When it comes to improving your hunting skill-set, I’ve found that there is no better offseason practice then bowhunting predators. To me, it was obvious that it builds confidence in your shot, your ability to read sign, and play the wind. One thing I never counted on was that it would improve my success with other species and how I called to them.
For many years I have dabbled in calling deer, elk, turkey and other big game, but it wasn’t until I began bowhunting predators seriously that I found a commonality that linked all calling. I will explain this in a moment, but first, let me lay down the groundwork on how I came to this revelation. For years, I would have tremendous success getting coyote, bobcat, and fox to respond and “come in” on a call but unless I got lucky, they would rarely present a shot. I started to analyze the setups that I got lucky on and began to try and emulate them on future setups. I noticed when I followed this pattern or formula I was getting lucky far more frequently. Building specific criteria for each setup, I was able to fine-tune them to the point that 95% of the predators I called in presented a shot within bow range.
The Commonality That Links All Calling
No matter what you are hunting, when using a call there is always a point that the animal you are calling feels that they should be able to see what’s calling to them — that is usually when they hang up. I don’t have the secret sauce that will help you get those predators that hang up, but I do have the recipe to choose your setups so that they won’t hang up, to begin with. This system works for all animals that we call: elk, deer, turkey etc…
I have heard folks in the industry refer to this as “the doorway principle” or “the calling room”. You hear it all the time: “I called this coyote in and he hung up just outside where I could shoot.” I think the person who describes it best is Chris Roe of Roe Hunting Resources. Chris uses this principle when bow-hunting elk and he describes it like this:
“If you were in a room and you heard your wife calling you from a different room, you would get up and go to where you heard her calling from. When you got to the doorway of the room you believed she was in, you wouldn’t just run in there and say “what’s up babe”, would you? You would first look into the room to verify that’s where she was and if you didn’t see her you would continue to look for her or call her name. If she responded from within that room and you still couldn’t see her, you would likely think something was strange.”
Well, the same goes for animals — they want to see who or what is making the sounds they hear. This is why the setup is the most important aspect of calling in game. Most people focus their time an energy into being a proficient and realistic caller, and I’m not suggesting that it’s not important to sound good and have proper cadences and timing, but you can certainly get by with mediocre calling if you know how to choose your setups.
Building the Room
Now I know what most of you are thinking — decoy — but that’s not always necessary. I almost never use a decoy but instead, I will pick the right set up that forces the animal to step into the room — and step into my kill zone — to see what’s calling to them. When choosing a location to call from, I want you to try to be on the other side of the calling and imagine what you would do if you were the animal approaching the sound that you’re hearing. Look at it from the perspective of the wind and how an animal would use it, consider what the most direct route to the call is, and how far animal would have to go to see the call.
The room you are creating can be a number of things, dependent on the animal you are calling and the sounds you are making. If we are talking about predators and you are making a jackrabbit in distress sound this might be easily accomplished by placing your electronic call so that the predator has to come around a bush or deadfall to see what it is. If you are using a mouth call you have to find a natural barrier that the predator needs to come around to see and enter your kill zone. The barrier should be scaled to the “size of your call” — if you are doing a fawn in distress call a bush isn’t going to cut it, as the “doorway” needs to be larger.
I always look for funnels or structures for my setup. Rock outcroppings, visually obstructive trees, large dead-fall etc. will force the predator to come around the obstacle, putting himself broadside in front of me. I don’t mouth call for predators very much, I typically use a FoxPro, not only because it makes realistic sounds but because I can put the sounds where I want them, helping me direct the animal where I want them to go. Remember I am bowhunting, so I need to call predators into a fifty-yard range or less. Having the ability to bring a coyote right to a call without getting busted is essential to my success, which is why electronic calls have become my go-to.
One of my favorite and easiest setups requires you to find a thirty or forty-yard clearing within a thick area that has one lone obstruction in the middle. I will sit perpendicular to the wind on the edge of the clearing and place my call under the obstruction with the speaker facing the direction I want the predator to come from. This essentially forces the predator to enter the clearing allowing you to see them, then they must come around the obstruction to see the call giving you an opportunity to shoot. This setup works for a number of reasons; most of the time predators circle to get the wind, most of the time they come in the direction the call is facing, the obstruction allows you to drawback concealed as they are coming around, and it often forces a broadside shot. Due to the unpredictable nature of hunting, it doesn’t always happen as you plan it. They may come from behind or from a different direction but they are coming, so choose an appropriate backdrop for protection and concealment.
Another favorite of mine that works for calling game with an electronic or mouth call is achieved by putting a little rise between myself and the animal. For the animal to see what is calling to them they have to come over the rise, and by then they have entered the kill zone. This setup is similar in that you want the wind, the backdrop, etc to be the same as my first example. I typically use this when I know that there is an animal I want to call on the other side of the rise, however, you can use this technique with blind calling too. You need to understand that by the time you see the animal, they are in the kill zone and can probably see you. For this setup, finding a stand site that allows you get a concealed draw is imperative. One of the key ingredients here is making sure that the rise is high enough that it would conceal the size of animal you are mimicking, as well as yourself. For example if you are using a jackrabbit in distress call the rise only needs to be high enough that it conceals you, but if you want to use this tactic while elk calling then the rise needs to be significant enough that an elk must break the horizon and enter your room before he would expect to see his lady friend that has been calling to him.
One of my most effective calling setups is when there is a rock outcropping that has elevation advantage over the surrounding area and has a natural funnel at its base — either vegetation or topographical. This setup is even more deadly if you can hunt it on the days the wind is blowing down the funnel so that it’s parallel your setup. The key is to never have the wind directly in your face, as this will result in having more predators come in from behind you than straight across you. If you are using an electronic call place it down in the funnel with the speaker facing the direction you want them to come from. Find a place to sit up in the rock outcropping that gives you a good view of your shooting lanes and the approaching game while still giving you the opportunity to draw concealed. What this set up offers over the other two is it allows you to see them even further away giving you the opportunity to make micro adjustments for the shot as well as taking you further out of the line of sight when they enter the room.
The offseason isn’t just for the archery range. Get out and do some predator hunting, practice being a more effective hunter, gain confidence with your equipment and put some of these calling setups to work. Remember to put consideration into your setups, try to be on the other side of the calling, and try to imagine what you would do if you were the animal approaching the sound that you’re hearing. While even a perfectly executed call may not bring them where you want them, those who can’t call still spark enough curiosity for an animal to come look into the room all the time — the tough part is getting them to walk through the door.