Predation as a Factor on Rabbit Populations
There are basically four factors that determine the number of rabbits and hares that live in any given area and they are cover or habitat, food, disease, and predators. First of all, cover or habitat is a must for rabbits so that as many as possible can hide from predators and survive. We have seen several articles on how to increase the amount of available cover by planting brushy vegetation, leaving in fence rows, and by adding man-made brush piles. Secondly, food is an important factor since all animals need food to survive. Simply by planting some strips of legumes, leaving a couple rows of corn, or by adding food piles to our favorite hunting spots or beagle hunting grounds we can dramatically increase the bunny populations. Thirdly, disease is a factor that we as hunters have little or no control over. We could possible try to lower parasite (tick, flea, lice, mosquito) populations somehow or even add antibiotics to the rabbit feed we place in the wild in hopes of warding off bacterial diseases. The amount of success in eliminating rabbit diseases is bleak at beast and most likely too costly if it even were possible. Lastly, the factor concerning the number of predators is very important and the greatest predators of rabbits (other than man) are varmints. According to many Game Wardens, varmints such as bobcats, coyotes, and foxes eat as many as 50 to 100 rabbits each per year. Therefore, if all Beaglers and Rabbit Hunters were to also become at least part-time varmint hunters we could have a drastic effect on increasing the number of rabbits and hares for our tracking and hunting pleasure.
Types of Predator or Varmint Calls
One of the most exciting and challenging methods of hunting these cagey varmints is by becoming the hunted instead of the hunter, and getting these varmints to come to you, instead of the other way around. This type of hunting is called predator calling and is accomplished by using a varmint or predator call. The best varmint calls are the one's that sound like a dying rabbit. At one time or another, all predators have caught a rabbit and are familiar with the sound of a dying rabbit's scream.
There are two types of varmint or predator calls: hand held, mouth blown calls and electronic calls. Personally, I like both types of calls; however, for the beginner I recommend the hand held, mouth blown calls. They are very inexpensive at a cost of about $10.00 rather than $160 or more for an electronic call. The electronic call tapes can have lots of hissing and background static sounds that make them much less effective. The mouth calls are small and easy to put in your pocket or attach to a string around your neck; while, the electronic calls are bulky and somewhat difficult to tote around. A great advantage of electronic calls are that the good ones come with a remote control and can be placed somewhat of a distance from your hiding position. In this way, the approaching predators are looking toward the electronic caller rather than directly at you. This may mean the difference between being seen or not.
If you are thinking of using an electronic call, remember to make sure your state game laws allow them. Some states do not allow them at all, some states allow them during daylight hours only, and some states allow electronic calls for both daylight and night hunting. Also some states allow electronic calls for varmint hunting but not for game animals such as deer, turkey, ducks, etc. So if you are thinking of spending the big bucks for an electronic call please check your state's game laws first.
Hunting Positions and Types of Weapons and Ammo
There are generally three types of positions to use in varmint predator hunting: long-range daylight, short-range daylight, and short-range night time hunting. The type of position you use depends on what time of day you want to do your hunting and what type of terrain and cover is present that will determine your effective shooting range. All three hunting positions are accomplished by sitting on the ground with cover to your back or sides. No blind or tree stand is required or even recommended.
The first type of position is the long-range, daylight shooting. Long-range would be considered anything over 75 yards. This type of shooting works great in deserts or short grasslands. All you need to do is sit or lay next to a tree or bush and wear camouflage clothing that blends in with your background. The type of weapon used will be a rifle in one of the following calibers: .222, .223, .22-250, or .220 Swift. The rifle should be equipped with at least a 3x by 9x adjustable power or a 4x fixed power scope and possibly bipod legs or some other type of support for the rifle. The hunter should also have a good pair of binoculars for sighting varmints out to 200 to 300 yard ranges. The binoculars keep the hunter from spotting for varmints through the rifle's scope. Remember the barrel points in the same direction as the scope and another hunter would not appreciate a rifle being pointed at him or her.
The second type of hunting position is the short-range, daylight hunting. This type of hunting is best used in woods or heavy brush lands when shooting will be at 75 yards or less. Once again you will position yourself by sitting in front of or to the side of a bush or tree. Your camouflage should be very good and make sure that no parts of you or your equipment is reflecting light. The type of weapon used will be a 10 or 12 gauge shotgun with magnum loads of copper-plated no. 2s, BBs, or #4 or 00 Buckshot. If you prefer, you can use a rifle in a 22 Long Rifle caliber as an alternative to shotguns. Dense brush close in varmint calling can also be the perfect opportunity for the handgun shooter. A handgun is easily maneuvered in the brush and quick with aiming, just what you need in thick brush where the animal is in close. Use a good stopper like the 10mm, .357 Mag or .44 Mag with light bullets. Try using Magsafe or Glazer ammo and they won't run too far after you hit them. Thompson Center pistols or others of their kind are also a good bet but don't use a scope for close in shots.
The third type of hunting position is the short-range, nighttime hunting. This type of hunting can be used in any type of terrain and is done during the darkest nights. You simply wear dark clothing and a night hunting cap that has a red lens spotlight mounted on it. The red lens spooks varmints much less than the bright white lights, but white lights can be used with a great deal of success. You can stand, sit, or kneel when hunting under the cover of darkness. While using the call you constantly keep looking in all directions for the brightly illuminated eyes of the predator that is stalking you. When the predator is within the range of your weapon and you have positively identified your target, you take them out with a 10 or 12 gauge shotgun or a rifle in caliber .22LR. Remember to check and see if night time varmint hunting with spotlights is legal in your state.
Predator Senses and Types of Approaches
The main three types of predators that will come into a varmint call that sounds like a dying rabbit are bobcats, coyotes, and foxes. All three predators can be hunted using the same method, but the way each will approach your call is different. Also, all three types of predators have a keen sense of sight, smell, and hearing. They prefer to hunt at night and can be seen often in the early morning or late evening hours. During the cooler months; however, all three types of predators can be successfully hunted during broad daylight hours.
Bobcats are part of the cat family and live in either heavy brush lands or deep in the woods. They will approach your position very slowly and cautiously. It may take a bobcat within hearing range (½ mile to 1 mile) of your call at least 30 to 45 minutes to reach your position. They stalk you using maximum stealth and camouflage and will tend to approach through the heaviest type of cover. Therefore, for every bobcat you see and shoot, there were probably 10 of them that saw you first and you will never know that you called them in. Bobcats nearly always hunt as individuals. If you are hunting for bobcats in particular, you will have to let the coyotes and foxes that approach your position first to go on bye undisturbed. The bobcats take longer to reach you because of their slow, cautious approaches. Once shots have been fired, you can forget ever seeing a bobcat in that area for the rest of the day or night.
Coyotes are part of the dog family and live in nearly every type of terrain throughout North America. They will generally approach your position at a full run or at least a fast walk. Coyotes will approach you by using a path, dirt road, or open field rather than busting through heavy brush. When a coyote is within hearing distance (1 mile or more) of your call, you can expect to see him within shooting range in 20 minutes or less. It is not uncommon to call them within ten feet of your position. Coyotes are not terribly disturbed by the sight of your vehicle or even the sound of gunfire. It is not uncommon to shoot 3 or 4 coyotes from the same position within a 30-minute timeframe. Once you shoot a coyote, stay in your position and keep calling just incase there are others out there. If you shoot at a coyote, miss him, and he starts running out of range, just start calling him again and very often the coyote will start running towards you again. Coyotes do hunt individually but generally hunt in packs of 2 or 3, and have been called in with packs numbering as many as 10 or more.
Foxes are also part of the dog family and live in most parts of North America where the coyotes reside. They tend to live and hunt in packs of 2 to 4 animals. Foxes will approach the caller much as a coyote does by running or trotting in. Foxes also approach using paths, open fields, or dirt roads. They are so attracted to the dying rabbit call that they can even be called in after being shot at and missed only seconds before. They somehow do not associate the gunfire with a hunter using a dying rabbit call as long as they do not see the hunter. You can shoot and kill a fox right next to a pack member and they will often just keep coming in to the sound of the call.
The Wind Factor
All three types of predators will fear the scent of man more than even sight or hearing. They have a phenomenal sense of smell. When these predators approach the sound of your call, they will tend to circle downwind of your location before approaching. During this circle to your downwind direction, the predators generally make several stops for a few seconds in duration. During these brief stops in the predator's approach, you need to make your shot if using a rifle.
Therefore, the best hunting conditions are during calm, nonwindy days. If you do hunt on a windy day, you need to locate your position down wind from the likely area where your predators are located. If one of these predators gets even a whiff of human scent, they will leave the area at a dead run! It is better to not give off any scent than to use scents as a mask. The reason is that if you use the scent of one of the three particular animals, the other two types of predators will likely stay away. However, if you hunt in the desert where it is often windy and only coyotes live, then by all means a little coyote scent will go a long way in masking human scent and help with bringing in those coyotes.
If you are using a hand-held, mouth call you will want to start out with a couple of loud rabbit screams. The loud volume will carry for long distances and will get the attention of any predators within hearing range. Wait a few minutes and then blow several dying rabbit screams that trail off to a whimper. This will give the predator the feeling that the rabbit is very near death and that the effort to acquire a meal is minimal at best. Wait a few more minutes and then blow a few more dying rabbit screams that trail off into another whimper. The predators will be heading towards your position at different speeds according to the type of predator and how long it has been since it's last good meal.
This nice female coyote was taken in the Mojave Desert of Southern California by the author Don Potts.
This nice female coyote was taken in the Mojave Desert of Southern California by the author Don Potts.If you are using an electronic call, you will want to play the tape at first with as much volume as possible without creating any type of distortion or hissing noises. You may also want to pause the tape or adjust the volume occasionally to really get the varmint's attention and give more realism to your calling. Remember, if the predator starts to run away from you after you or a partner misses a shot, often you can keep calling and they will once again come toward the call. Another very important point is that when you make movements such as to put your weapon in your shoulder, do so very slowly and quietly. Predators have a very keen sense of sight and hearing as well as smell. You should also be aware that predators can hear the click of a weapon being placed into the "fire" position as far away as 100 feet, so you may want to make the selection to "fire" as soon as you are situated into your position and before you start calling. Remember, to place the weapon back into the "safe" position for safety reasons before you start to move from one stationary calling position to another. As you begin to rise from your position keep looking all around you, because often a predator has come into your call yet it is just standing a few feet away and is to cautious to take that last rush in and set on your lap. The final important thing you should be aware of is to place your calling positions at least one mile apart since that is the hearing range for most predators.
This 50+ pound male coyote was taken in the Mojave Desert of Southern California by the author Don Potts using a Remington .223 Varmint Special and a Circe dying rabbit hand call.
If you follow these tips and techniques, even if you have never hunted predators before you will likely have success your first time out. All Beaglers and rabbit hunters need to at least become part-time varmint/predator hunters so we can all increase the numbers of rabbits and hares in the field and at our local hunting clubs. Take care, hunt safely, and remember that "perfect practice makes perfect."
On the morning of March 8th, 2001, I went out and ran a couple of my Beagles in the Mojave Desert (Southern California) for about 4 hours. Just when I was about to pick up the hounds and head home, I heard my male Tracker fighting with something and then he gave out a yelp and then I saw a large coyote chasing him and one of my bitches through the desert. I called the hounds and they came a running. The coyote stopped chasing them about 200 yards from me and then headed out away from me.
When I got the hounds back home, I grabbed my Remington .223 Varmint Special and my Circe dying rabbit hand call and went back out about 300 yards into the direction I saw the coyote last running towards. I got down into a good prone position next to a large cactus and started calling. Within 20 minutes the coyote came trotting towards me and stopped about 150 yards out. When the coyote turned broadside to make a circle pattern for a wind test, I nailed him. This male weighs 50+ pounds, which is more than twice as big as either of my two Beagles that I was running on this morning. It is rare when a coyote will get so bold as to attack two of my hounds at the same time, but this SOB won't be attacking anymore Beagles or eating anymore bunnies. (See photo on the left.)
At best, this article is only an overview of the sport of varmint hunting with the use of predator calls. For much more information on predator calling and many more websites about varmint hunting, visit our BEAGLE LINKS page. Also, the BEAGLES UNLIMITED Magazine would love to hear from any varmint hunters that would be interested in joining our magazine staff. If your specialty is varmint hunting, please consider writing articles, stories, and tips on varmint hunting so our readers can enjoy this great sport while increasing the rabbit and hare populations in their region.
This article was written by Donald J. Potts.