Among the many game animals available to Arkansas hunters, few are more challenging and exciting to pursue as our big predators, the coyote and bobcat. Seasons for both are open now through the end of February, with a daily limit of two for bobcats and no bag limit on coyotes.
Both species are extremely cautious and have keen senses, facts that make them difficult to hunt successfully. But coyotes and bobcats have a weakness hunters can exploit. When they hear the sounds of an injured rabbit, they often throw caution to the wind and charge in for what they think will be an easy meal.
Whenever a predator catches a rabbit, the normally silent cottontail shrieks in fear and pain. It will do the same if it happens to get caught in a trap, a fence, by a snake or when it is accidentally injured. Coyotes and bobcats know this sound, and a hunter who imitates the rabbit’s pitiful squealing using a predator call can bring his quarry near enough for a killing shot.
Rodents such as mice are also diet staples for predators, so modern call makers have produced short-range rodent-squeak calls, too. However, because a dying rabbit sound is loud, carries very well over a long range and is so well recognized by predators, this is the sound most used. It is effective everywhere.
Many hunters learn to use handheld, mouth-blown calls, which are inexpensive and easy to learn how to use. Others choose electronic predator callers, which play dying rabbit sounds. Both are effective.
To begin your hunt, position yourself strategically in an area known to contain predators. You should sit (not stand) so that you can see well over a broad expanse, but never on the skyline where you are easily spotted. Sit against something, not behind it.
Wear camouflage clothing (jacket, pants, hat, head and face net, gloves), and break up your outline by blending in with a tree, bush or rocky outcropping. Walk to the calling area quietly, and try to follow a direct route so you don’t wander around the area in which you intend to call and frighten your quarry.
The best times of day are around dawn and early-morning hours, and in the late afternoon up until dark. All predators also move and hunt at night. However, in Arkansas, coyotes may only be hunted during daylight hours, and dogs are required to hunt bobcats at night.
Calling is best when there is little or no wind, which is one reason to recommend the first light of day, normally a period of calm. If there is any significant air current, the call carries farthest in the direction, downwind, where you don’t want it to go. Any predator coming into the wind is going to whiff your scent. Commercial cover scents are helpful in masking human odor and should be used, but don’t expect them to be infallible. Your best insurance is to have the prevailing wind at the back of your quarry rather than yours, blowing your scent away from the animal’s keen nose.
If you will hunt on cool, overcast days or during winter months, animals are more likely to be foraging for food, and responses may be had all day long. Predator calling when snow is on the ground and wind is severe is extremely effective. This is a difficult time for the animals to find food, and their caution sometimes diminishes in direct proportion.
The firearm you choose for this kind of hunting depends mostly on your individual preference. Arkansas regulations permit bobcats and coyotes to be taken with archery equipment, firearms of any caliber or shotguns using any size shot. Because most hunters hope to sell the pelts of the animals they kill, however, they opt to hunt with rifles in the .22 class. Choices range from the .22 Hornet and .221 Fireball to the .222, .222 magnum, .223 and the .22-250, all proven fur takers. Single-shot hunting handguns are also chambered in most of these calibers and add a more challenging dimension to the sport.
When you begin calling, don’t let your enthusiasm destroy the reality of the drama you are attempting to create. Calling too loud and too long are no-nos. Call just enough to get the animal’s attention.
When a rabbit is first hurt, it can make a lot of loud noise. But as it tires, its squalling decreases in volume and frequency. Duplicate that sequence. Use a loud volume at first but not very long. From then on, use intervals of low volume, as this makes the animal less wary and more intrigued. Gradually taper your calling in length and intensity.
If you don’t get action within an hour, you should move. If a coyote is nearby, it will generally show in a hurry, within 15 minutes or less. A bobcat is more furtive. Sometimes it takes half an hour or more for one, sneaking and slinking, to make an appearance.
When a predator approaches within sight, remember that this is now a swap-out, because you, the caller, are also vulnerable, and when the animal comes close, many things can go wrong, and something usually does. In most confrontations, the predator emerges as winner.
When you spot an animal approaching, quit calling immediately. Remain motionless and silent until you’re ready to shoot. If the animal starts to move away from you, a short call probably will put him back on course, but time such calls to coincide with the moments when your target can’t see you.
If you’re spotted, be ready to react at once. You can’t shoot a coyote with a varmint call, so keep your gun in a ready position. If you have a hunting partner, all the better. Have him ready while you’re calling. When frightened, a coyote or bobcat moves out a whole lot faster than he moved in.
Predator calling know-how, at least on paper, sounds simple enough. But once in the field, application doesn’t seem so easy. The caller finds himself nagged by self-doubts. Is he calling in the proper way? In the right place? Can he really make it work?
This is the learning process every caller must go through. Experience leads to confidence, and self-confidence is the trail to success.
You can expect the unexpected from predator hunting. It offers its own brand of thrills and is a sport that challenges the outdoor savvy of the most skilled hunters. It teaches patience, tolerance and humility. And it is the only trip afield where the hunter deliberately becomes the hunted.
No, it isn’t easy. But predator hunting is fascinating, challenging and suspenseful. And once you call up a wildcat or a yodel dog, there’s no cure except to go calling every chance you get.