Hunting and Outdoors

What the Uninitiated Need to Know About Predator Hunting

Coyote standing in front of a rock pile

Coyotes, foxes, and bobcats are North America’s most abundant terrestrial predators. These species play key roles in the ecosystem, helping to manage rodent populations, scavenging carrion, and preying on larger animals that may be sick or weak.  They are also cunning and adaptable.

Hunter aiming a rifle wearing a Tenzing oack
Set up and give your calling sequence about 15 minutes. If you do not get any action, it is probably time to move to a new location.

By Josh Lantz

Coyotes, in particular, have undergone significant changes relative to range, behavior and physiology in just a short period of time. Once relegated to the American West, coyotes have expanded their range to include most of the North American continent over the past 100 years or so. Such expansion has been linked to human development and the resultant extirpation of larger predators like gray wolves, black bears and cougars.

Their ability to adapt to human land use development and a relative abundance of larger prey like white-tailed deer has also brought about changes to the coyote’s social structure. Once largely solitary, coyotes now live in highly flexible social organizations ranging from family groups or loosely knit packs of unrelated individuals. Studies also suggest that their body size is increasing, perhaps due to hybridization with wolves and domestic dogs, which is well documented in certain areas throughout their expanded range. These adaptations have affected changes in the ways coyotes hunt, especially for larger prey like deer, which they typically pursue in pairs or small groups.

Why hunt predators?

Since predator species have few natural enemies throughout much of their range, hunting helps to keep populations in check. This is especially important in areas where predators are numerous and may be adversely impacting livestock, pets, game or other wildlife populations. In addition to preying on such animals, coyotes are also known to carry and transmit a variety of diseases and parasites. Predator pelts also have commercial value and may be legally sold in most states. Further, predator-hunting opportunities are widespread and typically extend into late winter when other hunting seasons are closed. Finally, almost anyone who enjoys hunting for deer, turkey, elk or other game species is likely to find predator hunting fun, challenging and rewarding due to the active calling it employs and the intellect of the animals pursued.

Flextone Vengeance FLX 100 electronic call
Remotely activated electronic calls like Flextone’s Vengeance FLX 100 (MSRP $142.99) come pre-loaded with numerous predator and prey sounds. These calls are useful because they can be placed anywhere and help hunters avoid detection.

Gearing up

With the popularity of predator hunting on the rise, a full complement of predator-hunting gear and accessories is currently available over a variety of brands and price points.

When used within the limits of its particular range and in accordance with applicable state laws, almost any firearm can be successfully used for predator hunting. Most serious predator hunters, however, prefer bolt-action or AR-style rifles chambered in the neighborhood of .223 Rem, .22-250 Rem, .220 Swift, .204 Ruger or .243 Win. Those shooting the smaller end of this range can expect better results using the heaviest premium ammunition they can obtain. Heavier-barreled varmint models also offer increased downrange accuracy. That said, deer hunters just getting into predator hunting are likely to find their existing deer rifles to be capable and acceptable predator guns. Be sure to check your state’s hunting regulations for any restrictions.

As with most kinds of hunting, quality optics are critical to predator-hunting success. Binoculars help hunters spot predators early enough to prepare for a shot. 8-10 power binos with 40-50mm objective lenses offer a user-friendly combination of magnification, image stability and brightness. Laser rangefinders allow hunters to accurately range distance-to-target. Models that automatically compensate for slope and employ bright or adjustable displays make ranging easier in areas of varying terrain and during low-light periods. Finally, a quality, variable-power riflescope allows predator hunters to clearly identify their target and place an accurate killing shot. Since predators are often most active during low-light periods, look for a scope that will perform in such conditions. The light-gathering abilities of a riflescope increase as objective lens size increases. A larger tube diameter also helps, although to a lesser degree. Finally, lower magnification settings increase light-gathering capability in a variable-power scope. What all of this suggests is that a predator hunter will be well-served by choosing a scope with a large objective lens of at least 50mm and a larger tube size of 30-33mm. Make these light-gathering factors your primary considerations, then select a variable-power magnification that makes the scope useful for the other types of hunting you may do with your rifle.

Flextone Lure Motion Decoy
When used in combination with proper calling, Flextone’s Lure Motion Decoy (MSRP $29.99) provides an irresistible visual queue to bobcats, coyotes and foxes that can cause them to quickly close the distance.

Calling is an essential part of predator hunting. Bobcats, coyotes and foxes are highly opportunistic and will investigate any sounds made by their prey, especially distress cries. Additionally, coyotes, in particular, are highly vocal animals and communicate with a complex vocabulary. While volumes have been written on coyote communications and vocalizations, biologists still don’t have a solid understanding of what it all means. As with any game-calling endeavor, firsthand observation is the best teacher, so beginning predator hunters are likely to experience the best outcomes by sticking to the proven rodent squeaks and distress cries that can be produced, with practice, by inexpensive mouth calls. Programmable electronic calls that can be placed and activated remotely are great options for more advanced predator hunters.

Decoys are also effective predator-hunting tools. Anything small and furry that moves can be irresistible eye candy to predators. Naturally curious and bold at times, coyotes, foxes and bobcats are also cunning and wary, so an intriguing visual queue—presented in combination with effective calling—can complete the illusion that gives predators the confidence necessary to close the distance.

Mobility is key when hunting predators. Most experienced predator hunters suggest setting up in an area offering good concealment and extended visibility, then staying there for 15-30 minutes. Depending on how intrusive you are while getting to your spot, consider waiting 10-15 minutes for things to settle down before calling. Call intermittently for 15-30 seconds at a time and remain still after calling while scanning the area for signs of incoming predators. If nothing appears within 15 minutes or so, most experts advise moving on and repeating the process at another set-up.

A product like Tenzing’s well thought out TZ PP15 Predator Pack makes transporting your firearm, ammunition, calls and other essential gear between set-ups quick and easy. Furthermore, this clever pack’s unique, spring-loaded adjustable legs and padded seat allow predator hunters to quickly set up anywhere and remain comfortably seated while calling and shooting.

Coyote standing in front of a rock pile
Once relegated to the American West, coyotes can now be found throughout most of North America. Coyote hunting is a critical management tool throughout much of their range, especially where larger predators are in decline. USFWS photo.

When the exciting time comes to make a shot, it’s tempting to simply level the crosshairs on the center of the animal—regardless of the angle—and squeeze the trigger. But killing animals with fast, relatively lightweight projectiles can be tricky business. Know the particular ballistics of your rifle and ammunition, and don’t risk shots that may wound an animal and prevent recovery. Make shot selection the same priority you make it while hunting deer or other game. When using smaller calibers, a broadside shot into center mass directly above the front leg is the highest percentage kill shot a predator hunter can make.

Predator hunting is rewarding for all the right reasons. It is challenging due to the quarry’s intellect, available when other hunting seasons may be closed, and typically highly beneficial from a management standpoint. All it takes is a few key pieces of gear and a desire to participate. Are you ready for the challenge?

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (14)

  1. I get where you are coming from, Jason. Depending on where you live, coyotes can be provide a rare sight of one of nature’s last wild predators. I have watched in awe as a coyote hunts in the early mornings of the coastal range. And I have no doubt that many “brave” hunters kill these animals for the sheer joy of destroying something wild and free and then seek to justify their base actions with noble sentiments. Coyotes mostly live on rodents, and without them, many areas would be swimming in man’s real enemy, the rat. But let me caution you about painting with too broad a brush. In areas where responsible wildlife management calls for reducing overpopulation, hunters may actually be motivated to take genuinely responsible actions. Also, no need to insult those you wish to instruct.

  2. This is for dan an Waldo 1st of all I do know my laws!!!! You want to know why? It might be becouse I have worked for fish an game for 15yrs!!! Say what!! An killing an animal doesn’t make you a man.. An yes Predator animals can be a nuisance. But they are not the only reason why we don’t see a deer or what for a season there is a lot of factors at play like the over population of human idiots!! That’s I have had to arrest for illegal poaching.. or the fact that hunting licenses are on a steady rise in all of are states.. or I had to take back a moose cuz people don’t know how to read a map.. I have had arrested hunters that we’re shooting deers out of their vehicles on main highways in rural areas.. so don’t be telling me about I don’t know my laws DAN an WALDO!!! An for all the hunters that follow the rules an make sure that animal is taken down with respect this does not apply to you… once again killing animals for their fur or holding s gun doesn’t make you a man!!!! What makes us men is what we do for our community,homeless,how we treat other human beings an so on.

  3. Jason, you need to come down off your high horse. Coyotes have taken a significant toll on fawns and other herbivores to the extent that deer populations in some areas have fallen dramatically. So, the next time hyou are able to score a white tail in order to feed your family, thank a predator hunter who took out a couple of coyotes who would have killed that buck when it was a fawn and you would have gone all season without seeing a deer.

  4. For all you small dic%$#d sacks of crap who hunt animals just for the kill of it an to take its fur should be hunted down an skinned just like they do to the animals that they hunt!!!! I’m all for hunting as long as you are respecting that animal an taking it’s life for food so you an your family’s can have food depending on how you live… but just to go out an kill an animal I have no respect for sacks of crap like you!!!!

    1. I don’t know why Jason is online admitting he has a small pen15 but whatever floats your boat huh? People like you shouldn’t have guns. Men learn how to handle firearms by the practice they get from handling their “manlihood” from a young age. Clearly Jason never had any “manlihood” to handle, and no silly Jason, your uncle chesters’ doesn’t count. There is nothing wrong with any type of hunting as long as it’s done ethically. If there wasn’t a need for it, it wouldn’t be legal genius. You do understand hunting helps conserve our wildlife right? Or are you that dumb? Seasons of all animals are made for a reason, if people didn’t take advantage of that our habitat would not be what it is today..if we’d even have one. Looks like you need to take yourself and your two inch pen15 back to the hunter safety course and learn a few things.

    2. Before you go full keyboard warrior, it’s usually helpful to actually learn about what you’re talking about. Large populations of coyotes have proven to be detrimental to their environment, including killing livestock and domestic animals. Also, hunting is not always for food. It contributes to conservation efforts and keeps populations in balance. In the interests of researching the facts before you form an opinion, I highly recommend that you get your head out of your ass. It makes reading a lot easier.

    3. We have lost a ton of livestock and pets this year. I have never shot an animal before, but I am ready to end this war they(predators) have waged against my family.

      Since coyotes have never attacked people I used to think it was really crappy to kill them. Alas, now they have filled my heart with anguish. Do not care if they go extinct at this point.

    4. So Jason, ever eat meat?
      Those clear covered white trays of red meat come from somewhere, and the living conditions are worse than any wild animal has just being hunted.
      To live free and to be killed for food is better than living your life in a cage, eating food your body was never intended to eat, having chemicals and drugs pumped into you just to keep you alive long enough to slaughter is what is sick.
      Ethical hunting is not a bad thing.

    5. Jason if you were a ranger witch i dought,you would be more sccurate in your rant.illinois lic.is way down now we finance throgh our car plate trough ad ons etc.,,,,,,what i suspect you really are is another “SNOWFLAKE” looking for puffery ,and ablolution!the deer population in ill is out of control,and coyotes ate running packs everywhere.so facts buck snowflake again…just stay out of the heat as you would probly melt!!!——ps in the possesive,it is” our “not “are”

    1. As far as guns and ammo, most anything should be fine. Depending on your particular conditions, I would caution you to read the labels on any lubricants you use to ensure they are rated for your anticipated temperatures. Other than that, dress in layers and have an emergency kit. ~ Dave Dolbee

    2. Does your buddy have hunting experience?

      If so, ask him what you need to bring. If not, stay home.

      In my opinion you might be better off hunting alone than with someone else who is inexperienced. Hunting with another inexperienced person can double the mistakes without doubling the assistance. (let the debates begin!)

      Oh, in either case, don’t forget to wear “hunter orange”. Don’t be the target.

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