Hunting the Hunters

by Darren Johnson 

I shivered as the frigid wind hit me in the face, but I couldn’t help but smile just the same. I had been waiting for this moment for what seemed like an eternity. I quickly sat down with the wind crossing me, three tree trunks at my back and a small bush in front of me. It was go time.

I hit the play button on my digital predator caller remote and a wounded cottontail cry burst from a bush about forty yards in front of me. Its shriek filled the air and echoed off the hills and trees around me. Almost immediately, the jays and crows got excited and began moving closer to the caller. I thought to myself how in the past their interest had been a good sign of upcoming success.

The minutes ticked by as I felt the urge to hurriedly look in all directions to see if a predator was coming in looking for an easy meal. As much as I wanted to, I knew that could spell disaster to my hunt. Their senses were keen and any hint of danger would send them heading for the hills, even more educated than they already were. The seconds seemed like hours until I saw a hawk fly over the trees surveying the scene. Good, that’s another good sign, I thought.

Just then, I heard leaves rustle to my left. Was it something coming my way or just the wind? I didn’t want to look so I listened more carefully. I heard it again and this time it sounded more like footsteps than the wind. I had been so careful about my setup, I didn’t think there was any way it was a predator. The wind was all wrong, they should be coming in from my right in order to stay downwind of the call. Not knowing what to expect, I slowly turned my head to the left to find the largest coyote I have ever seen, only eight steps away, staring right at me.

For those of you who have done much predator hunting, my story probably seems all too familiar. With this type of hunting, anything and everything can go wrong. Predators survive by being the smartest creatures in the woods and even when starving still have enough patience to not make fatal mistakes. In spite of this, they can be successfully hunted if you have the energy and patience. Along the way, I have made every mistake in the books and here are some tips so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

1. Have real expectations – my calling results in seeing a predator only about one time out of every four attempts, getting a shot is even less frequent. If you feel that you have to have a kill each time out, you will probably be disappointed.

2. Play the wind – every predator that I know of uses the wind to help assess the situation; usually they will approach the call from downwind. The worst situation you can have is to have the predator approach from behind you, only to find you before they find the caller (I can’t tell you how often I made this mistake early in my hunting career).

3. Know your weapon, and be proficient with it – predator hunting often offers you the least amount of time to prepare your shot; you must understand your weapon’s range and be quick with getting on target and taking the shot. Predators tend to not stay still for long, you have to be prepared.

4. Expect the unexpected – crazy things happen when predator hunting, that is just one of the things that make it interesting. A buddy bought a brand new remote caller; one with the moving raccoon tail attached. He set it up in an open field totally convinced the coyotes would come running. Maybe they did, but they didn’t beat the red-tailed hawk that swooped down out of a nearby tree, grabbed the caller and flew away with it. I wish I could have seen my buddy’s face! Once, while in a tree stand at the end of a deer hunt, I pulled out a cottontail distress mouth call and began mimicking a wounded rabbit. Almost immediately, the weeds began moving as a predator made its way closer to my tree. Near the base of the tree, the weeds quit moving and I began wondering what had happened. I decided to lean over to look down to see if I could figure out what was going on. Imagine my surprise when I came eyeball to eyeball with a very large raccoon climbing the tree in search of dinner.

5. Have fun regardless of the outcome – don’t measure your success by your kill ratio. Enjoy knowing that you are in nature taking on the toughest adversaries there are. Let the experience mean success for you.

There I sat, trying to slow the adrenaline down as the coyote tried to figure out if I was friend or foe. I froze, avoiding even the smallest movement. I even held my breath for as long as I could to avoid tipping him off. As the caller continued to scream the cottontail death song, he eventually got distracted and gave up on me. Hunger pangs must have overrode caution as he quickly moved toward the caller. Each time he would move behind a tree or bush, I would turn and raise the rifle more toward my shoulder. By the time he was near the bush I was ready. Another bush obstructed his body so I waited what seemed like an hour for him to move.

Finally, he was in the open, broadside to me. I settled the scope on the target and tried to gently squeeze the trigger. The bark of the rifle was deafening but I somehow felt no recoil. I squinted through the scope trying to find the coyote, and finally saw his lifeless body at the base of the bush.

In spite of being caught totally off-guard and unprepared, he was mine.
That day, I had hunted the hunter and won. Amazingly, I no longer felt the bite of the wind as I walked toward the bush to claim my reward.

For more excellent writing and photos, pay Darren's blog a visit at Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

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