Don't Let Your Vehicle Ruin Your Predator Hunt

You may not have to worry about vehicles sounding alarms for an urban predator hunt. For the rest of you hunting coyotes in scattered wild lands, the sound of a vehicle means one thing to predators — humans are on the scene, so be wary.

Don't Let Your Vehicle Ruin Your Predator Hunt

Vehicles can make a big difference in your  success rate depending on where you're hunting. All-terrain vehicles are familiar to wildlife in many parts of the country, giving hunters an advantage when moving around to calling locations. (Photo: Mark Kayser)

“Why’d you do that?” The question wasn’t directed at me, but at another hunter in our group staring at our scowling, coyote hunting host.

I continued gathering my gear since I already knew the reason for the question, plus I wasn’t looking for a lecture at 5 a.m. The other guest hunter, a novice, stepped from the truck and, instead of clicking the door shut, he slammed it with the gusto of a mad spouse abruptly ending a marital argument.

The door-slamming hunter apologized after the explanation and learned a life lesson. Door slamming is just one of many associated red flags that your vehicle delivers to local wildlife, predators included.   

Coyote and other predators utilize auditory clues for survival. Vehicles definitely emit auditory clues. Despite not being able to calculate quantum physics, any predator shot at, chased or harassed from or near vehicle activity does the math: Vehicles bad. 

You may not have to worry about vehicles sounding alarms for an urban predator hunt with backyard grills on the horizon. For the rest of you hunting coyotes in scattered wild lands, the sound of a vehicle means one thing to predators — humans are on the scene, so be wary. 

The Vehicle Dilemma

Your vehicle brings a dilemma to the predator game. You need it to access hunting areas; end of story. Unfortunately, it’s the size of the average dinosaur, shiny and has a sound as distinct as a bugling elk. It’s a true dilemma. You need it to hunt, but it can also ruin your hunt if used incorrectly. Nearly every animal lives by the mantra “Take the path of least resistance.” Your vehicle tempts you to take that path. 

How many times have you driven into a hunting area only to nudge the distance a bit closer to a setup in an attempt to walk less? I’ve done it and you’ve likely done it too. It’s animal nature. You can’t fight it. 

That subconscious directive to walk less has another partner in crime, the health of the average American. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly 72 percent of adults aged 20 and older struggle with being overweight, including obesity. That’s nearly 3/4 of the nation’s population. You may want to consult with Marie Osmond on Nutrisystem, but in the meantime, that spare tire is likely causing you to drive as close as possible to your next predator setup. If you drive too close, you risk alerting predators to your next move.  

For coyotes and other targeted predators, their senses help them hunt more effectively and keep them alive by detecting danger. How well do coyotes hear? Data on coyote hearing is limited at best. Brian R. Mitchell conducted a two-year coyote vocalization study at the Dye Creek Preserve in California for his PhD. During the study, Mitchell discovered coyotes not only have an individual voice identified through spectrogram deciphering, but playback howls from real coyotes made radio collared coyotes approach from at least a kilometer away. Another friend of mine was testing howlers and had a partner who could hear my friend’s howls from nearly 3 miles away. What was even more incredible is that coyotes beyond that were responding, so we know they can hear each other and when you dive into the real tests of the average canine, you can see coyotes have an advantage. 

Coyotes have good senses all around, but their sense of hearing outshines them all if you compare them to your domestic pooch. Canines have hearing that is three to four times better than humans. In layman terms, they can hear sounds nearly four times as far as you. Evolutionary bonuses boost the overall hearing advantage of canines. For starters, their ears are positioned on top of their heads and most breeds have ears that are erect. And although your 8th-grade buddy may have been able to wiggle his ears, a dog has more than 18 muscles in its ears to give them better maneuverability than the electronic mirrors on your $55,000 truck. They can focus on sounds with precision, speed and zero-in on two sounds from different directions.  

Dogs can hear a frequency range of 40 to 60,000 hertz. You detect a range of 20 to 20,000 hertz. This gives them the ability to hear much higher frequencies, hear sounds from farther away and pinpoint their exact location. Although your vehicle may not have the high-frequency whine of a jet-propelled engine, rest assured a napping coyote perks up its ears when it hears the vroom of your vehicle grinding its way down a farm trail. 

Levi Johnson lives in the Big Sky Country of Montana. He’s been coyote hunting most of his life, but back in 2007 the aspect of decoying coyotes with working dogs overtook his hunting passion. He fully understands sounds carry in the openness of his coyote hunting ground. That’s not all bad, especially when the veteran coyote hunter is listening for the return howl of a coyote. But he also understands a vehicle sound can send the wrong message and send a coyote pair packing if they don’t want to be hassled on a Sunday morning. 

“The first point of successful coyote hunting is to be invisible. I like to hunt with a quiet pickup, no loud mufflers, no loose gear in the truck bed or tailgates that rattle. For me it’s about entering a stand as quietly as possible and your vehicle is the starting point,” maintains Johnson.

Don't worry about tractors, combines or other farm equipment if they're frequently used in the area where you're hunting predators. Songdogs and other wildlife get used to seeing and hearing farm equipment. (Photo: Cabela's)
Don't worry about tractors, combines or other farm equipment if they're frequently used in the area where you're hunting predators. Songdogs and other wildlife get used to seeing and hearing farm equipment. (Photo: Cabela's)

Stand Out In A Predator Crowd

If you want to stand out in the crowded field of predator hunters you can do it with your vehicle. Sure, you can wrap your truck with the gaudiest predator hunting wrap around to garner attention, but for a few it simply comes to misuse of a vehicle. As Johnson pointed out, a loud muffler definitely advertises incoming humans.

Younger hunters modify factory exhaust for a telltale rumble and diesel aficionados love to boost the turbine whine of their powerful engines. Some of you may simply need to replace the muffler that is one good bump from being left on the trail behind. Other loose parts, jostling tools in the box and possibly a creaky trailer hauling an ATV can be dead giveaways in predator country too. Review your vehicle for any sounds over and above the norm that could be sending predators fleeing before you even step out of the cab. 

Next, evaluate your entrance strategy and have a plan in mind depending on your calling site combined with current weather conditions. Your calling sites vary depending on wind direction and that forces you to change parking locations. An odd southeast wind you’ve never contemplated could unconsciously cause you to park in an exposed location or too close to your hunting area. On the flip side, gusty winds accompanied by moisture could cover your entrance by dulling a predator’s senses while cloaking vehicle noises. You may be able to park closer than on a calm day to a hunting site. And as pointed out earlier, that spare tire from too many fast food fill ups also prompts a closer parking position. Weigh all situations before engaging the parking brake.  

“The most common mistakes that I feel coyote hunters make when it comes to vehicles, is driving too close to their spot they want to go call,” Johnson states. 

And like my experience in the opening, Johnson has had his share of noisy hunters joining him in the field. He shared one experience where he invited a hunter along for a day of coyote hunting and explained the ins, and outs of how he hunted during the trip to the first setup. Apparently, Johnson’s presentation of details didn’t sink in, especially the invisibility element. 

“I couldn’t believe it,” retells Johnson. “It was the first thing in the morning and we slowly drove to the setup spot to ensure a quiet entrance. After arriving, he gets out to go and slams the door as loud as he could. I told him coyotes don’t shock gobble like turkeys. We had a good laugh, but it was a teachable moment.”

As important as silence is to entrance at a hunting location, so is keeping a vehicle out of sight. In some calling locations, it may not be detrimental. Coyotes and other predators may feel comfortable around vehicles in farming environments where machinery comes and goes with consistency. Or you may even be hunting near a junk pile and utilize a rusting scrap heap as a hideout for your truck. Despite these occasional standouts, in most situations predators notice new objects in their environment. It’s their job. That’s why it’s important to veil your vehicle whenever possible. In foothill locations, it’s relatively easy to duck a truck into a ravine, but in the flatlands of the midsection of America, it can prove challenging. Johnson takes pride in hiding his rig before a hunt. 

“I always try to hide my pickup behind a hill or use the topography of the land where I’m hunting. If you look closely, you can find small rolls in most terrain to park behind and hide your truck,” says Johnson. “Oftentimes it means that I’m walking farther to a stand location. That’s fine with me because I treat every stand as if it’s the last stand of the day. Don’t cut corners, especially on entry to your hunting spot.”

Blend In Like The Locals

Most vehicle situations reveal bad intentions when predators spy a fossil-fuel transport. Even so, predators do eventually become comfortable with some vehicles that arrive with a consistent rumble. Farmers and ranchers routinely comment how, when they do chores in a tractor or a feed truck, that deer or coyotes just step aside to watch. As long as the vehicle has a schedule and looks the same every day without a threatening response, it’s acceptable. Over the years, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve hinted at hunting from a tractor due to its welcoming and laidback atmosphere. 

In fact, the growl of a diesel, whether John Deere or Dodge based, is so common in predator country that it does get overlooked. Coyotes in particular hear a diesel and think it’s business as usual down on the farm.   

“Our coyotes see and hear pickups all the time,” points out Johnson. “Farmers and ranchers are driving around properties throughout the year and it continues into hunting season with hunting traffic. I think coyotes in our neck of woods will pop up and look to see if there is immediate danger. If all looks normal then they go back to whatever they were doing. That’s probably even truer with coyotes living on public lands. They are pretty comfortable with truck noises and seeing pickups all the time as long as there is no chase involved.”

ATVs and UTVs are a blockbuster money maker for power sports dealers across the country. Before the public even made them trendy the farming and ranching community was utilizing their attributes for chore time. This also makes them a good alternative to a noisy truck as predators commonly hear the din of an ATV in their territories. 

“As far as hunting with an ATV, I feel if you are in area with high ATV traffic the coyotes will get used to them as if it is a pickup,” states Johnson. “One of my good hunting friends hunts coyotes all the time on his ATV. He even added a different muffler on his 4-wheeler to quiet it down and has been killing coyotes ever since.” 

From years of living in coyote country, especially with an eastern Montana open-country view, Johnson has seen coyote behavior again and again proving his point. He’s driven by coyotes standing in pastures only to be surprised by them lying back down in the sagebrush to let the danger pass. He admits this character occurs more on private lands where coyotes receive limited hunting pressure, but he fully knows any coyote learns to adapt to their home environment.  

As a final way to blend in and make coyotes comfortable with the presence of a vehicle, Johnson advocates to slow it down. Since most predators hear vehicles throughout the year, the main threat or alarm comes from you by starting a hunt quickly after arriving, especially if you start close to a vehicle. Besides hiding a vehicle and walking farther, Johnson advocates a slow approach to the start of a hunt. 

“After I’ve parked my pickup in a good hiding spot, I take my time heading to my stand,” Johnson tells. “Don’t rush out of your pickup and take off walking to the skyline. Instead, get all your stuff organized that you’ll use on a stand and map out how you’re going to access the area with an invisible hike. Waiting 10 or more minutes before leaving out to your setup gives coyotes plenty of time to think the danger has passed. That just increases your chances for calling success.”

Don't Forget the ATV Advantage

More hunters own ATVs and UTVs today than ever before. If you’re one of them there are more reasons than ever to incorporate them into your predator hunting plans.

First, these off-road wonders can tackle rougher, narrower and muddier trails than your truck. That gives you the ability to hunt locations the average vehicle owner skips.

Second\, these hardy hustlers save you wear and tear on your main rig. You’ll be stressed to land any good truck under $40,000 these days with the average closer to $50,000. A quality ATV costs you less than a quarter of that price. By using it when the trail turns to questionable you don’t risk damaging, abusing and diminishing the value of your spendy vehicle that gets you to work. 

Third, ATVs and UTVs are speedy. When rough country overtakes the trail ahead you automatically slow your vehicle to a crawl. With an ATV, you can speed over the bumps at a faster rate to get more hunting time in and less windshield time.   

I recently field-tested the 2019 Suzuki KingQuad 500 AXi during the fall big game and winter predator season and was able to put it through a series of paces. The electronic fuel injection system made sure the 493 cc, liquid-cooled engine operated smoothly. Power availability was instantaneous with increasing pressure on the throttle lever. The initial zip was followed by a top-end surprise when I needed to scoot down a trail to make a setup before sunrise. The four-stroke, liquid-cooled, 4-valve engine is situated around an OHC, single cylinder and best of all, the ATV was whisper quiet when I backed off of the throttle. 

A multitude of elements make the Suzuki a great choice in addition to power, but comfort was also tops for me. Suzuki tames the trail with a new, stronger chassis that provides a ground-up approach to a better ride. Independent front and rear suspensions guarantee that every divot in the road isn’t felt throughout the entire machine and the gas-charged shocks, front and rear, are adjustable. 

I’m not planning on replacing my expensive diesel truck for years, so I unload my ATV almost every weekend when I’m chasing fur. 

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