Tips for Predator Hunting in the Thick Stuff

When it comes to excitement while predator hunting, it’s hard to match calling them into 'up close and personal' range.

Tips for Predator Hunting in the Thick Stuff

Hunting predators such as coyote, fox and bobcat with success requires you to have good woodsmanship skills. Trial and error is part of the process, of course.

I tucked myself into the thick brush at the head of the canyon. I adjusted my hunting chair and sat favoring the right side so I could swing from right to left easily. My shooting position had been carefully selected during a previous scouting trip. I had three shooting lanes in front of me and the setting sun had cast the entire area in shadow. I checked the shotgun and placed the butt firmly against my right shoulder. My left hand gripped the forend and then rested, barrel down on my left knee. I took a quick look around, identified any odd existing shapes and got ready to start calling in the thick stuff.

In more than 20-years of predator hunting, the excitement of fooling coyotes, bobcat and foxes into range has only gotten stronger for me. Whether it’s day stands, night hunting or swinging a shotgun in thick brush, I can simply never get enough. While each of these types of predator hunting holds an undying adrenaline rush for me, some of my most exciting hunts have occurred sitting in thick brush with a shotgun resting on my knee.  

With the caller placed only 15 feet in front of me and playing a prey in distress sound on low volume, I reached for the hand call hanging around my neck. I blew a fevered series for about 45-seconds and started searching. This method of using the loud volume of the hand call to pull animals in and the low volume of the e-caller to hold their attention when they get close has always been productive for me on shotgun stands. I know if animals are in the area, they’ll come take a peak.

This was the very first time I had called this new spot and I was excited about its potential. The bobcat season was only three weeks old and due to all the tracks and sign I had discovered during my scouting trip, I knew that this particular area held cats. 

About two minutes after my second series, I spotted a cat head in an opening I had identified as a game trail to my right. The bobcat was looking right at the e-caller and all I could see was his head. He had snuck up to the area and was peaking over a small dirt mound. I slowly raised the shotgun, placed the bead on the cat’s nose and squeezed the trigger. The bobcat flipped over backwards at 25-yards dead. He had no idea I was there.

Pick Your Spots

Hunting the thick stuff for predators is one of my favorite types of predator hunting. Sneaking into their living room and calling them within shotgun range is about as exciting as it gets. The action is often fast and close. And while the majority of the tactics for this type of hunting are identical to calling predators in wide open spaces, there are a few specific techniques I use to increase my success.

I do a tremendous amount of scouting and planning during the off season when I’m looking for shotgun stands. I locate potential calling areas and figure out what time of day would be best to call the new site. I also identify good places to sit and shooting lanes, but most importantly, I look for animal sign when scouting. 

I walk the shooting lanes and the area in general looking for fresh prints, scat and travel corridors. I try and determine how frequently animals move through the habitat. I’ll pick two different spots to sit to accommodate different wind directions and, if the area looks like an active spot for critters, I’ll start making plans to call it.

Setting Up

In my opinion, setting up correctly on a shotgun stand is as important as picking the area you’re going to be calling. Things can happen quickly and close in the confines of the thick brush, and being set up correctly will increase your odds of success.

To maintain comfort, I always take a small folding chair to the stand. As a right-handed shooter, I always set the chair up toward the right side of the area I’ll be hunting. That allows me to swing more comfortably from right to left and enables me to cover more ground. Setting up favoring your dominant hand gives you a wider area to swing through and should give you more comfortable shot opportunities.

I move rocks, leaves and sticks out from under the chair to keep foot movement silent. Any shuffling or unnatural noises will definitely keep predators from getting within range.

Going a step further, once I carefully pick my sitting position, I make sure my shotgun is mounted to my right shoulder with the forend cradled in my left hand and resting on my left knee. If I call anything in, all I have to do is raise the shotgun, point and shoot. Nothing smooth happens when your shotgun is resting on your lap. When seconds matter in the thick stuff, setting up properly can be the difference between success and failure. 

Alyssa’s First Shotgun Animal

At the beginning of February, I took my daughter, Alyssa, and her boyfriend, Dylan, out for some late season predator hunting. Alyssa has been hunting with me since she was seven years old. Now busy with college and a job, any time I can spend in the field with her is a blessing.

We headed out early one Sunday morning to the hunting grounds. After a few blank rifle stands, she suggested that we grab the shotguns and try a few shotgun stands. In more than 10 years of hunting with me, Alyssa had yet to kill a predator with a shotgun.

Driving an old fire road, we stopped in an area thick with Joshua trees. Quietly grabbing our gear, we hiked a few hundred yards into the spiny forest. I found a stand of trees that allowed us to set up in the shade with a relatively clear shooting lane out in front of us. Alyssa was set up in the center, I was covering the right side and Dylan was covering the left. With the barely audible e-caller out front and almost no wind, I grabbed the hand call and started calling.

Shotguns stands are all about catching flashes of fur cutting through the brush or a sudden subtle change in the terrain you’ve been carefully picking apart. And success is all about being in position and ready to pull the trigger when that shot presents itself.

A flash of tan fur on my side made my heart skip a beat. The coyote was bouncing in toward the e-caller located 15-feet in front of Alyssa. I whispered, “Get ready!” The coyote entered the small shooting lane out in front of us and had no idea we were tucked away in the shadows. 

As he approached the call, I watched Alyssa slowly raise her shotgun and drop the coyote two feet from the caller and 18-feet from where we were sitting. Alyssa’s first shotgun coyote was on the ground.

Staying Quiet 

In the many years I’ve been hunting thick cover for predators, I’ve noticed that they appear to be far more comfortable coming to the call in the brushy terrain. They feed and bed down in brushy areas and the last thing they expect is a hunter sitting in the shadows when they hear the dinner bell. I’ve had coyotes walk in downwind with absolutely no hesitation or fear, and I’ve watched in amazement as a bobcat came in from behind me and sat down four feet to my left. 

Despite their apparent comfort and calm demeanor in the brush, make no mistake, they are always on high alert. Any unnatural sound in and around the brushy habitat while you’re calling will make a flash of fur disappear instantly. Whether it’s a squeaky chair or a cough, the one thing I tell anyone coming with me is that they need to be extra quiet.

I was calling a regular spot last year with a good friend. We snuck in and had a great view of the desert sage brush. About eight minutes in, I spotted a coyote racing in on my buddy’s side. As he went to swing on the unsuspecting predator, he shifted his feet, scraping the soles of his shoes in the gravely dirt. It was a subtle sound, but the coyote heard it, reversed course in an instant and disappeared into thick cover.

Gray Fox

I’ve always considered gray fox to be the spastic, hyperactive little brother of the coyote. When I call grays, they come in fast and seldom sit still for very long. More often than not, the shot on a gray fox will always be on a moving animal.

Here in California we can’t use e-callers to hunt gray foxes. When calling for grays, you can only use hand calls. To be honest, this is fine with me. I enjoy the simplicity of calling with hand calls and feel that they are, when used appropriately, as effective as any e-caller.

At the end of January, I made a short trip near my home to call an area I hadn’t hunted for years. Alyssa and I used to refer to the stand as the fox spot, since we called and killed quite a few grays in the area. Back when she was just starting to come out with me, she actually called in a fox for me at that spot using her small, pink hand call.

Unfortunately, a fire had torched the area completely in 2011, leaving the rich habitat as barren as the moon. It wasn’t until very recently that I started seeing fresh prints in the area once again.

I snuck in an hour before dark and got set up. I tucked my chair next to a huge sage brush and started calling. While I was blowing the second series, a flash of cinnamon-colored fur off to my left caught my attention. The gray fox came racing in, stopped for less than a second and then scurried over to my right stopping briefly behind a small bush 20 feet away. All I could see was his fluffy tail. I quietly raised my shotgun and made a soft lip squeak with my mouth. The fox took two steps out from behind the cover and the Browning Silver Hunter did the rest. That was my first gray fox in several years.

Hunting thick cover for predators is one of my favorite ways to call. Every year I look forward to finding new hunting spots and studying them through a predator’s eye. If I determine the area is active with animals, I’ll make plans to call it as soon as the season starts. And for me, there is no greater thrill than when all that scouting pays off and I fool a predator into range. 

If you’ve never called for predators in thick cover with a shotgun, you should give it a try. It’s hard to beat the excitement of seeing that flash of fur coming through brush only feet away, and knowing that they have no idea that you’re sitting in their living room.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.