Coyotes will eat anything they can get their jaws around, from a mouse to a full-grown deer. They will respond to any prey distress call, even if the sound the call is making isn’t mimicking a species native to the area. I’ve never seen a jackrabbit, but when I added a jackrabbit distress to my e-caller, my coyote responses increased; a new sound they had never heard. These canines can be lured by distress cries and also by their own vocalizations, which include howls, barks, whines and pup distress calls.
When I began calling predators almost 40 years ago, the gray fox was my most common kill. These guys would respond day or night with unbelievable boldness. Today, things are different. Gray fox are not quite as bold, and they tend to inhabit thick brushy habitat that a cottontail would have trouble penetrating. Their numbers have decreased. The coyote is the main reason. The surviving gray foxes learned that at the end of the trail leading to a rabbit-distress sound, a coyote might be causing the screaming.
The gray fox can still be called, but one must hunt closer to thick cover. The calling sequence must be longer and the hunter must look for not much more than a fox head peeking from brush instead of a bold charge. While a coyote might respond better to a short calling sequence that is followed by several minutes of silence, the gray fox responds best to continuous calling, though at much lower volume.
I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but in Georgia the red fox is about to go the way of the passenger pigeon. The gray fox inhabits thick brush and can usually (not always) escape the hungry jaws of a coyote. It can also climb a tree to escape. The red fox is a creature of open land and either can’t or won’t climb a tree. In my state, the coyote is decimating the red fox population.
For those of you who still have a respectable population of red foxes and are inclined to hunt them, treat them exactly as you would a coyote. They have a good nose and, unlike the gray fox, tend to circle and sniff the breeze. Like the gray fox, they will respond to a rabbit distress, but I usually get more responses from fox, both red and gray, by using bird-distress calls.
Arguably, the bobcat is the most desirable predator trophy in the Southeast. Most hunters lust for a mounted bobcat. When I began calling the critters, my fox-to-bobcat ratio was something like 25-to-1. Such results caused me to believe that bobcats were harder to call than foxes. Just the opposite is true. The bobcat is rarely bothered by the presence of human scent. A shot-at-and-missed fox might become call-shy. A missed bobcat will likely come to the call again the next day if he is close and hungry. He just can’t bridge the mental gap and connect a screaming rabbit to a hunter with a gun, even if the gun goes “boom” and kicks dirt in his face.
Bobcats will respond to a prey-distress call during daylight hours if they are really hungry, but prefer to stalk their prey under cover of darkness. Like housecats, bobcats spend most of the daylight hours sleeping or just resting. Their coat is a very effective camouflage that blends with leaves and forest detritus. The predator caller who hunts the bobcat in daylight should concentrate his efforts during the crepuscular periods of early morning and late evening.
While predator calling is my favorite sport, I also like to hunt wild turkeys. I never pass up a legal opportunity to kill a raccoon because they are the wild turkey’s worst enemy. I consider the raccoon a predator just as much as the cats and canines. Raccoons will occasionally come to a prey-distress call, usually at night. Although I have had them respond to other sounds, a bird-distress call is most effective.
The Nose Knows
Some veteran hunters don’t attempt to neutralize human scent. Neither do they bother to use a cover scent. Instead, they carefully play the wind to their advantage. I employ all three tactics to give myself every edge. I am not so naïve as to think that a cover scent will completely fool a coyote’s nose. Neither do I believe that any of the “scent neutralizers” are totally effective. I have learned that a coyote will tolerate some human scent if it isn’t fresh. My experience has been that both cover scents and neutralizers will often confuse the coyote long enough for a shot opportunity, even if the coyote is approaching from downwind. You will note that I refer to the coyote here because it is this predator that possesses, by far, the best olfactory system (smeller).
In addition to avoiding the predator’s eyes and nose, setup is equally as important. Walk into the wind, or at least into a cross wind, when approaching the calling site. When possible, keep the sun at your back. Approach the calling location quietly, which means no talking, no metal-to-metal clinking and no slamming of doors. By the same token, leave as quietly as you enter. There could be predators nearby that, for whatever reason, did not respond. Even if you kill a predator, gunfire usually does not spook others that are close, but did not respond. Start whooping over your success or jack some shells out of your pump gun and you’ve just given any predator within earshot a degree in Hunter 101.
If you are a beginner, these basics will put you on the right track. You will make mistakes; we all do, but learn from them. Analyze each hunt, whether successful or not. If you have played this game for a while with little or no success, don’t be discouraged. You are making mistakes, but the answers to many of your problems are likely to be found somewhere in the pages you just read. Good Hunting!