This section will give you helpful information on how to choose the weapon you plan to use hunting. This information intends to be helpful not all encompasing.
Bowhunting more than any other style of hunting can be more of an art than science. Each archer must adopt a shooting style to fit his/her shooting abilities and personality.
The selection of a bow and its accessories will be a personal and subjective choice.
Choosing a bow and its accessories is largely a matter of personal taste.
Many bowhunters eagerly make use of all the most modern compound bows and the latest accessories. While others prefer a more traditional approach and use long bows and use accessories sparingly. Either will give you years of enjoyment!
Though a hunter need not to buy the most expensive bow and it’s accessories it does make sense to invest in quality equipment.
If possible seek the advice of a hunter you respect or from a reputable source before purchasing your hunting equipment.
No matter what style of bow you choose compound or traditional you will need to determine three VERY important variables: eye dominance, length of draw and draw weight.
See our section on Choosing a Bow to see how to determine your length of draw and draw weight.
Bows are configured for right-handed and left handed people. Your choice should be determined by eye dominance not just by being left handed or right handed.
In most cases, hand and eye dominance match, but occasionally a right-handed person will have a dominant left eye or vice versa.
To figure out which of your eyes is dominant, point at a distant object with both eyes open. Now close your left eye, then your right.
When you look through your dominant eye, your finger will still appear to point at the object, but when you look through your subordinate eye, your finger will appear to shift to the side.
If your eye dominance matches your hand dominance, simply select a bow configured for your dominant hand. In the rare case, your hand and eye dominance are mismatched, it’s best to choose a bow based on your eye dominance rather than your hand dominance.
Though it may feel weird and cumbersome at first, in the long run, a person will become accustomed and become a better shooter. Research shows most successful archers sight with the dominant eye regardless of hand dominance.
Choosing the right rifle and the correct ammunition will make your hunt with a gun much more enjoyable, and can really boost your odds of being successful.
When selecting a rifle for hunting, you should consider how it fits, the sights, how heavy it is, plus its action and caliber.
A properly fitting gun will help you fire a more accurate shot. A stock that is too long for the shooter can get caught on your jacket, in your armpit.
If too short, the scope could strike a person in the eyebrow, giving them what’s known as “scope bite.”
Stock lengths can vary GREATLY with each model and manufacturer.
Downfalls of improper fit are the amount of drop you will encounter. While your cheek is pressed firmly against the stock of the rifle, your shooting eye should line up with the sites.
Too much drop will prevent you from placing your cheek against the stock, and the recoil could cause the stock to slam against your cheek. More than likely to leave a mark! A gunsmith can almost always change the length of the stock for you if needed.
If hunting in heavy brush where you must use short sights, buy a low power scope or a peep sight that has a large aperture. Either one can be aimed quickly and very accurately.
Variable power scopes within the ranges of 1.5x to 7x are ideal for this purpose. Open sights, which are standard on most rifles are difficult to line up quickly and more important accurately.
Another important consideration in choosing a rifle is weight.
The action you choose will largely depend on your need for a quick second shot, accuracy plus your personal preferences.
Keep in mind not all calibers are available in each type of action. Actions can vary from the very reliable and sturdy single shots to fast shooting lever actions, pumps, and semi-automatics.
Most actions will function fine without oil for short periods of time. If you do a lot of shooting in very cold climates, you may want to consider using a graphite lubricant.
Important: Most states have laws that specify minimum calibers and cartridges for hunting Big Game animals. Therefore, it is important that you consider your state’s legal requirements when selecting weapons for hunting.
Shotguns and slugs are most commonly used for deer hunting in densely populated areas, many states don’t allow rifle hunting.
Some of the southern states permit you to use shotguns with buckshot only. The ideal shotgun for deer hunting is one that has a rifled barrel and special sights or a scope.
Rifled barrels shoot slugs more accurately than do smoothbores, but you have to make sure they are carefully patterned.
Rifling causes the slugs to spin and stabilize, allowing shots at deer up to 125 yards away. Slugs guns and ammunition are available in all the popular gauges with the 12 gauge being the most widely used.
Muzzleloaders or “smokepoles” as they are commonly called can only fire one shot so you better make it count. Due to technology over the last few years, they have become very accurate and reach out to around 125 yards.
Many states have seasons allowing you to extend your time in the field.
Hunters can choose between caplocks and flintlocks.
Many hunters prefer the flinlocks, though the caplocks are likely to misfire less often. They come in a variety of calibers the most common being .50 and .54, which are the most preferred by hunters today.
You have a choice of round balls, conical bullets, and pistol bullets. Check with your local state to see which are allowed for hunting.
I read numerous magazine articles, read books and watched videos about training hunting retrievers in order to prepare myself for the arrival of my new chocolate lab pup last March.
Most of the information seemed rather straight forward, but still, I had lots of questions about training a pup to be a hunting retriever.
My goal was to train hard during the spring and summer months and then run my new pup “Storm” in the NAHRA Started Hunting Tests in the fall.
The more I learned about training, the more I started to question if my goal of finishing all four legs of the Started title in one season was too ambitious.
My greatest lessons were learned by participating in the spring and summer season training sessions and hunt tests that were conducted by Navesink River Hunting Retriever Club.
As a handler, I needed training on what was to be expected of me on the line. I observed senior handlers and pros work their dogs, listened to their voice inflection and whistle use and studied their handling and temperament.
I took notes on what I thought the “good” handlers and dogs were doing and what I thought were the downfalls of some of the “not-so-good” handlers and dogs. Then I began to formulate my training objectives and how I would conduct myself in order to produce a quality dog.
I must admit that on more than a few occasions, I almost lost my temper.
However, after realizing that this handler behavior would do Storm and me no good, I promised to monitor myself closely. I decided that rather than place blame for Storms’ failures on her, I would turn them around and fix the problems by simplification and repetition.
The building blocks of a great retriever were being developed under my direction; I had taken on a very great responsibility.
During one of the first training sessions that I was involved with, I observed that some of the pups did not appear to have confidence in certain types of working environments.
The one pup that stands out in my mind was one who seemed so confused by the relatively high grass in which we trained.
She ran out fine to retrieve, but it seemed like she hit a brick wall when she came to clumps of dead grass only three feet high.
I promised myself that within reason, I would expose Storm to every type of hunting environment possible. We took daily walks together and we would walk and explore.
We played hide and seek in grassy fields, romped in the mud, rolled in the sand at the beach and when she determined the time was right, we went for a swim together.
All of these early days of play gave her the confidence to explore new places with the possibility of finding new things to play with and eventually to hunt.
I made it fun and never allowed her opportunity to put herself into a predicament that would cause her harm or damage her confidence level.
Gun shyness was always one of my biggest concerns.
I figure a hunting dog is not a hunting dog if he doesn’t love the sound of a gun. The pups that I watched didn’t seem to have any problem with the sound of the guns going off, they just didn’t seem to equate gunfire to a retrieve.
I started Storm’s acclimation to gunfire just as many others do. I purchased a twenty-dollar starter pistol and capped off a few rounds as she was on her way out for the retrieve.
I took her to hunt tests where she could hear guns, hear duck calls and see ducks. I made the sound of the gun, the sound of the call and smell of ducks all a great game for her.
Let’s face it, the name of this game is almost all about birds!
In anticipation of getting my first pup, I saved every duck wing from every duck I shot during the fall season. I made phone calls to game farms and researched a source of live pigeons.
After all, if a “duck dog” doesn’t live for ducks, he’s just a “dog”.
If you’re a waterfowl and upland hunter as I am, you get a dog to help you retrieve downed birds and to locate birds in the field. That doesn’t mean you have to be a hunter to run pup hunt tests.
You must consider what these dogs were all bred for. Aside from being great companions, they were bred to work. As far as I can tell, they weren’t bred to retrieve plastic bumpers, they were bred to retrieve birds and birds are what you must give them.
When Storm was just 7 weeks old, I brought her home from the breeder. The next day we played with a black duck wing and I let her bite, chew and retrieve the wing to her heart’s content. We tossed it down the hallway and in the back yard. At first, just short retrieves, but man she loved the game.
At 8 weeks old I bought her two baby quail to play with. She didn’t know what the heck they were and I thought to myself “oh, this is great- I’ve got a dog that thinks she’s a mother quail.”
Soon, her predator instincts clicked in and she made a short meal of the quail (not by my design). She even growled at me, when I attempted to take it from her and she ran when I approached her.
I assume that at only 8 weeks she was still trying to establish her place in the new pack. Now worried, I thought I had produced a bloodthirsty dog that only wanted to play keep away.
We later graduated to live pigeons, dead ducks and live ducks during training sessions. Again, it was all a game for her.
This ended the day when she refused to come when I called her and I watched from 70 yards as she plucked a duck in front of me, despite my pleadings and then shouting for her to ‘Come!”.
This scenario corresponded very nicely to her getting her adult teeth. It was at this stage of our relationship that I new I had to establish more control and force fetch was soon to follow.
This aspect of the AB and 3 C’s relates to three issues that I believe are the backbone of the Started gun dog.
First, you must have control over your dog. This means that obedience must be firmly engrained in your dog’s mind.
We practiced basic yard work every day and we still practice. We start each training session and end each training session with basic obedience.
They say basic obedience consists of three commands: sit, heel, come.
Most dogs are easy to train to sit.
I incorporated the whistle early in the obedience training. For a Started gun dog, heel is conducted on a leash all the way to the line. I encourage you to keep your dog on the leash, even at the line.
Release your dog only when the judge has stated to do so.
You may think your pup is steady, but the sights and sounds of any hunt test will cause many to break. Try to set up your training sessions just like a hunt test; this will help establish better control over your dog.
Typically, Storm was a true lady in the yard, but when walking to the line in a hunt test, all bets were off. It was almost embarrassing to have a dog walk to the line on her two hind feet.
I soon discovered that magic of a slip lead and how to cinche the lead up close to the base of her jaw and around the rear base of her head.
Now instead of her pulling my arm out of the socket while walking to the line, I maintained much better control, although essentially she controlled the pressure. She then proceeded to almost tip toe to the line.
The command “come” is often the most difficult to enforce, especially without the e-collar. This is where the check cord comes in play.
I’ll be the first one to admit it – I hated working with the check cord and I have the scars around my ankles to prove it, but how else are you going to get a stubborn dog to come to you when he’s twenty feet away and has a bird or bumper in his mouth?
Grab the check cord and pull’em to you, that’s how, but say the command “come” once and once only. Give lots of praise when your dog returns.
Make them want to be next to you. I once saw a “gentleman” beat his German Sheppard after the dog disregarded his repeated demands to “come”. I think the dog must have known that he was about to get an ass whippin. Now if I were that dog, I’m not sure I would have been in a great hurry to be by my master’s side either.
When you’re out for your casual walks, mix in a few “sit” commands, “sit” whistles and numerous “come” commands.
The “come” command means: “git yer butt over to me now!” Not when the dog feels like it.
I practiced a simplified drill with Storm for weeks prior to and during the force fetch process. After she knew how to “hold” a bumper in her mouth, I put her out about 10 feet on a check cord and gave her the “come” command.
She had no other option, but to comply.
When she got to me, I told her to “heel” and guided her to the proper position at my side. When force fetch was completed (more control) the problem of having her drop the bumper or bird 10 feet away was essentially over. This drill also established the aspect of returning to heel, but now with a bird or bumper in her mouth.
You never know what your dog is going to do in a training session or a hunt test, regardless of how well you have prepared.
Hopefully, all of the training and practice you have completed have established a dog that is confident in his ability to negotiate different terrain and various different hunting scenarios.
Furthermore, as a handler, you will have established a calm demeanor that your dog will be able to sense.
Although the Started gun dog is generally tested on natural ability, later the dog and handler will need to bond further and develop as a team in order to make the huge leap to Intermediate.
Storm and I are now training towards our Intermediate title, but hopefully, we have firmly established a foundation during her early retriever training to make this process easier and successful. We still train and play by our AB & 3C’s.
Your current hunting dog is now getting on in years. It’s time to acquire a new puppy.
You know what breed you want.
You look in the classified section of Pointing Dog Journal and see a number of ads from breeders. How do you determine which is the best breeder for you?
The key to getting a good puppy is in picking a good breeder.
If you select a quality breeder who has a successful training and testing program, has a history of producing puppies that are well socialized and possess the natural characteristics that go into the makeup of a good hunting dog, then you have an excellent chance of getting the right puppy.
Pick the breeder first, then the puppy
Here are some questions to ask your prospective breeder before you put down your money for your new hunting puppy.
The first question to ask is, does the breeder hunt? What birds does he hunt and how many days a year does he hunt?
How old is the sire and dam of the litter of puppies that he has available?
Does he hunt the sire and dam, how often and on what birds? What is their hunting range, and style?
A good breeder has a planned program that includes evaluation of his dogs by outside judges.
You want to know:
There are several good testing programs available. One of the best is NAVHDA’s natural ability test.
The Natural Ability Test measures seven hereditary characteristics which are fundamental to the makeup of a good, reliable hunting dog.
There are three phases to the test: The Field Phase, Tracking Phase, and Water Phase.
Puppies up to sixteen months of age are tested and evaluated for nose, search, water, pointing, tracking, desire to work, and cooperation.
The natural ability test is an excellent way for a prospective owner to judge the quality of puppies being produced by a breeder)
You can obtain the test results, referred to as a breeder’s report, for each breeder at a nominal cost from NAVHDA
These reports will show the test scores of all of the dogs produced by that breeder.
If a breeder’s test scores show a high number of young puppies passing the natural ability test, it is a good indication that your breeder is producing good prospects.
The breeder’s report will also show you all of the pups from that breeder that did not pass the test. If you are looking for a certain characteristic in your dog, you can see the scores of these characteristics.
Let’s say you do a great deal of waterfowl hunting. It is important that you get a pup that will excel in the water. The breeder’s test scores will show you the results of the water work on each pup tested by that breeder.
Jim Rieser, a well-known breeder of German shorthairs feels that the natural ability test scores on the breeder’s litters are more important than the sire or dam having a prize one utility score.
“The utility test is designed to test a hunting dog’s usefulness to the on-foot hunter in all phases of hunting both before and after the shot, infield and marsh, and on different species of game.”
A dog that passes the utility test is certainly a well-qualified dog. Jim Rieser’s point is that there is a great deal of training that goes into getting a dog ready for the utility test.
The natural ability results give the prospective dog buyer an indication of the natural traits that a puppy possess.
When you buy a puppy, you are looking for potential built-in characteristics and natural talent.
A breeder who has a long history of his pups scoring well in natural ability is a better indication that you are going to get a pup that will turn into a good hunting dog than a breeder who has a champion sire or dam with unproven offspring.
Socialization of a young puppy is extremely important.
Ask the breeder how he socializes his young pups. Make sure that quality time is spent with the pups before you as a buyer get your new puppy.
Can the breeder you are talking to recommend other breeders of similar quality?
The successful breeders normally have a waiting list of buyers. They have a sound successful program and are not afraid to recommend other quality breeders.
Call the other breeders and inquire about the breeder you are interested in. Other breeders are far better able to judge the quality of the kennel and pups being produced than a customer.
What positive qualities does the breeder like in his dogs?
What does he like most about his dogs?
You can count on the breeder waxing eloquently about the superior qualities of his breed. That’s fine, you will get a good idea of what qualities he has stressed in his breeding and training program.
If these are the qualities you are looking for, then this is one indication that this might be the right breeder for you.
What qualities does the breeder feel he needs to improve in his dogs? What problems has he experienced with his line of dogs?
These problems might have to do with conformation, hip problems, field work, retrieving or any number of things.
If a breeder tells you he has never experienced a problem of any kind, beware.
A good breeding program is always a work in progress. A top breeder, no matter how successful, is always trying to improve his breeding line. There is no such thing as a perfect dog.
A good breeder will be happy to discuss with you the areas that he is working on to improve his line of dogs.
This is a touchy subject with some breeders. Most of the good breeders offer a guarantee. Some breeders, like Jeff Funke, a top German wirehair breeder offers an unconditional six-month guarantee, from the date of purchase.
The minimum guarantee that you should expect is one that covers the health of the pup. You have the right to expect a sound healthy pup, with no genetic flaws, no hip problems, or any other physical problem that would inhibit the dog from hunting.
Ask the breeder if he has his dogs tested for hip dysplasia. The two most popular tests for hips are OFA and Pin Hip. Good breeders always test the sire and dam for hips before breeding.
Also inquire whether the pups have had their vaccinations, been wormed, and have had their dew claws removed.
A good breeder has confidence in his dogs and his breeding program. He does not want a person to have one of his dogs if the dog happens to be unsound or does not fit in with the owner’s needs or expectations.
If the breeder has answered all of the questions to your satisfaction, and you have decided that you want to buy a pup from him, ask him when his next litter will be available.
Also, ask him who the sire and dam will be. Have the breeder send you the registration papers of the sire and dam showing their certified pedigree.
Most breeders have a brochure that features their kennel, with photos of their dogs and their breeding program. I also like to have a photo of the sire and dam.
Many people like to visit the breeder and see his kennel operation before buying.
Once you have qualified your breeder, it is certainly not necessary to visit the kennel to get a good pup. However, I find that I can make a good judgment of the kennel and the dogs with first-hand observation.
As a breeder, I am also impressed with customers who take the time and spend the effort and money to visit my kennel. I want to make sure that all of my pups are going to find a good home with a person who likes dogs and will hunt his dog.
A personal visit gives me an opportunity to size up and judge whether or not I want to sell a pup to this prospective customer. As a prospective buyer, you should be prepared for questions from the breeder about your hunting desires, your past experience and ownership and care of dogs.
Finally, you need to tell the breeder what type of dog you want. Discuss with him how often and how hard you hunt, and what type of game birds you hunt most.
If you’re hunting the prairies you probably want a fairly wide-ranging dog. If you are hunting the grouse covers of New England or the Midwest you will want a closer working dog.
Do you want a hard-charging alpha type dog?
An alpha dog can be a handful to train and own. You want to match your personality and ability with the dog as much as possible.
One mistake that many dog buyers make is the false assumption that all female dogs are easier to handle. This is not always the case. In my line of German wirehair pointers, the males are the more laid back and easier to handle than the females.
Trust your breeder to help you select the pup that he feels is best suited to your needs.
Also, a good kennel and breeding program costs money. The initial price of your pup is the smallest part of your investment. Your dog food and vet bills over the ten to fifteen year period will far exceed the cost of the new puppy. You will also need to invest in other necessities such as the best shark vacuum for pet hair.
Be prepared to pay a reasonable fee for a new pup.
Plan ahead, most breeders have deposits up to a year or more in advance for their pups. Don’t wait until six months or less before you start your search for a pup.
Asking intelligent questions, getting tests results and dealing with a committed breeder will certainly improve your chances of getting a good puppy with the potential to become the hunting dog of your dreams.
Food is fuel, whether you are talking people or dogs and the greater your fuel needs, the greater you need for both more and higher quality food.
Now, I’m not going to write an article that is an advertisement for those $1 or even $2 per pound dog food out there. Some of them are worth what they are charging for them and some of them aren’t worth much more than the cheap stuff you can buy at the local grocery or feed store.
What I am going to talk to you about is exactly what you need to be feeding your hunting dog and why…
First, let’s take a look at the ingredient list on your dog’s bag of food.
For your hunting dog to be getting the nutrition he needs the first ingredient should be chicken, lamb, or (if you are feeding one of those outrageously high dollar dog foods) something like buffalo, salmon or duck.
What you should not see is corn or meat-by-products. Corn is practically indigestible for dogs, at best it will make them feel full so they don’t eat their dog house or the other dogs.
Meat-by-products are often things like ground up chicken feet or pig intestines and other things that the meat industry needs to figure out a way to get rid of after they’ve pulled the “good” meat for your local grocery store’s meat market. I willl later give you some of the favorite got high quality chicken recipe for hunting dogs.
And the word “meat” is not very reassuring either since the makers of the dog food who list the term “meat” don’t really seem to want you to know what kind of “meat” they are using.
I mean, for all I know, their “meat” could be making my dog a cannibal … Probably not, but why take the chance.
There should also be enough of the high-quality meat in the dog food to give it at least 20% protein. Less will not give your hunting dog the nutrients he needs to be in top form.
Crude fat should make up another 10% (again, this is a minimum).
All dog foods use some type of filler, but some are better than others. As I said earlier, corn is pretty worthless as far as nourishing your dog.
Oatmeal is much better, so if your dog’s food uses oatmeal as a filler, it gets extra points.
Many dog food manufacturers have begun adding fruits and vegetables and these are also something you want to look for to make sure your dog is getting a well-balanced diet from his food.
By reading the ingredients list on the bag, you can find out quite a bit about whether or not the kibble your dog is getting is going to give him what he needs. But there are other factors involved in feeding your hunting dog, as well.
Since food equals fuel, when the dog is actually working or hunting, his caloric needs are higher than when he is just laying around. That means you need to increase his kibble in direct proportion to the increase in his activity.
But energy isn’t the only reason your dog needs good, quality food. The better his diet the easier it is for him to develop muscles, grow a thick coat and stay warm in cold weather; even injuries will heal faster if the dog is well nourished.
Even if he is not working, during cold weather your hunting dog needs more food than in the summer – for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit the temperature drops, your dog needs about 7 to 8% more food.
Given that many times the difference in temperature can be as much as 30 to 60 degrees colder in the winter than in the summer (or more), you are looking at a dog that needs between a 25% and 50% increase in what you should be feeding them.
You don’t want to make the dog fat, but a little tiny bit of extra “padding” isn’t going to hurt and it will help them keep warm.
Another thing, be sure the dog gets adequate water. Water not only keeps them hydrated, but it helps them digest their food and utilize the nutrients in it.
Adding some warm water to their kibble is one way to make sure that the dogs are getting enough to drink.
When my dogs are being asked to expend extra energy or are sick and need a boost, I feed them what we call “puppy primer” (not that ANY of my dogs are puppies – most of them are 5 to 10 years old). Basically, it’s about 1-1/2 lbs of chicken or beef liver, thrown in a pan and enough water to cover it plus an extra 2 cups, or so.
Boil it until it’s done (no longer pink) and use a food processor, potato masher or whatever and mash it all up. Each of our dogs gets about 1/2 cup of this added to his regular kibble, two or three times a week.
Toss on an egg, 1/2 cup of yogurt or cottage cheese, a teaspoon of garlic and a tablespoon of salmon oil (other fish oil can be substituted, but mine LOVE salmon oil) and mix it all up with the kibble.
We don’t always add all of the ingredients, just what happens to be in the kitchen, but when we serve kibble with “puppy primer” there is not a bowl in the house that’s not licked clean.
Many people don’t like to change their dog’s diet, but we’ve very seldom had any problems with it, except with one of the dogs who is extremely lactose intolerant (she does NOT get any of the cottage cheese, even though she loves it).
If you think about it, up until just 20 or so years ago, many dogs ate table scraps for dinner and most of them lived on that pretty well, even though it meant they ate something different every night.
Changing foods didn’t cause them digestive problems and it probably won’t mess with your hunting dog’s tummy either. Just to be on the safe side though, I wouldn’t wait until the night before a hunt to change their food around.
Having a diet that gives him all the nutrients he needs will never make a badly trained hunting dog great. On the other hand, even a truly great hunting dog who isn’t getting the nourishment he needs won’t be performing to his full potential.
Sporting a long coat, a docked tail and keen senses, this breed is often talked of in hunting circles as the top bird dog breed for flushing pheasants.
Its sturdy 40-lb. frame and speed combine to give the dog a knack for quickly flushing a bird into the air, and its ability to work well both on land and in the water make this breed’s versatility tough to beat.
Exceptionally talented at hunting pheasant, grouse, and woodcocks, this lightweight breed (they average a slight 20-25 pounds) is noteworthy for their ability to work areas of heavy cover impenetrable to bigger dogs. It is highly ranked among the top phesant hunting dogs.
The owners of long coats and docked tails, these dogs are great hunters, especially the English variety.
A relatively unknown breed of spaniels, these compact dogs are skilled at flushing and retrieving both waterfowl and upland birds.
Slightly heavier than the cocker spaniels (Boykins average about 30-5 pounds) and wearing a long, curly coat, these docked-tail dogs are rather friendly and make good house pets.
Topping out at over 60 pounds, these are the heaviest of the spaniels and the owners of a thick, curly coat.
Known for its ability to hunt waterfowl, the Lab is also very talented at hunting upland birds.
With their short coats, their solid, stocky physique (they weigh in at an average of 60-65 pounds) and the ease with which they are trained, it’s no wonder this is the most popular type of retriever.
The owners of rough, thick coats, this breed is best known for its unparalleled waterfowl-hunting ability, able to retrieve game even in the most inhospitable of conditions.
An extremely rugged dog – they tip the scales at a strong 75 pounds – these are also competent at hunting upland game.
Almost as easy to train as the Labrador, this breed is a wonderful hunter of upland birds such as grouse, pheasant, and woodcock (just like the cocker spaniel), and is equally adept at hunting waterfowl.
Averaging over 65 pounds and sporting a long coat of wavy hair, these dogs also have an extremely friendly temperament.
This dog is said to be legendary in the toughest of water and weather conditions. A very intense hunter of upland birds and is the quintessential cold-water duck and goose-retrieving specialist.
The Chessie becomes firmly attached to his owner and family.
Long time Chessie owners have said that starting at puppyhood, a fair but firmer hand is needed in training and discipline to earn the respect of this noble dog.
Trainers of Chessies say that an owner should expect them to challenge their authority. There are large variations in color, such as tan, light red, deep reddish chestnut, a light straw color termed “deadgrass,” brown, etc.
This dog needs plenty of exercises to prevent misbehavior. They are not aggressive but will not be bullied. Females: 55-70 lbs; males 66-84 lbs.
An excellent retriever of game from the water and a popular retriever in Australia and New Zealand, this dog excels at hunting in marshy terrain.
The Curly-Coat seems to enjoy inclement weather in which to hunt and is therefore not a good house dog.
They are action dogs that live to swim and are not deterred by ice, snow or dark and threatening skies. In fact, some have said this animal enjoys these conditions.
A Curly-Coat is devoted to its family but aloof to strangers. Highly intelligent, so it must be challenged early and thoroughly or else its intelligence will be used to further its own goals.
The breed has a will of its own but is highly sensitive; therefore obedience training should be consistent, not rough. They weigh 62-77 pounds, and are black or liver in color. The coat consists of very tight curls that are water and dirt resistant.
This dog was known as the favorite of the British gamekeeper since they excelled at the basic hunting tasks of flushing game, working any sort of cover, locating cripples, and retrieving from land and water.
The Flat-Coat is known to have an excellent nose. They stand approximately 24 inches tall and weigh approximately 60-70 pounds. The traditional color is black, however, liver is also seen.
Their personalities are enthusiastic, responsive and versatile and they are noted to be a devoted companion.
Intelligent and quick to learn, however, the Flat-Coat cannot be drilled repetitively on the same routine. They do not respond well to mechanical training methods.
Almost as easy to train as the Labrador retriever, this breed is a wonderful hunter of upland birds such as grouse, pheasant, and woodcock.
This dog is dually adept at hunting waterfowl. It is a good choice for the hunter who wants a versatile dog adept at upland hunting and waterfowl retrieving.
It has been said that the golden is not as rugged of a retriever as the Labrador or Chesapeake. Very trainable and has a somewhat softer nature than the Labrador.
An extremely friendly and affectionate dog, they average over 65 pounds, 20-24 inches in height at the shoulders, and has a long wavy coat.
Color ranges from light blonde to dark red, with the darker colors being more prevalent in field lines.
Avid hunters need to ensure that the pedigree of their puppy comes from strong field lines as the bench/show lines may not be as strong in the field as a hunter may desire. This dog loves all people and is therefore not a good watchdog.
This spaniel was developed in Ireland as a retriever. They are allowed to compete in field trials due to their size and ability to fetch ducks, geese and upland game.
They have a curly liver-colored coat that water drains off like a poodle due to its tight curls, with a wooly underlayer that provides warmth to the dog allowing it to stay in the cold water for long periods of time.
The hair is short on the face and the end of the tail. The coat requires removal of burs when doing upland work.
This dog is obedient if given early and consistent training.
This breed should have a knowledgeable dog person as an owner to assert authority over it and develop its clownish personality.
A good foundation as a puppy will lead to a dog that shows intense devotion to the family and will curb its natural distrust of people.
The Irish Water Spaniel may be slow to mature leading to slower training. However, once a task is learned, they require little brushing up on the skill.
Its natural ability for pranks can either provide frustration or laughter for its trainer. The dog is a medium size for a retriever breed, standing about 20-23 inches tall and weighing about 65-75 pounds.
This dog has been the most popular dog in America for greater than the last decade. They are popular since this dog learns quickly and is easily trained. It can fetch from land or water and can be taught to work before the gun, flushing and retrieving game.
There is also a society for pointing Labrador enthusiasts. Typically the Labrador Retriever has a calm and cooperative nature that makes it a fine companion.
This dog is solidly built with a water-repellent coat, short ears, and a thick otter-like tail.
The Lab typically weighs 55-75 pounds standing 20-24 inches at the shoulder. Colors are black, yellow (ranging from “white” to fox-red) and chocolate.
Avid hunters need to ensure that the pedigree of their puppy comes from strong field lines as the bench/show lines may not be as strong in the field as a hunter may desire.
Also, strong field trial lines may produce a pup that is too intense or high-strung, making the dog more than the average hunter wants to train or handle. This dog may not make a good watchdog, as typically there is no distrust in a Labrador’s generous heart.
The toller became the 150th recognized breed of the American Kennel Club on July 1, 2003. This dog is said to have originated during the early 19th century. It is known for its unique ability to toll or lure and retrieve waterfowl. It’s playful antics draw the waterfowl into the range of the hunter by piquing the ducks’ curiosity.
It is found, however, that most individuals’ use the dog to retrieve instead of actually tolling. The toller is noted to be good in cold water and will retrieve repetitively without boredom.
The toller typically has a burnished medium length red coat, often with a white-tipped tail. They are the smallest of the North American retriever breeds, weighing approximately 40-50 pounds.
They are seemingly docile dogs, extremely intelligent and devoted to their owners. The toller is suspicious of strangers and makes an excellent watchdog.
The secret to training a toller is to establish and maintain a rapport with the dog. Harsh training methods without praise will only bring out the stubbornness of this dog.
Pattern-testing is extremely important because it will reveal many things about a shotgun that can prove to be invaluable in the field.
Steel patterning plates work quite well with lead shot and soft nontoxic shot such as Bismuth and Tungsten-Matrix, but they should not be used when testing loads containing steel shot or other equally hard nontoxics such as Hevi-Shot and Tungsten-Iron. Pellets from these could bounce back and hit the shooter.
You can make your own patterning board by attaching heavy cardboard to a couple of eight-foot, wooden 2x4s with their ends buried about 18 inches into the ground.
You will also need plain paper measuring 36 to 40 inches wide. A roll can be purchased at most paper supply houses, or you might check with your local newspaper publisher to see if unused scrap paper of that width is available.
Use a heavy-duty staple gun to attach a sheet of paper to the backboard, and you are ready to shoot your first pattern. The soft backboard used on a rig of this type makes it suitable for testing all types shot.
I do a lot of pattern testing and find the Targomatic system from Baker Engineering (www.targomatic.com) well worth the $99 price tag.
See our content on – How to Become a Better Marksman & Stop Flinching When Shooting.
I prefer to pattern-test while sitting at a benchrest with my elbows resting atop something soft. In a pinch, a coat or duffel bag will do. It is important that the gun be held steady as its trigger is squeezed. If you find it too tiring to support the shotgun with your arms, try resting the back of the hand that holds its fore-end atop a soft support.
Testing heavy shotshell loads from the bench can become uncomfortable, so don’t be bashful about placing a sausage-shaped “sissy bag” from Brownells (661/623-4000, www.brownells.com) or Sinclair International (219/493-1858, www.sinclairintl.com) between the stock and your shoulder.
Shotgun and shotshell manufacturers test their products by shooting a pattern at 40 yards and then drawing a 30-inch circle around the highest concentration of holes in the paper (the .410 is tested at 25 yards). They then count the pellet holes in the circle and compare it with the number of pellets in the load to determine a shotgun’s choke or a load’s performance.
Since patterns fired with the same gun/choke/load combo can vary from one to the next, the manufacturers usually fire a minimum of 10 patterns and average them for the final result.
What you have just read is quite useful for those who desire to compare the performance of their shotguns and loads to the industry standards, but for those of us who take most game birds closer to the muzzles of our guns, shooting at closer ranges reveals more useful information. Since most of the bobwhite quail I bag hit the ground 15 to 25 yards from the toes of my boots, I am more interested in how a gun/load combination performs at those ranges.
A shotgun used for wingshooting should place the center of its shot pattern either dead on the shooter’s hold point or slightly high. If you find that your gun is shooting too high or too low, it can be cured by changing the amount of drop at the comb of its stock.
Lowering the comb with a wood rasp (or having it done by a gunsmith) will lower your eye in relation to the muzzle of the gun and cause the gun to shoot lower. Increasing comb height by the application of layers of adhesive-backed moleskin will cause it to shoot higher.
Applying layers of the same material to the left side of the comb will cause the gun to shoot farther to the left (for a right-handed shooter) while removing wood from that side of the stock will cause it to shoot farther to the right.
Some guns may require more drastic measures. A practical option for a pump or autoloader with no rib on its barrel is to have a gunsmith adjust pattern point of impact by carefully bending the barrel in the proper direction. A barrel with a rib can also be bent, but since a portion of the rib will likely have to be broken loose and then resoldered back in place, it can be expensive.
Another option is to install an optical sight on a shotgun and then zero the gun like a rifle. This option is popular among turkey hunters, but I doubt if wingshooters will ever accept it in great numbers.
The best fix for any type of gun that doesn’t shoot where you are looking is to have an eccentric screw-in choke fitted to its barrel by Briley Manufacturing (800/331-5718,www.briley.com).
When this type of choke is installed, its bore and the bore of the barrel are intentionally misaligned by the precise amount needed to shift pattern point of impact by the desired amount and in the desired direction. It doesn’t affect pattern quality.
Spending some time at the pattern board can also reveal a gun’s preference in loads and shot sizes. Just as deer rifles often shoot more accurately with some loads than with others, so it goes with shotguns–except in the case of scatterguns we often see differences in pattern quality.
Last but certainly not least in importance, testing a shotgun will reveal how the effective diameters of the patterns it shoots are affected by changes in choke constriction, shot sizes and load quality at the various ranges at which game birds are usually taken. For example, if most of your shots are inside 25 yards and the effective pattern diameter delivered by your gun/choke/ammo combination measures smaller than 25 inches at that distance, you should seriously consider switching to a choke with less constriction.
Moving to the opposite extreme, if the effective pattern diameter of your long-range load measures much greater than 40 inches at 40 yards, you might need to tighten up the choke in order to deliver adequate shot density at that range.
Hunters have a range of choices when it comes to choosing a place to practice shotgun patterning.
However, there are legal and safety issues to observe before one decides to go for shooting practice.
I would recommend you seek guidance from your local shooting range.
Practicing at a local shooting range has a lot of benefits. For example, ranges always observe local, state, and federal laws that govern shooting ranges. Moreover, a shooting range provides adequate distance needed to pattern a shotgun.
Apart from expertise skills acquired in a shooting range, you get top-range safety equipment for shotgun patterning. I am at talking about hearing and eyesight protection. Shotgunners know that a scope and a rangefinder are invaluable in patterning tests.
While some ranges are open to public shooting, others only allow private members.
You can choose either place depending on where you feel you can get the best shooting techniques.
It is advisable to observe the rules and commands when practicing in a shooting range.
It is important to learn what the range officer means by the commands “cease-fire” and “range is active.”
I’ve been chasing turkeys since I began hunting at age 12, and while I get a big thrill out of working a boss gobbler in the spring, the fall season is perhaps my favorite.
For one thing, you can hunt all day–unlike in the spring, when, at least in the East, you have to quit around lunchtime.
The opportunity to hunt from sunup to sundown allows for a more relaxing and enjoyable hunt. Or, depending on how badly you have turkey fever, it gives you more time to scour the woods like a madman in an attempt to kill a bird.
Fall hunting also permits a wider range of hunting options, from running and gunning for flocks to still-hunting along a ridge for a chance at both flocks and lone birds–maybe even an old gobbler.
During the fall, turkeys are gathered into flocks–typically made up of several hens and their broods from the current year’s hatch.
These mixed-family flocks can number from a dozen birds to several dozen, and flocks of 100 turkeys aren’t unheard of in good habitat.
Hunters may also encounter small bachelor flocks of gobblers, usually consisting of birds from the same year class.
It’s also possible to locate what may be perhaps the most challenging game animal of all: lone, boss gobblers that shun company altogether.
Food is the turkey’s primary motivator in the fall. To find birds, it’s imperative to locate the right food sources.
Because poults depend heavily on insects throughout the summer and into fall–and adult birds dine on them, too, for their high protein–grassy fields are one of the most reliable places to locate flocks up until the first hard frosts kill off grasshoppers, crickets and the like.
Driving back roads and glassing fields with binoculars will give you a good head start on finding birds.
Of course, other people will have seen these turkeys, too, so a better bet may be to hike into remote forest openings, right-of-way strips created by power transmission lines and gas pipelines, and old, grown-over logging roads that no longer see vehicle traffic. Wild turkeys will use all these in their search for insects.
Mature birds and the growing young of the year also feed heavily on hard mast (acorns, beechnuts) and soft mast (wild grapes, blackberries, cherries).
Turkeys scratch constantly in leaf litter to uncover food, creating bowl-shaped depressions on the forest floor.
At the back of each of these is a pile of leaves that appears almost rolled into place. It’s possible to determine a turkey’s direction of travel from scratchings by looking at where the leaves are piled; turkeys push the leaves behind them as they scratch.
It’s fairly easy to discern fresh scratchings by a lack of leaves on the exposed ground and the moist appearance of the soil. During windy periods or heavy leaf drop, scratchings disappear quickly as leaves cover them.
That’s both a blessing and a curse because visible scratchings will likely be quite fresh, but it will be difficult to determine areas that turkeys that have been using during previous days or weeks.
Turkeys prefer to roost in large trees with thick limbs, and they like to stay out of the wind at night. So look for roost sites in protected hollows rather than on the tops of ridges.
Preferred roost sites will reveal themselves by the concentrations of droppings on the leaves below. In inclement weather or extreme cold, head for stands of conifers such as hemlocks and pines, which provide protection from the elements.
Obviously, the best turkey hotspots will feature a mix of these ingredients in relative proximity. In other words, if you can find mast-producing trees in an area that features a reliable water source, some grassy openings, and large trees for roosts, you can bet the turkeys will be there.
Once your scouting has produced turkey sightings or sign, the next order of business is to bump into a flock. The goal is to get close enough to scatter the flock to the four winds. Then you situate yourself at the break-up point and call to the reassembling birds.
One of the best times to locate turkeys is right at daybreak. When a flock of turkeys–especially one that hasn’t seen much pressure–wakes up in the morning, it makes a hell of a racket.
The jennies whistle and whine, the jakes yelp and try to gobble, the older hens yelp loudly. It’s a sound you won’t soon forget, and it’s one you can hear for a fairly long distance.
If you can reach such a flock before it gets too light, you can flush the turkeys from the trees. In the poor light of pre-dawn, you can get birds flying off separately to all points of the compass.
That creates a good break and a solid chance to call one back and shoot it. Of course, you can also wait until the turkeys fly down and gather on the ground–then rush in and break them up.
Evening is also an excellent time to locate fall birds. Turkeys don’t like to roost by themselves, and birds that have been separated from their group are often desperate to find company right before fly-up time.
Now, if you split up a flock right before dark, don’t expect them to come charging right back. It can happen, but it’s more likely that they’ll try to reassemble in the morning. However, evenings are a great time to call turkeys that were split up earlier in the day.
I learned this firsthand one opening week in Virginia when I’d hunted all day in vain for a flock that I knew was on the mountain. It was nearing dark, and I was still a couple of miles from the truck.
I began a forced march, calling loudly and incessantly as I worked back along the ridge.
About halfway out, I got a loud, shrieking answer. I dashed to the nearest large tree while still calling and got into position. The bird originally sounded as if it was at least 150 yards away in a hollow below me; minutes later, though, the jake–calling nonstop–popped into view.
He was running full bore, yelping and kee-keeing desperately, straight toward me. When he got to within 25 yards, I fired–and missed.
The point is, that bird had been separated from its brethren and, with night approaching, he wanted to get together with another turkey–and fast.
There are two approaches to the rest of the day. One–running and gunning–is a good method to use in unfamiliar territory that you haven’t had a chance to scout; where mast crops are heavy and widespread; and in areas that get lots of hunting pressure.
In this strategy, you cover a lot of ground until you find fresh scratchings, then follow them in hopes of catching up with a flock and effecting a scatter.
Make sure you stop frequently to listen.
While you won’t always hear the sound of turkeys calling, scratching turkeys make a ton of noise when the forest is dry.
Heavy mast years are a boon to turkeys and other wildlife, but they can be tough for turkey hunters. With food readily available over large tracts of land, there’s nothing to concentrate the birds or to hold them to a pattern.
In such a case, your best bet is to log a lot of miles. Pay attention to where you’re finding turkey sign and try to determine what type of food is drawing them at that point in time.
For instance, wild grapes–a soft mast that doesn’t persist for long–will often draw turkeys. If you note that birds have been working the grapevines, and you know the location of other grapevines, hit them in succession.
Likewise, if the woods are full of a variety of mast sources but you continually discover scratchings in beech groves, concentrate on beeches to find birds.
Don’t neglect agricultural areas and old fields, either. You may find that even though turkey sign is scattered throughout the forest, the presence of insects–or waste grain in recently harvested fields–may attract turkeys on a more regular basis.
In places where turkeys are hunted regularly in the fall, the run-and-gun is a good way to find lone turkeys looking to reassemble. Hunters flood the woods on opening morning, and sooner or later someone is going to run into a flock and break it up. Other hunters subsequently encounter smaller subgroups and scatter them.
Each time this happens, the hunter or hunters who split a flock will sit down to call them–but not all the birds are going to be able to reassemble. Some will invariably be bumped by other hunters, pushing them farther from the reassembly point. These singles, doubles and trios will wander the woods and are often ripe for the hunter who’s covering ground and calling a lot.
The run-and-gun is a great strategy, but I also like to still-hunt through an area that I know holds turkeys–moving 50 to 100 yards at a time and then setting up to call for five to 10 minutes. When still-hunting for turkeys, I don’t sneak but rather walk in a series of quick steps, two or three or four at a time with a short pause between series. I’ve found that this pattern, or lack thereof, tends to spook wildlife less than creeping quietly or walking steadily. The pauses also allow me to listen for the sound of calling or scratching turkeys.
Depending on wind strength or the amount of turkey sign I’m seeing, I’ll move in this manner for 50 or 100 yards and find a good tree to set up against. After sitting quietly for a bit, listening, I make a single, loud cluck on a box call. If the cluck doesn’t bring results, I begin yelping–increasing the volume a little with each series. The response, if any, isn’t always a call; sometimes, the only indication that the turkeys heard you will be the sound of them marching your way. If nothing happens after 10 to 15 minutes, get up and move another 50 to 100 yards.
Still-hunting for turkeys requires an intimate knowledge of the hunting area and a good idea of where the turkeys are–otherwise you can spend a lot of unproductive time calling in places where there are no turkeys. When the tactic works, though, it gives you a shot at big flocks, small groups and singles, and occasionally–when fortune smiles–a boss gobbler.
Fall gobblers are tough, largely because they aren’t terribly social and don’t have sex on their minds. You’ll sometimes find them in small bachelor groups–pairs or trios–and these represent your best shot. If you can locate such a group and split it up, it’s possible to call the toms back. Be aware, though, that old gobblers will take their sweet time reassembling. They may wait a day or more before returning to the break-up point.
Solo gobblers are even tougher. The closest I ever came to killing a lone tom was during a still-hunt in late fall. I’d stopped to call, and moments after my first cluck, a gobbler with a thick, 10-inch beard walked down off the ridge and stood 50 yards away. He scratched, fed and looked around for a few minutes, then drifted off–and I couldn’t entice him back.
It was one of most exciting moments I’ve ever had in turkey hunting–an unexpected bonus so close and yet so far. And it’s the kind of action that draws me back to the fall woods year after year.
Choose the right load and lead shot is just as effective on coyotes as the nontoxic heavyweights and less expensive to boot.
In my experience, BB (.18 caliber) is the smallest size to use, but larger shot sizes such as BBB (.19 caliber), T (.20 caliber) and No. 4 Buck (.24 caliber), with their higher energy levels, are better so long as pellet count and therefore pattern density is high enough to deliver multiple strikes to the relatively small vital area of a coyote out to forty yards or so.
Getting a coyote into forty yards, well, that’s a whole other story.
Like other predators, the coyote can be brought into shooting range by imitating the distress calls of various small animals, and for obvious reasons, you will have to coax them a bit closer when using a shotgun than when you’re using a rifle.
I’ve used a C-3 Long Range Fox Call from Burnham Brothers for the past forty years, and it pulls coyotes in like a magnet by imitating the scream of a cottontail rabbit as it is being torn to pieces.
During the past few months, I’ve also been using with great success the new CompuCaller II, a digital call from the same company. I find my old mouth call to be just as effective at bringing in the yodel dogs, but I’ll have to admit the electronic caller does have its advantages.
Pushing a button on a battery-powered remote controller is not as tiring as blowing a call for hours on end, and there’s the tactical edge as well.
Like a turkey gobbler, a coyote is quite good at pinpointing the precise location of a call, and having the sound originate some distance away from the shooter is a definite advantage.
Gary Roberson, the owner of Burnham Brothers, recommends setting the caller fifty yards away when hunting with a rifle, and I find half that to be about ideal when using a shotgun.
His unit has the best sound of any electronic caller I’ve ever used, and I’m sure the dozens of coyotes that have come to mine would agree if they were still around.
You can see first-hand how effective it is by ordering the DVD “Eyes Front III.”
Setting up to shotgun a coyote is a lot like setting up to call in a turkey gobbler, with one exception.
Whereas a gobbler depends mostly on its excellent eyesight to keep it out of the roasting pan, the coyote has that plus a very sensitive nose that can sniff you out long before it’s within range.
So, Rule No. 1 is to set up with the wind or breeze cooling your face as you look in the direction from which you expect a coyote to approach.
Turkeys and coyotes are about even when it comes to detecting movement, but the eyes of a coyote are much more capable of separating the form of a hunter from his surroundings, even when that hunter is sitting absolutely motionless.
This is why a camo pattern that makes you appear to be a natural part of the coyote’s home turf is so important.
The wind had been howling across the prairie for two days, bringing intermittent sleet and more than six inches of snow. The weather was fit for neither man nor beast.
On the afternoon of the third day, the wind subsided and the sun broke through the clouds to reveal a beautiful snow-covered landscape. I already had a touch of cabin fever, so I dropped my office work and grabbed my .22-250.
I had three hours of daylight left, and I was going to make the most of it. In no more than a half-hour I was backed into a cedar tree with the rifle across my lap and a predator call in my lips.
The awful sound can set a human’s nerves on edge, but to a hungry coyote it is the melodic invitation to a warm rabbit dinner. Little did they know that hot lead was the fare.
Shortly, a coyote loped across a distant flat toward the call and my secluded spot on the ridge. There’s something about the stark contrast of a coyote on new snow that makes him appear more vivid than life.
In less than a minute he was 50 yards out and still coming hard directly toward the sound when the crosshairs quartered his chest.
The long hair of a winter coat makes a coyote appear bigger than he is, and I was careful not to hold too low. I took slack from the trigger, and all the energy of the Speer’s hollowpoint was dispensed in the coyote, slamming him to the ground. It was decisive and clean without excessive destruction on the outside, a satisfying climax.
I threw the coyote on the Bronco’s rack and was again driving along the four-wheel-drive trail in semi-open country, looking for coyote tracks in the fresh snow. Soon, I spotted where a pair of coyotes had crossed, and it was clear where they were headed–a wide, brush-choked draw far below.
I drove to within a half-mile of the draw, coasted to the bottom and quietly got out and headed for a low knoll. Taking note of the wind–a slight breeze drifting from the brushy draw to the knoll–and, being careful not to skyline myself, I crawled to the crest of the knoll and rapidly got into position with a low bush at my back. This time, I blew softly on the call, and in seconds two coyotes were coming to dinner. To make a long story short, I repeated this performance until by dark I had six coyotes on the Bronco’s rack.
Coyote populations have exploded in recent years because pelt prices are low. The fact is that coyotes cannot be over-hunted. They have few natural enemies except disease (and good coyote hunters), and they’re prolific breeders. A female coyote mates at the age of one year and produces an average litter of more than five pups, according to one study. Individual litters have been known to contain 15 or more pups.
There are liberal hunting seasons and no bag limits, for the most part, and many landowners are only too happy to let coyote hunters on their properties. Song dogs are a challenge to hunt and have senses that put whitetail deer in the shade. These facts, combined with increasingly limited hunting opportunities for other game species, put coyote hunting at the top of the list for serious action throughout the year.
I’ve hunted coyotes nearly every year for more than 40 years, and the thrill of bagging one of these wary critters never wanes. Calling for coyotes is one of the most exciting sports you’ll find, and it is neither difficult nor expensive. All you need are a rifle, a call and some means to get into country where coyotes are.
It doesn’t really matter whether you use a mouth-blown call or an electronic call, and it doesn’t seem to matter how you call–particularly when you’re imitating the sound of a prey species such as a rabbit in distress. The call itself is not critical because distressed rabbits make different sounds. Some rabbits call shrilly, others are low-pitched. Some almost growl slowly, and some shriek in repeated, high-pitched and short-duration bursts.
However you call, you should begin by calling rather quietly. If there is a coyote close by, loud calls at the beginning can spook him. Spend at least 10 minutes at each setup–20 is even better. The most important factors in coyote calling success are the areas you hunt, the specific spot from which you call and how you get to the calling site. In new snow you can seek out fresh tracks. If you don’t have snow, you can find coyotes by locating droppings in the road or tracks around water holes. If it’s dry, coyotes are often concentrated around water.
Once you know the general area where coyotes are, focus on picking the calling site. Keep in mind that you want to select a spot that puts the sun at your back. The best camouflage is to sit in the shade. Never sit in bright sunlight while calling because you stand out like a beacon.
Sometimes coyotes will run right by a vehicle and ignore it; other times the sight of a car will stop them in their tracks or send them running. Try not to drive through areas you want to call. In ridge country, stop the vehicle before you top out on a ridge. In flatter terrain, park in a low spot or in a brushy area where approaching animals won’t spot your truck.
Always keep the wind right; nothing spooks a coyote faster than human scent. This includes your scent trail–the one you left when you walked to the calling site. Take this into consideration as you move into calling position.
It’s extremely important not to advertise your presence. Avoid slamming the car door, working a rifle bolt noisily or making any loud, metallic sound. If you’re calling with a buddy, don’t talk after you leave the vehicle. Communicate with hand signals. Walk in draws or through brushy areas so you’re as invisible as possible. If you’re calling with a buddy, it’s a good idea to have him sit downwind from the calling site, particularly if there is country downwind that can’t be seen by the caller. Coyotes nearly always circle downwind on their approach approach, and if there’s heavy cover in that direction, the animal may come in silently and see you before you see him–then leave as quietly as he came. A buddy can pick off these animals.
Calling coyotes doesn’t have to be much more complicated than this. The more you learn the habits of the animal, and the better you know the country where you’re calling, the greater the chance of success.
While I’ve talked about using a car or truck to access coyote country, any type of transportation will work: quiet four-wheelers, horses, feet. Snowshoes or cross country skis also offer a great means to get into country that otherwise might be inaccessible. I’ve had some dynamite coyote calling by snowshoeing across the countryside. It works well if you have a buddy. He drops you off and drives to another location while you begin your cross-country hunt. He then hunts to still another destination. When you get to the vehicle, you drive around to pick him up. It’s a great way to cover a lot of country in detail without backtracking.
Imitating the sound of a prey species in distress is not the only way to take coyotes. You can imitate the sound of coyotes themselves. This requires a certain amount of knowledge of what various coyote sounds mean and possessing the skill to imitate them. The method is often referred to as howling, though not all the sounds are howls. You can acquire the necessary knowledge by listening to recordings of experienced callers. With this ability in your repertoire, you can increase your calling success.
Some coyotes get educated to one type of sound or another, particularly in areas where a certain type of electronic sound is favored. The more types of calling sounds you are capable of producing, the better your odds. Coyote calling can be like fishing: If they aren’t taking a particular lure, try another.
Night hunting for predators is allowed in some states, and while this can offer an advantage to bobcat and fox hunters, I am not sure the night holds much advantage for coyote hunting. Coyotes respond well to daytime calling. If conditions are right, midday is just as good a time to call as any, and you get the added excitement of clearly seeing the predator work it way in–sometimes from great distances.
Calling is not the only method of hunting coyotes. Sometimes you can glass them up and make a stalk on them, particularly during midday when they’re typically bedded. It takes a good eye to spot a coyote that’s bedded . Sometimes they are bedded in groups, and you can get lucky when a single coyote that’s moving around gives away the whole group.
A single coyote may also just mill around in a small area without moving much. If you spot one of these loners, you can plan a stalk to get within shooting range. If the coyote is slowly moving cross country, as they often do, you can plan an intercept route. If you find a winter-killed deer or cow where coyotes have been feeding, make note of it and plan to come back later that day or the next morning. Don’t wait too long because coyotes can make quick work of a carcass. Plan an approach where you can get within shooting range without being seen, scented or heard.
Where legal, you can bait coyotes by placing frozen meat scraps at strategic locations. You can freeze meat scraps in water to make blocks of ice and then set them in the shade where they may draw coyotes for several days as the blocks thaw.
Few game animals offer the hunting opportunity that coyotes do, and winter is prime time for hunting them. They’re working hard for food this time of year and will in early January (in much of the country) become quite vocal as mating season approaches. This time of year, their coats will be luxuriously heavy in much of their range, making them a handsome as well as challenging trophy.
|GUNS AND CALIBERS|
|For riflemen who want to match a cartridge with the game, the larger .22 centerfires are the best choice for hunting coyotes. The .222 Rem., .223 Rem., .22-250 Rem. and .220 Swift are top-notch candidates. These calibers do the job nicely without over-kill, and they’re easy to shoot well.The.222 Rem. is an excellent choice for calling because of the mild report. A second or third coyote is likely to show up–even after you’ve shot one coyote–at the same site. If you frequently take coyotes at long range, the two largest .22s, the .22-250 and the Swift, are capable of taking coyotes at any distance you’re likely to shoot.
If you are hot on long-range shooting and aren’t worried about pelts but are worried about getting a bullet through woody vegetation, the .243 Win., 6mm Rem. and .25-06 Rem. are better choices.
For calling, a standard-weight rifle in a medium to short barrel length is easiest to get into and out of a vehicle repeatedly and handiest to carry to a calling stand. Keep the variable scope turned down to the lowest magnification. A power of 2X to 4X is about right. Field of view will be more of a problem than lack of magnification in most calling situations. If yu are hunting coyotes at night, make use of a good thermal scope.
Coyotes are often spotted in open country where shooting distances are unlimited. If you’re into taking coyotes at really long range, a super-accurate heavy-barreled rig with a high-magnification scope (8X to 24X) and bipod make a great combination.
If you are more interested in killing coyotes than being a skilled rifleman, a shotgun is mighty effective, particularly in brushy country. A 12 gauge loaded with buffered and copper plated BBs is my first choice. (Comparable steel shot loads also work well.) If shot size gets much larger than that, pattern density suffer–much smaller and you lose penetration.
Since called-in coyotes usually offer shots on the near side of the 50-yard mark, it can make for great handgunning, too. If you’re calling in heavy cover, you can hone your quick-shooting skills using a .45 Auto stuffed with easy-expanding hollowpoint bullets. I’ve used the 185-grain Sierra and 200-grain Speer bullets with good success. My scoped Thompson/Center Contender chambered in .257 JDJ has also accounted for a good many of the wary predators.–RJ
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a handgun shooter who has never hunted, a hunter who has never handgunned or a novice who has done neither–there is no better introduction to handgun hunting than the pursuit of small game such as squirrels and rabbits.
So what do you need to know, and what do you need to have, to start out?
Most people would jump right to guns and loads, but before you consider equipment, you need to be straight on the fundamentals.
The most important things to understand about handgun hunting are to know the quarry and how to approach it to within killing range.
If you have already hunted small game with rifle or shotgun, you’ll find no need to hunt them any differently with a handgun. You’ll stalk and approach them just the same, and you don’t need to get any closer to make a shot.
The next step is to consider the question of marksmanship. How good a shot do you need to be to hunt responsibly with a handgun?
There seems to be a feeling among non-handgunners that there are special skills or a special level of marksmanship needed to use a handgun.
I don’t believe this is true.
The squirrel peeking around a hickory tree branch 25 yards away doesn’t shrink in size just because you are carrying a pistol instead of a rifle. A two-inch target is a two-inch target.
Of course, I freely admit that most people find it easier to hit that two-inch target with a shotgun that throws out a two-foot cloud of pellets at 25 yards or with a shoulder-stocked .22 rifle that can be braced and held against the mass of the body.
But if you are thinking about getting started in handgun hunting, this is more likely an attraction than an obstacle.
It is more of a challenge to hit a soda-can-size target at 25 yards with a pistol than with a rifle or shotgun, and that’s precisely why more and more hunters are changing from long guns to short guns.
For these folks, hunting squirrels or rabbits with a shotgun or scoped rimfire rifle is just too easy to be fun.
Now let’s consider guns and loads.
Small game handgun hunting is primarily a rimfire task.
I know guys who take pride in making head shots on squirrels and rabbits using nothing but full-metal-jacket .45 ACP or 9mm ammo from centerfire, service-grade autoloaders, but for all-round capability, the .22 rimfire is by far the best choice for a hunting beginner. But which .22 rimfire?
Choosing a cartridge comes before selecting a gun.
For the vast majority of handgun shooters, .22 rimfire automatically means .22 Long Rifle. But for handgun hunters, there is another .22 rimfire that provides a serious alternative: the .22 Win. Mag. Rimfire, commonly known as the .22 Mag.
The .22 WMR was primarily intended to be a rifle cartridge when Winchester introduced it in 1959. It achieves more than 2,000 fps velocity out of 24-inch barrels, which is about 55 percent more than a high-speed .22 LR cartridge delivers.
That’s in rifles.
In handguns with barrels in the four- to six-inch range, the story is interestingly different.
In general, a 6 1/2-inch .22 revolver like a Ruger Single-Six will send a 40-grain high-velocity .22 LR bullet downrange at about 1,100 fps; a four-inch revolver such as a Smith & Wesson Model 34 Kit Gun will produce about 1,025 fps. That same .22 LR load from a 24-inch rifle clock 1,255 fps.
On the other hand, a 40-grain .22 Mag., which hits 1,910 fps in a 24-inch rifle, produces about 1,325 fps from a 6 1/2-inch Ruger Single-Six and about 1,250 fps from a four-inch S&W; Model 48 .22 WMR revolver.
You can pull out a calculator and figure the percentage ranges if you want, but the overall point is obvious.
When you fire .22 Mag. rimfire ammo in handguns with medium-length barrels, you get essentially the same ballistic performance with bullets of the same weight as when you fire .22 LR ammunition in full-length rifle barrels.
Hunting with a six-inch .22 WMR revolver is the same as hunting with a 24-inch .22 LR rifle–actually a bit better–as far as ammunition performance is concerned.
This is one of the reasons that one of my favorite rimfire hunting handguns is a single-action Ruger Single-Six revolver, which comes with interchangeable .22 LR and .22 WMR cylinders.
I can shoot any type of .22 rimfire ammunition from .22 Shorts or BB Caps to the full magnums in this same gun, which makes considerable economic sense.
There are a variety of .22 WMR/.22 LR convertible revolvers on the market, as well as the versatile Thompson/Center Contender.
Choice of specific load, in .22 LR or .22 WMR, is another point to ponder.
There are literally scores of makes and types of .22 LR ammo on the market, as well as about a dozen different available .22 WMR loads. Test as many as you can get your hands on, searching for the load or loads that are reliably accurate in your gun.
For small game handgunning, the main choice is between hollowpoints or solid bullets.
When hunting squirrels or rabbits for skillet or stewpot, a poorly placed hollowpoint can ruin meat, so many hunters prefer solid-bullet loads. But it is also true that squirrels and rabbits display remarkable tenacity and can escape after taking hits from solid bullets.
Over the years I’ve finally decided that I would rather have a quickly dead animal with some loss of meat than to wound and not recover an animal. So I use conventional high-speed hollowpoints for all my small game hunting, and I work to get a headshot whenever possible.
In recent years this dichotomy has been softened a bit by the appearance of various “semi-hollowpoint” .22 LR “game bullet” loads from several manufacturers; these are designed specifically for small game hunting.
Powered to more moderate velocities, such loads provide a more limited degree of expansion than typical high-velocity hollowpoints and are less destructive of tissue.
Unfortunately, most of these loads have not enjoyed great market success, and because they were designed specifically for optimum performance from full-length rifle barrels, they behave more like solids when fired from a handgun.
On the other hand, high-speed hollowpoints in handguns perform like these game bullets in rifles, so the handgunner’s solution is obvious: Use hollowpoints.
And now guns.
What type, make and model should you select?
Virtually any sport-grade .22 handgun in existence, any type of action and any length of barrel will serve you just fine as a small game hunting tool.
The versatility of an interchangeable .22LR/WMR revolver like the Ruger Single-Six cannot be surpassed, and it can handle any type of small game hunting task. But all single-action revolvers have a long trigger pull compared to a cocked-action trigger of a double-action gun.
Among double-action rimfire revolvers, Smith & Wesson’s small-frame four-inch stainless Model 63 .22 LR Kit Gun is a super lightweight and compact hunting tool for the hiker and backpacker, and I’ve filled more than a few camp kettles with my two-inch, snub-nosed version of this little gem.
For no-frills performance and reliability, any of Taurus’s recent double-action .22 revolvers are good choices. I especially like the new midsize Tracker models.
Many seasoned small game hunters like autoloaders. I appreciate autoloader the most when, for example, a running cottontail breaks from cover and makes a mad dash. I’ve been known to need more than one shot in a hurry in those situations.
Top choices include any of Ruger’s extensive Mark II line or any of Browning many version of the BuckMark pistol–some of which come straight from the factory set up for hunting with long barrels and Weaver-type scope mount bases.
My favorite .22 auto pistol for hunting is the Smith & Wesson Model 22 series–not because it has a superior trigger pull or better accuracy than other .22 autos but because of its quick-change barrel feature.
To switch, you just lock the slide back, press the locking button at the front of the frame and lift off the barrel. The sights are entirely barrel mounted, so if you take off the iron-sight barrel to replace it with a scope-sighted barrel, you are still zeroed when you switch back. I occasionally use the metallic sights for cottontails and switch to a scoped barrel for squirrels.
Finally, there is the Thompson/ Center Contender single-shot, which is really a whole family of handguns in one gun.
The interchangeable-barreled Contender is the most popular and most versatile hunting handgun on the planet. It is one of the few handguns ever designed specifically for hunting and was designed in particular for small game hunting by a man whose greatest passion was shooting rats in New England’s small-town dumps.
With a 10-inch .22 LR barrel, the Contender will give you over 1,200 fps velocity from an ordinary high-velocity cartridge, which is close to what rifles of the 181⁄2- to 22-inch barrel length can provide. Put a 10-inch .22 WMR barrel on, and you get more than 1,700 fps velocity from a 40-grain hollowpoint, which actually moves the gun up from the “small game only” category into the 100-yard woodchuck class. And, of course, T/C offers 14- and 16-inch barrel options.
Perhaps the best thing of all about the Contender as an introductory gun for a handgun hunter is that it requires you to pick your shots, call your shots and think carefully about marksmanship. Plus, with a Contender you remain familiar with it as you move from rimfires and small game to centerfire rounds and big game or long-range varminting. All you have to do is change barrels.
Handgunning small game is a rewarding outdoor pastime, and for most of us it’s waiting not many miles from our backyards. By the way, have I ever told you about how much fun it is to stick a .45/.410 shotshell barrel on a Contender frame and go out for quail? Now that’s really handgun hunting.