Predator Masters
Hunting Techniques


We'll be featuring articles on a regular basis dealing with the sport of Predator Calling. Check back often, as these articles will cycle back and forth depending on the frequency of submission. Every article will be archived and made available through this page. Enjoy!

Our first article is written by one of our very own Pro Staff, Critr Gitr, Robert D. Livesay. Critr has been hunting predators before predator hunting actually had a following. You'll find lots of useful info in this predator hunting primer.

Click here for a new Article on Night Hunting, By Randy Watson

A Predator Hunting Primer

By Critr Gitr, Robert D. Livesay


A gun! I've got to have a gun! But what gun? Rifle, handgun, or shotgun? What caliber? What gauge? What size shot? What length barrel? Revolvers, pump, single-shot, bolt action or semi-automatic?

The answer, or rather answers, depends on a lot of things. Probably the first to consider is just what you want to hunt. "Varmints", you say! Well, Arizona has a lot of different varmints, and the best choice of a firearm depends not only on which you intend to hunt, but also on where you intend to hunt that particular critter.

But as soon as you zero in on which critter, we had better check your states regulations to see what is legal. It doesn't matter too much what we want to hunt or what we prefer to hunt with, if it may lead us to time in the slammer!

OK, we're quite lucky in Arizona. We can generally hunt most critters with rifle, handguns, or shotguns, with just a few limitations. Shotguns are limited to three shot capacity. Semi-auto centerfire rifles are limited to a magazine capacity of five rounds. No tracer ammo, poisoned bullets, explosive warheads, or full-metal jacket types allowed. As if we wanted to set the woods on fire and burn a hole through our selected critter, all with the same round! OK, no shotguns larger than 10 gauge. No silencers. No machine guns!! And no shotguns shooting shot are allowed on mountain lions.

Well, that still leaves us with a few choices. Who wants to upset something the size and temper of a lion with birdshot anyway? This is a huge subject, so we will take up the decisions on firearms choice in another article. Meanwhile, let's get on to the other things you may need, or just plain old want to play around with.

Camouflage clothing! Good idea! Well, prairie dogs and ground squirrels may not care much what you are wearing, although some folks prefer camo even for them, but other critters like coyotes and cats have a definite preference for camo, especially for those folks with which they are going to have the closest relationship.

Optics! A good, high-quality spotting scope is definitely essential when ol' Wily comes around the bush beside you at Mach III. Yeah, sure thing!! Actually, a good spotting scope is really great for hunting some varmints, I just can't figure out which ones. I suppose that some folks might want to locate rock squirrels with one, but I prefer a much more up-close and personal technique. Prairie dogs are the only varmint-type critter in Arizona where I can see that a spotting scope would be a definite asset, almost a necessity, unless, of course, you're sizing up that roundtail ground squirrel for the trophy book.

Binoculars are a nice thing to have along. They would help in picking out that rock squirrel from among the rocks which are likely to be the same exact color, and might help you, if you are patient enough, to spot a jackrabbit just before he makes that lightning dash for freedom to some other county. But binoculars are absolutely essential for locating your next shot when you pursue the game of all game for varmint hunters, the prairie dog. But we won't get into all the equipment for hunting prairie dogs. As we progress, you'll discover that I don't consider Arizona a prime spot for shooting prairie dogs, and prefer to leave that subject to the Great Plains States.

But you may want a cushion or stool to sit on while calling coyotes, foxes, or cats. They can save you from becoming a human pincushion, and a folding camo stool will elevate you just enough to give a surprisingly better view of the landscape around you, just as a Sonoran Pussycat comes slipping in to visit. Get the kind with a zippered bag under the seat. The compartment will be great for carrying clippers, tail strippers, plastic bags, disposable gloves, and such, which we will discuss later. Ladders, they seem to be gathering a following, I'll leave that technique to someone who knows more about it than I. You can also go the route some of the night hunters go, take for instance Randy Watson and others, they've gone as far as developing shooting stands in the back of their pick-ups. Not only are they comfortable, but the visibility is extraordinary! Death from above, Predator Hunter style! You have complete rotation on your game, a steady shooting platform and the coyotes/fox/bobcats never see you. Rarely do they get attacked by anything that isn't on ground level with them. Of course, we're talking ingenuity here, some elbow grease and cost's for material.

Shooting sticks definitely help steady that rifle or pistol. You can make your own, as I do. Many materials can be used; I used one-inch diameter dowels (smaller dowels can be used, but I like the stiffness of the larger dowels) with a bolt through them about six inches from one end. An aircraft-style acorn nut will give a smooth surface and stay where you put it on the bolt. Put a couple of flat washers between the dowels to allow them to pivot freely. After they are set like you want, tighten the nut a couple of turns and cut the protruding bolt off flush with a hacksaw. Then back the nut off to where it previously was set, and it will cover the jagged end of the bolt where you sawed it off. One set of my shooting sticks had silicone in carved depressions on each dowel, located so as to protect the rifle finish, but after much use the silicone came loose from the wood, so I wrapped the gun-contact area with electrical tape. That was a temporary field fix, but has been so satisfactory that it is still that way. The lower end of the dowels sometimes clicked together with a very unnatural sound, so a few wraps of electrical tape on each dowel a few inches from the bottom end muffled that sound quite nicely. For accurate handgun use, I have one set of dowels with a cloth sling on the upper end, simply lashed to each dowel with a shoestring. Then the handgun just nestles in the cloth sling, suspended just above the "X" area where the dowels are connected by the bolt. I intended this to be a quick and temporary setup for a handgun hunt, but again, it has worked so well that I have not changed it. Looks be hanged, if it works, use it!!! I am not in a fashion show; I just intend to kill critters! If you'd rather not make your own shooting sticks, or want them to be as compact as possible, consider a myriad of good shooting stick manufacturers.

Bipods are terrific in some circumstances, and the devil's curse in others. Unfortunately, some folks use them when they shouldn't. If you are pretty sure where your critter will appear, by all means use a bipod, such as the excellent Harris Bipod. But if the varmint you call in is one of the unpredictable ones which comprise about 99.9% of the population, then the last thing you need, as you are tracking a moving coyote across in front of your stand, is a bipod attached to your rifle and hanging it's feet in the grass and brush as you swing your rifle. That is why I prefer shooting sticks, which can steady a shot and allow much better bullet placement than most of us can do offhand, or can simply be discarded with a quick push to allow a free swinging and unencumbered rifle if the critter presents a moving shot.


Game calls! Wow, what a can of worms. Like gun calibers, it seems that everyone has their own opinion. All that we can do here is give pros and cons, and our best advice, and then just let you go ahead and write your letters objecting to what you thought that we said. We can break game calls down into two major groups (and this often also breaks varmint hunters down into two distinct camps), electronic and non-electronic. In the non-electronic group are those operated by hand by blowing through them, those that are blown while completely inside the mouth, and all the others, which are manipulated in some manner or the other without the benefit of blowing through them.

Electronic calls are typified by the Johnny Stewart call, a real workhorse of the electronic call world. There are others, which are similar, and may even be just as good. I wouldn't know much about them, but have owned Stewart calls since my very first critter came hurtling through the woods to collect itself a squalling tidbit for lunch. That was about 1960, using a model which played a 45-rpm record, and had to have the needle arm reset every 4½ minutes or so. But it worked, and many a fox, crow, and coyote played sucker to that call. It was simply the best thing available at the time. But finally it gave up the ghost, and I found myself without the necessary funds to purchase a new cassette-tape game call, so I improvised. Putting one of the most productive rabbit squalling 45s in a home stereo system, I copied the record over and over until I had filled a 14-minute cassette tape on both sides. Then, with the help of an adapter, I connected the old Stewart Mid-Range varmint speaker to a small Radio Shack tape recorder that I had on hand. The volume wasn't all that I would like for it to have been, especially when the wind was blowing, but coyotes came to it as if it was a thousand-dollar machine!! I began my varmint guide service doing all my calling with nothing but that home-brewed contraption and the one homemade tape. And it really worked!!!

I have long since retired that old tape recorder in favor of a new Johnny Stewart tape machine purchased by funds from my earliest clients, and after years of hard use now have it well worn. Adding the optional 50-foot extension cord enabled me to put the speaker out as much as 75 feet from the call. It is currently my primary backup (at least at those times when I prefer an electronic call).

Two other electronic calls, which I have used, are the Burnham Brothers CompuCall and the FoxPro. The CompuCall belonged to a friend who was wintering in Arizona, and we often went coyote hunting. He had never been successful in calling anything with the CompuCall, which was, I believe, the first solid-state game call, and has no moving parts. He wanted me to try it, to see if I could call game with it as well as I was with the jury-rigged Radio Shack tape player. I probably did not give it a really fair test, as I only used it on three stands. It did not have nearly the volume I wanted, although it probably would have been OK if conditions had been absolutely calm (which they rarely are here). He felt it was inadequate, and asked me to call Burnham Brothers and discuss it with them, to see if something could be done. I made the call, explained the problem, and was assured that the call was working as it was designed. It was obvious (at least to them) that anything which was wrong had to be us, not the call, and there was, therefore, no remedy to be had by the company. As far as I know, my friend still has the call, about 5 years later, and it's still never called in an animal.

Johnny Stewart JS512


The other call, the FoxPro, was brought by some hunters last year. It was a remote-controlled solid-state model, and had been purchased with, I believe, 18 sounds on the internal board. I liked the sounds. The sound you want was simply selected by a switch on the remote control, and therefore could be changed quickly and easily. I used it for two days, and called in both fox and coyote with it. It is a very small, lightweight unit, and very handy, but I had a couple of reservations about it. First, the remote range was much more limited than the Dennis Kirk calls (more on them later) I had used. But in all fairness, it was sufficient, and I could live with the limited range. Second, the volume, while quite sufficient for the unusually calm days we hunted, was limited. I questioned whether it was enough for most conditions I encounter on the desert. But if I could afford a call just to use when conditions are right, it would be the FoxPro. Note:Foxpro has since fixed the range problem and I've been told you can call in an east coast coyote from the west coast.

Next on my electronic acquisitions was a remote-controlled unit created by Dennis Kirk and still marketed under his name. This unit has excellent fidelity and volume, nice on those windy days here in the desert, and the ability to place the speaker in brush or grass cover out at whatever distance I prefer, and in front of me where I can watch the critters approach it. I have used this unit with both CD and with cassette-tape players (brought on the hunt by clients), and, while the CD player gave exquisite sound reproduction, there was not the wide variety of sounds available as I had already accumulated on cassette tapes. Another thing, which had an influence on my purchase selection, was that the CD player was too large to slip into my vest or jacket pocket, as I did the tape player. So I purchased the call with the Sony Walkman tape player, knowing that a CD player could be purchased and used with it in the future, if desired. Why did I go to the remote-controlled call? There were several reasons. The rechargeable batteries in my Stewart call were weakening from age and much use, and would no longer last for a full day of calling, so an infusion of cash was needed if it was to remain useful. But the new call cost almost 10 times as much as new batteries, so where is the rationale in that? It always seemed that the brush where I really wanted to place the speaker was just 3 feet or so beyond the end of the cord, and the remote unit allows much more flexibility in speaker placement.

The Stewart call had years of hard, yet faithful use already on it, and although it still functioned perfectly, it simply could not operate trouble-free as long as a new call. The Dennis Kirk call has more volume, and to my ear the sound fidelity is better than the Stewart call at the upper end of the volume range. The tape player in the Stewart call was always having trash fall into it from the brush which I sat under and against, while the tape player with the Kirk call stays in my hand or pocket, where it is far better protected from foreign materials which might potentially cause wear and other problems. The tape player is the only mechanical item in either call, and is therefore the only part subject to mechanically wearing out. The tape player with the Kirk call is an independent unit, not built into the call, and can be cleaned, repaired, or replaced more easily. Last but far from least, I just wanted the new call!! I wouldn't hesistate to reccommend any of these calls to hunters looking for the electronic ticket. With the advances in technology taking place these days, it's difficult to keep track of the new generations of calls. Pick what looks and sounds right to you, I'm sure you'll enjoy their ease of use.

Does an electronic call bring in more hungries than a hand call? What are the pros and cons of one over the other? Calling alternate stands with hand calls and my electronic call, from daylight to dark, day after day, I managed to call in slightly more customers with my hand calls than with my Stewart electronic call. There was not a great deal of difference, and I am sure that the difference was not statistically significant, but it proved to my satisfaction that I could do at least as well with a hand call as with an electronic. So why spend the money for an electronic? Several things enter into the decision. The caller does not need to move as much when calling with an electronic as when manipulating a hand call, and probably one of the primary things which separates consistently successful callers from those who enjoy only a so-so success rate, is how still they sit while waiting for a critter to keep them company. When I call alone, which I commonly do, my hand cramps and hurts if I wield a hand call all day. My fingers will blister from holding and working the call if I do not toughen them in over a period of several days. And I seem to have developed a bit of arthritis in my hands, so even after days of conditioning they'll still begin hurting after a few hours of calling.

Robb/Scottsdale with a
Extreme Dimension
Phantom Predator Call

I have killed quite a few coyotes, and while it is still a thrill when one comes in, I have developed a passion for hunting cats, which I seldom do because most clients are more interested in coyotes. I understand that, for calling coyote's offers much more action. Cats supposedly respond much better to continuous calling, which is duck soup for an electronic, but which I simply cannot do for an hour at a time with a hand call. I am not sure how valid this need for continuous calling is, for in spite of what I have read, I had called both bobcats and mountain lions with my little Crit-R-Call Pee-Wee open reed hand call. But when I do get to hunt cats, I'm usually alone. Sounding the dinner bell out in front and away from me causes the respondent to focus on that area and not on me. I like that for three main reasons. First, it gives me a better chance of seeing the incoming varmint, as it will not slip up behind me. Second, I have a much better chance of getting zeroed in on the critter than if it were looking right at me. Third, I have a definite allergy to lion claws in my back!

Hand calls, and others:

Within hand calls are two basic types, the closed reed and the open reed. The closed reed calls usually have a metal reed within a tube of some material. That material is most often wood or plastic, but may be horn, antler, ivory, metal, or whatever else you can imagine. The metal reeds are subject to failure from fatigue, and too commonly go off-key, requiring "tweaking", or replacing. In either case, if you don't know what sounds are OK, or when the call has gone south, then you may be spending more of your valuable hunting time causing critters to roll around on the ground laughing than coming to get dinner. A slender tool is required to remove or replace a reed, and soon your call box will resemble a master mechanic's toolbox as you accumulate all the parts and tools needed for a few calls. The excellent Sceery calls, and possibly others which I am not aware of, have a rubber forward portion which attaches to the plastic rear section, with the reed sandwiched between the two sections. To change a reed, simply pull the sections apart by hand and replace the reed, then push the two sections together again. My personal opinion is that closed-reed calls give more trouble than electronic calls, and if you call a LOT, as I do, they are also more expensive in the long run.
The open-reed hand calls usually have an exposed reed of Mylar or similar material held in place by a heavy rubber band. These are usually trouble free unless the reed gets hung on something and damaged. Even if that happens (and I have never had that problem), the instructions direct you to hold the reed by a set of tweezers, dip it quickly in boiling water, and immediately drop it on a flat surface, where it will straighten itself out. Many come with a spare reed, which I have never needed to use. The open-reed calls are reputedly harder to learn to use, although I feel that the difference is minimal. One important advantage over closed-reed calls is that a wide variety if sounds can be made with a single call, all the way from howling to puppy yelps to birdcalls. I personally feel that the sound from the Mylar reeds is a much "purer" sound than from the metal reeds. All hand calling in my comparison of results using electronic calls versus hand calls was done using open-reed calls. The open-reed calls are undoubtedly the most economical way to call critters, and probably as effective as any way yet devised.

Sceery Call

Cronk Call

If you are a beginner, and have any difficulty with open-reed calls, try this little trick. Wind a rubber band tightly around the mouthpiece and reed, holding the reed down at some point on the call. Now put the call in your mouth, with your lips past the rubber band, and blow. If it does not sound like you want it to, just move the rubber band ever so slightly and try again. Voila, you are now expertly and consistently making whatever sound you have selected! So why would anyone choose to use a hand call? They cost less, at least initially. They are much smaller and easier to carry. Many callers like the challenge of making the sounds themselves, and some callers take it to the extreme of considering calling an art form. That may be taking it a bit far, but all the above are perfectly valid reasons to use hand calls. I often use hand calls exclusively on a hunt, partly because of the challenge, but also because I participate in hunts in a club, which advocates hand or mouth calls only. So to compete I adhere to the club rules

A lion does not usually respond at most calling stands, as most coyote calling is not in lion country, although you really never know where one will turn up. And most calling stands for coyotes or foxes are for much less time than advocated for calling lions, so one is unlikely to show up during the stand, but again, no guarantees. Even when not calling for cats, be sure to protect your back with a good backstop of some kind, or sit back-to-back with your hunting partner.

A mouth call, or diaphragm call, is contained entirely within your mouth when used, and does not require any assistance by your hands. Therein lies the greatest advantage that I can determine. A customer can be looking directly at you, and without moving a visible muscle; the diaphragm call can utter just that right sound to bring him on in to your gun. The downside is that the diaphragm call is the most difficult of all calls to master. When one makes a sound (and a very uncontrolled sound at that) in my mouth, it sets up such a tingling in my mouth that I simply must spit that blasted thing out immediately. Must be doing something wrong! Much less common, there are calls that are strictly mechanical. They create a sound by friction-caused vibration or by mechanically forcing air over a reed in the call. Other than to say they exist, I am not qualified to comment further, as I have never tried one of them.


Brush clippers, the kind you hold in one hand, are nice to help get back further into the brush, whether it to get further into the shade on a hot day or to help protect your back from the overly friendly wild kitty's. And there almost always seems to be that wayward branch which is trying it's best to occupy the same space you are sitting in. Get the bypass shear type, not the anvil type that is commonly used for cutting flowers. And buy the best you can afford, for some of those obnoxious branches will fight back.

After the kill, you may want to take the tail of a fox or coyote, or need to skin it if you are skinning the whole animal. Do not just cut it off, as the meat inside will rot and be somewhat less that pleasant, doing nothing to aid in the preservation of the hide. Get a tail stripper. Actually, get two in case one breaks. They are cheap, and they work great. Just cut the skin loose from the tailbone and the meat on it, place the stripper around the tailbone, but not any of the skin, close the stripper, hold the animal securely, and pull!! The skin will slide right off, leaving the bone and meat attached to the carcass. No varmint hunter should be without this handy little device.

Flea powder is a nice thing to have along. If you collect just the tail, slip it into something like a bread wrapper or a zip-lock bag, dust in some flea powder, and close tightly. Now any undesirable little critters that might be lurking in the fur will expire very quietly, never to bother you at all. If you collect something which you desire to take back whole, put it in a chest, bag, box, or wrap in a tarp, and dust the flea powder liberally before closing. Now no little critters will be crawling around and making their home in your SUV or camper.

Disposable gloves like doctors use to embarrass and make you otherwise uncomfortable are really nice to keep your hands clean when handling dead animals, and to prevent any possibility of disease caused by contact with animal body fluids and other unpleasant animal waste byproducts. The cheaper painters gloves, found where you buy painting supplies, are cheaper and do almost as well. These cost little, weigh almost nothing, and really are great when handling or skinning an animal, or when stripping the tail.

Well, there you go! Have fun!

Critr Gitr

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