E-Bikes — For Sneaky Predator Hunting

Here’s how using an e-bike can make your predator-calling efforts more efficient and productive — and a lot more fun!

E-Bikes — For Sneaky Predator Hunting

An e-bike makes a lot of sense for predator calling for many reasons, including unsurpassed silent and scent-free transportation, less damage to muddy roads or fields and far less fuel consumption.

A sure-footed and dead-reliable 4WD truck or SUV, or more recently an agile ATV or UTV, are an integral part of the predator caller’s equipage — sure-footed because winter months relinquishing prime, money-generating fur typically arrive with muddy or snowy trails. Dead reliable because in many areas the most productive calling is found only on the path less taken. But 4WDs and even off-road vehicles come with inherent pitfalls. Most landowners would prefer you not rip up muddy farm or ranch roads, and many public areas are gated during wetter winter seasons. Still other areas are closed to vehicular traffic year round — to say nothing of the cost of fuel and the hassle of trailering heavier off-road vehicles. The average combustion engine is also undeniably noisy, alerting wary game to your arrival and inspiring a lot of time-consuming hiking between calling setups to separate yourself from all the cacophony. Enter the e-bike. 

First off, what exactly is an e-bike? The modern e-bike is essentially a pedal-powered mountain bike with an electric-motor backup, or more correctly, power assist. They are fueled by a rechargeable lithium battery encapsulated within the bike’s frame, but otherwise include the same thumb-operated derailers, high-torque gearing, ride-softening suspension and oversized off-road tires employed by high-quality mountain bikes. The typical e-bike weighs around 60 to 70 pounds, meaning they are easily transported in the bed of a pickup truck or on an SUV bike rack (among other advantages, which I’ll address shortly), avoiding the entire trailer imposition. They are also easily loaded and unloaded solo, without the need for ramps. Most e-bikes include rear gear racks and options such as saddlebags, handlebar rifle racks, side gun-boot mounts and even mini cargo carts to help tote additional gear — or dead predators after successful hunts. (I’ve recovered whole, field-dressed whitetail bucks with mine, so they are certainly sturdy.)

There is no way around the fact an e-bike represents a substantial financial investment. The good news is they serve not only for predator calling, but big-game hunting, summer fishing and carefree outdoor recreation.
There is no way around the fact an e-bike represents a substantial financial investment. The good news is they serve not only for predator calling, but big-game hunting, summer fishing and carefree outdoor recreation.

E-bike Advantages

The e-bike’s No. 1 selling point is pure stealth. Even when the electric motor is fully engaged, cruising level ground or pedal-assisting uphill pulls, e-bikes are truly quiet — with the only evidence of passage being the crunch of gravel or vegetation beneath their tires. Across dew-soaked ground or a light skiff of snow there is only the innocuous hum of the electric motor, making them especially ninja. The electric motor also provides its power without stinky exhaust or oily smoke, making them more scent free. It has become commonplace while slipping into early morning or nighttime spots, guided by a headlight cloaked with red taillight-repair tape, to ride right up on normally spooky whitetail deer. And by right up, I mean on several occasions while riding out in the dark I’ve almost hit deer with my e-bike, others standing 20 to 25 yards away, more curious than nervous. During daylight hours I’ve surprised countless turkeys, deer and elk that had no clue I was near until I rounded a sudden bend or topped a rise.

As a quick aside, an e-bike is not a motorcycle. Electric motors offer adequate power for speeding across an open field or along a level farm road, with top speeds normally around 15 to 25 mph, but uphill pulls normally require some additional pedal muscle. They are also, because of weight, not quite as nimble as standard mountain bikes, often requiring walking them over especially rough spots.              

Size is also part of e-bike stealth. Hiding a vehicle or off-road quad in any fairly open terrain requires some preplanning to assure your ride is disguised from expected predator approaches and then more walking required to put it out of sight. Half- to full-mile treks aren’t uncommon to reach prime calling spots. To make a commonly camouflaged e-bike disappear you need only lay it in knee-high grass, stab it into a clump of bushes or weeds, lower it into a shallow arroyo or park it behind a ground-hugging tree.

What these factors translate into is slipping into calling sites with much less noise and commotion, which introduces the ability to ride much closer to calling areas without fear of blowing them out before you even begin, or alerting responding predators to your presence through conspicuous vehicles or vehicle scent. Less walking ultimately means the ability to invest in more calling setups during an average day — more time calling, less time stashing your ride and hiking in to set up. Taken as a whole this should ultimately result in more shots at predators. 

This is hugely significant. While accessing areas where coyotes (in particular) have received even minimal pressure, it’s not uncommon for your best calling efforts to elicit only mocking yaps and howls; old dogs letting you know they have your number. I have to think coyotes that have had a buddy shot beside them or escaped a hail of bullets keep pretty close tabs on vehicle arrivals. Experience has shown that internal combustion motors combined with the morbid cries of a dying bunny equal human presence. E-bikes eliminate some of the red flags.

This effect becomes most pointed on smaller private properties where calling space is limited. Here in Idaho, for instance, while I have access to vast public mountain and prairie habitats, private land adjacent to our home includes smaller 20- to 40-acre “ranchettes” where coyotes find refuge and often grow cheeky. It’s easy to gain access to these small properties after Wily Coyote is seen eying Fluffy, or after filching a couple of hobby chickens. Limited access points and small properties make e-bike approaches ideal for success. I can think of no better transport into the small properties I’ve conducted limited calling on in Eastern states after successful whitetail hunts.     

Another inherent e-bike plus on such properties is the ability to traverse muddy farm and ranch roads or cut right across a landowner’s harvested or CRP field without inflicting permanent damage that would have you kicked off your honey hole. Many of my out-the-door coyote-calling spots involve biking across fallow grass/weed fields or skirting the soft edges of winter grain croplands — ground that it would be absolutely out of the question to cross with even a nimble ATV for fear of creating ugly ruts and inviting erosion. In other spots I’m able to cut through roadless woodlands by following nothing more than narrow cattle or deer trails, getting me into the back corners of properties I would otherwise be required to hike miles to reach. The lightweight nature of e-bikes also allows lifting them over or dragging them under barbed-wire fences to access pastures beyond. One landowner who allows me to call coyotes on his property locks the main gate when roads become muddy, but (with permission) I’m able to scoot my e-bike beneath that gate and access the 5,000 acres beyond.

Living in the Inland Northwest, the most common use of my e-bike is accessing gated timber-company lands. Hunting is allowed (usually after purchasing an annual land-use permit) but roads — even well maintained roads — are locked tight to prevent equipment or cut timber from walking off during off hours. Yet hunters are allowed to walk or bike in. These areas are vast, often providing hundreds of miles of logging roads and skids and encouraging all-day calling forays limited only by an e-bike’s range. Range varies by brand, anywhere from 20 to 40 miles on a single charge, depending on terrain and how much you’re willing to pedal. Even with such limitations, that is still a heck of a lot of ground covered. But unlike an ATV, “running out of gas” leaves you the option of pedaling back to your truck, still preferable to walking many miles.                   

In open areas where vehicles are difficult to conceal, or places where coyotes receive hunting pressure, an e-bike offers the predator caller a serious edge; proving easy to conceal and erasing the warning of approaching combustion-engine noise.
In open areas where vehicles are difficult to conceal, or places where coyotes receive hunting pressure, an e-bike offers the predator caller a serious edge; proving easy to conceal and erasing the warning of approaching combustion-engine noise.

Typical Approaches

A typical day of calling from an e-bike isn’t much different from accessing calling sites via a motorized vehicle — I just spend a lot more time on the bike and a lot less time driving and walking. On smaller properties I typically park at a farmhouse, barn or equipment yard (where predators are accustomed to regular human activity) unload and ride out from there. At isolated properties I’ll park at access gates (during the off-season when farm/ranch access isn’t required) to let other hunters know I’m there, dumping the bike and riding into place.

In bigger Western mountain or prairie terrain I typically plan a truck or side-by-side route along a main artery, parking at side roads or forks (especially gated roadways) and investing in side trips into outlaying habitats. In new territory, I usually invest some time ahead of the hunt studying online aerial maps and online sites such as HuntStand that reveal up-to-the-minute wind bearings. In thicker wooded or forest areas I earmark clear-cuts, meadows and other natural openings that represent productive calling sites for coyotes, or rocky/cliffy areas that bobcats or gray foxes generally prefer. In wide-open country, I note natural cover such as creek-beds, brushy coulee heads or grassy playa lakes where coyotes or red foxes are likely to lie up or hunt. Approaches are planned according to prevailing winds to avoid sending human scent into bedding areas and ruining setups before I even start calling. Efficiency is important in big Western environments, because there is usually more ground than lithium power available.

                       

Public-Land Regulations 

When it comes to e-bike access to public lands, laws usually differ according to state or land-management entity. Research details before making the considerable investment that an e-bike represents, and when planning any public-lands hunt. The website www.peopleforbikes.org can prove useful, offering fairly comprehensive insight into where e-bike use is legal on public lands in all 50 states.

Around home, for example, e-bike access is legal in Washington state, Oregon, Montana and Nevada in any setting where standard mountain bikes are also permitted. Some legal gray areas arise in states such as Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico, where e-bikes might be legal on one National Forest and not another. It’s safe to say any natural-surface trail open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management/BLM, wildlife refuges, state-administered lands and state-leased wildlife management areas seldom include blanket regulations, so always check directly with land-management offices nearby to avoid difficulties.  

If predator calling is your passion, it’s difficult to argue against an e-bike (and gear cart) purchase — save the hefty price tags (though they also prove handy for big-game hunting, fishing and general outdoor recreation, and also cost less than today’s ATVs). This makes shopping brands and included features important, choosing a price point, power rating, range and options necessary for the terrain you hunt most — hilly/mountainous vs. farmland/prairies or small private vs. vast public real estate. But there is no way around the fact that e-bikes provide a huge stealth edge, allowing access to remote calling sites silently, scent free and with much less sweaty hiking between sets — spelling more time calling and less time driving and setting up.

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