Stand Selection Strategies

The ability to consistently choose productive stand locations is a crucial element of predator hunting that separates good callers from the bad.

Stand Selection Strategies

Location, location, location. It’s the real estate agent’s creed — and the No. 1 reason why certain properties are more valuable than others. A lake front property, for example, is going to have more worth than adjacent acreage off the water — one with a vast mountain vista more desirable than a mosquito-infested swamp. Good neighborhoods, high-quality schools, proximity to shops and restaurants are all reasons why people flock to certain areas to live and raise their families. It’s the same with animals — both predators and prey. They fight tooth and claw to occupy those spaces with the best resources — food, water and security — and in the case of predators such as coyotes aggressively defend them. And these territories will be used by generation after generation of animals as long as the resources remain stable.

So it’s easy to see how important it is to be able to identify which areas are most desired — and most utilized — when targeting predators. As I often do, I’ll point to the fur trapper as an example of how location identification and utilization is vital for repeatable success. Through intensive scouting and knowledge of furbearer behavior, trappers locate those fur pockets where the animals they are targeting are the most abundant. For example, if a trapper is targeting beavers he might seek out flowages that provide an adequate year round source of water and food in the form of the bark, buds, stems and twigs of trees such as aspen and birch, as well as soft plant foods such as grasses, ferns and the roots of water plants.  And here’s a key point. Once found, those areas will produce year after year, because of those key resources they supply. As long as the trapper leaves some “seed,” the area will continue to produce beaver pelts. 

It's the same when hunting predators. A mated pair of coyotes, for example, might stake claim to an area based on a food source, such as high and consistent populations of rabbits and rodents, and a secure denning site. Hunters who can identify these features stand a good chance of capitalizing on these locations for many years to come, as long as they don’t educate the local canines with over-calling and sloppy hunting tactics. More on that later. All animals, including coyotes, desire to live in the very best habitat with the most abundant resources. But, obviously, they can’t all live there. And that’s where dominance plays a part in population distribution and dynamics. Apex predators, and the most aggressive within those species, get first choice when it comes to staking out the best territories. But once those animals are removed via a well-placed bullet to the vitals, it opens a void that is quickly filled by less dominant coyotes or even  lesser predators such as foxes if most or all of the coyotes are displaced. And that’s the beauty of finding these fur honey holes, because they will continue to produce from season to season.

So yes, just like trappers, fur hunters can go back to the well year after year and continue to be successful — but they need to be smart about it. A few years ago, I hunted coyotes with a good buddy, Kelly Wiebe, in southwestern Alberta. We hunted several of his hotspots — places that he returns to every year because they consistently produce fur. When hunting with different people in different locales it’s always interesting to note the thought process of other hunters when it comes to stand selections. But one common thread in their strategy is to not burn out these spots by overhunting them or hunting them poorly.

It’s really a double-edged sword,” said Wiebe. “If you kill coyotes every time you call them, everything's good, right?” he said. “But if they get a little educated you’ve got to mix it up for sure, and that means using a variety of food source and social sounds to keep them guessing — and engaged. Maybe you switch to a pup-in-distress call, instead of that dying rabbit call every time you visit a stand.” According to Wiebe the key is to avoid burning out the stand. And the quickest way to do that is to educate coyotes by using the same routine every time you visit the setup.

So what are the ingredients that make up the best stand locations? I’ve already mentioned food and water as well as security cover and good denning sites. But these are givens and easily identified. Let’s look more specifically at how to select stand locations and how to make the most of each. And it’s important to understand that some will be permanent and others will be seasonal, most often depending on a food source. Here are a few keys to picking and utilizing specific locations.

The Wind — Above all, it’s important to get the wind right — and not just while on stand calling. Entrance and exit routes must be carefully planned so target animals are not put on alert when you are walking in and out of a setup. If, for example, red foxes spend their daylight hours buried deep in a cattail slough, care must be taken to not put them on alert by approaching a setup and letting human scent drift into their hidey-hole. Carefully consider any security cover that the animals might use to approach the sound of the calls. “Obviously, wind direction is key,” Wiebe told me. “You definitely want to have that in your favor and then you want some feeder draws that come down toward you to give the coyotes some security cover as they’re coming in. Older coyotes, especially, will always use that to their advantage.” 

Target Specific Food Sources — Wiebe says he’s always got an eye to the ground when he’s out and about — whether it’s working with his cattle or hunting big game or turkeys — always gathering intel that will be useful when he comes back to target coyotes. “I locate stockyards where ranchers are storing their feed, for example,” he said. “There is an abundance of mice in the hay stacks and coyotes are going to target those. They like to get up on the bales, get a little elevated so they can see farther.” I witnessed this while hunting whitetails in Kansas. We were watching from a popup blind as a doe and her fawns fed along the field edge. Quick as a cat, a coyote jumped up on a round bole just 50 yards away and enjoyed the show. 

It’s all about targeting those food sources that the predators themselves are targeting, Wiebe says. “That’s the key,” he said when we were driving to a setup. “All of these tributaries, these creek-bottoms — the coyotes are obviously cruising them looking for rabbits or other prey.” And while these food sources are fairly consistent,  you also have to key in on seasonal changes — such as those times when certain food sources are abundant, if only for a short period, such as when deer are dropping fawns or cattle are calving during the spring. Kelly raises cattle, and I asked him if he sees coyotes hanging around them a lot. 

“Yeah, especially during calving time, most definitely,” he said. “After those newborn calves hit the ground, that first mother’s milk that’s gone through them is a yellow tasty treat for them (high in protein) and they’ll try to kill the odd calf as well. A lot of times they’re pretty complacent, but there are always exceptions. 

An effective way to hunt coyotes that are hanging around the ranch is to determine where they are retreating to at first light and ambush them on the way back to their daytime loafing area. Hunting in South Dakota a few years back, the local yodel dogs were targeting a ranch where we had permission to hunt. They would come down out of the foothills under the cloak of darkness and hang around the cattle throughout the night, mostly feeding on rodents, rabbits and the protein-rich droppings of newborn calves. We devised a plan to catch them with their guard down as they worked back up into the foothills. Setting up on a high vantage point, we use vocalizations — social howls and barks — to play on their curiosity. The reward was two prime prairie coyotes.

View to a Kill … You can’t shoot what you can’t see. That’s why finding a good vantage point for every setup is so important — one that takes into account wind direction and velocity and any cover a critter might use to remain hidden while responding to the call. This is key to optimizing any location. In open county, I like to get up about two-thirds of the way up a hill and settle into whatever cover I can find to break up my outline. This might be a yucca or small cedar bush, or a rock outcropping. If possible, I like to have some type of barrier behind me to prevent called critters from circling downwind. This could be a sharp rock outcropping, dense brush, expansive agricultural field, swamp, etc.

Other times I might crawl up to the top of a hill, lie prone and watch the downwind shooting lane. With a tack-driving centerfire rifle I can pick off any circling predators before they catch my wind. Optimally, I like to be able to see at least 200 yards in all directions, and avoid having a lot of broken terrain surrounding the setup, which will allow responding animals to sneak in undetected. 

If I’m hunting in moderate to heavy cover, I again try to position myself so critters cannot circle downwind of my setup. Or, if I’m hunting with a buddy, I’ll position him to watch the backdoor. I’ll try to find an elevated position so I can cover as many shooting lanes as possible. If cover is extremely tight, I might choose to hunt with a semi-auto shotgun instead of a rifle for quick target acquisition and follow-up shots. 

Here are a few other considerations when selecting and utilizing the best locations. Whenever you’re scouting new locations keep these in mind.

  • When possible, and wind direction allows, set up so the sun is at your back. This, of course, will make it more difficult for critters to pick you up than if the sun was lighting you up. Set up in the shade whenever possible and keep movement to a minimum.
  • Terrain and visibility should determine shooting position. The most stable positions are those in which the hunter has the most contact with terra firma — prone, sitting, kneeling and then standing. Get as low as possible for a stable shooting position and to remain concealed from the prying eyes of approaching predators. Always use a shooting aid.
  • Keep enough distance between locations so that you’re always calling to fresh ears. The terrain will dictate this as well — no less than one-half mile between stands in open county and one-quarter mile in broken terrain. 

So take a tip from that real estate agent — it’s all about location. This really is the key to finding that perfect property to raise your family. Or, in predator hunting terms, the key to more success and a fatter fur check.


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