Taking Advantage of the Scream

Predators respond to the distress screams of the animals they hunt because they have to — competition for the protein they provide demands it.

Taking Advantage of the Scream

Hunters who hide out and imitate the distress screams of prey species to lure predators into sure-shot range are taking advantage of age-old symbiotic relationship.

Knowing that, for whatever reason, prey animals scream when in the clutches of a predator — and that predators respond to those cries in predictable manners — gives insight into what techniques in the field will garner the best results. Here are a few observations to get you started.


  • I rarely remain at a stand for more than 20 or 30 minutes. I figure predators within earshot that are inclined to response will do so in short order — often within the first few minutes, so be ready! My time is better spent getting in as many stands as possible during the time frame I have available. Often the terrain will dictate how far I travel between stands. If I’m in rugged, hilly or timbered country, where the sound doesn’t carry as far, I might move only a quarter-mile between setups. In open country I’ll try to put a half-mile or more between stands. An exception to this rule applies if I’m specifically targeting bobcats which, in cat fashion, are typically slower to respond to the call.


  • If I call in a coyote or other furred critter, I continue to call regardless of whether I get a shot. I know there’s a good chance that other predators are on the way, maybe having to cover more ground, or approaching more cautiously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called in a second coyote after one is already lying dead on the ground. This is especially true during the mating season when they’re traveling in pairs.


  • Mature coyotes often approach the call with the confidence that comes from their position on top of the food chain, sometimes even ignoring the wind in a rush to secure to a free meal. Smaller predators such as foxes or bobcats — and young coyotes — are more likely to circle downwind, testing the air currents for any sign of danger. They know there might already be another predator at the kill, and they want to avoid becoming collateral damage. If I’m hunting with a buddy, we do the sensible thing. One of us will call while the other takes a position downwind 50 or even 100 yards to watch for circling critters. If you’re hunting alone, remote-controlled electronic callers are the ticket. You can set up downwind from the caller with open shooting lanes toward the sources of the sounds. In tight country, I’ll sit next to the caller with an open shooting lane downwind.


  • Mix it up. If one sound, say a rabbit in distress, has lost its effectiveness, try another sound. This is where e-callers shine. Years ago, during a predator hunting trip to Texas, Gerald Stewart, son of famed predator pioneer Johnny Stewart told me that variety is the key to success when in heavily hunted areas. “It’s like the old fisherman’s tackle box,” Gerald told me. “He might have 25 different lures of various colors and styles. Sometimes a topwater bait might be more appropriate and more effective than a spinner, or one color might outperform another. You must remain flexible so you can change with the conditions. It’s the same with predator calling. Electronic callers, with a variety of recorded animals sounds, give you that flexibility.” And don’t forget to bring your howler, which is especially effective during mating season when coyotes are particularly territorial. I like to mix it up; combining barks and howls with the sounds of a rabbit in distress.


  • Predators also respond to the distress cries of other predators — especially their young — and the sounds of fighting predators. Don’t get hung up on food sources, these territorial or curiosity responses are particularly valuable in areas where hunting pressure has educated predators to the typical rabbit screams. I’ve found the recorded cries of a gray fox or red fox pup in distress is an effective sound where the “Dying Rabbit Blues” has worn out its welcome.


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