By Robert Hanneman
We all love hunting, and if you didn't then you would not be reading the Huntin’ Fool ® magazine. Like most of you, I am always looking for ways to extend my hunting season. A long time ago I turned to hunting predators as a way to spend more time in the field. I really enjoy hunting predators, but it also gives me an excuse to get out and scout and learn new country. If you enjoy hunting big game, you are doing them a favor by shooting predators. I cannot even comprehend how low our big game populations would be if no one was taking predators. A Mountain lion alone will take an average of 40 deer a year. A wolf will average 10-15 deer or elk per year, so you can expect a pack of six wolves to make close to 90 kills a year. Bears, on the other hand, do not kill many adult deer and elk, but they are extremely hard on fawns and calves in the spring. Last year a friend of mine in Montana watched as a Black bear ran a cow down that was trying to calf. The bear finally ate the calf seconds after it was born. A lot of blame for the decline of Mule deer numbers falls on Mountain lions. Mountain lions do take a number of deer, but recent studies have shown that coyotes are taking a lot of deer in the West. I really applaud Utah for placing a bounty of $50 on each coyote taken in their state. For more information on Utah’s coyote bounty program, go to www.wildlife.utah.gov/hunting-in-utah/ hunting-information/762.
Wolves are by far the toughest predators to hunt. Wolf hunters have lower hunting success than any other hunters in the West. I have personally spent over 100 days hunting wolves, and I have been lucky enough to harvest two. Taking my first wolf meant more to me than any other animal I have ever taken. Most of the wolf hunting I have done has taken place in Montana, Idaho, and Canada. My favorite time of year to hunt wolves is in February as it is their breeding season and they are very territorial. Also, most of the elk are grouped up on the winter ranges, which concentrates the wolves. This time of year you can find me glassing herds of elk. If there are wolves in the area, you can tell just by the way the elk act. Another good method of hunting wolves is to drive roads after fresh snow and find tracks. Once tracks are found, I try to get my wind right and then loop ahead of them and call.
The most effective way to hunt Mountain lions is with hounds. Lucky for me my wife loves hounds, and at this time we have three. Having hounds is no small chore and takes a lot of time, training, patience, and money. There is a reason a guided Mountain lion hunt usually runs $5,000+. By the time you buy hounds, GPS collars, shock collars, dog boxes, other gear, and dog food you are not making any money unless you are running a bunch of hunters. A really good hound can sell for over $5,000 alone. Hound hunters do it for the love of the sport. The best part of the hunt is watching the hounds work out a track. If you have never had the opportunity to hunt with hounds, then you should add it to your bucket list. Some people have had luck calling Mountain lions in, but much like bobcats, you have to be very patient and be in an area with a high lion population. I know a couple guys in Montana who cut a smoking hot lion track in the snow and walked the track out until they were able to catch up to the lion. That is something I would like to accomplish in my hunting career.
I have taken many bobcats during my life, but I have never been able to call one in. Maybe it is a lack of patience while calling from a stand or just plain bad luck. From talking to hunters who have been successful in calling in bobcats, I have learned that they call from each stand for nearly 1 hour. I am usually just calling for coyotes, and very rarely am I on a stand for more than 35 minutes. Someday I hope to get lucky enough and call in my first bobcat.
Growing up in northern Nevada gave me a ton of opportunities to hunt coyotes and Kit fox. I still remember my first “CIRCE” predator call I got from my grandpa. I would love to say that from day one I was a coyote killing machine, but that would not be the truth. You see, when you are 12 years old there is a major learning curve in hunting coyotes. I used to ride my motorcycle out into the desert and try to call coyotes. The first lesson I learned was to keep the wind right. Next I learned to take a shotgun as a running coyote at 10' is hard to hit with a .22. I can say that my cousin and I got really good at killing coyotes when I turned 16. With my truck, a couple of .22-250’s, shotguns, and his Johnny Stewart electric game call, we were in heaven. I still remember the day my two buddies and I skipped school and went coyote hunting. We made it about 30 miles from town when my truck broke down. Knowing that my dad would understand it was better to hunt coyotes than go to school, we called him for help. Unfortunately my mom found out and drove out to where we were broken down. She loaded us up and drove us right to school. Then she marched all three of us, camo and all, right into the principal’s office. She was a legend after that in my high school.
When looking for a location to set up and call from I always try to find a location where my wind is right and I have some elevation to see from. As for the equipment I use for calling, good camo and quality optics are a must. I prefer a .22-250 as a rifle and a semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun. I set the shotgun across my lap and have the rifle on a bi-pod pointing in the direction I think the coyote will come from. I would say 60% of the coyotes I kill are with the shotgun. Even though I still love my handheld “CIRCE” predator calls, I use my Foxpro electric game call 95% of the time. I personally like the Hellfire Foxpro call the best as it weighs in at 3 pounds and can hold up to 200 different sounds. When calling, I try to keep my stands no closer than a mile apart while in open country. I usually start out calling softly in case something is close and then after a few minutes I will turn up the volume. I will call for 3-5 minutes and then sit for 3-5 minutes. I will usually keep this up for 20 minutes then turn the call off and sit for 15 minutes. The Lightning Jack is my favorite call on my Foxpro while calling coyotes.
Doggin’ coyotes is something everyone should experience. My really good friend, Levi Johnson, operates Montana Doggers out of Winnett, Montana. It is basically just like a normal coyote calling setup, except you have a dog or two working out in front of you. As the coyotes come to the call, they get in a game of chase with the dogs. The dogs are trained to keep bringing the coyotes closer to the shooters. The great thing about this is you usually get multiple shots due to the coyotes paying more attention to the dogs than anything else. It is definitely an adrenaline rush. To watch some videos of doggin’ coyotes, check out www.montanadoggers.com/.
Truthfully, the best experiences I have ever had while predator hunting have come in the last 5 years while hunting with my wife and boys. There is nothing better than watching those boys following in my footsteps. I can only hope that when they skip school to go coyote hunting that they invite me along!