Tips and tactics for hunting predators in the desert southwest
This year’s elk meat is safe in the freezer, mule deer season is just a fond memory, and even the whitetail deer rut in your favorite antlers is over. Always hungry for time outdoors, and what better than hunting predators across the vast expanses of the desert southwest? You’ll have a great time, help control predator numbers, and reduce pressure and predation on local big and small game. But hunting predators in the west is not the same as in your local big wood or farm country. It can be much more difficult, but can also provide amazing opportunities and adventures. Here are some tips to help you have a fun and successful hunt.
The OnX app is one of my most used tools. If you don’t already have it on your mobile device, download it before you go hunting. It displays satellite images, Topo maps, roads, water sources, etc. You can save waypoints, mark routes, measure distance and much more. Most importantly, OnX shows you the boundaries of private and public lands and shows your exact location relative to those boundaries. This will allow you safe and ethical access to public lands and prevent you from accidentally trespassing on private lands. It’s easy and intuitive to use and will help you hunt smarter.
Use an E-Caller
Even if you are a master of mouth calls, I recommend that you have a good quality electronic caller in your arsenal. This will add significant benefits to certain setups. Have a wide selection of uploaded sounds, including unusual or uncommon sounds if possible. Public land predators are under a lot of pressure, and the older, more intelligent ones have heard most of the common sounds and probably won’t be fooled. Try something strange or unusual and they might be tempted beyond their endurance. Mix some mouth sounds and your performance becomes even more interesting.
Quick work for dogs
If you’re looking for canine predators (coyotes, foxes), don’t spend a ton of time on every setup. Yes, it is true that some smart old dogs will take a long time to adopt a cautious approach, and you will miss them. But overall, you’ll see more dogs hitting more setups. Most dogs will show up – if they come – within the first 20 minutes of being called. One world champion caller I’ve heard of only spends eight minutes on each setup before moving on. So sit back, focus for 20 minutes of calling, then move on to the next setup.
Hunt Slow for Cats
On the other hand, if you really want to call the cats, patience is in order. Bobcats are what most cat hunters focus on, although in a few states you can purchase an over-the-counter mountain lion license and hunt them as well. Set up over a cat-friendly habitat (rock piles, brush washes, etc.) where a cat can stay in shelter until it is within 20 yards of your call. This will make them more comfortable and likely to approach the call. Use mostly distressed bird sounds. Stay very alert and vigilant, as cats are difficult to spot, and call for at least an hour each time you set up. Keep the caller on the line all the time, as cats tend to lose interest when the sounds stop.
I believe one of the biggest and most common mistakes predator hunters make is approaching a setup loudly and then calling out too soon. Predators are far from dumb and will quickly register the sound of an engine, a call and a shot in their “Get Out Of Dodge” memory sound bank. Be very careful when approaching a setup. Park at least 300 yards from where you plan to park and try to stow your vehicle in a small pocket where it is out of sight. Carefully slide into position, then sit absolutely still and silent for several minutes before beginning the call. When you leave, also be quiet and stealthy, in case a reluctant creature hangs just out of sight or within earshot. No need to confirm his suspicions.
hang a feather
If circumstances allow you to hang a small white feather near your call, do so. Cats are especially fascinated by movement (think of a house cat watching a string come to an end), and if they see your feather twirling in the breeze, they’ll largely ignore the search for danger (you). Hang your feather where it is easy for an approaching predator to spot it.
Hunt over water
If the predators don’t respond well to your call, try settling above the water for an afternoon session. Coyotes like to drink and play in the water during the afternoon, especially in hot weather. For this to work, water needs to be limited, so if there has been rainfall in the past few weeks, don’t worry. But if it’s been dry and water is scarce, chasing coyotes over water can be dynamite on hot afternoons. If you pull one, stay seated and keep waiting. More are likely to appear before darkness settles over the hills.
call at night
Some western states allow night predator hunting for part or all of the year. Fox and bobcat hunting can be especially effective once darkness has fallen over the desert, and the hunt can be super fast and fun. You’ll need a powerful searchlight with a red lens and a way to elevate yourself above the surrounding terrain. Critters are less likely to be scary around vehicles at night, and many night hunters use tall racks in the back of their pickup trucks. Park, switch off the engine and place your E-call on the cab or bonnet. Be very quiet for a few minutes, then start the call. You will need two people: one to direct the spotlight and the other behind the gun. Scan the searchlight beam in a circle around your position, looking for the reflection of the eyes of an approaching predator. When spotting eyes, keep your light high so that only the halo of light illuminates it dimly. Once your shooter is ready, drop the beam directly at the predator so they can identify and potentially shoot. The Predator will only stand for a few seconds once the main light beam is on them, so if you’re going to shoot, don’t wait. Be sure to check local regulations to determine legal seasons, species and times before hunting at night.