For most hunters, fall means golden autumn days spent chasing bucks and ducks with a sprinkling of squirrels, rabbits, doves, pheasants, quail and even a ruffed grouse or two thrown in for good measure.
But for some hunters, the autumn game of the ancient chase is about hunting the predatory animals out there, the ones that make their own woodsy living hunting and dining on the species mentioned above.
Count Fred Eichler among that group. Best known for his Fulldraw Outfitters guiding business and his passion for bowhunting whitetails and western big game, Eichler also is equally at home when he is chasing coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, bears and foxes.
Better yet, Eichler loves to pass along his enthusiasm and his vast knowledge of hunting pursuits – including the chasing of predators – when a novice like myself asks a few questions.
I did just that, asking Eichler how a person can get into predator hunting?
“What’s great about predator hunting is that you can go in as far as you want,” said the resident of the Trinidad, Colo., region. “You can get a $15 mouth call and be a predator hunter.
“You don’t have to go out and get a specialized handgun, rifle, shotgun, etc., you can use whatever weapon you have,” he added.
“I’ve shot coyotes with muzzleloaders, pistols, crossbows, recurves, and really whatever you have, you can turn into a predator (hunting) weapon. So really, it doesn’t take that much to get started.”
In fact, Eichler indicates he has shot a number of predators with a traditional Hoyt recurve bow, his preferred method of hunting most days.
“Gray fox, red fox, bobcats … I’ve shot them all with a traditional bow, but I think a lot of that’s because that’s what I have in my hands a lot,” laughed Eichler, the first man to take all 29 North American big game animals with a recurve bow. “That is the ultimate challenge (for me, to hunt predators with archery gear).
“I do (also) like the challenge (of hunting with other weapons),” he added. “I’ve even shot them with air guns and handguns. (The truth is), I just love predator hunting with a lot of different weapons.”
Once a hunter has gotten a taste of predator hunting and perhaps even some success under their belt, Eichler is all for jumping full-bore into the challenge of chasing predators with more specialized equipment.
“If you want to jump in full-bore, you can buy one of the e-calls,” said Eichler, who personally uses FOXPRO electronic calls on his predator hunts.
“You may have a few hundred dollars invested (in that) but I’ll tell you, it will give you a larger variety of sounds,” he added.
“But (again), really, I tell guys, get hooked with the $15 mouth call, then jump into the e-calls and you’ll do it the rest of your life.”
What’s the biggest blunder a new predator hunter can make?
“The biggest mistake a lot of people make is either not calling long enough or using a call that the coyotes and other predators are totally used to,” said Eichler. “In other words, when I go out east, I never play a rabbit in distress call. I have great luck (there) because I don’t play that call.”
Why is that?
“Because everybody and their brother is playing a rabbit in distress,” said Eichler. “I’ll switch it up and do things like a turkey in distress. If it’s calving season, I’ll go with a calf bawl. If there are a lot of farmers and ranchers that are dropping calves, that’s when I’ll go with that calf call. A deer bleat is another great one to go with, I have a lot of success with that call. So switching it up helps a lot.”
Where do beginning predator hunters need to look for their quarry? In many cases, the same places they hunt other animals like deer, ducks, turkeys and other small game animals and game birds.
“It sounds weird, but coyotes really are where you find them,” said Eichler. “I’m looking for scat, tracks, etc. I’m talking to farmers and ranchers, guys who are out there all of the time.
“(And) a lot of times, where you’ll find coyotes isn’t where you think that you’ll find coyotes,” he added. “I’ve shot them just outside of large cities in California where I thought there wouldn’t have been a coyote around, but I found scat and tracks, set up the call and brought them in. So really, it’s about hunting them where they are.”
How does a hunter need to set up on a piece of hunting ground?
“You don’t have to be an experienced predator hunter to figure some of that stuff out,” said Eichler. “Coyotes are going to try and use whatever cover is available. Especially if they are pressured coyotes, they are going to use a fencerow to come into that call, they’re going to use a little dip in the land, they’re going to use a ditch, etc. They’re going to come in with cover.”
In fact, Eichler believes the skills a deer hunter might use are transferable here.
“If you think deer hunting, think what would a deer use?” he said. “Is there a funnel here that I can kind of cause this animal to cut into? You kind of apply that to your predator hunting and you’re going to have a lot of success.”
And as with deer hunting, scent is one of the biggest things to be vigilant about.
“Wind is the biggest thing,” he said. “A coyote will put up with a lot, but he’s not going to put up with smelling a person.
“Even if you’re hunting areas where maybe there are a lot of hikers, things like that, the coyotes, when they get into close proximity to human scent, they’re going to take off,” he added.
“So I’m always watching the wind.”
While Eichler hunts coyotes a lot, he also enjoys taking other predators too, even those that react differently to a calling sequence.
“They really differ a lot,” said Eichler. “For example, bobcats, generally sneak into a call where as a coyote is usually running in to it, although he may slip downwind. A bobcat, it may take him 45 minutes or even an hour and a half to come into a call and it’s usually stalking the whole way.”
What about other predatory species?
“Fox and some of your smaller predators, a lot of times they are going to come in a little more hesitant,” said Eichler. “Why? Because there may be a larger predator there that is killing whatever sound you’re playing (on your e-call).
“So they’re going to come in making sure that they aren’t going to get eaten themselves,” he added.
“(And) that’s the reason that I think a lot of swift fox, red fox (and) gray fox, especially in areas where there are coyotes or larger predators, they come in and look first, they look everything over because they don’t want to become the prey themselves.”
When I asked Eichler what sort of shot distances a predator hunter should expect, he smiled and shrugged his shoulders a bit.
“Shot distance really varies and it depends on the part of the country that you are hunting,” he said. “If I’m hunting Florida for example, a lot of my shots are going to be under 50 yards. It’s going to be close range and a shotgun is great (to use) along with a short-barreled rifle too.”
In such close range quarters, Eichler said set-up can be key.
“I’m trying to take advantage of little senderos, little open areas, things like that,” he said. “A lot of times, dirt two-tracks (can be good), as long as it is safe (to hunt) and you know what’s going on. Any open meadow too.”
What about out in Colorado and other parts of the wide-open West?
“Out West where I hunt a lot, 200- and 300-yard shots can be the norm,” said Eichler. “I’m using the calls, I’m using the decoys and I’m usually trying to bring them in (to at least) 100 yards or less, even out West.”
Is there a time of the day predator hunters should be targeting?
“I have a lot more success in the morning rather than the evenings,” said Eichler. “I think that for almost all of the other predator hunters out there, it’s mostly the same.
“It’s almost 80-20, morning versus evening. You (just) get a lot more success in the mornings than you do in the evenings.”
What about the effects of weather and wind?
“On the wind and weather conditions, I’m going to hunt no matter what is out there every day,” said Eichler with a big smile. “But a prime weather condition for me is maybe a little overcast so that I can stretch that morning hunt out longer before the coyotes go lay down.
“And I also like a small, constant breeze, maybe 10 miles per hour.”
Why is that?
“So that I can definitely tell if I’m upwind or downwind,” chuckled Eichler.
And when he can do that, Fred Eichler is a man in his element, participating in the ancient thrill of the chase.
Even if that chase is something a bit different than the traditional bowhunting that he knows and loves best.