Everyone desires a place to call their own, a refuge from the storms of life and a personal paradise where one feels most alive and at peace. For some, such an abode may be a dream house or a welcoming neighborhood. For others, it might be a place of worship or a favorite eating establishment. For me, it was an eighty-acre tract of woods in southeast Missouri. The property belonged to a kind elderly couple, who for fifteen years graciously allowed me to spend time there as often as I desired. It was virtually untouched. No one else hunted there, except for an occasional trespasser or two. I loved that place, truly loved it in the most literal sense. It was there that I cut my teeth as a young hunter. It was where I genuinely matured from adolescence into manhood. I spent countless hours in those woods pondering the mysteries of life, reflecting on the things that mattered most to me, and mentally prepared myself for the challenges to come. I essentially became the caretaker and conservationist of that piece of property throughout those years. It was the kind of place every hunter dreams of having unlimited access to.
The property possessed incredible biodiversity. Dozens of different species of hardwood trees, as well as conifers, were present on the land. Birds of all kinds, and creatures big and small called this place home. A tranquil, fish-filled creek ran through the valley that surrounded the foothills. The adjoining fields were full of native prairie grasses and ancient, aromatic cedars. In the autumn months, the colorful foliage would light up like an all-encompassing stained glass window, paralyzing one with its breathtaking beauty. Walking through those woods would fill me with an overwhelming sense of serenity. Indeed, in a word, it was paradise.
It was there that my hunting career essentially began. As most budding outdoorsman, I started out with a .22 caliber rifle, in search of rabbits and other small game. During the first couple of years that I hunted that location, I had a very hard time even finding a rabbit to pursue. I stomped through brush piles and plowed through thorny thickets like a crazed Sasquatch, yet almost never did I see a cottontail bounding out from the dense cover. I walked the tall, grassy fields for hours and hours, covered every inch of those foothills, and still never even fired one single shot! At the end of each outing, I’d hang my head low in shame and disgrace, sulking over my pathetic hunting skills. As I discovered later, however, it was not poor hunting skills that were to blame for never enjoying a fresh meal of hasenpfeffer. Rather, there were simply no rabbits on the property!
A season or two later, I switched gears and began to focus more on hunting squirrels, as I’d always seen lots of them scurrying about in the trees and bushes as I pursed the phantom hares of my previous efforts. My confidence rebounded as I was quite successful in harvesting steady limits of both gray and fox squirrels. As my development as a young hunter grew, I got very interested in game calling. Since I was also a developing musician at the time, the musical quality of wildlife communication appealed to me very much. I studied all I could on the subject of animal calling techniques, took to it quite naturally, and practiced constantly…to the displeasure of many who patiently endured my mimicking shrieks, grunts, and bizarre beastly sounds.
When I deemed my skills as field ready, I first applied them to squirrel hunting. I went out on a particularly nasty day when the squirrels were staying in their nests and tried to call them out with my new-found skills. Dressed in full camo, I hunkered down in a pile of dead fallen trees within shooting range of a mighty Missouri oak where many a squirrel called home. I began a series of emphatic distress calls, coupled with the aggressive beating of my hat in the leaves…trying to replicate the sound of a squirrel in serious trouble…hoping it would attract the attention of the nearby limb rats. During the second sequence of calling, as I was intensely focused on scanning the foliage above, I heard a sudden crash coming from a thicket just a few yards in front of me. In the split second that it took for me to redirect my focus, a huge, mangy coyote came leaping out of the bushes, literally right into my lap! I’ll admit, it scared the ever-loving living hell out of me! I hollered like a school girl, jumped up like a jackrabbit, and started blazing away with my .22, fearing I was about to get attacked by this crazed animal. The unscathed coyote quickly retreated, just as shocked and surprised as I was! It was then that I realized that I was not the only predator who hunted this land. It was the first of countless coyote encounters to come.
After a few more years passed, I had advanced to the more challenging pursuits of deer and turkey hunting and was ready for my inaugural seasons. It was also at that time that I got very serious about bowhunting, as the archery season allowed me to spend many more months in my beloved Missouri woods. Doing all day sits in the tree stands I had placed on the property was yet another wide-eyed revelation as to the increasing predator problem that was developing. The vast majority of the deer and turkey I spied from my perches were ones that came sprinting through the woods with a ravenous pack of coyotes hot on their tails! Almost every time I attempted to use a deer call to gently coax in a ruminant, a bloodthirsty coyote would quickly appear. In a similar manner, most all of my first turkey hunts were spoiled by those dirty dogs as well. They’d quietly come into my calls, pounce on my decoys, chase off incoming gobblers, and basically sabotage every effort I made to bag my first bird. In fact, it took me almost a decade to finally fill my first turkey tag because of those rotten scoundrels! Again, while I was not competing with any other human hunters on the property, I was certainly not the only predator. Their numbers where legion!
Over the years that followed, my competition with the local coyotes increased more and more. And then, it finally boiled to a head. One particular archery season I had filled both of my deer tags. One, on a nice sized doe, and the second on a dandy eight-point buck. However, none of that healthy, delicious, hard-earned venison made it to the freezer. As a bowhunter, I’ve always made it a practice to give a shot animal plenty of time and space to peacefully expire before tracking and recovering it…usually a half hour or so. In most cases, the animal goes down within seconds and within sight, but, I still give it some time to be sure, as well as to collect my wits before field dressing and such. As fate would have it, the particular season that I shot those two deer, they did not go down within sight, as the woods were extremely thick and both occasions were evening hunts. Thus, I went back to the truck, waited an hour or so for things to settle down, get my flashlight, and then began the nocturnal tracking job. Better safe than sorry, I thought.
To make a long story short, on both occasions, when I did recover those deer, it was indeed quite a sorry sight. Coyotes had already begun working over the carcasses. It was as if they instantly smelled blood in the air and wasted absolutely no time in feasting on the fresh meat. While the deer where far from being completely consumed when I found them, there was still enough tissue damage to warrant serious health risks in trying to salvage the meat for human consumption. I was furious!!! That was the last straw!
Making the conscious decision to start actively hunting coyotes and other predators was not an easy one for me, even in spite of all the damage they were doing and all the chaos they were causing. Where I come from, you eat what you kill, period. A high ethical standard was instilled in me from the very beginning of my development as an outdoorsman. I was taught that one should never simply kill for the sake of killing, that the taking of an animal’s life is a serious act which one must be held accountable for. Hunting, as I was raised to believe, was not a “sport,” but rather, a sacred activity that combined deep respect for nature, a spirit of conservation and stewardship, and of course, a means of harvesting healthy meat for the freezer. I was taught that hunting is a matter of being a responsible, active participant in the cycle of life. Along with that, and perhaps more importantly, I came to know hunting as a catalyst for experiencing the serenity and wisdom of the wilderness, as well as a means of strengthening relationships with family and friends.
As much as I truly hated those marauding coyotes, I still just didn’t feel it was right to go out and mercilessly eradicate them all. After all, predatory animals like wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc., are incredible, wildly fascinating, respectable creatures that certainly have their proper place in nature. They have a job to do and they play a very important role in the overall health and balance of the environment. And, that’s the key word, and the key issue that I studied and pondered upon for a long time before actively hunting predators… “Balance.”
If there are too many predators, the balance of nature is thrown way out of whack. Struggling populations of prey species simply will not rebound until the surplus of predators is thinned out. As I had experienced, the incredibly excessive amount of coyotes virtually decimated small game populations and were taking a major toll on larger species of wildlife. Not to mention, as I found out with further investigation, the coyotes in my area were also actively gobbling up the calves of nearby ranchers.
On the other side of the coin though, I also learned that too few a predators can likewise result in an ecological disaster, such as a mass influx of rats and other disease-carrying vermin. In addition to that, as many parts of the country are now experiencing, without natural predators keeping prey species in check, animals such as deer can greatly overpopulate to the point of expanding way beyond a healthy, sustainable carrying capacity, resulting in the exhaustion of food sources that other species of wildlife depend upon as well.
The more I began to educate myself about the proper predator/prey relationship, and the essential, delicate dance it plays in nature, I began to recognize the immensely important role of the hunter as a conservationist and the steward of creation. Many anti-hunters passionately proclaim that Mother Nature can take care of herself, that she can and will implement balance and order…all in her own good time, and that she needs no help from humankind. In many ways, this is actually true. Nature will take care of itself and balance things out…eventually. However, it may take decades, or even centuries to do so, and Mother Nature uses far more brutal and savage means to bring about balance than what humans do, such as starvation and disease. In regard to issues such as wildlife management, what nature does to achieve balance over long periods of time, humans can do very quickly. Strategic, scientifically sound, and ethically implemented hunting and conservation programs can bring about a healthy balance in animal populations within just a few seasons, and with minimal impact on the rest of the environment.
After many months of researching and meditating on issues such as these, I finally was able to understand and embrace the importance and necessity of predator hunting. The bottom line is this: if an area contains an excessive number of predators, which are causing serious harm to the overall environmental balance, or one’s livelihood, the most effective solution is for humans to step in and act as conscientious predators themselves. But again, and very importantly, the key to proper predator hunting is to do so in a truly conscientious manner.
Predator hunting, as a conservation tool, should be implemented as carefully and surgically as possible, removing a precise number of excessive species, while retaining and protecting the necessary populace. What exactly is the necessary populace of predators for a given area, you may ask? That is a question one should thoroughly research and discuss with local professionals, such as biologists, scientists, and farmers, long before actually engaging in one’s predator hunting campaign. Unfortunately, predator hunting is often portrayed as nothing more than a blood sport in which its participants gun down as many demon dogs as humanly possible. This unrestricted, trigger-happy attitude not only damages our ever-tarnishing image as responsible hunters, but it can also have very adverse effects environmentally. Again, too few predators in nature can be just as unhealthy and destructive as having too many.
Bowhunting for Predators
After preparing myself mentally for predator hunting, by means of a thorough education on the topic, I then had to start thinking about the actual tactics I would employ. I ultimately decided to bow hunt for predators for a number of reasons. First, the woods were very, very thick, with minimal visibility. So, a long-range, scoped rifle would be pretty useless. Secondly, the remaining wildlife on the land was pressured so much, and so on edge from the constant coyote onslaughts, that I thought it best to choose a means of hunting that was as low-impact and low pressure as possible. Gallivanting around the timber and blasting away with a short range firearm would not only disrupt the remaining wildlife, but every loud shot I took would also alert the coyote population to my presence. Like a sickening, malodorous flatulent, bowhunting is indeed silent, but deadly! Finally, I decided to use a bow and arrow for predator hunting because of the challenge. As a US Marine Scout Sniper buddy of mine preaches, “Anything over 200 yards is not hunting, it’s shooting.” For me personally, I think of genuine hunting as a matter of acquiring and exercising the skills that enable one to get close to game, undetected, and then making an ethical, clean, confident shot.
Using a bow and arrow, and going one-on-one with another highly intelligent predator, who knows the woods far better than you do, and whose sensory powers are eons more advanced than yours, is hands-down, absolutely the ultimate challenge! And, the reward for rising to that challenge is an incredible advancing of one’s overall hunting skills, which can then be applied to any pursuit. If one can successfully and regularly bow hunt predators, there will be very few things that one can’t accomplish as a hunter and outdoorsman.
Keep in mind though, predator hunting is not just about the challenge; there is a real job to do, and one must have the necessary, practiced skills to do it. One needs to equally be a good hunter and a good marksman. Thus, before I began my coyote hunting campaign, I practiced and practiced and practiced some more. I wanted to be as consistent and proficient as possible in regard to shot placement with my archery gear. While I shot my bow year round and was pretty good, I wanted to be absolutely deadly before beginning the hunt. And, with all humility, I was. Before I headed to the coyote woods, I could shoot more accurately at short range with a bow than with a firearm.
Another skill I had to polish to a razor’s edge in order to successfully, consistently, bag coyotes, was predator calling. This is where, yet again, more study and practice came into play. Knowing exactly how prey animals in distress sound and behave is critical. And, knowing exactly how to replicate those sounds, with their complete dynamic and emotional range, is also critical. While there are lots of prerecorded, electronic calls on the market which can be very effective, knowing how to use mouth calls is imperative, as they are far more versatile and can be adapted to any particular hunting scenario. Along with mastering the sounds of prey animals in distress, another major area of calling skill to develop is that of the communicative vocalizations of the coyotes themselves. Knowing how to talk to the song dogs, what to say, and when to say it, can be just as important, if not more so, than simply sounding like a quick, easy meal.
A final tool to use in conjunction with predator calling is that of a decoy. Having a visual target for predators to intensely focus in on, especially when one is hunting at relatively close range, is a great advantage. There are many makes and models out there as far as predator hunting decoys, but basically, anything that is small, furry, and has some motion to it will do the trick. One can even make homemade decoys. I’ve used stuffed animals on a spring-loaded doll rod with great success. And, to sweeten the deal all the more, saturating a decoy with an alluring, prey animal based scent can really get the attention of an incoming predator.
The Hunt Begins
Finally, the day came in which I would embark on my first official predator bow hunt. I used the same scent control routine that I did when hunting deer to keep my human odor to a minimum, and I got suited up in my best turkey hunting apparel, camouflaged from head to toe. I got out to my hunting grounds a little after sunup and quietly, slowly moved through the woods, en route to an area that I had experienced a tremendous amount of coyote activity in the past years. I set up my motion decoy about twenty yards away in a wide open shooting lane, nestled into a natural ground blind that I had previously constructed, and let the woods quiet down for a spell, all the while being hyper-alert to the wind direction.
After fifteen minutes or so, I began my calling sequence. First, a few coyote greeting barks as the prelude. Next, a duet of crescendoing distress calls and aggressive leaf rustling to sound like a serious pummeling was ensuing. No sooner than I put my call down beside me, I heard the sound of running footsteps. A second or two later, a large coyote appeared right in front of me about fifty yards away. He paused for a moment while hiding in the brush. I could see that he was intensely studying my decoy. He crouched down a bit and began a slow, methodical stalk in the direction of the swirling, fuzzy, polyester and plastic critter. As he passed by a large maple tree and his field of vision was obstructed, I quickly drew back my bow. Just as he was about to switch gears and launch onto my decoy in full attack mode, I released the arrow. He let out a loud bark, ran around in a few quick circles, and expired. The entire hunt was over in less than ten minutes. I couldn’t believe it! I removed the fine pelt from the deceased yote, paid my respects, and called it a day.
A week later, I went out for another hunt. Things transpired almost exactly the same, except this time, two coyotes came in hunting as a pair. The second I moved a muscle in trying to position for a shot on one of them, the other instantly saw me and they both bolted in the blink of an eye. After they retreated back to the thicker area woods, I heard them making loud, extremely aggressive, low growling sounds. I had never heard that before. Up until then I only heard coyotes make their distinctive, high-pitched vocalizations. They were seemingly very angry at being duped. I tried to set up on them later in the evening, but no luck. As I learned from many a wise predator hunter, you can generally only fool a coyote once. They learn fast and won’t give you a second chance, in most cases.
Over the next few hunts, I was made aware of just how intelligent and razor-sharp predators are. Don’t forget, when pursuing predators, you are hunting a creature who is on the offense, not on the defense, as with most prey animals. I did a few more hunts in the same location and same manner as the first ones, but it was becoming obvious that I was now simply educating the coyotes. So, it was time to change things up. The next time I went out, I hunted from a tree stand and used two hen turkey decoys. Similar to my first hunt, I was no sooner in the tree making a few feeding purrs on my diaphragm call, when wham!!! A coyote came sprinting down the hill and did a flying tackle on my rubber bird. While he was rolling and tumbling and chewing the heck out of that thing, I drew back my bow. When he paused his attack, bewildered by the strange texture of the turkey, I let the arrow fly. Coyote #2 had been removed.
Once again, the coyotes wised up pretty quick. My next few attempts from that location were quickly busted. The coyotes would come in and simply look right up in tree, directly at me, and take off. So, it was time to change things up again. I picked out another spot and this time also employed the use of a remote control predator calling device. I strapped the main unit to a tree beside my decoy and planned on activating it from a nearby tree stand location. I set everything up as quickly and quietly as possible and began my ascent into the large oak. As I was climbing up the ladder, almost to the top of the tree, the remote control that I had in my pocket got activated by all the movement, and a series of loud rabbit squeals broke the silence of the morning. Once again, almost instantly a coyote appeared. I froze, clutching the tree trunk like a monkey. I watched the coyote carefully inspect the area, before then proceeding to slowly stalk around, looking for the rabbit he was hearing.
I still don’t know how I pulled it off, but I was actually able to get into my stand the rest of way without alerting the coyote. He was so incredibly focused on finding that rabbit, that he apparently didn’t notice me. I got settled, took the bow off my back, nocked an arrow and let it fly. Coyote #3 was eliminated.
With every consecutive hunt that transpired in the years that followed, I learned more and more about effective predator hunting techniques. I also continued to learn more about the predators themselves, which resulted in an ever-growing respect for them. That deepening respect is what ultimately kept me in check with my efforts. While I was seeing the concrete, positive results of order returning to the land, and less of the destructive chaos that the excessive amount of coyotes were inflicting in years past, I also learned when to call it quits each season. Coyotes and other predators belonged there, and once more, they had an important role to play in the woods. Selectively thinning their numbers was not only good for the well-being of the other species of wildlife, but it was also beneficial in maintaining a healthy populace of predators themselves.
During the final couple of years that I hunted that land, I thankfully didn’t have hordes of rabid coyotes sabotaging my every move. The wildlife that lived there started behaving “normally” again…without living in fear 24/7. Larger numbers of deer and turkey returned, as did quail and other long-gone game birds. I even began seeing a fair amount of cottontails bounding from the thickets as I moved through the woods. I can still recall my final morning out there; sitting high in a tree stand, amidst the brilliant yellow sugar maple leaves of autumn. A doe and her two fawns passed by as calmly as could be. A small flock of turkey scratched and pecked in the hills above me. And, out in the field, beyond the shallow creek, a fine looking coyote was busy hunting voles. Balance had indeed returned. I was happy to do my part as a hunter, but more so, as a steward of the land.
(Stay up to date on new blog posts and media by subscribing to our newsletter. Go to the bottom of the home page or the sidebar of this blog and sign up today!)