Go West for Incredible Predator Hunting

How to organize the wildest, most productive predator calling trip you’ve ever experienced.

Go West for Incredible Predator Hunting

Large private ranches such as those found in Texas allow excellent nighttime hunting while employing thermal-imaging optics. The author bagged this gorgeous bobcat in northern Texas on a 48,000-acre ranch.

If you’re truly serious about predator calling, a foray to the West is something you owe yourself at least once in this lifetime. I say this while imagining you live in an Eastern state dominated by small private farms and increasingly hemmed in by civilization. Eastern predator calling can certainly be productive, but hunters are hampered by smaller properties, the need to secure permission to private grounds and work around human activity. While predator calling the best of the West, conditions are quite the opposite — vast, wide-open public lands available, often in areas seeing little hunting pressure. The West is larger, conspicuously less populated and full of open spaces comprised of public ground.           

An intrepid Easterner could certainly load up, head west and show up to call at random locations. An experienced caller just might get into some action in this manner, too. But to make the most of the investment in time, effort and money a little more organization ensures more productive adventures.  


Pre-Trip Preparations

To begin, it really is best to have a solid, ready-for-anything hunting partner. He or she will share wheel-time in route, split expenses and can help increase success. Driving to the West from nearly any Eastern location — even Midwestern states such as Illinois and Iowa, where I often drove to from New Mexico to hunt whitetails — is a dead-minimum 16- to 18-hour ordeal. If you live closer to the Atlantic coast and wish to explore some of the West’s most remote — and productive — regions, you’re looking at a couple hard days of driving. Add slick winter driving conditions and a partner helps keep you alert and rational. 

I say partner, singular, because three’s a crowd while predator calling. It can be done, especially in open terrain, but it becomes difficult to manage wind verses predator approaches. When I hinted that having a partner along can increase success, I’m referring directly to wind. One hunter covers the direct approaches of uneducated predators, the other guarding against common downwind appearances. We usually take turns in these roles, though the downwind guard can also be someone who relishes long-range shooting.           

Lodging depends on budget and your tolerance of discomfort, or tedium. Discomfort comes with sleeping in a pickup bed beneath a canopy or tarp, in a small tent, or when weather permits, pitching out on the ground where darkness finds you. I’ve used all these approaches on wandering predator hunts. If planning such a trip, think in terms of late October through early November (or more temperate Southwestern regions), avoiding nasty winter weather. By tedium I’m thinking of towing a small camp trailer, such as our compact R-Pod, or one of those lighter pop-up numbers. I abhor towing anything, especially in traffic, but the added comfort in cold weather is undeniable. Motels are always an option, though often scarce in the most remote areas. Keep in mind, the farther from civilization you travel, the less hunting pressure an area receives, and the more likely predators are to enthusiastically respond to calls.           

Talking about remote areas brings to mind vehicle reliability. A solid vehicle is obviously required to make a cross-country journey, but some of the most productive predator calling areas are void of people or cell coverage. A dead battery, broken fan belt, ruined tire or just getting hopelessly stuck can mean walking many miles to fetch help. I run 10-ply tires with aggressive tread. I always carry a battery booster pack in addition to spare parts, basic tools, two spares, tow rope, jumper cables and extra vehicle fluids. Four-wheel drive is mandatory, a bumper-mounted winch not superfluous. Hauling an ATV is also a boon, something small enough to fit in a pickup bed my preference.   

Because of the vast nature of Western habitats, predator hunters should arrive prepared for longer shots than afforded in Eastern habitats. The author considers shooting sticks mandatory while calling Western coyotes.
Because of the vast nature of Western habitats, predator hunters should arrive prepared for longer shots than afforded in Eastern habitats. The author considers shooting sticks mandatory while calling Western coyotes.

Desktop Scouting

Before leaving home, you should have a solid plan that allows more time spent calling and less time scouting. Much of this decision revolves around how far you’re willing to drive, expectations and to a lesser extent, what predators you want to target. For instance, if you live way out on the Atlantic coast, plains states such as the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas become appealing, with only coyotes and foxes available. The Dakotas and Nebraska offer the most public-lands opportunities via national grasslands and wildlife management areas, though private lands in other states offer exceptional predator calling. Texas is unbeatable, for instance, but there is no public land to speak of and trespass fees are par.             

If you’re willing to go all the way, Rocky Mountain and Great Basin states offer readily available public lands in the form of National Forest, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and state lands. As a quick aside, various states manage state-trust lands differently — some wide open, others including specific restrictions. Idaho state lands are wide open, for instance. Colorado state lands are available only when Colorado Division of Wildlife has leased hunting rights, otherwise they are treated as private lands. These are details that must be addressed to avoid trespass issues. Remember, too, while the West has plenty of private ground, it is also a place where friendly knocks on ranch-house doors and an offer to thin coyote populations often results in free access.           

Western and northwestern New Mexico, most of Arizona (drug cartels have made the southern reaches somewhat dicey), western Wyoming public lands (eastern Wyoming private lands with permission), western Montana (northern and eastern Montana private lands with permission), southern and eastern Idaho, most of Utah (especially southern) and nearly anywhere in Nevada represent general hotspots. More specifically, western New Mexico’s northern Gila region, the Arizona Strip (northwestern Arizona north of the Grand Canyon), all of western Colorado, north and east from Rock Springs, Wyoming, Montana’s eastern plains surrounding Forsyth (private land prevalent), anything south of Idaho’s Interstate Highway 84, southern Utah and anywhere in Nevada 150 miles outside Las Vegas or Reno. These areas are all far from civilization and the kind of places requiring hauling spare fuel and camping gear.           

Of these states Wyoming is hands down the least restrictive, predator hunting requiring no licenses and including no seasons. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Colorado, which even regulates and includes season dates for rattlesnakes. In between are the others, most requiring purchasing a small game or basic hunting license. Coyotes are generally lightly regulated, while bobcats and foxes (grays in the Southwest, reds in localized populations) are more likely to include strict season dates or licensing requirements. There is not room here to provide a state-to-state rundown, so study online state regulations to find a suitable fit for your goals.               

I also recommend contacting regional wildlife biologists in states of interest. Most big-game biologists understand the need for predator control and spend a lot of time afield. They’re usually quite happy to offer suggestions on specific areas where high predator populations are observed. Don’t discount biologists in charge of turkey management if interested in bobcat success, because bobcats are detrimental to turkey survival. Biologists might also be able to suggest private landowners who might be willing to host predator hunters.             

Public lands are the big draw of the West, but private ranches can also relinquish excellent predator calling. In some states nighttime spotlighting, in particular — even thermal-imaging nighttime —missions, can be conducted only on private lands with written permission. This makes you a “predator-control agent” working for the landowner. Social media is perhaps a start, though I’ve found local chamber of commerce offices quite helpful when running down everything from coyote-calling spots to wild hog hunting. Locate a town in an area you have in mind, look up their chamber of commerce on the web, and you’ll often luck into someone who knows everyone and can hook you up with ranchers wanting to thin predator populations.

One of the advantages of hunting private lands in the West is the ability to hunt at night with spotlights with landowner permission. The author bagged these Southwestern gray foxes and a bobcat on a large western New Mexico ranch.
One of the advantages of hunting private lands in the West is the ability to hunt at night with spotlights with landowner permission. The author bagged these Southwestern gray foxes and a bobcat on a large western New Mexico ranch.

Western Predator Tactics

While the biggest problem in the East is avoiding burning out small properties, the problem in the vast West is reach. At its very basic, this involves covering a lot more ground. When calling with Eastern friends, we rarely made more than five or six sets daily. While competing in Western predator-calling contests we strove to make at least 20 sets daily. You don’t have to keep this pace to enjoy yourself, obviously, but the more sets you make, the more predators you’ll bag.           

In open mesa or prairie habitats, where coyotes are the main event, I seldom call for more than 15 to 20 minutes — after entering every set with caution, avoiding slamming truck doors, sky-lining or sending human scent into obvious bedding/loafing areas. In prime Western coyote habitats, it’s not uncommon to have dogs respond in minutes. Keep in mind, in remote areas where hunting pressure is low, especially while using a suppressor, after a quick response and successful shot, keep quiet and allow more time for additional arrivals. Back in my contest days I carried a .220 Swift and lead-BB-loaded shotgun to every stand to address multiple arrivals. I held the shotgun while calling to deal with the greedy responders, using the centerfire for those that hung up or to play cleanup on departing multiples. My record is seven coyotes in a single sit.            

If your goal is to bag gorgeous (often valuable) Western bobcats you’ll need to choose appropriate habitat, but also exhibit more patience. Wooded/rocky habitats are preferred by cats, as opposed to open habitats generally preferred by coyotes. Whereas I’ll typically invest 15 to 20 minutes per coyote set, while targeting bobcats I’ll sit tight for up to an hour. Bobcats are much more cautious, tending to stalk calls instead of gallop in greedily. This also makes them more difficult to spot, in turn making it more likely they will spot you if not well camouflaged or especially still. For bobcats I truly believe in motion decoys, as they direct attention away from the shooter.    

I’ve certainly enjoyed a great deal of Western success with mouth calls, but the degree of emotion and lung power required for success is exhausting. Today’s electronic callers offer the advantage of saving your lungs for steadier shooting but can also be set away from the caller to better direct traffic while accommodating wind. In general, I enjoy consistent Western success by unleashing coarse jackrabbit calls, that being the primary prey species. Still, if action proves slow, don’t hesitate to change things up, offering lost-fawn, cottontail calls, or even mixing things up with coyote vocalizations. Western coyotes can be rabidly territorial.

  As The Door’s front man Jim Morrison once sang, “The West is the best.” In terms of productive predator calling this is unequivocally true. There is simply more of everything that counts, from wide-open public lands (and willing landowners) to higher populations of coyotes and bobcats (sometimes foxes) that make the sport so enthralling.


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