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If you’re looking for something different to do outdoors this winter, consider trying your hand at predator hunting. In Maine, this means fox and coyote (our bobcat hunting season ended Feb. 14), two of the most challenging critters you’ll ever meet.
The first thing you must do when pursuing predators is to reverse your mind set from that of the “normal” hunter (or even fisherman). When predator calling, you are not the one roaming the woods looking for game – instead, you are pretending to be an injured rabbit or squirrel and your quarry is looking for you!
The first time you meet a hungry coyote who thinks you are his dinner can be disconcerting, but as far as I know no hunter has ever been eaten by a coyote, so the odds are still in your favor!
The process of predator calling is simple enough. You find a place where coyotes or foxes are known to exist (clear-cuts and farm country are good places to start), sit with your back to the wind and make one or two long, loud squeals on your “dying rabbit” call (which may be purchased at most sporting goods stores on online. Just type in “predator calls” and check out the thousands of sites that come up!). If you want to quickly narrow the search, log onto www.burnhambrothers.com and order their C-3 long-range call and the S-4 short-range call. Nothing to it! I’ve used these calls for decades and they’ve brought coyotes and foxes into range for me all over the country.
Notice that I said, “With your back to the wind.” This means you will be facing downwind, and for good reason. Incoming predators will circle around you and come at you with their noses into the wind, hoping to catch the scent of a dying rabbit or some sign of danger – predators are very cautious, timid animals and will run at the first sign of a threat.
For this reason you must use some kind of cover scent. Skunk essence (yes, they sell this stuff!) works great, but rabbit, fox or coyote urines will work, as will deer, moose or other animal scents. The idea is to saturate the scent trail with an odor the incoming predator finds attractive. You do not want him to get a whiff of your muddy boots, dirty gloves or oil-soaked rifle!
The best approach is to place two or three scent-soaked cotton balls downwind, one in front of you and one to each side and about 20 yards out from your position. This will keep your cover scent in the wind and heading straight into the nose of incoming predators.
The next part of predator calling is the toughest: Sitting still! Once you’ve gotten set up and made your one or two long, angst-ridden squalls, you must sit still, rifle (or camera) pointed down wind, and you must not move for at least 30 minutes. Doesn’t sound like much until you remember that it’s winter, you’re sitting in snow and it could be near zero with a slight wind to your back. But, you must remain motionless because any predator that heard your call is going to come to investigate, and they are very good at coming in unseen.
Watch the edges of distant cover, hedgerows, fence lines and the like because foxes will use such cover as protection as they work their way into range. In most cases, coyotes will come running straight in. They are the dominant predators in Maine and fear little, but they are still very cautious. When you see a predator on the move, sit tight, wait and do not move! They know where you are and will be staring at you the entire way, so don’t move a muscle until the critter is behind some cover and you can make your adjustments without being spotted.
You can shoot at any time, of course, but I like to tease incoming predators right up to my boot-tops, just for the fun of it. To do this, I’ll use the short-range “squeaker” call, which produces a high-pitched squeak or chirp that predators can’t resist. I only do this once or twice – if you call too much you will spook the animal because they know that real dying rabbits don’t sit there squawking all day long. One or two quick squeaks is all it takes. A coyote can “hear” a mouse running around under two feet of snow, and they can easily hear your open-air squeals at 100 yards or more.
Aside from the pleasure of hunting wild predators in winter, there’s some financial reward. A prime fox brings about $30 nowadays, and a prime, “natural” (gray-furred) coyote can bring $40 or more. For this reason, I’d recommend a small-caliber rifle or shotgun to avoid pelt damage. Do not use your favorite deer rifle unless you want to do some sewing of the pelt later on!
The best times to call predators are at dawn and dusk. The period just at sunset on full moon days is extremely productive, and overcast, pre-storm days are also good. Maine has a night-hunting season for coyotes that provides excellent opportunities to call after dark. Just remember your cover scent, face downwind, call sparingly and do not move when a predator is in sight! The can see the slightest movement at remarkable distances, and when they see you and run off, all you’ve done is educate them. Predators will fall for any trick once, but not often twice!
One other tip you can use: Move often and call from a variety of locations. Maine’s thick woods absorb call sounds and a coyote or fox over the next hill may not hear your calls. Move one-half mile or so before you set up and call again. Sooner or later you’ll see the wide, bright eyes of an incoming fox or coyote, and I guarantee you’ll get a tingle down your spine because you suddenly realize that you are not hunting him, he is hunting you!
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