By Brad Troftgruben

I'm often asked at tournaments and seminars what I think contributes to my success over the next guy. My answer always gets funny looks like I'm trying to dodge the question and give a generic answer but it's the truth plain and simple. You can't call predators where they don't exist. I contribute a lot of it to Homework.

I understand that not everyone is going to take predator calling as serious as me or go so die-hard, that's why they call it a passion. On the same token, I know guys that don't eat meat for two weeks before deer season because they believe that it helps keep down the "predator scent" that their bodies release. What I don't understand is that the same guys that handle their deer hunting or duck hunting in that matter expect to just stop on a county road throw on a little camo and an electronic caller and call in predators. Scouting is no less important for predator hunting then it is for any other game you like to pursue. I've spent countless hours in the "dog days of summer" amongst the skeeters and ticks trying to locate dens. I've even drug the wife with on occasion to show her that I wasn't lying about where I was when she thought it was an alibi.

Spring and summer are great times to look at terrain in new areas. If you have a good understanding of the lay of the land before you even get to the stand it will save you a lot of frustration. There is nothing worse then watching a coyote turn on the afterburners after you spooked him out by standing on the hillside surveying the stand. When you should have been wondering how much gas money he's going to bring on the market. I understand that it is impossible to have all of your stands scouted for the fur season beforehand, but if you can have a good jump start it's going to help you take advantage of the juveniles in the fall.

One of the best chores to get done in the spring and summer is land access. I've found (as expected) that talking to land owners about gaining access to their pastures as soon as calving and lambing season have finished or are drawing to an end the best time. If they have a predator problem that is when it is the most noticeable and they might have a sour taste in their mouth about those four-legged, mutton lovers we love to chase. I can then assess the situation and see if some spring control work is needed to help the rancher out or if the predators can be left until fur season, which is what I prefer.

Use the sun to your advantage when scouting in the summer

Summer can also be great for the fact that the hay meadows have most likely been cut and the coyotes and fox see that as a smorgasbord and the ranchers have had plenty of sighting to help me narrow down my search. The short growth in the meadows also makes den identification easier at a longer distance, cutting down on the walking. Rural postman and school bus drivers (in the spring) can be very helpful also. Remember they cover a lot of miles every morning when the predators are trying to scramble up that last nugget of food before napping and taking care of young for the day.

Then the fun begins. If coyotes are the most prevalent predator in your area they make the next step a lot easier then say, fox or bobcat. I like to spend the hour before daylight and last the hour of daylight driving in the most likely den location areas and seeing if I can get the parents to let a out a howl or two. Later in the summer it's possible to get the pups to light off. Your favorite howler and a good knowledge of the basic howls is all you need to accomplish this.

I do recommend wearing camo for this step when you are out howling and walking around in the denning area. The last thing you want to do is give your location away and make the connection of a coyote's howl with a human being. Obviously bobcats and fox aren't going to howl and give their location away, however, I have heard fox bark when threatened or frustrated. If you can get a good location on a den, it's a great time to take some photos if your not going to have to do any control work. It is a real benefit if you know where the coyotes denned come fur season. That location is somewhere they feel very safe and sheltered with a good food source and water supply. That is a real good bet come fur season. Although, they won't be using the actual den, they will tend to hang out in that area during the daylight hours. If you can get a reasonable location on the den you need to start scouting the terrain like I mentioned earlier. That way, you can slip into the area unseen and set up at a location that gives you the elevation advantage when possible. That gives you the advantage of the sun at your back whenever possible. If you can find six locations like this in a summer and the average litter size is four to six pups then you have 24 to 30 coyotes to hunt come fall. That will keep the average hunter plenty busy in the fur shack if he or she does things right. However, don't set your goal at harvesting all the coyotes you've located. I've come to the humbling realization that unless you are doing denning work in the spring it just isn't going to happen. I consider myself very successful if I can harvest half of the coyotes out of a pack I've located if I get the proper time to hunt that area.

If you consider yourself a serious predator caller then you can take it to the next level by doing your research during these months also. I don't expect everyone that likes to call predators to take this step but to be consistent it is a must with coyotes. There is a plethora of text including books, masters thesis's, PhD studies and Internet chat rooms ( is a good one) to read up on. The biggest topic to study is the different language of the coyotes and getting a good understanding of howls they use and why they use them. Habits and biology are also always good things to have under your belt.

Getting all of your legwork done in the spring and summer will leave all of your time during fur season to the job at hand, putting fur on your stretchers. You wouldn't expect to shoot a 160-class whitetail every year by just jumping up in a tree stand in a random location without locating the deer in the summer. So why expect to call predators without doing the same? I've seen a lot of guys get frustrated and give up on calling predators because they think they don't know how to use a call or that they don't have the patience to do it. When I start asking them some questions about their area, they can't tell me much about it and in some cases don't even know if there is predators in the area! If you take the same attitude in the pre-season toward predators as you do for your other game I can guarantee you more fur in the shack.

Happy Howling and may your stretchers always are full!