Stalking The Predator: The Art of Stalking Red Fox and Coyote
Traditional methods of hunting predators in Iowa have revolved around the use of dogs and calling from set stand locations. Predatory animals such as coyotes and fox are cunning and elusive and present a real challenge to any hunter. One method of hunting predators however truly makes the hunter put all the cards on the table. Stalking them on foot! My method of hunting predators in Iowa is largely spot and stalk based, where I test my wits against theirs. I have listed a few of my tips and tricks that I utilize when performing a successful stalk setup.
The basic equipment for a spot and stalk hunter includes quality optics, camouflage clothing and an accurate rifle capable of long-range shots. These are the bare essentials and basically all of the necessary gear needed for success. Some hunters don’t wear camouflage clothing, however, I prefer to be all white once there is snow cover. I also prefer snow cover, as fox and coyote are much easier and quicker to spot from long distances. This cuts down on stopping, starting and scanning time as I can quickly and easily scan a snow covered area with only my eyes while driving slowly. By scanning with my eyes, I eliminate some of the need to stop at various intervals and scan the area with a spotting scope or binoculars.
I wear the following; white facemask with one hole; white non-insulated 80% cotton coveralls and white insulated gloves. I paint my rifle & bipod white as well. I am usually somewhat exposed while aiming and taking my shot so the all-white clothing really helps me to blend in and eliminate the human outline against a snowy landscape. Not to mention I sometimes encounter trouble staying concealed on the way in due to the lack of terrain features.
If you have good eyesight, you can get by with 7x power binoculars. However, I’m getting old so I opt for 10x power binoculars as well as a 60x spotter scope for zooming in from long range to positively confirm that I am looking at a fox or coyote. Getting a better zoom will also allow me to see which direction the animal is facing. The direction the animal faces will ultimately determine which direction and angle the stalk needs to happen. If possible, you almost never want to stalk an animal that is facing in your direction. Fox and coyote have very good eyesight especially when it comes to movement.
Morning of the hunt
The first thing that I check before every stalk is the direction that the wind is blowing. The weatherman may not always be spot-on so let any available wind hit your face and especially eyes to get a good feel for wind direction. Wind will help reveal what side of terrain features a fox or coyote may likely bed down on. Wind will also help determine the direction of the stalk on an animal and you want to avoid putting the animal directly downwind of your stalk if possible.
I’ll then walk around on the frozen ground or snow cover on my yard, feeling with my foot as I slowly step and listen for any noise or crunch if you will. When the ground or snow cover is noisy, I call that “loud” vs. “quiet”. Checking the loudness or quietness of the ground cover determines my chances of having a successful stalk. Fresh fluffy snow is a best-case scenario.
On the road
Once I get out in the country, I’ll step out on the gravel near a field and test the various depths and different colored (white vs. gray) snow for hardness or softness and for how well the snow holds my weight. I’m also testing for snow noise or lack thereof, as some snow is quieter or louder than other snow. Again, I will try to avoid loud snow at all cost.
I hunt gravel roads mainly as I go spotting for predators. Fox, like the coyotes prefer down-wind areas. They’ll use any form of ground cover such as picked corn stalk rows, hillsides, fence lines, terraces and other raised features. They all provide a degree of wind blocking which is where predators prefer to be when bedding down. It doesn’t matter if the wind is but a whisper of 1-2mph or blowing hard at 30+mph, regardless of wind speed, they still prefer to bed down on the down-wind side of terrain features.
If coyotes inhabit the same general area, fox will then mainly be seen or live on the outer fringe areas of a coyote’s territory. This means fox typically live and hunt closer to mankind such as near an active farm or acreage for example.
What To Look For
Red fox nowadays will most often be spotted within 1/4 mile to 3/8 mile off of a road way. Sometimes a Red Fox will choose to bed out near a ½ mile fence line. When they are around a ½ mile out, they will be appear as a tiny dark speck barely visible to the naked eye. If there is good snow cover, they will stick out more and that is why I usually opt for the majority of my stalks to happen during the winter months.
When I am out spotting, I check every speck, dark spot or dark clump, as it might be a potential predator. Scanning with your eyes first and then the binoculars or spotting scope is a good routine to get into. Sometimes the animal may even be partially buried in the snow or against a snowdrift making them difficult to reveal without the aid of high-powered optics. I’ll scan the total area 360 degrees. Not only am I looking on the down-wind areas, I’m also looking on the up-wind areas for a fox or coyote that may be in transit as they are out hunting or just traveling from point A to point B.
Have One Spotted, Now What?
I spend a lot of time in the off-season acquiring permission to private ground that historically has supported fox and coyote. I also carry a County Platt Book in my truck so when I do see a bedded predator on farm land I don’t have permission on, I can then use my cell phone or drive to the land owner’s house to ask for permission to hunt. If I gain permission, I will then form my plan of attack and study the scenario carefully.
Back at the field, I will look things over, making note of the best possible way to approach the animal and stay concealed. I will then quickly observe all hills and other ground features that are East, West, North and South of the animal such as counting fence line posts from the nearest fence line intersection in relationship to the exact location of the bedded or traveling predator. Triangulation essentially means using the land features as guidance in locating the animal even when it is not seen.
I will note where all of these structures and features are in relationship to the fox or coyote. I will also count hills so when I’m done triangulating, I can then stalk in from any direction, stalking in blindly if I so choose to, from the opposite side of the square mile section as I use my land markers as a bearing guide.
Wind, Wind Speed and Direction
Wind is good for the most part when stalking. It assists in carrying a stalker’s noise as well as carrying a stalker’s scent away from a bedded animal. What I mean by carrying noise is if a stalker walks in a cross wind towards a bedded animal, the wind will assist in carrying some of that hunter’s noise parallel and down wind of your target. Fox and coyote have excellent hearing and can detect the slightest sounds in their environment.
I also prefer hilly terrain and a wind of 10mph or greater, especially if the ground cover is loud. A stalker needs all the help they can get. Predatory animals during the day are almost always alert even if they appear to be sleeping, coyotes especially. Stalking the animal with a cross wind or in any down wind position is the best option.
When stalking in on an animal, the hunter must always be conscious of everything around. Predators, especially fox will tolerate some level of unfamiliar ambient noise and it is virtually impossible for a hunter to be completely silent on a stalked approach. A good rule of thumb is if a noise is made loud enough to alert the animal, pause for a moment and let the animal become at ease. I constantly watch my footsteps and pay attention to the “loud” and “quiet” snow that I described previously, avoiding the loud snow at all cost. The name of the game is remaining quiet and I always try to avoid crossing over fences or noisy areas of creeks in my path.
If your stalk proves to be a success, pause again upon reaching a distance you feel comfortable in taking a shot from. If the stalk went in your favor, the animal should remain unaware of your presence. Pausing for a bit will help you gather your breath and slow your heart rate, which in turn helps to provide a steadier shot when the gun is raised. If you cannot see the animal from where you stalked to, keep your eyes peeled in case the animal has been alerted and has moved or is moving to a new location. Theoretically however, the animal should be where you estimated if the triangulation done prior to the stalk was accurate. Once you feel gathered and collected, slowly, carefully, make the shot.
Stalking predators such as coyote and fox is a truly exciting and rewarding way to hunt. It is done in much the same fashion as stalking big game animals such as deer and elk. You the hunter are testing your skills against some of the best eyes, ears and noses in the business in efforts to present a shot within the element of surprise. If you are sitting at home this winter contemplating an outdoor activity to pursue in that fresh new snow cover, get out and try your hand at spot and stalk hunting. The excitement may be just what you are looking for!