Calling predators and other wildlife has provided me with many adventures for nearly half a century. The first fox I ever called in was lured in by one of those old Johnny Stewart record players that ran on flashlight batteries, back in the 60’s. The gray fox came in so quickly that I never got off a shot! It didn’t take me long after that to get with the program and be ready for whatever came.
I became fascinated with the art of calling game and was hooked for life. Along with trapping, calling in predators, turkeys and big game has consumed much of my life. What’s even better is the fact that like trapping, calling animals has also helped me make a living in the out of doors. I’ve called in elk for clients I guided, called predators while doing damage control work and for the fur. Calling turkeys in for sportsmen has put quite a few meals on the table for me.
The silver gray coyote…
came trotting through the sage flat quietly in the loose, soft sand and then stopped behind a clump of brush about 75 yards from where I sat. I remember marveling at how well the colors of the coyote’s fur blended with the sage. I hit the bulb squeaker affixed to the forearm of my rifle a couple of taps and the predator once again headed my way. As far as I was concerned, this rabbit eater was as good as dead, he or she just didn’t know it.
Ray Milligan, the renowned trapper, lure maker and hunting outfitter from New Mexico was positioned a short distance in front of and to the right of me. The roar of the Browning 3” magnum broke the silence. Ray was using my old A5 Browning that I had named “Smokepole” and I figured the coyote was down for the count. Old Smoke had accounted for a lot of dead coyotes, foxes, bobcats and turkeys from one side of the U.S. to the other.
“I hit the dog hard”, Ray told me as I walked up. “I rolled him over and he went out of sight behind that clump of sage about 35 yards in front of me”.
We looked for an hour and never found that coyote in the thick sage. We tracked it by a blood trail for a short distance and then lost it. We circled the area many times with no luck. A load of copper plated BB’s at 30-35 yards most always puts a coyote down hard if a good hit is made.
Ray was disgusted, but I assured him that sometimes this will happen. We may not like it, but that’s hunting.
When the price of fox and bobcat hides began their rise in the 70’s, I incorporated calling into my trapping program and added much to my total fur sales. It was not uncommon for me to trap all day, call for about 2 hours after darkness settled over the land (in the eastern U.S.) and sometimes call for an hour or so before daylight. I called, called and called some more. I studied and I learned.
Failures often outnumbered successes, but I never gave up.
I had spent one day running a line of predator traps and decided to call on a piece of property that night. The place was hunted by deer and rabbit hunters on a regular basis so I didn’t want to set traps in the area. I stopped at a local diner at about dark and splurged with a hearty, “sit down” meal. A cold rain had fallen that day and I enjoyed the warm meal and hot coffee.
An hour or so after dark I arrived at the first calling location, cut the truck off and sat for 10 or 15 minutes, letting everything get quiet once again. I then walked maybe a quarter of a mile along a bulldozed fire lane to a predetermined calling stand, a place where a logging road intersected with the fire lane. I always carried one of those mini-sized flashlights with me and only turned it on when necessary when walking to a stand.
I backed up against a spruce pine and let go with a series of pitiful, gut wrenching crippled cottontail screams, using a double reed, mouth call. After a minute or so, I made the calls again. Before I let loose with the third series of calls I heard an animal approaching my position on the logging road at a rapid pace.
I put Smokepole (the Browning A-5) to my shoulder and when the barrel mounted red lens light came on… I saw a gray fox coming in on top of me.
I touched the trigger and the load of copper plated #4’s piled the critter up. I called for another 5 minutes with no further action, so I gathered up the prime gray and made tracks for the truck.
Traveling along the old gravel road I was parked on for a mile and a half, I came to my next location. After the normal, “quiet down” wait, I walked along a gas pipeline right of way for several hundred yards and took up my position. In less than 5 minutes I had gray fox number two in the bag.
The largest bobcat I ever trapped or called, east or west, weighed 38 1/2 pounds. He was called in near a brushy thicket in Virginia using a diaphragm mouth call. I hadn’t been able to sleep well one night and was up at 3 A.M. After breakfast and a half a pot of coffee, I left the camp, headed cross country to the headwaters of a stream where I had traps set all the way down the stream, a distance of several miles to my camp. I had Smokepole with me and my red lens light.
About a mile from camp, I stopped at a likely spot and made a calling stand. Nothing that I saw responded. I headed along an old trail for a mile or so until I reached an old grown up homestead surrounded by briar and wild plum thickets.
I glanced at my watch and saw that it was 5 A.M., about 2 hours before daylight. A heavy fog had settled upon the hills and vision was poor at best.
The big tomcat came up to 12 steps in front of me before I spotted his eyes, then his body. He started easing his way around me and I shot him at roughly 20 yards with copper plated 4’s. When I hoisted the cat off the ground, I knew then that it was the largest of the many cats I had caught or shot. This took place over 20 years ago and I’ve never killed a larger one since, probably never will. I’ve heard of quite a few 50 or 60 pound bobcats that I knew wouldn’t go 30 pounds on a scale.
With the essential trapping gear in my packbasket (a large one), it was not possible to stuff all of the cat into it. I slipped another shell into Smoke and headed along the woodsroad towards a small hay field about a mile distant. Where the road entered the field, I eased my pack off, waited for about 10 minutes and then began calling. Within minutes I had taken a gray fox that came galloping across the field. What a morning!
A brother of mine lived less than a mile from where I was at, so after I tied the fox across the cat and pack, I headed for his place. I knew that he would be up and readying himself for a day’s deer hunt. He was amazed at the size of the cat and after seeing the fox, he said, “You must have been out all night”.
I went in for coffee after I stashed my animals in his shop, ate a bit more breakfast and then headed for the trapline just as day was breaking. I arrived back at camp before noon with a good basket full of mixed furs and was one happy, contented soul. I thanked The Creator for letting me be what I was. After eating a sandwich and hanging up the fur to dry, I stretched out on my bunk for a nap.
I was dog tired, but I wouldn’t have traded places with any man on earth!
Years ago I did quite a bit of walking and calling, both in the east and the west. I found that many predators near roadways or easily accessible locations were call shy. Too many “bubbas” with electronic callers is my guess as to why this was. I still see it today.
Often I would leave camp right after dark (in the east) and stay out all night, making an eight or ten-mile circle of some sort. I usually made a stand or call about every mile. Two to three predators taken per ni
ght was about average except for some nightly walks that produced zero for one reason or another. I don’t think we ever see half of animals that respond to a predator call when night hunting.
In the west I enjoyed much success as a rule when calling coyotes, cats and gray fox in remote areas. I’m sure most of those critters had never heard a predator call before. I
carried a 2’ piece of trapping wire in my coat pocket to use to hang a predator by the hind leg from a tree limb to skin. Toting 2 or 3 rank coyotes for several miles over rugged terrain was never my cup of tea. I would pack out a nice bobcat if I had pending sales to customers or taxidermists.
While hunting for a spring gobbler for camp meat one year in New Mexico, I got the thrill of a lifetime. A deep throated gobbler had responded to one of my “cackles” and was headed my way. Every time I yelped, clucked or whatever, the old boy would gobble or double gobble and kept on coming. I could just about smell that turkey roasting in the oven of my gas stove.
I was catching a glimpse of the turkey here and there as he came on but he was still 60-70 yards out when out of the corner of my eye I detected movement to my left behind a large spruce tree. I remember thinking that a lessor gobbler or jake was coming in on the quiet like they sometimes do. The tree was no more than 20 yards to my left and the vocal gobbler was straight in front of me.
All of a sudden the gobbler I’d been talking to let go of a series of “putt-putts” and headed for Arizona with much haste. Looking to my left, I saw why… A bear had come around the spruce and was giving me the bad eye!
The beast raised up a bit on his hind legs to get a better look and to this day I still think he was as big as a grizzly, with a head on him big as a wash tub! In reality, he or she was probably about a 300-350 pound bear.
Shock and awe had hold of me for a brief moment but I soon came out of it. I stood up and told the bear in a loud voice how he had scared the life out of me and had also ruined my turkey hunt. The bear froze for an instant and then took off on a brush-breaking run away from me. I could hear that bear “woofing” for a long ways.
I’m sure that bear still thinks or wonders about the big ugly turkey that spoke to him.
I’ve called only two mountain lions in (that I saw) throughout my 50+ years of off and on predator calling. Neither of them were shot, one was out of range of the shotgun I carried and the other picked me off and high tailed it
before I could get in a shot. One of the big cats was called in the Superstition Mountains area east of Phoenix, Arizona and the other was on the Carson National Forest south of Chama, New Mexico. I’ve seen quite a few lions taken with hounds and have many fond memories of hound hunting lions, but just seeing the two that I called in was a unique experience indeed.
Quite a few times I’ve gotten doubles on coyotes and foxes, both red and gray. Never have I scored a double on bobcats. Once I called in a Mama cat that had two younguns trailing a few paces behind her, but could not bring myself to kill any of the three. I didn’t think the two youngsters would have made it without the mother. The kittens couldn’t have weighed over 10 pounds each and must have been born later than normal.
Now when some folks read about or hear of these successful hunts, they tend to think there is nothing to it. The old Shumaker woodsbum can call in or catch anything – anywhere, anytime. Truth of it is, I may enjoy one perfect, productive hunt for every 5 or 10 failed ones. There must be a hundred or more of calling videos on the market today and TV hunting shows air quite a few. Viewers watch the gurus of predator calling reel them in, one after another. It looks easy – a sure thing. What you need to know is that they only film the successful hunts!
Years ago I used to give calling seminars all over the country and I often observed some students of mine who at first seemed a bit disappointed at what I used to call, how I did it and how very simple were my tactics. As with trapping predators, calling them in to the gun or camera is most often a simple act or procedure. You don’t need a wheelbarrow full of gear and equipment to get the job done.
As Henry David Thoreau once wrote –
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”
I am indebted to all of the old-time predator hunters who taught me much. While they were masters of the game, they, like myself, often failed at the task of calling predators for any number of reasons. No amount of high priced gear will make anyone an instant success at calling predators. You have to pay your dues! If you are willing to be persistent at the game, the adventures are out there, waiting for you. I guarantee it.
By Don Shumaker