More than 40 years ago, I stumbled upon a paperback book titled “The Critters Come When Called.” Written by the late Russell Tinsley, the book covered the exploits of two lanky Texans, Murry and Winston Burnham. The Burnham brothers became legendary in the arena of predator calling. Winston has passed on while Murry, in his late 70s, is still calling the meat-eaters. Murry and I are so old we don’t buy green bananas any more.
Despite their longevity, the Burnham brothers didn’t invent predator calling. Actually the Native Americans were doing this many centuries ago, but Morton Burnham, father of Murry and Winston, put predator calling into the public arena. Armed only with a twist-steel barreled shotgun, black-powder shells and his ability to produce a distress sound by lip-squeaking, he made hunting history.
Murry and Winston began to manufacture predator calls and turned it into a life-long business.
In The Beginning
Totally fascinated by the book, decades ago I drove 50 miles to locate a Burnham Brothers mouth call — I still have it — at a cost of $2.95. Not wanting to suffer embarrassment, I hunted alone until I was sure this piece of plastic would actually work. It performed magnificently, and I soon began to share my new-found hobby.
Knowing predators are more nocturnal than not, my partners and I soon began to explore night hunting. Adding a Burnham Brothers headlamp equipped with a dimmer switch, our fox, raccoon and bobcat body count tripled overnight. I still have the 40-year-old light, and it still works.
There are now seasonal restrictions on the three predators mentioned, but back then there were none. In fact, we actually collected bounties on foxes — enough to buy gasoline and shotgun shells.
To us, coyotes only existed in outdoor magazines that covered the western states. To call in a yodel dog in the South was only a pipe dream that we pondered on rainy days. One night in the winter of 1980, my headlamp picked up glowing eyes that were farther apart, higher off the ground and coming at an excessive rate of speed. At 30 yards I dropped the Maglite beam on the critter and my friend Harris Floyd missed it. No matter, because we knew that we had called in our first coyote. Our excitement was short-lived because it was another year before we ever saw another Canus Latrans. But in the following years, the spread of the coyotes became unstoppable. Today, there is a coyote population in 48 of our states. Being prolific and adaptable, they are here to stay.
The Johnny Stewart tape player marked a turning point in coyote hunting. The hunter could place the caller half a football field away, taking the emphasis off the hunter. It also allowed the hunter to play the wind and help defeat the coyote’s best defense, its remarkable nose. Later on, the remote control — primitive though it was — was an added feature, allowing the hunter to start, stop and change the volume.
My old tape player is now a treasured relic that I don’t use any more. Electronic development took a giant leap, and digital callers were born, along with remote controls that will work much farther out than is necessary. Now Burnham Brothers and Foxpro lead the race for improved digital electronics.
This sophisticated equipment, along with flat-shooting rifles and excellent scopes allowed the predator caller to bring in coyotes and bag them at astounding ranges. Still, savvy hunters knew coyotes are most active and more aggressive at night. Hunters began to use long-range spotlights and hunted from the beds of pickup trucks. Success skyrocketed, but something was still missing. The bright light had a tendency to spook coyotes, especially if there were trees nearby to cause the light to cast a shadow. The addition of a red lens allowed the coyotes to come closer because coyotes are colorblind, and the red light, to the yodel dog, appears black.
A Time For Killing
My dear friend and hunting buddy, A.J. Niette, is obsessed with predator calling, especially the coyote. One night he phoned, and his enthusiasm was on an extreme high.
“You gotta come down tomorrow night and hunt with me. I have been playing with something new for several weeks, and it’s beyond your imagination,” he said. “Just be here at 8:30 in the evening.”
I met up with A.J. in Taylor County, and as soon as it was dark, we carefully unlocked the gate that opened up into a 4,000-acre cattle farm. Testing the wind, we walked 300 yards to the west with the slight breeze in our faces. After quietly setting up the equipment — most of which I had never seen before. A.J. placed the Foxpro Fury digital caller 50 yards to the north between us and a 20-acre wooded plot. We were in the middle of a huge cow pasture where the cattle had eaten the grass down to a bare 6 inches. I felt a bit naked since there was nothing to hide behind or in front of.
Unexpectedly, a coyote serenade began with at least four dogs howling, barking and yipping. Ordinarily, that would have been a welcome sound, but the song was much too close. Those dogs were within 200 yards, and the sound was coming from the wooded head. I feared we had been busted before we even started. Surely those coyotes knew we were there.
A.J. punched the remote and the Fury produced a rabbit distress sound that almost made me cry. Five minutes passed, and nothing happened. Turning up the volume a bit, A.J. offered the coyotes a pup distress sound.
“Two o’clock, two coyotes coming hard,” A.J whispered.
I was shooting his AR-15 mounted on a Primos Trigger Stick. I panned to the right and picked up the coyotes in the scope’s soft-green glow. The female was lagging behind at 200 yards, which is typical, while the male trotted brazenly toward me at less then 100 yards. When I gave out a “woof,” they both stopped. The female was broadside.
I settled the crosshairs on her shoulder and squeezed. When you have multiple coyotes approaching, it is best to take the longer shot first. The female collapsed as I turned my attention to the male. He turned to run, but another bark from me stopped him. He, too, turned broadside, and a second later he was dead.
A.J. switched the caller to “hurt coyote” and played it for two minutes but nothing else showed. Gathering up equipment and dead coyotes, we returned to the truck to move to the next setup.
A Summer Surprise
On the next setup, within five minutes a female came within 30 yards and another coyote stood barking 100 yards away. Why the increased success? We were using night-vision equipment. There were no visible (to the coyotes) lights to spook them. There were no shadows cast by the trees. To the coyotes, we were camouflaged silhouettes in the darkness.
Night vision has been around for a long time, used mostly by the military. Generation-1 night vision goes as far back as World War I. Generation-2 was used in Vietnam. Generation-3 is the latest available to the public.
A.J. has been working with night vision for a while. He uses equipment made by Night Optics. He uses two night-vision scopes, model No. 760-3 with 6X magnification. One is mounted on an AR-15. The other is attached to a special mounting bracket and mated to a Sony video camera.
While both scopes are fixed power, the Sony camera has zoom capability for professional filming. The bracket is attached to a tripod for stability. While I was shooting the coyotes with the aid of the night-vision scope, A.J. was filming with the other.
We found that the added weight of night-vision equipment handles better when mounted on a tripod that allows the shooter to pan the area with comfort. Trying to shoot offhand with a rifle and scope that weighs 14 pounds is uncomfortable, and one’s accuracy is inadequate.
The gun scope is mounted on a standard Pickatinny rail. The camera scope is attached to a special bracket. Ahead of each scope is an infrared device known as a “torch.” The torch brightens up the image and also causes the eyes of a predator to glow just as would a normal spotlight, but to the coyote there is no light. The torch is needed on dark nights but can be put on stand-by if there is a bright moon. All equipment is run by long-lasting lithium batteries.
Scouting And Safety A Must
Everything looks different in the dark. Predator hunters who operate at night must do some daylight scouting. Maps must be drawn, notes written, and marking tape finishes the job. We spend as much time scouting during the day as hunting during the night.
The hunter must consider the presence of livestock. Cattle will readily come to a distress call. We recently learned that donkeys and mules will also respond. Domestic dogs can also be a problem. We counter this by asking the landowner to lock up his pets for the duration of the hunt.
Every savvy hunter knows the range of a rifle. The notes taken while scouting should also show the allowable field of fire at each setup. Day or night, a bullet intended for a coyote at 150 yards can easily ricochet and do irreversible damage a mile or more away. Full-metal-jacket ammunition should never be used. It not only is inadequate for making a clean kill, it is far more likely to ricochet. A round should never be chambered until the shooter is ready and the calling is about to begin. The clanking as a round is chambered can scare predators for quite a distance, but there are ways to do this quietly. Conversely, remove the round when the setup is finished.
Most accidents are preventable. I used generation-1 night optics in the military decades ago. These devices weren’t even close to the capability of the latest generation-3. Even then I had no problem identifying my target. The new equipment allows positive identification of targets out to several hundred yards. You must be absolutely sure you are squeezing the trigger on a coyote — not a cow, a horse or a human. With generation-3 night vision, you can count the feet on a coyote at 200 yards, and believe me you can call them much closer when you don’t have bright lights glaring in their eyes.
I can not emphasize safety enough. Hunting with night-vision optics can be totally safe as long as you use common sense, and you are mentally — and factually — ready for the task. I know that I am ready. My rule is never to hunt with anyone else whose readiness and judgment are questionable.
Night vision is the coming thing in hunting coyotes in open spaces. It has no place in close quarters. It is only for areas where you can see everything for long distances.
The night-vision optic we use is expensive by my standards. The generation-3 scope can cost up to $5,000. The brackets, scope mounts and infrared device (torch) can add another $500 per unit.
Some professional feral-hog hunters need more range of vision than our night optics can provide. They often shoot larger caliber rifles such as the .308 — A.J. and I use .223 and .204 — and they opt for night-vision devices that utilize thermal imaging.
Thermal devices capture the heat provided by animals and other objects. They give the hunter a level of detail sufficient to distinguish between coyotes, deer and hogs out to half a mile. These devices can cost in excess of $20,000. They are for the rich, or for those professionals who do this for a living and can recapture the expense through contracting to rid farmers of the destructive animals.
Night-optic devices are not for everyone. The initial outlay of cash can be enormous, and the maintenance can be expensive. Beyond that — and by far the most important, to my thinking — is the responsibility. Before you invest in night optics, you should be a knowledgeable shooter and schooled in ballistics. You should also be capable of identifying your target at any range and under any set of circumstances.
With night-vision optics, they will come faster, closer and with far more frequency than with any other method. As a friend of mine says, “Hunt hard — shoot straight — kill clean — and apologize to no one.”