By Joe Bell
The loud shrills of my Circe jackrabbit call echoed across the vast, pinyon-juniper landscape.
Moments later, a flash of hair caught my eye amidst the shrubs and golden rod-colored grass.
Suddenly, at about 30 yards away, the unmistakable head of a coyote bobbed into plain view, now with its eyes fixed on my location. I froze, despite a surge of excitement racing through my camo-clad body.
Experience told me this canine would vanish with the slightest bit of movement, so I did not dare move a muscle. But as soon as the ‘yote turned his head for a few fleeting seconds, I seized the moment and quickly hit full draw. I held my 30-yard pin just below the coyote’s vitals and applied back tension until the shot was gone. The Rage Hypodermic broadhead struck with a resounding thud, and the dog bolted out of sight just below a rise. Later I followed copious amounts of blood to my trophy, found dead beneath a thick juniper.
Why Do It
As I reflected on that moment of bowhunting, the experience reminded me of so many encounters I’ve had bowhunting big game — I scouted for the hunt, used a call to lure in my trophy, guessed the shot distance, waited for the right time to draw, calmed my nerves in hopes of executing a good shot, and blood-trailed my prize — the exact things I’ve done so many times while successfully hunting antelope, mule deer, whitetails, and elk. It was no different.
Better yet, this bowhunt took place in late January, and only 45 minutes from my Arizona home. I had a general hunting license and a $12 predator call in my pocket, and I was outfitted with my regular big-game bow, arrows, and other essential gear. What incredible bowhunting practice and excitement for so little investment, compared to hunting pigs or exotics on some specialized ranch hunt.
In addition, pursuing sharp-eyed predators like coyotes, foxes, and bobcats requires swift and precise shooting, because the vital zones on these animals are quite small. This forces a bowhunter to refine his or her shooting skills for relentless precision in order to handle fast, accuracy-based encounters. This is useful training come fall, when you’re in a hurried shooting situation with a big buck or bull.
Where To Go
Every region in the United States offers great predator-hunting opportunities for the motivated bowhunter. In the West, head toward any public-land foothill area and begin driving the dirt roads and walking along cattle trails and washes. You’ll quickly notice tracks and scat of various predator species. From there, you can pick out a calling station not far from locations rich with sign.
In Midwestern and Eastern states, good predator hunting exists on public land, but private-land hunting may be more plentiful where you live. However, this shouldn’t be much of a deterrent in terms of hunting access, since most landowners encourage predator hunting on their land because coyotes and bobcats are notoriously harmful to juvenile deer and turkeys. In these deep-woods and farm-country environments, begin scouting along field edges and woodlines and look for tracks and scat, then set up a natural blind or treestand near a game trail and start calling.
Where I live in northern Arizona, I often hunt predators in the same areas I bowhunt deer, javelinas, and sometimes even elk. This allows me to scout for big-game animals, noting travel patterns, trophy quality, and prime ambush points, all while moving from one predator calling station to another. Now that’s a win-win in my book.
Tips For Success
Play The Wind
I’ve hunted predators since I was a teenager, and the most important tip I can offer is to monitor the wind closely before positioning yourself to call. You must hunt with the wind in your face, or with a crosswind carrying your scent away from the area in which you intend to lure a predator.
In those situations where the wind is unpredictable, as during a weather front, it’s good practice to use scent-elimination products to avoid being busted. Many bowhunters insist on using cover scents as well. Skunk, fox, or coyote urines are commonly used but are never a sure remedy for fooling a coyote or bobcat’s keen sense of smell.
Choose A Good Setup
Every hunting area is unique, but in Western country I prefer to call in locations that provide a good vantage point, so I can detect incoming predators from afar and prepare accordingly. This means finding an elevated knob with lots of natural travel corridors nearby. Never call on top of a ridgeline, where your body’s outline is easily visible from hundreds of yards away. Instead, call partly up a hill, with lots of back cover. This type of setup will provide a prominent position, while also providing proper concealment.
In wooded areas, set up along a meadow or riverbottom where visibility is adequate. The last thing you want is to get caught calling or moving as a predator steps into view inside shooting range, so stay away from brush-choked spots. Learn to sneak into your calling stations, in case there are predators lurking nearby just prior to calling. For this reason, start by calling softly, then slowly increase volume and intensity to ensure your calls don’t scare animals that are within 100 yards or less.
Try An Electronic Caller
Ideally, when using a hand call it’s best to hunt with a partner. In this case, the shooter is placed 15 to 20 yards or so in front of the caller, so the predator’s attention and eyes are shifted away from the shooter. With an electronic caller, a solo hunter can also place the caller behind him or her and achieve the same result.
An electronic caller is also superior for offering various types of calling vocalizations, to include not only unique rabbit-in-distress sounds, but sounds like chirping birds; a fawn, calf, turkey, or house cat in distress; and an array of coyote barks and howls. With such a wide range of sounds, electronic callers are ideal for luring in heavily hunted and call-shy predators that simply won’t respond to ordinary prey-in-distress sounds.
Use A Decoy
One of the best ways to avoid detection while enticing a predator into bow range is to use an animated decoy, such as Primos’ Sit ‘N Spin Crazy Critter or Lucky Duck’s Lil Critter. At the sight of such a “moving kill,” a wily coyote, fox, or cat won’t be able to resist, and will quickly fall for your ambush.
Use Head-to-Toe Camo
Coyotes are color blind (they cannot tell the difference between red and green), and they have less visual acuity than humans. However, their vision is superior in low-light conditions, and they are known to catch movement with laser-like focus. The key to good camouflage is to select a pattern and color hue that blends well with your hunting vegetation. Also, a coyote’s low-light vision makes it sensitive to ultraviolet light. For this reason, make sure your camo clothing lacks a reflective sheen, which can produce that dreaded UV glow.
Be sure to wear camo facepaint, or a snug-fitting headnet, as your head and chest are often exposed to an incoming predator. One more thing: Never position yourself behind a bush, tree, or rock. This can cause issues when drawing your bow and pivoting to shoot. Instead, sit, kneel, or use a small chair to place yourself in front of cover, which will expand your shooting lanes and allow you to draw unobstructed.
Bowhunting predators is great medicine for boosting your hunting skills, because it mimics the same conditions you’ll often encounter while pursuing bigger game. It also requires pinpoint accuracy under fast-shooting scenarios. All in all, it’s a great way for the serious bowhunter to have fun during the off-season while also refining his or her craft for next year’s fall big-game seasons.