How Predator Hunting Works

By: Molly Edmonds
A coyote chasing prey of a different type -- a raccoon.
Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Though­ he's always uns­uccessful, there's no denying the ingenuity of Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote. In his pursuit of the speedy Road Runner, the coyote has ordered what must be the very latest in roadrunner hunting technology from the Acme Corporation, including a Burmese tiger trap, a steel wall and muscle-building vitamins that may provide the needed speed. It's clear that even though slingshots, ladders, dynamite and rocks ultimately fail the coyote, this is one tricky animal to deal with.

That sly cunning of predators such as coyotes, foxes, mountain lions and bobcats provides some of the appeal of predator hunting. In this sport, those natural predators have the tables turned on them -- they become the prey. But predator hunters say that the sport is more than just an exhilarating challenge that fills the time between big-game hunting seasons -- it's a bona fide public service.


If you've ever heard phrases such as "the fox in the henhouse" or "a wolf in sheep's clothing," then you might understand what the hunters mean. These expressions reflect the fundamental danger that some predators present to man's way of life; if the eggs and meat from your chicken are essential to your survival, then that fox in the henhouse has to go.

­To understand this public service in action, let's consider the wily coyote. In the United States, coyotes are now found in every state except Hawaii [source: Kayser]. Because so many of the coyotes' natural predators have been eliminated, there's no check on their dominance. In one study by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, it was estimated that coyote populations in the southeast United States alone might grow by 210 percent if man didn't hunt them [source: Spomer].

So enough rooting for the coyote to get the roadrunner. Let's talk about how we can get the coyotes, as well as their fellow predators.


Predator Hunts: Getting Started

Trying to find nearby coyotes? Give a howl and listen for the animal's response call.
Jeremy Woodhouse/Photodisc/Getty Images

Coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other big cats -- clearly, predator hunters are dealing not just with sly, smart creatures, but also very dangerous ones. For that­ reason, some basic hunting knowledge is needed before heading out to take down coyotes. Beyond knowing how to shoot a gun and construct a hunting setup, though, predator hunters must really get to know their prey. This involves a fair amount of homework:

  • What does this animal eat?
  • Does diet change depending on the season?
  • What do the tracks look like?
  • What does the scat look like?
  • What are this animal's distress calls? Mating calls?
  • Where does this animal live?
  • How does this animal hunt? Is scent, sight or sound more important in the way this animal tracks prey?

The answers to these questions differ from place to place, but knowing what this predator is up to determines the equipment you'll need, as well as the overall strategy for hunting.


In most cases, predator hunters can use the same gun that they use for other types of hunting, so generally, no special equipment is required there. If you're looking for an excuse to buy a new gun, however, a gun like a .22-250 will likely prove an asset when it comes to killing predators [source: hunting calls.

In the wild, predators respond to the distress calls of their prey. An injured animal indicates an easy dinner. Make the right kind of call, and you can attract your desired predator. There are several different calls available, including electronic and reed models. Electronic devices are pretty self-explanatory -- you press a button and voila, the sound of a dying rabbit.

If you really want to give the call some nuance, a reed call will provide the ability to create numerous sounds with your mouth. Closed-reed models are simple to use; the tone of the call changes as the user varies the air pressure. With open-reed models, you can create a wide range of sounds, though it may take some practice to get things just right. This variability, however, could help you in the long run; because these animals are so smart, they may start to discern which calls sound artificial and potentially dangerous, as opposed to those that sound like five-star fine dining. Imitating the mating call of the predator you're hunting is also an option.

But even if you're the Miles Davis of predator calling, you've got to be set up effectively for the big finish. That's why all that homework is so important -- before even starting to call, you've got to be in an area where you know predators roam and in a position that gives you a clear shot without revealing your position, either by scent or sight. This obviously provides some room for interpretation, so some hunters prefer to set up a stand and wait for hours, periodically calling, while other hunters stay on the move. While there's no set time that a hunter should wait between calls, it's worth noting that overcalling is a common hunting mistake [source: Herald]. If everything goes according to plan, the predator will approach, and the rest is up to you.

Wait -- before you pull the trigger, are there any laws you might be breaking? Find out on the next page.


Hunting Predators: Ethics

Would foxes make off with much more if there was no predator hunting?
Hugh Rose/Visuals Unlimited/Getty Images

Though laws vary from state to state, ­there are ac­tually very few restrictions when it comes to killing predators. In some instances, there are no specified seasons for this type of hunting or limitations on how many predators a hunter can kill.

Many predator hunters enjoy the sport for the thrill of matching wits with such a cunning foe, but what of the claim that they're providing a public service? Many states already have some sort of animal control program, leading one hunter to posit in a guidebook that predator hunters could save states taxpayer dollars by taking matters into their own hands [source: Spomer].


In 2004, a study at the University of Stirling made the first attempt to determine the impact predators have on livestock worldwide and whether predator hunting made any difference on livestock losses. The researchers found that the data doesn't support the predator hunters' claims; in some areas, only 3 percent of livestock losses were attributed to predators, and that number didn't seem to change based on whether fewer or greater predators were present in the area [source: Gosline].

­But these days, especially since the fox in the henhouse doesn't threaten human survival quite as much as it used to, many parties, including environmentalists and government agencies, wonder if predator hunting is necessary. After all, in some cases, predators have been hunted to the edge of extinction, only to be expensively reintroduced to certain habitats. Is the benefit provided to livestock owners, particularly if that benefit is poorly supported by data, enough to compensate for these kind of costs?

Environmentalists are also up in arms about contests of predator hunting and calling, which are particularly popular in the western United States. While the old excuse about doing the ranchers a favor may have helped predator hunters get by before, the activity becomes particularly abhorrent to animal rights activists when it's done purely for sport or for money.

For more on hunting, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Re­late­d HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Brantley, Will. "Contest Calling -- Good, Bad or Ugly?" Predator Xtreme. December 2008. Clancy, Gary. "The predator masters: East/Midwest." Outdoor Life .December 1999/January 2000.
  • Connell, Richard. "The Most Dangerous Game." Classic Short Stories. (Dec. 2, 2008)
  • Cook, Gary. "The predator masters: Southern style." Outdoor Life .December 1999/January 2000.
  • Cooney, Judd. "The predator masters: The Western Way." Outdoor Life. December 1999/January 2000.
  • Environmental News Network staff. "Predator hunts continue to haunt Arizona." CNN. Sept. 19, 2000. (Dec. 2, 2008)
  • Gosline, Anna. "Crying wolf over predator attacks." New Scientist. Sept. 24, 2004. (Dec. 2, 2008)
  • Herald, Tim. "Predator Hunting 101." Hunt Club Digest. Winter 2004.
  • ­Kayser, Mark. "Predator Hunting Secrets." Outdoor Life. December/January 2005.
  • Knickerbocker, Brad. "The Changing Status of the Predator in the American West." Christian Scientist Monitor. Jan. 31, 1995.
  • McIntyre, Thomas. "The Predator as Prey." Field & Stream. February 2008.
  • Sink, Mindy. "Coyote Hunt Splits Animal Advocates and Ranchers." New York Times. Nov. 16, 1998. (Dec. 2, 2008)
  • Spomer, Ron. "Predator Hunting: Proven Strategies that Work from East to West." Woods N' Water, Inc. 2003.
  • Vantreese, Steve. "Hunter Even Sharper When Hunted." Paducah Sun. Feb. 18, 2006.
  • "Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner." Looney Tunes Stars of the Show. (Dec. 2, 2008)