column By: Gordy J. Krahn | January, 20
Location, location, location. It’s the real estate agent’s creed, and the number one reason why certain properties are more valuable than others. It’s the same with animals, both predators and prey. They fight tooth and claw to occupy those spaces with the best resources – food, water and security. These territories will be used by generations of predators as long as the resources remain stable.
It’s easy to see how important it is to be able to identify which areas are most desired and utilized when hunting predators. As I often do, I’ll point to the fur trapper as an example of how location identification and utilization is vital for repeatable success. Through intensive scouting and knowledge of furbearer behavior, trappers locate pockets where the animals they are targeting are the most abundant. For example, if a trapper is targeting beavers, he might seek out those flowages that provide an adequate year-round source of water and food in the form of the bark, buds, stems and twigs of trees such as aspen and birch, as well as soft plant foods such as grasses, ferns and the roots of water plants. Once found, those areas will produce year after year because of the key resources they supply. As long as the trapper leaves some “seed,” the area will continue to produce beaver pelts.
It’s the same when hunting predators. A mated pair of coyotes, for example, might stake claim to an area based on a food source, such as high and consistent populations of rabbits and rodents, and a secure denning site. Hunters who can identify these features stand a good chance of capitalizing on these locations for years to come, as long as they don’t educate the local canines with over-calling and sloppy hunting tactics. All animals, including coyotes, desire to live in the very best habitat with the most abundant resources. Obviously, they can’t all live there, and that’s where dominance plays a part in population distribution and dynamics. Apex predators get first choice when it comes to staking out the best territories. Once those animals are removed via a well-placed bullet to the vitals, it opens a void that is quickly filled by less dominant coyotes or even a lesser predator, such as foxes, if most or all of the coyotes are displaced. These fur holes will continue to produce season after season.
Like trappers, predator hunters can go back to the well year after year and continue to be successful, but they need to be smart about it. This past winter I hunted coyotes with buddy Kelly Wiebe in southwestern Alberta, Canada. We hunted several of his hotspots, places he returns to every year because they consistently produce fur. When hunting with different people in different locales, it’s always interesting to note the thought process of other hunters when it comes to stand selection. One common thread in their strategy is to not burn out these spots by overhunting them, or hunting them poorly.
It’s really a double-edge sword,” said Wiebe. “If you kill coyotes every time you call them in, everything’s good, right? But if they get a little educated you’ve got to mix it up for sure, and that means using a variety of food source and social sounds to keep them guessing – and engaged. Maybe you switch to a pup-in-distress call instead of a dying rabbit call every time you visit a stand.” According to Wiebe, the key is to avoid burning out the stand, and the quickest way to do that is to educate coyotes by using the same routine every time you visit the setup.
What are the ingredients that make up the best stand locations? I’ve already mentioned food and water, security cover and good denning sites. These are givens and easily identified, so let’s look more specifically at how to select stand locations and how to make the most of each. It’s important to understand that some will be permanent while others will be seasonal, most often depending on a food source.
Wind: Above all, it’s important to get the wind right, and not just while on stand calling. Entrance and exit routes must be carefully planned so predators are not put on alert when a hunter is walking in and out of a setup. If, for example, red foxes spend their daylight hours buried deep in a cattail slough, care must be taken to not put them on alert by approaching a setup so that human scent drifts into their hidey hole. Carefully consider any security cover the animals might use to approach the sound of the calls.
“Obviously, wind direction is key,” Wiebe said. “You definitely want to have that in your favor and then you want some feeder draws that come down toward you to give the coyotes some security cover as they’re coming in. Older coyotes, especially, will always use that to their advantage.”
Food: Wiebe says he always has an eye to the ground when he’s out and about, whether working his cattle or hunting big game or turkeys – always gathering intel that will be useful when he comes back to target coyotes. “I locate stockyards where ranchers are storing their feed, for example,” he said. “There is an abundance of mice in the haystacks and coyotes are going to target those. They like to get up on the bales, get a little elevated so they can see farther.”
I witnessed this a couple of years ago while hunting whitetails in Kansas. I was watching from a pop-up blind as a doe and its fawns fed along the field edge. Quick as a cat, a coyote jumped up on a round bale just 50 yards away.
It’s all about targeting food sources the predators themselves are targeting, Wiebe says. “That’s the key,” he said when we were driving to a setup. “All of these tributaries, these creek bottoms – the coyotes are obviously cruising them looking for rabbits or other prey.” While these food sources are fairly consistent, it’s important to key in on seasonal changes, such as those times when certain food sources are abundant, if only for a short period; when deer are dropping fawns or cattle are calving during the spring, for example. Kelly raises cattle, and I asked him if he sees coyotes hanging around them a lot.
“Yeah, especially during calving time, most definitely,” he said. “After those newborn calves hit the ground, that first mother’s milk that’s gone through them is a yellow tasty treat for them [high in protein] and they’ll try to kill the odd calf as well. A lot of times they’re pretty complacent, but there are always exceptions.”
An effective way to hunt coyotes that are hanging around a ranch is to determine where they are retreating to at first light and ambush them on the way back to their daytime loafing area. Hunting with Mark Kayser in South Dakota a few years back, the local coyotes were targeting a ranch we had permission to hunt. They would come down out of the foothills under the cloak of darkness and hang around the cattle throughout the night, mostly feeding on rodents, rabbits and the protein-rich droppings of newborn calves. We devised a plan to catch them with their guard down as they worked back up into the foothills. Setting up on a high vantage point, we use vocalizations – social howls and barks – to play on their curiosity. The reward was two prime prairie coyotes.
Other times I might crawl up to the top of a hill, lie prone and watch the downwind shooting lane. With a tack-driving centerfire rifle I can pick off any circling predators before they catch my wind. Optimally, I like to be able to see at least 200 yards in all directions and avoid having a lot of broken terrain surrounding the setup, which will allow responding animals to sneak in undetected.
If I’m hunting in moderate to heavy cover, I again try to position myself so critters cannot circle downwind of my setup. Or, if I’m hunting with a buddy, I’ll position him to watch the backdoor. I’ll try to find an elevated position so I can cover as many shooting lanes as possible. If cover is extremely tight, I might choose to hunt with a semiauto shotgun instead of a rifle for quick target acquisition and follow-up shots.
Here are a few other considerations when selecting and utilizing the best locations. Keep these in mind when scouting new locations.
• When wind direction allows, set up so the sun is at your back. This, of course, will make it more difficult for critters to pick you up than if the sun was lighting you up. Set up in the shade whenever possible and keep movement to a minimum.
• Terrain and visibility should determine shooting position. The most stable positions are those in which the hunter has the most contact with the ground: prone, sitting, knelling and then standing. Get as low as possible for a stable shooting position and to remain concealed from the prying eyes of approaching predators. Always use a shooting aid.
• Keep enough distance between locations so that you’re always calling to fresh ears. The terrain will
dictate this as well – no less than half a mile between stands in open county and a quarter mile in broken terrain.
Take a tip from that real estate agent: It’s all about location. This really is the key to finding that perfect property on which to hunt predators. It’s the key to more success and a fatter fur check.