How predator hunting can improve your big game success this fall
Predator calling for deer and elk.. By John Stallone
If you are like me you are always looking for ways to improve your hunting skill set. I found that there is no better off season practice then bow hunting predators. From learning new terrain to incorporating new tactics it’s a real–life training ground for your other hunting ventures. I’m going to share with you three ways it has taken my big game hunting to the next level.
The most obvious benefit to hunting predators in the off season is the chance to learn new ground. I have learned more deer and elk hunting spots because of the time a spent afield predator calling than any other activity. Why, because it’s fun and more interesting than just going on a scouting trip. A Side-effect of this is improving your woodsmanship, ability to read sign and how to play the wind. When you are actively hunting you are honing all your skills and becoming a better hunter. When searching for a good place to call predators you are looking for sign: tracks, droppings, hair etc. while doing so you are inadvertently improving your attention to detail. Moreover you are finding tracks and sign of other game and storing them in your mental rolodex to recall on when it comes time to hunt those species. And much like big game hunting you are putting the wind in your face and learning to play the wind. Like anything else the more you do it the better you are at it. You will experience firsthand how the wind is affected by the terrain you are hunting and the shifts that occur throughout the day. This is knowledge you can refer back to on other hunts. However, for me the most important benefit of this category is the confidence it builds in my calling and more importantly my ability to make a shot. Predators often come in for what I term as a “drive by shooting”, and in order for you to be successful at harvesting one with your bow you need to become faster at acquiring, aiming and executing a shot. You can relate this to hunting whitetail in a treestand during the rut. How many times have you had a buck come trotting in after a doe only offering you a few fleeting seconds to 1)make up your mind that this was a buck you wanted to shoot 2) range him up 3) acquire the target and draw 4) shoot. I hear it all the time “this big buck came in but he only gave me a shot for a few seconds and then he was gone”, predator hunting is a real life training room for this very scenario. I’ve have had this very scenario happen to me. I was in Illinos in Nov. and the biggest buck of my life came trotting in after a doe. The doe and buck stopped for just a few seconds but more than enough time for me to range and shoot. However I was so flustered that I couldn’t get into my normal rhythm of shooting and the opportunity to shoot came and went just like that. I tried to stop him again but like most of these love sick bucks around this time they are focused on the bird in the hand not the grunt in the bush.
Using predator calls on other game:
Over the years while predator calling I have accidentally called in deer, elk and antelope and at first I didn’t see the benefit. Mainly because I would always call in doe or cows and of course they were out of season so for me it was just a show, an opportunity to witness these animals up close and personal. However, I started noticing that when I did it during the rut phases of these animals the does would run in with their male counterparts in tow. A light went off in my head if I could consistently call in doe followed by bucks then I could use this tactic while hunting these species. I did just that, I began with Mule deer in my home state of AZ. I would locate a doe group with a buck I wanted to harvest and I would slip into a couple hundred yards of them and begin doing a fawn in distress call. Sure enough I started killing bucks with this tactic. I then tried it on elk using calf in distress calls to bring in cows followed by the bulls. It worked like a charm. I had a late season bull elk hunt here in AZ and at this time the elk are not rutting but the bulls are still with cows. I glassed up a bull with a large harem; I slipped with 150 yards on the downwind side put the call bellow me in this drainage and began calf distress calls. Within seconds I had the whole herd bellow me with the bull offering me a 50 yard shot broadside. I was relying on maternal instinct and not sexual drive or aggression which is far more powerful. So powerful that it has worked in some capacity on every species I have tried it on. However this info is almost worthless without the next piece of the puzzle.
The Set up:
I have always dabbled in calling deer, elk, turkey and other big game, but it wasn’t until I started hunting predators seriously that lead me to find a commonality that linked all calling, the hang up spot. No matter what it is you are hunting when using a call there is always a point that the animal you are calling feels that they should be able to see what’s calling to them, and that is usually when they hang up.
I have heard a few guys in the industry refer to it as the doorway principle or the calling room. Simply put, it’s the area at which the animal you are calling expects to see what it is that is calling to them. You hear it all the time “I called this coyote in and he hung up just outside where I could shoot to”. Or “the turkey came running in and hung up and wouldn’t come into the clearing”. I think the person who describes it best is Chris Roe of Roe hunting resources. Chris uses this principle when bow-hunting elk and he describes it like this: If you were in a separate room and you heard your wife calling you from a different room, you would get up and go to where you heard her calling from but when you got to the doorway of the room you believed she was in, you wouldn’t just run in there and “say what’s up babe”. You would first look into the room to verify that’s where she was and if you didn’t see her you would continue to look for her or call her name. And if she responded from within that room and you still couldn’t see her you would think something was fishy. Well the same goes for animals they want to see who or what is making the sounds. That’s why set up is the most important aspect to calling in game. Most guys focus all their time an energy into being a “good caller” or a “realistic caller”. Now I’m not saying that it’s not important to sound good and have proper cadences and timing, but you can certainly get by with being a mediocre caller if you know how to choose your set ups.
Now I know what most of you are thinking….Decoy…. Not necessarily. I almost never use a decoy but what I do is pick the right set up that forces the animal to step into the room(step into my kill zone) to see what’s calling to them. This can be a number of things and it’s really dependent on the animal you are calling and the sounds you are making. For example: 1) If we are talking about predators and you are making a jackrabbit in distress sound this might be easily accomplished by putting your electronic call so that the predator has to come around the bush to see what it is.2) If you are using a mouth call you have to find natural barrier that the predator needs to come around to see and enter your kill zone.3) If you are doing a fawn in distress call a bush isn’t going to cut it the “doorway” needs to be larger. I always look for funnels or structures ie: rock out cropping , visually obstructive trees, large dead-fall etc. that forces the animal to come around it putting himself broadside in front of me. Now I don’t mouth call very much anymore I typically use a foxpro and not only because it makes real sounds but mainly because I can put the sounds where I want them and it helps me direct game to where I want them to go. I am a bow hunter so I need to call animals into a 50yard range or less so having the ability to bring a animal right to a call without getting busted is essential that why prefer to use electronic calls
One of my favorite and easiest setups to find a 30-40 yard clearing within a thick area that has one lone obstruction in the middle (refer to fig #1) I will sit perpendicular to the wind on the edge of the clearing and place my call under the obstruction with the speaker facing the area I want them to come from. What this does is “force” the animal to enter the clearing allowing you to see them, then they must come around the obstruction to see the call giving you an opportunity to shoot. This set up works for a number of reasons. 1) most of the time animals circle to get the wind, 2) most of the time they come in the direction the call is facing, 3) the obstruction allows you to drawback concealed as they are coming around 4) it often forces a broadside shot. Now its hunting, it doesn’t always happen as you plan it they may come from behind or form a different direction so choose a good back drop for protection and something that conceals you well.
Another one of my favorite set ups and this works for calling deer, elk, coyote, turkey etc.( electronic call or mouth call) is putting a little rise between me and the animal so for them to see what is calling to them they have to come over the rise and ” whammo” its too late they have entered the kill zone. The setup is similar in that you want the wind, the back drop, etc all the same as my first example. Now I typically use this when I know that there is an animal I want to call on the other side of the rise, however you can use this with blind calling too. You just need to understand that by the time you see the animal they are in the kill zone and probably can see you.. I reserve this type of set up for shotgun use, because you can easily pull up, acquire the target and shoot. The only exception to this is elk, antelope and deer because they are not as low profile and you can often see their antlers coming over giving you enough time to draw.
Put some thought in your setups try to be on the other side of the calling and try to imagine what you would do if you were the animal approaching the sound that you’re hearing. Because even a perfectly executed call may not bring them where you want them, guys who can’t call to save their lives still spark enough curiosity for an animal to come look into the room all the time.. It’s getting them to enter the room is the tough part.
Now that I have share with you some insight on how predator hunting this spring can help your other hunting adventures. Get out there this off season do a some predator hunting, learn some new ground, practice being a more effective hunter, gain confidence with your equipment and put some of these calling set ups to work. You will thank me later