Regardless if you’re 14 or 40, beginning any new pursuit typically takes a cash investment. That’s one thing I didn’t have as a youth growing up in rural, plowed South Dakota. When predator hunting piqued my interest, I agonized on how to start my mountain-man, fur-gathering calling. Devouring every article I could on the subject, a plan to fill the fur shed slowly developed. Much of the plan stemmed from raiding my grandfather’s hunting closet. I have yet to completely fill a shed with fur, but my budget startup has kept me busy trying for nearly four decades. Are you interested in a predator-hunting weekend? Start now with hardly any investment.
Forget about fur value as an initial reason to get into the sport. Instead, focus on honing hunting skills and saving a fawn by removing another toothy slayer. Bypassing specialized predator calibers means most medium-range deer calibers can double as your predator rifle. Whitetails are the No. 1 targeted species in America, so someone in close proximity likely has an extra shooting iron if you don’t. Think calibers like the .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield or even the newer 6.5 Creedmoor. To tame these bigger calibers, shop for a smaller-grain bullet, but don’t spend extra money if someone hands you a box of ammo. Again, you’re not going for fur, but getting a jumpstart into the sport.
In denser environments you can get away with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot, BB loads or even No. 4 game loads at close range. Use what you own currently and utilize for whitetail or small-game hunting. If that’s not an option, seek out a mentor program in your region with help from the state wildlife agency. Most states are eager to introduce and assist newcomers to the sport. Your uncle or neighbor may also have a firearm collecting dust in the corner as a loaner.
Calling separates predator hunting from many hunting pursuits. Your mentor may lend you an outdated digital caller, but you can get by cheaply in this department without a handout. Shop for two calls. First, purchase an open-reed or bite-down call. This platform is easy to manipulate to create a variety of sounds from high-pitched squalls to low groans of agony. Second, purchase a diaphragm call for howling. Don’t buy a megaphone. You can cut the end off a plastic soda bottle to use as an effective amplifier. Spray paint it in a dull camouflage pattern to eliminate the plastic shine. The duo should set you back less than $30, plus the cost of a soda.
So you don't own the latest camo, and your available firearm is simply your "deer" rifle? Have no fear: Dull, natural colors, older patterns and .30-caliber rifles kill coyotes just fine.
This combination gives you the flexibility to create sounds of distressed prey, like cottontails. Those sounds attract coyotes, foxes and bobcats, plus bears or mountain lions, depending on your zip code. Add in the howl of a coyote and most other predators will steer clear, but it works magic to lure in a song dog. Sometimes predators stop just out of shooting range to assess the sounds. Stop calling with your original sound and wait a minute, or three. Now cup your fist and suck against the hole where the back of your thumb and index finger adjoin. This squeaking sound mimics a rodent, a favorite of all, and can set in motion a stalled predator. That call is free, courtesy of the good Lord.
Taking for granted your rifle option already is equipped with a riflescope, your next optical concern is a binocular. Work hard to secure this beneficial and safe aid. Maybe you have this category fulfilled with deer-hunting gear. Regardless, a binocular has purpose in nearly every hunting genre to scan ahead for possible encounters. A quick scan before you set down to call or to leave oftentimes reveals a predator in the distance, giving you information on your next move. It also allows you to forgo using the riflescope as a scanning tool, which is an unsafe practice. You never know if your next observation objective is another hunter sneaking in the brush.
Shop wisely if you need to purchase a binocular. You can easily land a bargain on an 8-power model for less than $200. By chance, your uncle or neighbor may have a pair shelved and only a year away from the yard sale. Online or local markets could also fill this category in an affordable manner.
Like the other categories, camouflage may be a done deal for you if you’ve invested for another hunting pursuit. You can affordably purchase camouflage online, at flea markets or even borrow it from a relative. Or you can forgo commercialization and go old school. The limited data out there suggest predators likely see some colors, but not as vividly as humans. Any dull, natural colors can be worn to disappear into the backdrop. Think khaki shades for desert or bleached-grass settings. Green and black plaid disappears along a forest edge, and your faded Carhartt work jacket matches the fallen leaves in a woodlot. My grandpa’s old coveralls in a World War II pattern were my go-to during my predator-hunting apprenticeship.
A good rinse in a scent-free laundry detergent goes a long way to erase any traces of your workplace or a recent fast-food spree. Don’t break the bank there, either. Rinse your garments several times in water and then rub them down with a cedar branch, sagebrush or another odorous plant from your neighborhood.
To get the most from basic camouflage, stay downwind and set up against a backdrop of similar color. Backing into the shade completes the ruse. You can check the wind by scattering seed heads in the wind instead of investing in a puffer bottle. Of course, free hunting apps give you every imaginable forecast, and I know you own a smartphone.
My first coyote was as memorable as my last. Using a Burnham Brothers hand call, I squalled off and on for 10 minutes. To my surprise, a gray dot appeared across the valley after dozens of previous attempts. It was a coyote plodding my way. I lined up on the coyote once it was inside 100 yards, and my deer rifle, a mighty 7mm Rem. Mag., pummeled the rascal. I shot another that same day wearing my grandpa’s coveralls, using my deer rifle and hunting on a budget to kick off my fur-hunting passion that continues to burn hot today.