Why Shotguns Are Better Than Rifles for Predators

In close quarters, whether you are pursuing small or large predators, shotguns provide many benefits.

Why Shotguns Are Better Than Rifles for Predators

If you plan to hunt coyotes with shotguns, make sure to put in appropriate range time so you'll optimize the gun, ammo and choke tube. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

When I looked up from the e-caller control in my hand, a sleek bobcat was standing mere feet away and staring a hole through me. Unfortunately, it saw my head move, and now he was on the move. By the time I shouldered my scattergun, the wild cat was dashing to my right, heading for dense brush, and safety. Luckily my shotgun offered a quick point and shoot solution to bagging the cat. When I tugged the trigger, the cat turned into a tumbling ball of fur.

That’s the beauty of hunting predators with a shotgun. You can quickly point at a target and find success with fleeing predators. Using a shotgun also means you’ll need to up your game and become a better hunter, become better camouflaged or concealed, and often call at lower tones to have close encounters with predators.

Which Shotgun Works Best?

While some predator hunters claim the 10 gauge is the king of the shotgun world and best for predator stopping, the hunters who have been punished by a 10-gauge shotgun quickly move over to 12-gauge models. On the other side of this big-bore fence, the 20-gauge shotgun is generally easier to carry-on all-day hunts because most models are lighter weight. Still, those smaller scatterguns also put far fewer big pellets downrange. There are trade-offs, so choose wisely.

The great news is that in the 12 gauge market, many manufacturers offer various camouflage patterns on numerous models, provide assorted stock models along with thumbholes and pistol grips, offer a wide range of chokes, and provide other add-ons that can help create a nearly custom shotgun that meets your needs and wants. Many shotguns now also sport rails atop the action for adding optics if you wish.

The standard shotgun sight — the single brass bead at the muzzle — works ok on a predator gun. You can up your pointing by adding fiber optic sights that stand out against most brush and aid with quick target acquisition. If you are a fan of optics on shotguns, then red dot electronic sights work great with some hunters for predators, especially when pursuing darker colored predators like black bears.

Finally, shotgun scopes can help settle the score if you are making a longer-distance shot on a coyote’s head as he sits behind brush and stares. The downside is that shotgun scopes require head and eye alignment with a tube and crosshairs, and frequently before this alignment happens, a fleeing coyote will reach the safety of the concealing brush. Having just a few seconds to aim may mean no reward. Just be certain any aiming device you select for your hunting shotgun is recommended for use on a shotgun and can take the recoil abuse. Some sights simply cannot handle the recoil. It’s frustrating to see parts flying away after you make a shot.

Hunting with a shotgun also means you need to pay more attention to your camouflage,  concealment tactics, be more patient, control call volumes and sit tight until the coyote comes near and steps on your boots or lands in your lap. Shotguns that work for you during turkey hunting seasons — including the popular black models — could now possibly do double duty as a predator gun. Just be sure there are no slick finishes that glare that can spook incoming predators. The better news is you often have options with shotguns to change barrels, definitely change chokes, and sometimes change stocks and forends. The add-ons and alterations for shotgun modifications are nearly limitless.

Since shotgun hunting often means working close quarters to call predators near, it’s seeing those many sharp predator teeth in your face and having a wild coyote within arms’ reach that will add a new high level of excitement to predator hunting and calling. Don’t, however, become so unnerved that you forget to shoot.

Pattern Versus Pin-Point

The scatter pattern of shotgun shotshells and the many flying shot pellets after the trigger tug can mean a predator down versus a predator that has escaped. Before bringing a shotgun along on the hunt, you need to determine which predator you will focus on and which shotshell to select. A coyote may tumble to No. 4 shot, but this size shot would probably not slow a bear. A slug or BB size shot would be overkill on a bobcat.

If you are hunting bears — or huge pests like boars — in dense brush, then slugs generally offer an advantage over rifles because the massive slug offers impact power that can stop these animals in their tracks. Massive slugs also provide larger entrance and exit holes. This can result in better blood trails to follow.

Many hunters struggle to find coyotes, cats and big animals, such as bears and boars, shot with a rifle or pistol because the animal’s hair and fur absorbs and retains a lot of blood before a drop ever splashes onto the ground. When using slugs, the resulting larger holes create more opportunity for blood to flow and to exit the body cavity. Multiple pellets can also mean more internal damage for any predator and more likelihood of an animal down on the spot.

As a rule, the standard 3-inch 12-gauge shotshell can push 40 to 50 No. 4 pellets down range and into a coyote or other predator, often resulting in an on-the-spot stop. Some shotshell manufacturers also offer BB loads in 3-inch heavy magnum shotshells with coyotes in mind. There are a wide range of slugs and sabot shotshells for use when hunting bigger predators. Just always test the shotgun and shotshells at the range before heading on a hunt.

One other reason to use a shotgun is the quick point-n-shoot factor. Many hunters simply become so unnerved when a coyote comes out of the brush mere yards away, or when a bear suddenly comes running to a predator call. At close distance, and a sudden critter appearance is exciting, causing some hunters to become unglued and unable to shoot. In the game of being close to predators, you need to judge whether you have nerves of steel or will not want a predator coming close enough to bite you.

Near and Far Shots are Possible

When hunting in pairs, strongly consider having one hunter in the mix shoot a shotgun if you are in brushy terrain and can see far in multiple directions but have limited views in other directions. As hunters change hunting locations, the terrain and vegetation can also change. In much of the East, especially along river bottoms and in narrow mountain valleys, you could be along an open field with one setup, and in dense brush facing close-range opportunities at the next location. In many situations, you never know if a coyote will come through the brush or appear across an open hay or crop field, and whether it will stop or continue passing by at a quick pace after it assesses the situation. A shotgun could put the brakes on any runner or quickly make deadly contact in dense brush.

Spreading shot patterns generally makes hitting moving coyotes or fleeing bobcats easier. Remember to read the wind and select a site where you can see around you as you settle in to hunt. Placing yourself in a small deep pocket of brush gives you a narrow field of view ahead, and in many situations like this, the coyote comes near, busts you by discovering your scent or because it detects your movement and leaves without you ever seeing it. This escape is not what you want because it quickly educates predators and makes them more cautious and more challenging to call.

One rule for successful predator hunting is to always practice shooting and swinging the firearm you will be hunting with while seated. Get off the comfortable shooting bench at the range and shoot from both your strong and weak sides. You need to be able to adapt, and this either side shooting ability can increase the chances of shooting success on predators.

Finally, take the time to pattern the shotgun you will hunt with at various distances, and with different chokes and shotshells. Consider upping the game and installing a special predator choke, such as the MAD Dog Pounder choke. Remember, the advantages are quick sighting or covering the target and putting pellets on the kill zone.

Shotguns have also found a welcome place when hunting treed predators with hounds. Some mountain lion and bear hunters like to use shotguns because instant results mean less opportunity an injured predator will turn and injure hounds—or the hunter. This also goes back to trying to make a precision shot with a rifle and riflescope in a nearly straight-up position through tree limbs compared to point-n-shoot with a shotgun. Some hunters can’t seem to shoot a scoped rifle when the predator is up a tree, dogs are wildly howling, and the hunter and the prey keep moving and trying to find — or avoid — that perfect shot opportunity. The tide can be quickly turned with a shotgun.

That Extra Wait Rewards

Using decoys in the get-em-close game with predators will usually draw attention away from you and can pull coyotes, wolves and bobcats closer. In most cases, however, wary coyotes and the other critters will circle a decoy and smell the air to assess the situation. You should be settled in on the downwind side with the shotgun at the ready. Consider spraying with scent eliminator solutions when the hunt begins or wearing odor-blocking clothing. You must often beat the nose before you have the opportunity to let the swarm of shot fly downrange.

A final word for more success is to turn off the call and wait and then wait some more. Wait until the alarmed birds have moved on, farm cows are back to eating grass, and the world has gone quiet around you. Then be ready. I’ve hunted with several top predator hunters across America, and all have the unwavering patience to sit and wait for extended periods. Nearly all of those predator hunters have taken coyotes that came to the call long after the call was silenced. Curiosity can cause a coyote or other predators to come to see what is left from a presumed fight over food or a mate. Wait and be ready.

I have also, unfortunately, hunted with hunters who flip the e-caller quiet button as they are also rising from their sit to gather gear and move on. That’s when everyone sees the just-out-of-range and previously unnoticed coyote wildly dashing away. When all goes quiet, cautious coyotes who may have been in the sit-and-watch mode will often come to see what all the fuss was about. If you wait, you win. When that coyote, and all predators, come close, a shotgun increases your odds of success, and helps you settle the score!

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