Each year Foxpro's New York State Predator Hunt takes place in January and provides eager sportsmen with an opportunity to pursue fox and coyote for 44 straight hours. This year's contest, which was sponsored by Foxpro Game Calls, Savage Arms, Allpredatorcalls.com, Crosman Arms and many more, occurred January 24-26 and saw 179 two-man teams participate.
As always, anticipation for the "big weekend" ran high. However, watchers of the weather forecast grew nervous. The remnants of a polar vortex gripped the area and made for less than optimum calling conditions. The hearty hunters pressed on and realized various degrees of success. The eventual winners of the point-based contest were Matt McDonald and Ed O'konsky. This pair of hunters have won the contest previously and place in the top four on a regular basis. How do they maintain this level of consistency? How do they manage to find success when Mother Nature made calling to tough eastern coyotes even tougher? I asked them a few questions relating to their contest experience and they gladly shared their insight.
Q: Was pre-contest scouting employed for this year's event?
A: Yes, but not to the extent that we have scouted in past contest years. Knowing which areas held coyotes proved crucial this year as the regular movement was disrupted by the weather. We scouted thickets, swamps and stands of foxtails and cattails. When the wind was relentless and the temperature below zero, we found that the coyotes would bed down in the thickest cover to break the wind.
Q: Did you alter your tactics in the factors such as setup, sounds and time on stand?
A: Setup positions were not altered, we always set up giving them the wind and an easy way to approach our wind and set up a shooter on that course. Our sounds used varied some as we needed sounds that could carry through the wind so the animals could hear them. We started loud and after 10 minutes or so would change to a quieter sound. We started a lot of those stands with cottontail rabbit, and then red fox vocalizations. We finished a lot of the successful stands with woodpecker sounds.
Our time on stand was decreased from normal. Usually we would wait 20 to 30 minutes on a stand. During the contest we cut that time down to 10 to 20 minutes on a stand. Response time was decreased as the predators couldn't hear the call as far away as they could on a calm night. We gauged how long it would take for a fox or coyote to walk to our setup from the maximum distance we thought they could hear our call. We would then add 5 minutes to the calling time. On a calm night that distance and time is doubled easily. We called a lot of thick cover and got in really close to the cover so the predators were expected to be within 200 yards when we started calling, hence the response time would be closer to 10-15 minutes maximum.
Q: What time of day/night did you take your predators and was the weather at a lull or did the tricky weather persist?
A: Due to the weather being terrible we concentrated a lot more time calling during the day on Saturday. We harvested two coyotes and a fox in the daylight. The weather seemed to be a steady torrent of wind, snow and cold. It never seemed to let up. We had to hunt every sheltered area we could think of. Hills, gullies, thick stands of pines and honeysuckle thickets were productive. Anywhere we could get out of the wind which would allow the predators a place to bed in a microclimate and hunt in that area turned out to be productive. This year was possibly the worst weather we have experienced in the 12-year history of the contest.
Q: Were you attempting to make as many stands throughout the contest as possible or did you stay longer in areas that you knew/figured where holding predators?
A: We didn't concentrate on making as many stands as possible. It would be unproductive to make stands in areas that would reveal a low percentage of success given the wind and weather. We concentrated on making stands in targeted areas based on the microclimates identified earlier. Our stands ranged from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. Two coyotes were shot at the 7-minute mark, one coyote at 12 minutes and the last at 9 minutes. The fox we harvested was taken at 9 minutes at 4 p.m. Saturday inside the woods at the convergence of several gullies lined with thick stands of hemlock trees.
Q: Where they any unique stories or anecdotes that you can share?
A: Fatigue took a toll on us.... The wind and cold was physically taxing. Matt's eyes felt like sandpaper for days afterwards. One stand on Saturday afternoon we both walked into a narrow field that bordered a cattail swamp. It was sheltered from the wind some and we set up the call and a MOJO Critter. We both then went and got into treestands on the edge of the field and started the call. Matt was scanning the edge of the field and noticed he never turned the decoy on so it sat there motionless. Eventually, the wind picked up enough to move it some. A coyote responded and broke quickly into the field and spun to head back into the cattails. Matt shot at it through the branches of a black walnut tree in front of him and completely missed... in broad daylight at 70 yards. It looked like an easy shot except for a small branch on the walnut tree that was grooved from the bullet.
In another stand, we walked into a swamp and Ed sat on the ground with the shotgun and Matt climbed into a treestand to watch with the rifle. When we walked in Matt carried his trigger stick bipod with him. The treestand was a bonus to improve his view so he climbed up in the tree. The stand yielded nothing and we walked back to the truck through some deep snow, when we were almost to the truck it finally registered to Matt the trigger sticks were leaning against a tree next to the treestand tree. It was a long walk back to get them!
On Friday night, we went to a calling stand only to find fairly fresh tire tracks and two sets of prints going into a field. Matt wanted to leave and go to another stand, but Ed indicated that the callers set up wrong and said it was worth a try to call the field and set up right. We set up using our technique and a coyote responded and ran into the edge we gave him for the approach. He was shot with a rifle running into Ed. This coyote later won the heaviest coyote for the contest at over 48 pounds. We think that coyote was there the whole time, but not comfortable with responding to the setup presented by the first callers.
Clearly, Matt and Ed have a good grasp on how to bag predators at crunch time! Here are the list of winners and some additional statistics from the hunt.
1st Place: 1 fox; 4 coyotes
2nd Place: 6 fox
3rd Place: 3 fox, 1 coyote — Placed by total weight
4th Place: 3 fox, 1 coyote
179 Calling teams entered
9 Youth Division Teams; 170 Open Division
64 percent of calling teams checked-in
25 percent of checked-in teams brought in predators
17 coyotes brought in
57 red fox brought in
15 gray fox brought in
48.2 pounds won heaviest coyote