The A, B and 3 C’s of a Started Gun Dog

THE A, B AND 3 C'S OF A STARTED GUN DOG

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.

A = Acclimate

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.

Some pups didn’t like high grass.  Some didn’t like mud.  Some didn’t like water.  Some obviously had never seen a duck or turkey decoy and had never heard a duck call.

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.

B = Birds

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.

3 C’s = Control, “Come”, Confidence

This aspect of the AB and 3 C’s relates to three issues that I believe are the backbone of the Started gun dog.

Control

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.

Come

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.

Confidence

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.

  • Have confidence in your dog and in yourself.
  • Take your time on the line.
  • Listen to the judges.
  • Try to learn as much as you can, have fun and above all,
  • Remember that this is just a game.

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.

10 Questions to Ask When Choosing The Best Hunting Dog Breeders

The Best Hunting Dog Breeders

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

10 Questions to Ask Hunting Dog Breeders

Here are some questions to ask your prospective breeder before you put down your money for your new hunting puppy.

1. Does the Breeder Hunt

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?

2. What Evaluation Programs Does He Use?

A good breeder has a planned program that includes evaluation of his dogs by outside judges.

You want to know:

  • What program and tests a breeder uses to determine the success of their kennel, and
  • What proof do they have that their breeding program is successful?

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.

3. Socialization

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.

4. Recommendations

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.

5. What Are the Pup’s Strongest Points

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.

6. What Improvement?

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.

7. What guarantees does the breeder offer to buyers?

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.

8. When’s the Next Litter Available?

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.

9. What Kind of Dog Do You Want?

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.

Best Dog Food for Hunting Dogs

Best Dog Food for Hunting Dogs

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…

Check the Ingredients

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.

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).

Dog Food Filler

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.

7 of The Best Flushing Dog Breeds in The World

BEST FLUSHING DOG BREEDS

1.  Spaniel

Sporting a long coat, a docked tail and keen senses, this breed is often talked of in hunting circles as the top 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.

2. Cocker spaniel

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.

The owners of long coats and docked tails, these dogs are great hunters, especially the English variety.

3. Boykin spaniel

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.

4. American water spaniel

Almost as versatile as the Boykin and the springer, these spaniels are among the strongest hunters of both upland birds and waterfowl.

Topping out at over 60 pounds, these are the heaviest of the spaniels and the owners of a thick, curly coat.

5. Labrador retriever

 

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.

6. Chesapeake Bay 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.

7. Golden retriever

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.

7 Best Water Retriever Breeds for Hunting Ducks & Goose

7 BEST WATER RETRIEVER BREEDS

1. Chesapeake Bay Retriever

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.

2. Curly-Coated Retriever

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.

3. Flat-Coated Retriever

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.

4. Golden Retriever

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.

5. Irish Water Spaniel

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.

6. Labrador Retriever

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.

7. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

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.

Shotgun Patterning: Why Do Hunters Pattern Their Shotguns?

Shotgun Patterning

why do hunters pattern their shotguns?

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.

Pattern Plate From TeagueChokes

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.

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.

pattern-test while sitting at a benchrest

 

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.

why do hunters pattern their shotguns

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.

How to Choose a Place to Practice Shotgun Patterning

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.

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.

ear and eye safety

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.”

Getting Started in Long Range Shooting- Understand the Pitfalls

LONG RANGE SHOOTING

Long-range shooting is one of the hottest trends among today’s riflemen. In some ways this is really good because it has driven the manufacturers to create a bow wave of excellent new products. We have a whole bunch of fast new cartridges, so many that it’s downright confusing, but they’re all wonderful. Some of them, at least theoretically, offer more accuracy than the previous generation of belted magnums, and a few offer genuine increases in trajectory-flattening velocity.

We also have a lot of rifles that, right out of the box, offer significant improvements in accuracy. To me this is even better to play with than new cartridges. Hunting scopes and this new breed of “tactical scope” are more rugged than ever, plus–a big plus–they have genuinely repeatable adjustments and a variety of reticles to help judge range and allow a more precise hold at extended ranges.

This is all good, and the best part of it all is that it has given guys like me lots of things to write about. So we’ve written about long-range shooting, and many of you have done it. With or without the new equipment, you’ve honed your skills and increased your capabilities until you are genuinely dangerous at much farther ranges than you once thought possible. This is also good; riflery is about getting better, not standing still.

 

I do have a rub with this thirst to extend the range envelope, however, and that’s when it is taken hunting. Don’t get me wrong. There are circumstances where long shots are appropriate, and the very word “long” is very subjective. A great many hunters, perhaps the majority, have no business shooting at game much beyond 200 yards. There are others, a minority, who are perfectly competent out to 400 yards and beyond when the conditions are right. There are a very few who, on a calm day, in good light, with plenty of time to set up and think it through, can shoot considerably farther with confidence and reliability.

It is not my place to tell anyone how far he should or should not attempt to shoot at game, so I’m not going to put a figure on how far is too far. It depends a whole lot on the circumstances and the conditions at a given moment, as well as an individual’s skill. I can say that, with all the new equipment, I occasionally hear people telling about shooting game at 700, 800 or even 1,000 yards. This is sort of like pornography: It’s very difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. I can’t precisely define a range limit; it varies with every person, and no two situations are alike. But I can say that I am totally opposed to shooting at game at the ranges mentioned above.

Here’s a perfect setup for a long-range shot. The light is good, the game is undisturbed, and a steady rest can be obtained. If the wind is calm, and if you have the equipment and know how to use it, maybe you should take it–if you can’t get closer.

Note that I am not suggesting that shooting at such ranges is impractical. Long-range shooting is fun, and long-range competitive shooting is fascinating. Thousand-yard shooters continue to raise the bar, now shooting groups that many of us would have trouble matching at 200 yards. And the stories are just now starting to trickle in about the shooting feats of some of our snipers in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. This is all great stuff, but to my mind it has nothing to do with hunting.

THIS ISN’T COMBAT
The variables that make long-range shooting difficult are the same whether we’re talking target shooting, hunting or tactical shooting (which I take to be a euphemism for police and military sniping or preparation for same). The list is long, but it includes knowledge of distance and knowledge of trajectory for the proper hold; adjusting the hold for wind; sheer accuracy, which includes the inherent accuracy of the rifle and load, the shooter’s skill and the degree of steadiness and stability that the current circumstances allow; and, finally, pesky little things like shooting angle, light and temperature. Long-range target shooting is a wonderful sport and the best way in the world to learn about these variables. One of the lessons to be learned is what you can do and what you cannot do.

“Long range” is a very subjective judgement. I took this New Mexico elk at about 410 yards. These days some argue that this isn’t long range at all. I think it is, especially on a big, strong animal like an elk, requiring near-perfect shot placement.

Tactical shooting for real is the ultimate test. I have never been to sniper school, but I have commanded Marine scout/snipers on numerous occasions. The training is wonderful but no less wonderful than the great shooting these folks have done. Snipers have played an important role in American military tactics since our Revolution, although it has only been in recent years that we have had formal schooling and an official “Military Occupational Specialty” (MOS) for the trade. Some have passed into legend: Timothy Murphy, whose felling of a British general during the battle of Saratoga may well have changed the course of the American Revolution; Alvin York, not a designated sniper but one helluva rifleman; Carlos Hathcock, Marine Distinguished Marksman, whose incredible exploits in Vietnam led to several books.

As riflemen, we admire their skill, but I consider it an exceptionally bad idea to try to replicate their feats in game country. Hunting is not combat. The stakes are immeasurably higher in the latter, at least to the shooter and his teammates, but the two situations couldn’t be more different. As hunters, we have an obligation to take our game cleanly, efficiently and humanely. It is preferable to do this with one well-placed shot, but we all know sometimes this isn’t possible, so we are prepared to follow up with additional shots until the game is brought to bag. This is not the preferred situation, but it’s acceptable. What is not acceptable to any hunter worthy of the name is wounding and losing game.

In combat, the situation is much different. While the military sniper always seeks the best shot he can get, the real goal is almost always to take the target out of the fight. A nonfatal hit is perfectly acceptable under most conditions because most hits will take most men out of the fight, and near-misses will cause a lot of men to rethink their next move. Perhaps more important, in most armies a wounded soldier must be recovered and cared for, which expends resources, takes other enemy soldiers out of the fight and just may expose other targets during the recovery process.

Folks, this has nothing to do with hunting, where the only goal is to take your game cleanly so you can recover it. Let’s review some of the challenges in long-range shooting as they apply to hunting situations.

DISTANCE AND TRAJECTORY
Thanks to the laser rangefinder–a truly wonderful tool–near-perfect knowledge of distance is now within everyone’s grasp. Used correctly, the laser rangefinder does remove one of the critical variables in long-range shooting.

Of course, this is only half the battle. Once you know the range, you must also know where your bullet will hit at that range and adjust accordingly.

Do not think that this is just a matter of getting one of today’s fastest and flattest-shooting magnums. Flatness of trajectory helps but not as much as you might think. Thousand-yard competitive shooters generally sight their rifles inordinately high at short range to simplify holding on their known-distance targets. Hunters cannot do that. If you sight in more than three inches high at 100 yards, you must hold low at the midrange distances. This is very difficult to make yourself do, so misses at about 200 yards are almost a certainty. With a normal sight-in of perhaps three inches high at 100 yards, we have a lot of cartridges that will allow shooting without holdover to 400 yards and change. This is a very far poke and gives a great deal of flexibility, but push them much farther and it simply doesn’t matter what you’re shooting. You will have to adjust your hold, and in order to do this you must know your trajectory.

 

It isn’t impossible, not at all. At the Battle of Adobe Walls, scout Billy Dixon is credited with knocking a Cheyenne off his horse at nearly a mile. In Cuba and the Philippines, American troops using trapdoor Springfields silenced Spanish and insurgent positions at 1,100 yards. Today most of our military sniping is done with match 7.62mm NATO ammo. Downrange ballistics aren’t impressive, but these kids are deadly–and consistently deadly–at 1,000 yards and beyond.

So the issue isn’t really trajectory at all but how well you know your trajectory. It can be learned, but ballistics charts won’t tell you what you need to know. The only way to effectively shoot at distance is to actually shoot at distance–a lot– with the exact rifle and load you intend to use. Few of us actually shoot at 400, 500 and 600 yards, and if you don’t, you have absolutely no business shooting at game at these distances.

It takes both a steep angle and considerable distance before the uphill/downhill trajectory phenomenon becomes critical, but at long range this is a factor that is very difficult to judge and must be taken into account.

This is because ballistics charts are only a guide. Your barrel may be faster or slower because of internal dimensions. It may be longer or shorter. The height of your scope above the bore may be different from the standard used on the charts, and this throws off everything. At medium ranges these differences may not be enough to matter, but at long range everything matters. These things can be learned, but it takes hundreds of hours and thousands of rounds at genuine distances.

Another supposed shortcut is the scopes that allow you to dial-in the range. Some are useless and some work very well, but none is so good that it provides a textbook solution without actually shooting at real ranges to verify each increment of adjustment. Personally, I have found very few “dial-in your range” scopes to have adjustments consistent and accurate enough to make this possible. Because of this, I much prefer to leave the adjustments alone and use reticles with additional stadia lines or aiming points such as mil-dot reticles. These work, but again, you must shoot them at actual ranges under ideal conditions because the textbook solution is very unlikely to be a perfect match to your rifle and load.

WIND
Once you get past knowledge of distance and trajectory–and with practice you can get past them–you must deal with wind. There is nothing simple about this. Even on a formal rifle range with range flags blowing, it’s hard to figure. In the field it is almost impossible. There are great little wind gauges that will give you the wind speed and direction, but this only applies at the rifle. You also must judge the wind at the target and along the way between you and the target.

It’s a simple thing to learn that a 10-mph crosswind will blow a .30 caliber 180-grain spitzer bullet with a muzzle velocity of 3,200 fps somewhere between 14 and 20 inches (depending on the exact bullet) off course at 500 yards. But what does a 10-mph wind feel like? And how do you tell if the wind is the same at the animal?

This excellent Yukon Dall ram was taken with one of my longer shots. The wind was dead calm, I knew the distance and the trajectory, I had a good rest, and there was absolutely no way to get closer. Sometimes it’s appropriate to take a long poke.

There are clues as to what the wind is doing downrange, like waving leaves and moving grass. With experience, a few really great riflemen–like Carlos Hathcock–develop an innate feel for it that is almost like a sixth sense. But there’s no way to be sure. In sniping, given the vertical presentation of a human and the relatively narrow target, misreading the wind probably means a miss–or a perfectly acceptable wounding shot. In hunting, with the horizontal presentation of four-footed animals, misreading the wind is much more likely to mean a wounding shot. Sometimes, of course, it’s calm. Sometimes there’s a very mild breeze that seems consistent. If everything else is accounted for, then you can take the shot. But if there’s much more than a puff of breeze, you probably need to get closer. And guess what?

The hunting country where long shooting is most likely–plains, mountains, tundra–is usually windy country.

ACCURACY AND STABILITY
For serious long-range shooting there is no such thing as too much accuracy. The kind of group that we think of as perfectly adequate for hunting accuracy–say, 11?4 inches at 100 yards–is nowhere near good enough. With normal spread, that’s more than six inches at 500 yards, which is still well within a deer’s vital zone. Except very few rifles and riflemen can hold a group to that normal spread at extreme range.

Again, the only way to know how well you and your rifle can shoot at 500 yards is to actually shoot at 500 yards. Once in a great while you run into a rifle that groups better farther out than up close, but don’t count on it. I figure the standards for a serious long-range rifle are about the same as for a serious varmint rifle. I want consistent groups of 1/2 inch or less at 100 yards, and I feel a whole lot better if I can break the quarter-inch barrier.

The Trouble With Long-Range Shooting

The good news is that both rifles and ammunition are considerably more accurate than ever before. This is at least partly because American riflemen have demanded better accuracy, and the manufacturers have responded. Barrels are better, and factory ammo is a whole lot better. Today it isn’t unusual to get the kind of groups with factory ammo that were once the exclusive province of precision handloaders. So, while accuracy will always be somewhat mysterious and, in a given rifle with a given load, may prove elusive, you can get the raw accuracy you need.

The next question is whether you can apply that accuracy under field conditions. There are no shooting benches in hunting country, so the perfect conditions that produced your best groups no longer apply. Obviously, there are many ways to get steady, such as over a pack, with a bipod, even a good prone position. But however you do it, getting steady is an absolute requirement for taking a long-range shot.

This means that even if everything else is right, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t take the shot. Things like vegetation and uneven ground may make it impossible to get into a steady, supported position. The bottom line is that, somehow, some way, you simply must get absolutely steady. If you can’t, then there isn’t a shot.

 

Again, it’s the same story: A miss is the really good news. At very long range, the average shooter who hasn’t spent a lot of time shooting at distance will probably miss. On the other hand, the shooter who has done the homework–knows the distance, knows the trajectory, understands wind drift and has the accuracy required–will probably not miss by much. Which means a wounded animal.

ANGLES AND THINGS
Hopefully, we all understand what happens when shooting at uphill or downhill angles. The effect is the same. Gravity acts upon the bullet only on the horizontal distance, which, whether it’s uphill or downhill, is a shorter distance between you and your target. This means your trajectory is stretched out. It doesn’t mean that your bullet rises when shooting at steep angles, but since you are sighted-in above your line of sight at shorter ranges, this is the effect.

This is not something to lose sleep over at short to medium ranges. It takes a fairly steep angle and considerable distance before the effect is worth worrying about, but way out there you’d better worry about it.

A beautiful place but a very unpleasant memory: It was from exactly this spot that I missed the biggest bull elk I’ve ever seen. I failed to take into account the uphill angle and shot right over him. The good news is that I missed him cleanly.

Shooting at angles is a bit like doping the wind. Some detailed ballistics charts and computer programs will tell you what the effect is for a given load at a given angle and distance. You could print out this data and carry it with you, just like a wind-drift chart. But in the field, can you accurately measure the angle? Can you really tell the difference between a 25- and a 40-degree slope?

As I’ve often written, I do not actively pursue long-range shooting in the field. But I do practice for it and know how to do it. If conditions are right and there is no way to get closer, I will take a shot at, say, 500 yards and change. I have never taken a shot at game at 600 yards or beyond and don’t intend to.

At 500 yards and change, most of my shots have been successful–with two notable exceptions. Both times, once on a downhill shot and once on an uphill shot, I failed to read the angle correctly, didn’t adjust for it properly and shot right over the top. The good news, of course, is that I missed cleanly both times.

It’s important to remember that temperature affects velocity, and as altitude increases, retained velocities are higher because of reduced air friction. Any shift in velocity will impact your carefully memorized and annotated ballistics data. If you do all your hunting close to home, this isn’t a big deal. But don’t think you can work up your data at sea level in Florida and use it in the Canadian Rockies. As with shooting angles, it takes both a lot of distance and a radical shift in outside temperature or altitude to make a difference, but we’re not talking about normal shooting ranges here. Out at the quarter-mile mark and beyond, you need to know if you’ve lost or gained a couple hundred feet per second.

BULLET PERFORMANCE AND ENERGY
This is one long-range variable that applies only to hunting. In target shooting, the criteria for long-range bullets are accuracy and aerodynamics; all the bullet has to do on arrival is punch a hole through paper. In combat you can argue endlessly about what might be best, but international treaties stipulate nonexpanding bullets. So match-grade spitzer boattail FMJs are almost universal.

Brush and other obstructions often make it very difficult to get into a really steady shooting position. This kind of position is ideal for middle ranges but simply is not steady enough for genuine long-range shooting.

This is not fine in hunting. Ideally, you want the same bullet performance at long range as you get at close range: enough penetration to reach the vitals coupled with enough expansion to create a large wound channel, disrupt vital organs and dispatch the animal quickly. This is not only a humane consideration. The faster the animal goes down, the quicker and easier it is to recover your game. No matter where the hit, the farther an animal is able to travel after receiving a bullet, the greater the chance of losing the animal.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to obtain the same expansion at long range that you can get routinely at close range. Velocity is always a key contributor to bullet performance. Way out there, your velocity has dropped off considerably, so bullet expansion will generally be less, and less rapid. It also becomes more erratic. Most of the guys who shoot game at long range tend to use bullets that are both very accurate and generally quite frangible. Many use Sierra MatchKing hollowpoints, which is not specifically a hunting bullet but is very accurate and generally quite effective, especially at longer range. Others use polymer-tipped bullets like Nosler Ballistic Tips.

In my experience it doesn’t much matter what you use. At extreme ranges, when velocity has dropped off dramatically, bullet performance is no longer consistent. I have seen even quick-expanding bullets like these act just like solids at longer ranges. Energy drops off right along with velocity, and as expansion is reduced, energy transfer is also diminished. What this means is that as range increases, shot placement needs to be even more precise because you can no longer count on bullet expansion and energy transfer as hedges against poor shot placement.

Personally, I don’t want anything to do with shooting at game at 600 yards, but when conditions are right, I have several friends who make this work on a routine basis. So my limits need not apply to you, but there are limits.

In terms of hunting ethics, our image as hunters and the future of our sport, the stakes are much higher in hunting than in the other venues. As range increases, a near miss is an increasingly likely result. And hunting is the one shooting venue where a near miss is absolutely unacceptable.

How to Hunt Turkey in the Fall: Hunting Tips for Beginners

HOW TO HUNT TURKEY IN THE FALL

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.

Read: Turkey Hunting Tips for Beginners

Finding the Birds

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.

Turkeys scratch in leaf litter to find food, and these scratchings are one of the best and easiest-to-find indicators that birds are using the area.

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.

hunting turkey in the fall tips

From breaking up flocks of young birds to sneaking to ridges in search of old gobblers, fall turkey season accommodates a variety of hunting styles.

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.

Best Time to Locate Turkey in the Fall

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.

Fall hunting often comes to locating a big flock of turkeys, splitting it up and then calling the scattered birds back to the break-up site.

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.

Oh, well.

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.

GIMME A BREAK

When splitting up a flock, it’s imperative to get the birds flying and running in different directions if you want to have a prayer of calling them back. Here are some things to consider.
  • If you attempt to rush at a flock from to far away, the birds will merely move off together.
  • In rough terrain, you won’t be able to close the gap between you and the birds as quickly. Use terrain to circle ahead of a flock unseen and allow the flock to move toward you, rather than vice versa.
  • Unload your gun before rushng at a flock of turkeys–and watch your step. A bad spill can break an arm or a leg or damage a gun.
  • Call the flock. If you can pique the lead hen’s interest, she may bring the whole bunch to you.
  • During a scatter, a few young-of-the-birds will fly just a short distance and alight in a tree. Circle the break-up point and flush these birds from their vantage points.
  • A mature hen will often try to reassemble the flock some distance from you. If you hear a turkey yelping constantly from a single location, that’s likely her (or another hunter–be careful). Walk straight toward the hen until she leaves.

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.

Best Rifle Scope for Varmint Hunting

Best Rifle Scope

Your definition of “varmint” may be different than mine. To me, a varmint is any inedible critter that may potentially cause damage to the ecosystem if its numbers are left unchecked.

However, we’ll probably both agree that one of the most effective ways to keep them in check is with a small-caliber centerfire rifle. And the only way to do this with any amount of success is with the help of quality optics, both to find these critters and to place bullets accurately.

The class of optics you might use in varminting can be separated into two groups: those designed for shooting and those designed for hunting.

Those designed for shooting–long telescopic riflescopes with large objectives, whisper-thin crosshairs, and high top-end power ratings, and monstrous binoculars that jiggle when you blink your eyes–don’t necessarily roll over into the hunting aspect of varminting.

But optics designed for hunting applications–low-power variable scopes and binoculars that you can handhold–can get the job done whether you’re after coyotes, prairie dogs, groundhogs or whitetails.

RIFLESCOPE VERSATILITY

Though I enjoy spending a few hours on any given sunny day overlooking a prairie dog town with a bull barrel .22-250 and a scope that weighs nearly as much as the rifle and is almost as long, my real passion is in hunting–not necessarily in shooting.

So it follows then that on my varminting rigs, excepting guns designed specifically for shooting from a bench, I prefer optics more suited to the former. It’s a matter of versatility.

 

I decided this several years ago on a prairie dog shoot in western Colorado. I didn’t bring my own gun along on that shoot and used a heavy barrel Ruger M77 in .223.

It’s the exact type of gun you’d expect to have on a prairie dog shoot, but it featured a 3-9X Simmons V-TAC variable (which has since become a Weaver product, marketed under the name Tactical).

At first, I was concerned that it would be inadequate for the small, distant targets, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, during the midday heat, I actually had to turn down the power to 6X or 7X to see through the heat waves when squeezing off on ‘dogs at ranges up to 300 yards.

Since then, I’ve had good success using a number of low-power variables on small targets, preferring nothing with more than 16X at the top end–even when using scopes with specialized reticles.

A Pentax Lightseeker AO in 4-16X with a mil-dot reticle was an excellent performer two summers ago, and more recently I enjoyed shooting a Weaver V16.

Either of these scopes would be at home on a heavy barrel varmint rig or a flat-shooting big-game rifle along the lines of a .300 Win. Mag. or 7mm Rem. Mag.

If your varminter is a sporter-weight rifle used to hunt a variety of small game, then I’d suggest an even smaller variable with no more than 10X at the top end and 3X or less at the bottom end. Quite often, the versatility you’ll need will come at the lower end of the power range, not the top end.

High-power binoculars, such as these Pentax PCF III 20x50s, are great for long-range shooting. However, the same binoculars in 8X are more useful over a broader range of varminting scenarios.

I have a little tack-driving Savage 16FSS in .223 and fancy it mostly as a coyote rig. While calling coyotes in Texas one afternoon, a gray fox scampered from the heavy cover in front of me and stood at 20 yards.

Fortunately, I had a 1.5-6X Swarovski scope mounted on the rifle and had a precious few seconds to back the Xs down for a decent sight picture.

I took that fox home, but only because I could see it through the scope at low power. With the same scope turned up to 5X or 6X, the rig becomes fully capable of potting prairie dogs out to 200 yards. You probably have a scope capable of such versatility on your deer rifle.

VERSATILE BINOCULARS

Because all spotting scopes are used with a tripod and feature a great deal of magnification, they don’t really fit into my argument for fewer Xs.

Binoculars definitely do, though. But remember, I’m basing my bias on one point: versatility. If you’re an ardent prairie dogger or groundhog shooter with little interest in other types of varminting, you definitely are best off with the largest, brightest glass you can afford. Mount it on a tripod, and you’ll have an optimal binocular setup.

However, large, high-power binoculars are uncomfortable to carry, and they offer a smaller field of view in most cases, as well as shallower depth of field.

The higher you go in power, the worse these conditions become. So if you need binoculars that you can wear around your neck while calling coyotes in the back woodlot and also spot small critters at 300 yards with, you’ll have to step down in power and size. Utility demands this.

Roving for rockchucks in the Rocky Mountains is not unlike hunting deer or elk. For this type of varmint hunting, the author prefers lightweight binoculars and a variable-power scope in the 3-9X range.

Medium-size binoculars, something along the lines of the Pentax PCF III series in 8×40, are an excellent choice for all-around use. Binocs in this power range offer great field of view and depth of field. I had the chance to use the PCF binoculars for a couple of days two summers ago when they were still relatively new on the market. They proved to be a good mix of durability, brightness and price.

For more mobile varminting situations, you may even want to go with lighter, more compact binoculars. Weaver has a line of relatively inexpensive binoculars that worked well for me last summer while roving around the Colorado countryside searching for prairie dogs–and I’ve since had them along in the far north and was pleased with their use in spotting caribou.

There’s nothing wrong with high-power optics for use in varminting. They are the most efficient tools for some forms of the sport. But by stepping down in Xs, you’ll find that you can be much more efficient at keeping varmint populations in check–under a variety of field conditions.

How to Hunt & Kill Coyotes

HOW TO HUNT A COYOTE

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.

Choosing A Call

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.”

Getting The Shot

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.

My Experience

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.

Coyotes have incredibly sharp senses. A good setup offers cover for the hunter, but getting into and out of that setup without being detected is the real trick.

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.

Hunting coyotes can be as uncomplicated as you want to make it. A flat-shooting rifle with a decent scope, along a few mouth-blown calls, are really all you need.

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.

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