Hunting in Central Oregon

Hunting coyotes and bobcats requires patience

— Gary Lewis / The Bulletin /

Published Dec 12, 2012 at 04:00AM

We bounced the coyote out of his bed in a draw and caught our first glimpse before he rounded a small hill.

When we saw him again, he was 600 yards away. There were nine deer on the ridge line. He ran straight at the herd and, as we watched through our binoculars, he separated one doe from the group and ran her over the top of the hill and out of sight. I didn't see the outcome because we didn't have permission to be on that side of the fence.

Folks tell me four-legged predators only prey on the weak and the sick. Others say coyotes only eat mice and rabbits. There is truth in both statements, but partial truth. Predators are opportunists and if a healthy deer makes a mistake, a coyote, bobcat, mountain lion or bear is going to exploit it.

How much damage do predators do to our elk, deer and antelope herds? What effect do they have on mountain goats and wild sheep? The answer varies from region to region, and from individual to individual.

Bobcats focus on smaller prey like mice, birds and rabbits, but they can have an impact on big-game populations as well.

I have seen bobcats that are no bigger than a house cat, but I have also seen spotted cats as big as coyotes. A friend of mine watched a bobcat pull down a mule deer doe a few years ago. A biologist told me that bobcats are one of the major predators of blacktail deer in Douglas County.

A cougar's primary prey is deer. In areas where elk are numerous, cats prey on elk as well. A cougar is likely to take one deer or elk per week. A big cat will kill more deer in one year than most hunters can tag in a lifetime. Biologists say there are 10 times more cougars now than there were in 1994. They all have to eat.

When Oregon banned hunting with hounds for mountain lions and bears in 1994, the harvest numbers for both animals dropped significantly. Over time, the numbers of big predators have risen. Remember the deer herds of the 1980s and the early '90s? I do. We are not likely to see that many ungulates again until we control predators (and poachers) better than we do now.

The only four-legged predator we can't hunt in our state is the recently introduced Canadian gray wolf making a living on elk and beef in Northeast Oregon. But every hunter can do something to control predators, and some of the best hunting takes place when the snow is on the ground and elk and deer herds are on winter range.

You need a hunting license. If you plan to hunt bobcats, a furbearer card is required. If there is a chance of seeing a cougar, carry a cougar tag. Bear hunters must have a bear tag.

How to get started? All predators are opportunists, tuned in to the sounds of deer fawns, rabbit cries and birds in distress. Mouth calls are available at sporting goods stores and online. Electronic calls offer more sounds and the prices are coming down. Watch online videos to key in on calls and sequences other hunters use.

Go camouflaged, with gloves and a facemask. Set up in an area near a potential food source like cattle or game herds. Plan to call for at least 20 minutes at each location. If calling for a cougar, bear or bobcat, more patience is in order. Try to stay in place for an hour. If the call set is unsuccessful, move a half-mile and start over again.

With coyotes, the key is subtlety. Start with a challenge howl then wait for two minutes. Now make a deer bawl, rabbit cry or bird distress call for about 30 seconds. Go quiet for two minutes then start again for another 30 seconds. Elevate the volume. If a coyote hangs up out of range, change to a squeak sound to get them to come closer.

According to my journals, the magic minute comes when the long hand has cycled 13 times. That was the timing for that big dog on the ranch near Arlington. We set up with the wind in our faces, our backs against a haystack. Thirteen minutes in, he trotted out of the same draw we had jumped him from the last time. When he stopped for a visual, 50 yards out, I connected with a Nosler Ballistic Tip.

I told the rancher about it later. She said that coyote had killed several newborn calves as well as mule deer. She asked us to stay a few days longer and try to get some more.