This year’s elk meat is freezer safe, mule deer season is just a fond memory, and even the whitetail grind in your favorite deer forest is over. You still feel like spending time outdoors, and what better way than to hunt down predators in the wide expanses of the desert Southwest? You will have a great time, help control the number of predators and reduce pressure and predation on local big and small game. But hunting predators in the west is not the same as hunting in the big local forests or farms. It can be much more difficult, but it can also offer incredible opportunities and adventures. Here are some tips to help you have a fun and successful hunt.
The OnX app is one of my most used tools. If you don’t already have it on your mobile device, download it before you go hunting. It shows satellite images, topographic maps, roads, water sources, etc. You can save waypoints, mark routes, measure distances, and much more. Most importantly, OnX shows you the boundaries of public and private land, and shows your exact position in relation to those boundaries. It will allow you to safely and ethically access public land and prevent you from accidentally trespassing on private land. It’s easy and intuitive to use, and will help you hunt smarter.
Use an electronic call
Even if you’re a master of mouth calling, I recommend having a good quality electronic call in your arsenal. It will add significant advantages in some configurations. Have a large selection of downloaded sounds, including some unusual or uncommon ones, if possible. Public land predators get a lot of pressure, and the old and smart have heard most of the common sounds and aren’t likely to be fooled by them. Try something strange or unusual and they might be tempted beyond their resistance. Mix in some mouth sounds and your performance becomes even more interesting.
work fast for dogs
If you’re looking for canine predators (coyotes, foxes), don’t spend too much time on each setting. Yes, it is true that some smart old dogs will take a long time to carefully approach, and you will miss them. But in general, you will see more dogs doing more setups. Most canines will show up, if they are going to come, within the first 20 minutes of calling. One world champion caller I’ve heard of only spends eight minutes on each setting before moving on. So set up, focus hard for 20 minutes of calling, then continue to the next set up.
Slow hunting for cats
On the other hand, if you really want to call cats, patience is enormous. Bobcats are what most cat hunters focus on, although in some states you can purchase an over-the-counter cougar permit and hunt them as well. Establish suitable cat habitat (rock piles, brushy washes, etc.) where a cat can stay in cover until it is within 20 yards or more of your call. That will make them more comfortable and likely to come closer to the call. Use mostly sounds of birds in distress. Be very alert and watchful, as cats are difficult to spot, and call for at least an hour in each setting. Keep the electronic call going non-stop, as cats tend to lose interest when the sounds stop.
sneak up on me
I think one of the biggest and most common mistakes predator hunters make is getting noisy into a setup and then starting their call too soon. Predators are far from stupid and will quickly file the sound of an engine, a call and a gunshot into their “Get Out Of Dodge” memory sound bank. Be very careful when approaching a setting. Park at least 300 yards from where you plan to settle and try to shove your vehicle into a small space out of sight. Gently get into position, then sit absolutely still and quiet for several minutes before you initiate the call. When you leave, be quiet and stealthy too, in case some reluctant critter is hanging out of sight or ear. There is no need to confirm your suspicions.
hang a pen
If circumstances allow you to hang a small white feather near your calling, do so. Cats are especially fascinated by movement (think of a house cat staring at the end of a string), and if they see your quill twirling in the breeze they’ll largely ignore the danger (you). Hang the feather in a place where it will be easy for an approaching predator to spot.
hunting over water
If predators aren’t responding well to your call, try settling over the water to sit in the afternoon. Coyotes like to drink and play in the water during the afternoon, especially if it is hot. For this to work, the water needs to be limited, so if there has been any precipitation over the past few weeks, don’t bother. But if it’s been dry and water is scarce, hunting coyotes over water can be dynamite on hot afternoons. If you shoot one, stand still and keep waiting. More are likely to appear before darkness settles over the hills.
call at night
Some western states allow nocturnal predator hunting for part or all of the year. Hunting foxes and bobcats can be especially effective after darkness has taken over the desert, and the hunt can be super fast and super fun. You’ll need a strong spotlight with a red lens and some way to stand out from the surrounding terrain. Critters are less likely to scare around vehicles at night, and many night hunters use tall racks on the back of their trucks. Simply park, turn off the engine, and place your E-call in the cab or hood. Be quiet for a few minutes, and then start the call. You will need two people: one to handle the focus and the other behind the gun. Move the light beam in a circle around your position, looking for the reflection of an approaching predator’s eyes. When you see eyes, keep the light high so that only the halo of light dimly illuminates you. Once your marksman is ready, drop the beam directly onto the predator so they can identify it and potentially shoot. The predator will only stay on its feet for a few seconds once the main beam is on it, so if you’re going to shoot, don’t wait. Be sure to check local regulations to determine legal seasons, species, and hours before hunting at night.