. Bear's scent to the bear, which immediately detected Fred Bear and his scented guide. Out of the intense stink of the rotting moose, the bear could distinguish the human odor. Believe me, a coyote and fox can too.
Geology is important. Big public lakes often provide great calling. Call from a boat, or park the boat and set up on shore, a mile apart along the shoreline. Rivers offer the same opportunities.
Where there is water, there is food. Where there is food, there are plant-eating critters and meat-eating critters. Where water is scarce, calling around water is productive.
Some soil types mean great predator calling. Sandhills equal great coyote calling. Rolling glacial hills means great fox and coyote calling. Rocky cliffs and steep tree- and brush-covered hills mean bobcats and lions. Corn and soybeans mean red foxes and raccoons. Deep hardwood timber with berries and acorns means gray foxes, raccoons, and bears. Mountain berries, acorns, and wet pastures mean black bears. Mountain deer and elk habitat means mountain lions. Prairie dog colonies, meadow vole meadows, antelope, and sheep herds mean coyotes are near. Open barren grasslands with deer mice, grasshoppers, and jackrabbits means swift and kit fox.
Learn to read the topography and vegetation to increase your success. When you choose a stand to call, ask yourself: Is there a reason for a predator to be here? If the answer is no, then don't waste your time. Move on to a place with better probabilities.
Choose places that make it easy for a predator to get to you across safe country. Predators don't cross highways and barren fields easily. They like to run along the sides of crops, wood lots, and escape cover. When you sit down on a stand, pick out the most likely place the predator is. Then look to see if it can get to you by a safe route. If it can't, then move to a place that gives it a comfortable approach.
How long is a good interval for calling predators? It depends. On a day with wind blowing at less than 15 mph, 20 minutes is a good time period. Good calls reach out 1/2 to 2 miles. Give the predator time to get to you. If the wind is strong or vegetation thick so the call sound cannot travel more than one mile, then call ten minutes and move ½ to 1 mile rather than 1.5 to 2 miles to a new stand. For cats, call longer—30 minutes to 1 hour. I gauge how long I call at a place to the probability that something will show up. A great place might be worth 45 minutes to an hour. An average of 20 minutes is about the optimum calling interval for everything but bear and lion; give them at least 30 minutes.
How loudly should you call? That depends on how far you need to throw the sound to reach the predator. If you know the predator is near, ¼ mile or less, then use the high-pitched mouse squeak or muted and soft rabbit squalls. If within ½ mile, start softly and work up to an authentic rabbit squall. If you want to reach out to two miles, start quietly and gradually work up to very loud sounds, shifting up from the Standard to the Magnum call. I usually blow only as loud as I can in heavy wind or I’m trying to call predators out of a place I cannot get close to. Otherwise, I gauge my blowing volume to one mile, and then move to the next mile.
Sometimes you can call too loudly and spook coyotes that are close by. Too loud also puts coyotes at long-range on alert so they are disturbed and looking for problems, or you leave before they arrive. They might have to cross a territorial boundary to get to you, and that might stop them.
Most carnivores have territorial and spatial boundaries. They may not cross those. Sometimes you see a fox or coyote coming to a call, and it will stop and hang up. It wants to come, but like it had an invisible fence in front of it, it will not come. Don't give up. Just set up your stand the next time within its territory, and it will come right in. Those territorial limits for foxes are about 2 square miles, 3 square miles for coyotes, and 4 square miles for bobcats.
The territorial boundaries are often fences, roads, and waterways. When you can, call at boundary intersections where several animals feel comfortable at the spot. Often, great calling stands are the same as great trap-setting locations.
Keep maps of predator calling routes; mark productive stand locations, and keep notes about them. Always work to improve the exact spot you sit. Make notes on land ownership with names, addresses, and telephone numbers so you can get permission, and report your results. I have five favorite predator calling routes that I call 2 to 3 times per year at least 6 weeks apart. I try to make two stands per hour.
When I want to call bobcats and lions, I go into the rough foothills deer and rabbit country. When I call red fox, I go into the corn and alfalfa country. Swift foxes are found in the barren grasslands. Coyotes are most abundant in the prairie sandhills and mixed croplands and rough pastures or high mountain parklands.
No matter where you live, there is carnivore hunting somewhere nearby. Once you find a successful stand, return to it. There are stands where I have called 30 coyotes over 25 years, sitting on the same spot.
Great hunting to you!
Next: Key 5—Managing People, Vehicles, and Things