column By: Gordy J. Krahn | September, 19
I get this question a lot: “How can you drive all that way by yourself – don’t you get bored?” The truth is, I enjoy long road trips when I am the sole occupant in the truck. I can listen to the music I like, at the volume I like; stop whenever I like, for as long as I like; and just get lost in my thoughts as the miles drift by. The same goes for predator hunting – at least to a degree. While I enjoy sharing the experience with a buddy, there are those times when I’d rather go it alone.
A good friend once told me that while hunting predators is not a spectator sport, adding a partner to the equation can boost enjoyment and add efficiency to the experience. I agree – to a point. The enjoyment comes from sharing those “Did you see that?” moments and the nuances of the hunt. The efficiency comes with those attributes of buddy hunting that can add up to more fur in the truck: the ability to cover multiple shooting lanes and wind directions; the two-gun approach (shotgun and rifle); another set of eyes; being able to guard the “back door”; positioning the shooter downwind of the caller, etc.
Having a good partner can also lead to more fur on the ground through the sharing of knowledge and experience. All of these things can make tandem hunting more effective than hunting alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy the camaraderie of hunting with a partner for all of the above reasons. But sometimes it’s just more satisfying and relaxing to hunt solo. Maybe it’s a latent gene that motivates a hunter to match wits with other predators. Maybe it’s the lack of pressure and competition that sometimes accompanies a tandem hunt.
I’m not alone in this respect. One of my hunting buddies, Mark Kayser from Wyoming, says that for him, hunting as a whole is more fulfilling when he goes about it solo. “I take pride in success when I assess a situation, read the terrain, utilize an alluring choice of sounds and make a solid shot,” he said. “It’s not that you can’t enjoy those same rewards while hunting with a partner, but for me it’s a greater satisfaction when I pull it off on my own.”
Long-time Missouri predator hunter Tad Brown echoes that sentiment. “First off, I am a solitary type guy. I love hunting with partners and sharing the success as well as the failures, but I also love my alone time. I’m not a person who has to do everything with a buddy. I have several hunting friends who love [predator hunting] and are good at it, but simply do not go by themselves. I live in a rural area and can be on stand literally minutes from the house. The ability to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got time for a quick set before dinner’ is golden.”
So, let’s take a look at some of those attributes that make hunting alone effective and enjoyable.
When hunting solo, I have a lot more patience to sit longer because I’m not wondering if my partner is bored or thinks it’s a lousy setup and wants to pack it up and move on. And I don’t feel as compelled to move when things are slow to try to make things happen. I’m more apt to take it as it comes – rather than try to force it – and enjoy the experience, good or bad. The same goes for Kayser.
“Whether I’m hunting coyotes or elk, I feel I have more patience, more focus and more drive when I’m hunting alone,” he said. “It’s probably because I have more skin in the game. It’s my time, my costs and my success all riding on one person: me. At the same time this added pressure forces me to make good decisions, hunt harder and have more patience.
“Over the years I’ve noticed that when I’m hunting with a buddy I make shorter stands because I believe they want to move on to the next one and hope for the best if nothing is showing up. When I hunt alone I don’t care how long I sit as long as I don’t get hypothermia. Over the years I’ve shot more coyotes at the 30-minute mark and beyond than before the traditional 15- to 20-minute mark. That’s likely from doing most of my hunting during the late season after coyotes are educated, but I wouldn’t kill those coyotes hunting with a partner and leaving after 20 minutes. I’d only educate more coyotes.”
Hunting alone has other merits, such as a reduced chance of spooking game – less scent, sound and movement at each stand. And I always get those partners who believe it’s okay to talk going to and from the setup, or slam the truck door. Brown says that more people on stand means there are more chances something will go wrong.
“A buddy might see something you don’t and get caught trying to give you a heads up, or I might be trying to let my partner know about a coyote or fox he has not seen and get caught trying to notify him,” he said. “Alone, I slip in and out as quietly as possible. Oftentimes, we call critters we never see. More scent/movement/noise might alert those critters, making them more wary for the next time.”
“I think making decisions on the spot is easier when hunting alone,” said Kayser. “Although there is something to be said about having two minds to work out a situation, oftentimes your gut feeling, the first feeling, is the right choice. Every predator setup site presents challenges on where your scent will flow and how much ground you can view depending on your position. Too much debating can muddy the waters. When I hunt solo I make a decision quickly and live with it.”
Kayser is also quick to point out that there are those times when a partner provides an advantage. “The top reason is to cover all entrance points, upwind and downwind,” he said. “Having two sets of eyes watching two different directions gives you nearly 360 degrees of coverage to spot incoming predators. When you hunt solo you always give up your backside. Another reason a partner is a good idea is economics. You and your partner can split fuel costs, alternate truck usage, jointly own an expensive electronic caller and even split the cost of donuts.”
Four-time coyote-calling world champion Al Morris has hunted coyotes from California to Vermont and Texas to Alberta. While he most often hunts with his tournament partner Garvin Young, he says that in some conditions you’re just asking for double trouble when hunting with a buddy. “Let’s face it, some guys just aren’t quiet on stand. Coyotes key on those artificial noises and don’t respond to the “bunny blues” if their alarms have been triggered. And then there’s that nose. You eliminate half the scent of a two-man team if it’s only you.”
I deal with defeat much better when hunting alone, and I don’t feel pressed as much to succeed. While hunting with a partner shouldn’t be viewed as a competition, I feel that when I’m calling the shots – picking the locations and the sounds we’re using – there’s inherent pressure to succeed when hunting with a buddy. On the flip side, if my hunting partner is calling the shots, I might go along with his decisions even though I don’t agree with them.
You’re only as good as your last stand, and the pressure to perform is a real thing, says Morris. “But that said, the really good coyote hunters I’ve been lucky enough to run with seem to never have the pressure factor. They just do what they do best, and it seems to work out more then it doesn’t,” he said. “If your partners or friends try to make you do things you normally wouldn’t do – don’t. Coyote hunting should be fun. If you’re too worried about making a bad sound or sequence and you hurry up or get frustrated, chances are pretty good you’re leaving fur behind.”
Even inexperienced buddies have an opinion and, like most of us, we like to share that opinion, says Brown. “I don’t always agree, but sometimes give in just to humor them and live to regret it. I can hit so many more spots more efficiently when hunting solo.”
Can you have your cake and eat it, too? Sure. Hunt alone – with a buddy. Hunting with a partner often carries with it a bit of redundancy, considering that a lot of the time you will both be targeting the same called critter. So why not pair up, but then go your separate ways? One example is to hunt with a buddy, but split up at the truck and go in different directions to cover a lot more territory – or hunt together but alone by using two trucks. Hunters can park at opposite ends of a large ranch or public hunting ground, then hunt back to each other’s vehicle – working across the wind and stopping every quarter mile or so to call. If the property lies north to south, one hunter can swing to the east while the other swings to the west so that they are covering different territory.
“I have had the same calling partner for 23 years and it has paid off in four world championships,” said Morris. “The advantage of splitting up and watching two different directions has been critical to our success. A lot of times we have both showed up back at the truck with a coyote or two.”
I’m more apt to experiment when hunting alone. I might try different sounds, different locations and different tactics with little concern about whether they are going to work. When hunting with a buddy, I’m more apt to use the same old strategies and tactics – and then move on to the next stand.
Some enterprising coyote callers have found a way to hunt alone while enjoying the company of a friend. The practice of using a tolling (decoy) dog is gaining popularity because of its effectiveness and a fun factor that’s way off the charts.
“I rarely hunt alone these days,” Kayser said. “For nearly a decade I’ve been joined by my coyote dog, Sage. She works as a spotter, a teaser, and in low light as a decoy. Fifty percent of the time she is busy working a coyote, and the other 50 percent of the time the coyotes show up and I shoot them without her help.”
Utah predator hunter Cory Lundberg’s canine hunting partner Duke is a Catahoula/cur cross. He says that a dog can be a valuable asset when going it alone because of the additional eyes, ears and, most importantly, nose they add to the equation. The use of decoy dogs exploits the territorial tendencies of coyotes, especially during spring when they’ve got pups on the ground.
“During this time, the alpha males are extremely territorial,” he said. “And the best way to get some action is by primarily using challenge howls, barks and yips, or mimicking the sounds of a family of pups and females with an electronic caller.” It’s also the best time, he says, to use a decoy dog to further exploit those defensive tendencies.
So, while it’s true that predator hunting is not a spectator sport, there are times and situations when hunting with a friend can take the game to the next level of fun and efficiency. But don’t feel that it’s antisocial to want to hunt alone. Going solo can add a whole different dimension to predator hunting that trumps the social aspect.