Lead photo: You’ll want a bi-pod to shoot off of. If you lay down to get stable you won’t be able to see above the sagebrush and tall grass.
By: Tom Claycomb
Many of you have reluctantly stored away your rifles for the winter and are spiraling down into a dark depression now that hunting season is over.
OK, maybe I’m being a little bit of a drama queen. But if you’re near the edge, back away, because we’re right in the middle of one of the funniest, high-speed shooting seasons of the year, and you don’t want to miss it:
If you’ve never varmint hunted, you’re missing out on a great hunt. The favorite target is coyotes, because they’re the most plentiful, but bobcats, foxes, and coons are also fair game. Let’s go over what it takes to be involved:
In the old days, 60 years ago, varmint hunting gear was pretty simple. You needed a gun, wood hand call, and a flashlight. Things have greatly changed since those days, but we’re also a lot more successful now.
Used to be we called with a wood hand call. We’d call for five minutes and then shine a flashlight around to see if we’d see any eyes glistening. The method for shining your light is still the same today. Run the light on the ground around you in a circle 20 feet out or on the horizon. If you see any eyes, tell the shooter to get ready and then drop the light on the animal(s). He’ll have a couple of seconds to take a shot before they scatter.
Then we progressed to a Johnny Stewart cassette tape. You’d plug it into your truck, roll down the windows and jump in back of the truck with your light.
Now we’ve progressed to electronic calls. I have probably 5-8 different kinds, but Fox Pro is the most popular. Electronic calls are great for a few reasons:
1. You can set them 40 yards away from you. That way, when the varmint comes in, he is focused on the call and not on you. You operate it with a remote control.
2. Another big draw is that electronic calls come with a lot of preprogrammed sounds. Dying rabbits, howling coyotes, and the list goes on and on.
The varmint comes in because he is hearing a lot of commotion. If he comes in and doesn’t see anything, then that a big red flag. If you varmint hunt like me, then you’re running gunning. I’ll do a set-up, and if nothing is in within 30 minutes, I jump to another spot. Eighty percent of your coyotes will come in within the first 5-10 minutes. Not that sometimes one is slow to come in, but not as a rule. So I’ll cover a lot more ground and do more set-ups in a day than you will if you’re setting in the same spot for an hour or more.
So with the above said, a heavy 3D decoy doesn’t work well, because it is too heavy to lug around. Here’s what I’d suggest:
1. Use a Montana Decoy. They’re lightweight and easy to pack. They’re one-dimensional, so you’ll want to use two.
2. Everyone is on some kind of a budget, so if you can’t afford a decoy, stick a heavy 3-4 foot wire in the ground at an angle. Tie a turkey feather on top and let it dangle 2-4 inches. The wind will twirl it around and catch their attention.
3. The best decoy though is some kind of a waggler, which is a small piece of white rag tied to the end of a wire that is attached to a motor that whips it around. These are the best.
You’ll want to be camouflaged. You don’t have to go over the top, but set back in the brush or behind a fence line. Or now there are a lot of portable C-shaped or V-shaped blinds that are made of cloth and are about three-feet tall. Like the Ameristep Throwdown or the Barronett Field Shield.
What is the best gun to use? An AR 5.56 is the most popular. Due to being a semi-auto, you can get fast follow-up shots if two or three are coming in all at once. I’ve had up to five come in at once.
But if there is more than one hunter, I’d advise one of you carrying a shotgun. I counted, and one year, 40% of our shots were close enough for a shotgun. Granted, I like hunting with a rifle, but if you’re after sheer numbers, one of you needs to carry a shotgun. And use good varmint loads like the Hevi-Shot Dead Coyote loads.
A FEW EXTRA TIPS:
- Expect for bobcats to take forever to come in.
- Calling at night is the best, but yes, you can call during the day.
- If you can’t afford an electronic call, don’t panic. Hand calls still work.
Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.