Predator Hunting Prospects

Predator hunting: Consider the facts and it’s easy to see that the Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have a high density of predators.

Mainstream game animals are on red alert, and rightly so; few other places in North America have the number of predators that we do. Something is always lurking in the woods and fields looking to prey on the vulnerable. On a positive note, this ever-present hazard for prey species, and a nuisance for some landowners, creates a world-class hunting opportunity for ambitious sportsmen.

Paradigm Shift Required
Big game and bird game hunters consider bedding and feeding areas, along with areas where the animals feel safe from a predator. By further analyzing when, where, and how prey species move to and from these areas of cover and food, hunters strategize to create encounters and shot opportunities. Hunting a predator requires a shift in thinking. Prey species are the hunted, so they are constantly on “red alert;” always looking over their shoulder and using the wind to help them detect danger. Predator species play the opposite role as the aggressors. To at least some extent predators are less concerned about impending dangers than they are about hunting down, or foraging for, an easy meal.

Coyote numbers are high across Western Canada, and particularly throughout the Prairie Provinces. Less of an issue in the boreal forest, mountains and foothills, coyotes are certainly overpopulated throughout much of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba’s agricultural lands.

Although coyotes can be hunted with landowner permission on private lands throughout the year, when general seasons are open, coyote hunting heats up as mainstream seasons come to a close. December, January and February are the best coyote hunting months. Consider increased mobility when the snow crusts over, scarcity of food, an eagerness to socialize and breed, and you’ve got the perfect storm for coyote hunting. Some females go into heat as early as January but most peak by mid-to-late February. During this peak season hunters have an excellent opportunity to see two or more dogs together and if you draw one in, others are often eager to follow. Using a mouth call or e-call to howl or emulate the sounds of wounded prey can bring coyotes running. While I’m a big fan of mouth calls, where they’re legal, electronic calls can work wonders for not only coyotes but other predators as well. Combine this strategy with the use of a full-body coyote decoy and a prey species decoy like a stuffed rabbit or other small motion decoy emulating an animal in distress and you’re well on your way to drawing in a wily coyote.

Black Bear
While black bears can be hunted in the spring and fall in most jurisdictions, spring is typically the favoured season for this predator hunt. Aside from wild turkeys, bears are a prime target from April through June. As bears emerge from their dens after a long winter, hides are in excellent condition making them a highly sought-after trophy. Black bear meat, prepared correctly, can be delicious as well.
Overall, black bear populations remain healthy and are indeed considered to be on the rise in many areas. Boasting a higher-than-average density, Alberta is the only province allowing a two-bear harvest making it a destination of choice for many hunters. Adaptable, black bears are found abundant in the boreal forest areas, foothills, mountains, and even in agricultural forest fringe areas.

A lesser hunted predator is the timber wolf, mostly because they are excessively reclusive. Thriving across the Western Provinces where linear corridors resulting from oil, gas, and forestry development prevail and ungulate populations are healthy, wolf numbers are usually high.

If you’re up for it, practical bait ingredients usually include fresh meat scraps. Trappers will often skin their captures, recycling discarded carcasses as wolf bait. Likewise common meat scraps butchers and fish guts from commercial catches can work well. The odd bear hunter sitting spring or fall bait sites gets lucky and has the opportunity to take a curious wolf, but the cold mid-winter months tend to attract more wolves to the bait during this vulnerable time when food is scarce. Even during the winter, conditions will dictate activity on bait sites. When the snow is deep and soft, travel is difficult and wolves are more apt to capitalize on available bait as a food source. Once a site is hit, wolves will sometimes revisit for several days in succession, and then move on in search of other options. Wary and timid, they are a prized trophy for any hunter.

Considered even more reclusive than wolves, cougars are an awesome predator. Well-adapted for grasping and cutting up large prey, with strong forequarters and a powerful neck, they are instinctive killers. Typically wherever they have vast habitat along with a good population of prey species, you will find cougars. Sharing the same areas as wolves, coyotes and bears, cougars are frequently found throughout most foothills, mountain, some of the boreal forest, and even to some extent parkland areas.

Cougar predator hunting seasons generally run from December through February. Hunters should check their local regulations to determine area-specific season dates and restrictions. Strictly managed by a quota system, cat hunters and houndsmen regularly check provincial hotlines to determine area closures and quota status as areas are closed almost daily following the December opener.

Calls & Calling
Opportunists, the predator will, at times, respond to the shrill cries of prey in distress. A variety of commercial distress calls can be found at your local hunting supply retailer. For coyote and wolf hunting, a howler can be used both to locate them and draw them in. Both mouth calls and electronic calls are available. The author likes using a Johnny Stewart PM-4 Wireless Preymaster digital caller; a call that has 12 digital distress sounds along with a few other sounds known to attract a predator. Local regulations should be checked to ensure compliance before using any call.

Decoys are most commonly used for coyote hunting. Life-size coyote decoys like Flambeau’s Lone Howler full body coyote decoy is an asset every coyote hunter should have in his or her arsenal. They also make a prey decoy called the Rigor Rabbit that vibrates adding just enough motion to entice curious coyotes in for an easy meal. Place them 20 metres apart, in a location that will catch the attention of responsive coyotes, sit back and start calling. You’ll be amazed with the results. By virtue of where they live and how they respond, decoys are less commonly used with other predator species.

Predator Firearm Choices
Predator hunters prefer several rifle calibres. For coyote hunting, a flat shooting caliber is most ideal for longer range shots. Many prefer the venerable .22-250, but the .223, .243, and .204 are also top choices. For wolves, the .22-250 and .243 are common choices. For cougars, traditionalists often favour the lever-action 30-30 with open sights, primarily because of the tight quarters as cats are typically treed by hounds and killed at close-range. The .243 is a viable option for this application as well. As for larger predators like black bears and grizzlies (where regulations allow), most any 30 calibre rifle with a heavier bullet will suffice but I’m a big fan of the 7 mm Rem. Mag.

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