Prime time for predator hunting in Pennsylvania
Despite winter's chill bearing down heavily on much of the commonwealth, the ever-present urge to "get out and after it" still burns inside many like the last fiery embers of a wood-burning stove on a cold, blustery evening.
Fortunately, there's still time to hit the field in pursuit of an elusive and cunning quarry. By hunting predators in late winter, Pennsylvania sportsmen can experience some intense, in-your-face action, while collecting winter furs in peak condition. And the last week of the furbearer season often turns out to be the best week.
When a fresh dusting of snow blanketing farmlands and woodlots, one need not journey far to observe the presence of red or gray foxes in an area. The species, which was heavily targeted during the trapping boom of the 70s and 80s, has made an impressive rebound in recent decades.
These highly adaptable and opportunistic canines, along with their larger cousins, the eastern coyote, are becoming more prolific across the Commonwealth. Their elusive nature, predatory instincts and excellent eyesight make hunting them an exciting challenge.
Surprisingly though, only a fraction of outdoorsmen regularly take advantage of our state's liberal furbearing seasons. With little more than a remote controlled electronic caller and a light caliber rifle or shotgun, hunters can have a blast pursuing predators at a time of year when they are most susceptible to being lured in close.
For those who are new to fox or coyote hunting, the best chances for a shot occur at dawn, dusk or after dark, since canines tend to be most active at night. In selecting a hunting location, it is helpful to do some scouting in advance to find areas offering scavenging dogs an easy meal.
Many farmers are eager to have predators removed from their properties and willingly grant permission to responsible hunters who ask nicely. Public lands also offer ample shot opportunities and should not be overlooked.
When setting up, it is important to wear quality camouflage and seek out secluded field corners with good visibility and a concealing backdrop- places where one can blend in easily without being picked off by approaching eyes.
If possible, stash the call in a location where you can draw the predators out into the open for a quality shot before they catch your movement and bust out of the area. A fancy motion decoy will help grab their attention, but a simple turkey feather attached to a stake with string will often do the trick just as well.
When running an electronic caller, it is important to ease into the call series, beginning softly at first and slowly increasing the volume as time goes on. Alternate a few minutes of calling with a few minutes of rest. If nothing shows up after 20-30 minutes, it is time to pick up and try out a new location.
Rabbit or bird-in-distress calls are very effective this time of year because they appeal to a hungry predator when meals may be scarce, but general canine barks or howls can be equally productive, since fox are currently looking to breed.
Predator season affords sportsmen a chance to hone their skills and refine their marksmanship throughout the off-season, while bringing a whole different aspect of hunting to the table. Few other types of hunting can be legally done after darkness falls, and this unique feature of the sport can be especially alluring.
It also promotes an ecological benefit by keeping populations in check. It helps local farmers protect their free-range livestock, and can even serve as a gateway towards earning private permission during other hunting seasons.
Best of all, predator hunting provides a chance to elongate the hunting season during an otherwise slow time of the year, and if the time and place is right, one might still be able to collect a few furs before the season's end.
Pennsylvania's fox season runs through February 21st and requires a valid furtaker license. Coyotes may be taken year round with either a furtaker or general hunting license.