Overlook These Predator Details and You'll Fail Miserably

Details matter when it comes to hunting predators such as coyote, fox and big cats. Don't make these mistakes when you're hunting or you'll fail miserably.

Overlook These Predator Details and You'll Fail Miserably

Making mistakes while hunting predators can cost you shots, along with helping educate the animal to be wary of the area. Hunt smartly and don't make blunders that can ruin your trip. (Photo: Mark Kayser)

Who would have thunk it? While intensely staring down the steep slope into the brushy creek bottom below, I heard the unmistakable scrambling of paws on gravel behind me. Turning my head, I couldn’t believe the surprise staring back at me. It was a coyote and, by the look on its face, it was just as stunned as me. Before I could even think of leveling my rifle in its direction, it spun and disappeared into the same gully it used to dash in without warning. 

I finished the set and then returned to ponder why the coyote came from a direction I overlooked. The coyote in question had to cross a busy county road and scurry up an open slope, save for the one eroded gully. 

My focus had been on an opposite creek corridor removed from traffic and offering scattered vegetation to bolster travel confidence. Suddenly it hit me why the coyote did what it did. Even though the county road acted as a barrier, or so I thought, the best prey hunting was beyond the county road behind me. It suddenly made sense the coyote had been lurking there at dawn. When it heard my prey pleas, it simply took the as-the-crow-flies, direct route to land in my lap. I overlooked an obvious predator hunting detail and failed that morning. 

To up your predator game, don’t overlook details that could doom your hunt before it starts. Mossy Oak pro staff member Steven Reinhold understands the importance of details when it relates to the predator hunting success. Introduced to the pursuit by his father via raccoon hunting behind hounds, Reinhold claims Ohio as home, but calls predators across the nation whenever possible.

Coyotes rank as his No. 1 predator to call, but he accepts the challenge any predator hunt brings. In fact, it was a red fox that really gave him the predator hunting fever. Perched in a treestand more than 20 years ago, he spied the sly fox. With a few lip squeaks, the red fox loped right in, hooking Reinhold to this day.  

Terrain Negligence

Don’t be like me and overlook terrain features and its effect on the way predators arrive to your calls. Coyotes, fox, bobcats and other predators prefer to travel sight unseen. It’s imperative you scrutinize your setup sites beforehand if possible, and for sure survey them before calling to ensure no appearance avenue is overlooked. A hunting app, such as ScoutLook Weather, can help you review your hunting area onsite, especially while utilizing handy features such as topographical overlays on satellite imagery.

Reinhold’s backyard of Ohio is characteristic of much of the Midwest with scattered croplands and woodlots. The two varying terrains create conundrums, particularly while trying to dissect predator travel preferences. 

“Ohio terrain, where I live, is mostly flat with big agriculture fields and large woodlots intermixed throughout,” Reinhold said. “In a lot of these areas there are large funnels, ravines and creek bottoms running through topography. Predators will use these natural runways for cover while hunting and traveling from one area to the next. You can easily get surprised if you don’t identify all of the low spots before a setup.”

One habit Reinhold follows is to study the terrain regardless of what he’s doing. He gets his best education during his scouting trips for deer and during the deer season. This habit of continually reviewing country saves him time and provides him with a large file of possible calling locations to hit when furs are prime. 

“I try not to overlook terrain for setups and I find a lot of my setups while scouting for deer,” Reinhold said. “Some spots you wouldn’t think of calling until you really study how they link to better habitat. The spots I almost skip over tend to be some of my most productive. If it looks gamey, I try and do my best to figure out where’s the best vantage point, and the best ways in, and out of that area.” 

Odor Overlook 

Without argument, predators have some of the best olfactory senses in the animal world. They need it to locate food and for survival. You take that into consideration with downwind approaches and situating yourself to make a shot before predators hit your scent stream.

Unfortunately, you may overlook the basics of covering your scent footprint and other equipment you touch in the course of a hunt, i.e. your electronic caller. Reinhold plays the scent game, but you might say he takes it to the next level. It’s a level often overlooked by the average predator hunter.

“I’m a scent control freak. I go above and beyond trying to stay scent free,” he said. “I hunt predators with the same approach as I do whitetail deer. I have four large plastic, sealed totes for clothes storage. Two of them contain my predator hunting clothes and the other two contain my whitetail deer hunting clothes.”

Reinhold follows a strict regimen of washing his clothes first in scent-eliminating laundry detergent before storing them away from foreign odors. His next odor-erasing strategy includes removing foot odor. One reason to wash away foot odor is linked to placing an electronic caller that utilizes a remote. Walking out into an opening to place the speaker unit in an upwind position risks the chance of leaving boot scent along the way. Any predator cutting that track before you get a chance to pull the trigger is immediately on alert. Reinhold is also trying to save all of his locations for another day by erasing those scented footprints. 

“I spray down with scent-eliminating spray from head to toe. I even spray my boots," he said. "The reason I spray my boots is an attempt to keep as much scent out of the area as possible, including the foot scent you may leave while hiking. You never know when you might want to try calling this area again at a later date.”

Valet Parking 

Here’s one action you may not even realize is fueling failure on your predator hunts. You could be expecting valet parking and in the process alerting nearby predators. By driving your truck, ATV, UTV or other vehicle close to a setup site, you not only perk the ears of predators in close proximity, but the associated sounds of preparing and finally walking away from a vehicle also sound a possible alarm. Don’t overlook the influence your vehicle can have on your predator hunting success.  

As more and more Americans fight the overweight and obesity gremlins (70 percent or more combined according to the latest data) it could prompt you to drive closer to setups. In some bustling areas, particularly around urban development or busy farming operations, you may get away with nudging the fossil-fuel limo closer. That won’t work in more rural or remote areas where predators immediately know an intruder is arriving from the sound of a rumbling muffler. 

“I always try and park my truck a good distance away from where I plan to call, and out of the sight of any predators,” Reinhold said. “How far I walk varies with the property and terrain, but I definitely plan to park far enough away where a predator can’t hear my arrival.”

Once he finds a good parking area, Reinhold continues muting his presence by not banging against the side of his truck with gear or slamming truck doors. Any unusual sounds may also alert a nervous predator that hopes to avoid human confrontations. 

“Walking into your setups helps veil your presence in an area, but it also has another added benefit, and that’s studying a new area,” Reinhold said. “In areas you are unfamiliar with, a long hike gives you a better outlook of the terrain and possibly locating other setup sites along the way.”

Misunderstanding Your Quarry

We all believe we have the animal wisdom of Jack Hanna, but are you using that knowledge or overlooking how predator behaviors differ in their response to your calls? You simply have to observe the cat in your living room and the dog in your backyard to get an understanding of how a cat looks at prey and how a dog digs in to its pet bowl. And how does your cat sneak into its hidey hole as compared to the dog retreating to its bed? The same and more plays out in the wild, so don’t overlook that when you prepare to plop down on a setup.  

“You need to know the quarry that you are hunting. Some respond differently than others,” he said. “For instance, here in Ohio where I live you are lucky to see red fox anymore and very lucky to have one come in to a calling sequence.”

He understands the calls and sequence drive what may appear later. Even though red fox numbers are down, he knows that if he starts a set with coyote vocalizations a fox or bobcat is unlikely to show up. Plus, time on a stand can be an overlooked factor by many. Coyotes may appear quickly due to their canine exuberance, but fox or bobcats often take their sweet time as they cautiously pad along. 

“I know a lot of guys who only set up for around 15 to 20 minutes per stand, but I try and stay a little longer depending on hunting pressure or the terrain. Rugged terrain can be a limiting factor on how fast a predator arrives,” Reinhold said. “This is especially true when calling cats. I may stay on a set for 45 minutes or even an hour when trying to lure in a bobcat. All predators have different personalities and it is just up to the animal on how they are going to react on any given day.”

Tactical Disregard

There are too many fine details to cover in a single article on overlooked aspects of predator hunting, but you need to be aware of tactical and equipment demands to guarantee a chance at success.

Reinhold packs his daypack with obvious items to ensure hunting success such as extra ammunition, but he questions how many bring along extra batteries for their electronic callers? Or how many bring along hand calls if an electronic caller crashes during a hunt? Beyond having a complete list of equipment you’ll need for success on a particular hunt, Reinhold points out that using your equipment without a tactical mindset can also cost you success.

“Most predator hunters have a rangefinder ready, but how many of them are ranging possible shot scenarios before the predator arrives?” he said. “I like to range spots I think predators will come out of before calling. Having that knowledge helps me with a quicker response time for a shot or, if I have a predator hang up, I can take the shot faster because I know the range. Taking those extra few seconds to range can cost you a predator, but ranging beforehand takes that extra step out of the equation.”

Perseverance also plays an important tactical role in success for Reinhold. He sees too may hunters giving up too easily because they believe simply by turning on their electronic caller a predator should come running in to get shot.

He also sees hunters quitting after success. Instead of continuing to call or switching over to a pup in distress call after a coyote kill, they quit. He’s lost count of the times he’s shot a second coyote while continuing to call. 

“I wish predator hunting was that easy, but that is what draws me to keep on hunting. It is always a learning experience," he said. "Every day afield I learn something new and see steps I shouldn’t overlook. The biggest thing I stress is to never give up.” 

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