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Get The Most Out of Your Reservation

by George Visger, "The Wild Guy"

Most hunters are too narrow minded and focused on their target species to really get a feel for what’s going on around them in the woods. When you learn to read the sign around you, it opens a whole new world and adds that much more to your trips outdoors.

Whether it’s my nearly 30 years of experience as a bow hunter, taking everything from flying waterfowl and pheasants, to water buffalo in Argentina with my trusty old homemade recurve or my nearly 20 years as a wildlife biologist, I have learned to read sign when I am out in the field.

Case in point: Lets go back a few years to Ridgewood Ranch. Ridgewood has always been one of my favorite Wilderness Unlimited ranches. Being an archery only ranch it is tailored to my style of hunting, and allows me to hunt both the archery and rifle seasons without competition from the smoke polers. I once had a run of taking an animal off the ranch 6 years running, with 4 bucks (two Pope and Youngers) and 2 hogs.

I was hunting the ranch with my brother Bob and his three sons Aaron, Jeff and Shawn. Shawn was the youngest at 10, too young to be hunting big game yet, but he had several years experience with a bow in the field with us. We had split up in the morning and rendezvoused back at the truck for lunch when I mentioned to the gang there were a ton of gray foxes on the ranch as I had seen a lot of sign in the chaparral on the east side. Shawn mentioned he had never seen a fox, and could I show him one. Predator calling is one of my many passions, so Shawn and I tromped over to the east side that afternoon.

Showing Shawn several scat (biological term for poops), full of Manzanita berries located on top of rocks, I explained that gray foxes were opportunistic omnivores, and will readily eat what ever is available, including fruit and berries, and they use their scat to mark their territory. Manzanita berries are a favorite during the summer and chaparral patches are a great place to start when looking for gray fox.

We quietly slipped into an area with a lot of sign and backed into a small opening in the Manzanita with a clearing in front of us. I situated Shawn several feet in front of me so he would have a better view (I have guided elk and predator hunts for years and always situate my hunters 10 to 30 yards in front of me, as the animals coming in will be focused on the source of the call). After we sat quiet for several minutes the woods began to come alive again. Once I heard birds calling (other than Stellar’s jays, which signal danger to other animals and have ruined more than a few of my stalks over the years), I began calling with my predator call.

The most horrendous screeching and whimpering you could imagine shattered the afternoon quiet. Thirty seconds of calling was followed by a minute of quiet where we strained to listen for incoming predators. One aspect of predator calling is you never know who will show up (fox, coyote, bobcat, mountain lion, bear and even hawks and great horned owls). After the second set of calls we immediately heard someone coming down hill toward us. Out pops a gray fox in the clearing just like we planned. Fox season doesn’t open till later in the season so I had my camera ready. We called him within 6 feet from Shawn, where he politely posed for a picture (see pictures below) before high tailing it back up hill.

The next setup brought a black bear moseying in. Black bears come in much more cautiously and after playing with us for 40 minutes, we lost sight when he slowly slipped down wind fading into the trees like a black ghost. Shawn was more than a little shook, as at his age he thought all bears were man-eaters. Of course with Uncle George telling him not to breathe or the bear would charge certainly helped calm his young 10 year old nerves.

Final tally that evening was five setups, with two gray fox and one black bear coming to our calls.

We never took a buck on that trip, but it was one of the more enjoyable hunts we have had.

Learn to read sign and get the most out of your Wilderness Unlimited hunts.

Ask the Wild Guy

George Visger aka “The Wild Guy” is an original Wilderness Unlimited member and now also serves as Principal Wildlife and Habitat Coordinator for the Wilderness Unlimited Foundation. The “Ask The Wild Guy” column is based on George’s outdoors experiences, presented in a light manner intending on illustrating the use of strategies to help members with their outdoor success. He has been a Wildlife Biologist for 20 years including several years owning his own environmental consulting firms, Visger & Associates and The Ranchers Group, where he specializes in wildlife management plans, habitat management plans, grazing plans, threatened and endangered species, habitat restoration, water quality and quantity improvements and storm water management.

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