Now that the antlered deer-hunting season is over and there’s virtually no safe ice on local ponds and lakes to ice fish, what’s a sportsman to do?
Well, did you ever consider giving predator hunting a try?
The predator line in Pennsylvania consists of foxes, coyotes and bobcats, all of which are susceptible to being infected with rabies, mange and distemper. So hunting them alleviates some of these problems. And to make the effort worthwhile, their pelts can often fetch between $30 and $45 depending on the pelts’ condition.
Since I never hunted coyotes, I attended Cabela’s recent jam-packed predator hunting seminar sponsored by Fox Pro, a leading Pennsylvania-based game call manufacturer.
Fox Pro staffer and marketing director Abner Drunkenmiller, a mid-state resident and avid predator hunter, gave an informative two hour standing-room-only presentation on hunting predators, which in Pennsylvania includes the aforementioned big three.
“The first question most sportsmen ask is where do you hunt predators,” said Drunkenmiller. “For red foxes, it’s sparsely settled, rolling farm areas with wooded tracts, marshes and streams. For grays, it’s brushy areas, swampy lands and rugged mountainous terrain.”
And coyotes? “Coyotes are known to kill and eat fawns, livestock, especially chickens, ducks and geese. As such, Drunkenmiller recommends looking for farm areas with chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. And if there’s a farm with goats and sheep, so much the better.
The National Trapping Association says that once a coyote develops a taste for sheep, it’s virtually impossible to discourage them. Coyotes, they say, also kill calves and sometimes the calves are eaten as they’re being born. Plus, coyotes prey on squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits, grouse, stocked pheasants, birds, wild turkeys, foxes, domestic cats and even small dogs.
As for firearms used for predator hunting, Drunkenmiller said he prefers a .223 caliber rifle with 53 grain Hornady cartridge, although a .22 Mag or Hornet or .17 Hornet calibers can also be used. And for close range stuff, he customarily carries a 12-gauge shotgun with Hornady Varmint Express loads. I asked if a 30.06 with 95 grain Accelerator ammo could be used, but Drunkenmiller believes it would damage too much of the pelt.
As to where to hunt, again, Drunkenmiller says chicken or turkey farms are magnets for coyotes in particular. Look for dark shadowed areas to set up and sit on the side of a hill, not at the top where you’ll be silhouetted.
He emphasized that there are two most important factors in coyote hunting; wind direction and elevation. “Predators have a keen sense of smell and will wind you if you’re not hunting into the wind. Elevation is also key, as you have the advantage of being able to see an animal coming at you. You want a wide field of view and have clear shooting lanes,” he explained.
Drunkenmiller also recommends hunting fence rows, edges of fields and hollows, humps in a mountain, clear cuts like power and pipe lines, food plots and logging roads that you’d customarily find in Pennsylvania state forests. And in hard wood woodlots that are dominant here in the southeast (and if this is the only place you have to hunt), then you should, he strongly suggests, clear shooting lanes before hunting these areas.
Coyote hunters should look for scat and check out goldenrod and briar fields and open fields near a draw. Harvested soybean, corn or hay fields are also good spots to scout he added.
In calling, Drunkenmiller sets up his electronic Fox Pro caller about 20 yards in front of him and added that certain Fox Pro models can be retrofitted with a motorized tail that moves back and forth and gets it power from the calls’ battery pack. Newer models already offer that as an option. The moving tail mimics a rabbit or animal in distress and draws the predator in.
You can also place your remote caller on a fence post or hang it in a tree to elevate the sound. More importantly, manipulate the calls’ volume to create realism, he says. After 12-16 minutes of using a rabbit in distress call Drunkenmiller will, for example, switch to a bird call (nuthatch or titmouse) as coyotes will seek out an injured bird for an easy meal. “You can also try a coyote kiy or pup distress call for about two minutes. And even though we don’t have jackrabbits in Pennsylvania, try that call (if it’s in your calls’ repertoire) as a coyote doesn’t know the difference between a cottontail and jackrabbit. If coyotes are in your area, most will often show up within 7-12 minutes of your calling,” said the Fox Pro pro.
Drunkenmiller stresses to stay away from ponds, lakes or creeks where a predator would have to cross to get to your location. “Like a gobbler, they won’t cross water to get to your calling.”
Once set up, he normally places the rifles’ forearm in a Bog Pod shooting stick for a steady and comfortable shooting position. He was asked about hunting from a treestand, but believes you’d be easier to spot by a predator as opposed to sitting at ground level.
As for a commercial blind, “It’s nice but doesn’t allow 360 degree viewing or maneuverability,” Drunkenmiller opines. “Oftentimes a coyote will come in from any direction and you have to move and shoot quickly.” Added to this, he said he generally doesn’t spend too much time in one spot. Usually 20 minutes is max after using an electronic caller or mouth call and getting no response. “Sometimes, he recounts, a coyote may even howl so you’ll know where he is.”
These tips and techniques are all aimed at early morning, late evening hunting. Drunkenmiller also has tricks for predator night hunting that I’ll detail in another column.
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