Predator Trapping For More Turkeys
Predator control through trapping and hunting can improve the turkey and deer numbers, and if you involve the kids, it’s special.
Michael C. Johnson, of Plainfield in Dodge County, started trapping and harvesting predators about nine years ago to have more wildlife on his property. A paramedic instructor and an ambulance service supervisor, Michael is passionate about having the most wildlife possible on the 4,000 to 5,000 acres his friends and family either own or allow him to hunt in middle Georgia.
“Predators are much like cockroaches and wild hogs—you can beat their numbers back, but you’ll never entirely get rid of them,” Michael says.
But staying after predators is part of a wildlife management program that fits many properties. The following is written by Michael, along with outdoor writer John Phillips.
Why I Hunt And Trap Predators
I’m often asked why I started hunting and trapping predators. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons and possums were keeping turkey and deer numbers down on the properties my family and I hunted. At one time, we didn’t have very many turkeys to hunt. We knew that possums, raccoons, coyotes and foxes all were nest predators on turkeys. We wanted to give the wild turkeys on our lands a better chance to reproduce and have eggs and thereby poults to survive on the lands we hunted.
Every year, I’ll hunt predators on the acreage my family and friends own. Sometimes local hunting clubs will ask me to help control their predators, too. I’m what’s known as a critter getter. Since I’ve been hunting predators on all those lands, I’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of turkeys in the spring. I don’t have a hard time to locate a place to predator hunt, especially if I talk to the hunting clubs and explain to them why predator hunting every year will increase the numbers of turkeys and deer they’ll have on their properties.
Besides hunting predators, my family and I also trap predators. The predators we hunt at night are very smart animals, and they often may spook before we can take our shots. We’ve learned that often we can be much more effective by trapping these predators. Our predator hunting and trapping has more to do with wildlife management than anything. The main reason friends and I started hunting and trapping predators was due to our wanting to create a better ecosystem where animals like turkeys and deer had a better chance of survival and to grow to maturity.
Often people don’t think about raccoons and possums as being detrimental to wildlife. They generally consider bobcats, coyotes and foxes as being problems. But when you want to increase turkey populations, the raccoons and possums are much more damaging to turkeys because they’ll destroy wild turkeys eggs and nests and often kill hens sitting on their nests.
If a coon or a possum finds a hen turkey that’s holding tight on the nest and won’t flush no matter what, they will kill and eat her, as well as her eggs. That predator has reduced the number of available turkey hens in addition to the number of poults that would have been born. Although planting food plots, doing prescribed burns and manipulating the habitat for turkeys are all good practices to increase turkey populations, if you overlook predator control, you’re leaving out a very important and critical element of turkey management.
I realize I’ll never wipe out all the coons, possums and coyotes on the lands my friends and I have to hunt. However, by reducing the number of predators in a single year, we can see more turkeys and deer be born and survive than if we don’t do predator control. To have more turkeys, you need to conduct a well-planned predator control program on your hunting lands every year.
Two years ago, my trapping and hunting buddy Stephen Moore and I had our best year of predator hunting and took 15 coyotes, 25 to 30 gray foxes, five red foxes, 18 bobcats and at least 2- to 3-dozen possums and the same number of raccoons.
I have a full-time job, so I’m not a predator hunter and trapper only. We just take predators as we can. Our numbers aren’t as impressive as some of the guys you see on TV who are predator hunters. But I work 50 to 60 hours a week plus run traps and predator hunt at night, while raising a family.
Pattern Predators Like You Pattern Deer
In one year, Stephen Moore helped me catch five bobcats out of the same trap placed in the same hole. The following year, we caught four bobcats in that same trap. So, we learned that you could pattern predators much like you patterned deer.
Year after year, predators return to some of the same places where you’d caught them previously.
Kill The Pigs, Too
We try to control the hog populations on the lands we hunt. Many hunters don’t realize that hogs also are nest predators. Last January, I shot a 350-lb. boar hog on one of our properties down near the river.
Any time any of the hunters and hunting clubs we work with have chances to harvest hogs, they do. Hogs are not only bad for wildlife, but in our area of Georgia, wild pigs are destroying thousands of acres of agricultural crops each year. Most landowners in our region are very happy about a feral pig being harvested.
Tips For Calling Predators
In the springtime when predator calling and shooting predators is much easier than at other times of the year, we may spend more time calling and shooting predators than we do trapping predators. One of the most-effective calls we use in the spring is a fawn bleat. That’s the time of year that the fawns are being born, and the predators really kick into high gear, trying to discover and eat fawn deer and turkey poults.
Although when we use a fawn bleat, we mainly harvest coyotes and foxes, that fawn bleat actually will bring in any type of predator to the call. What we’ve learned about calling predators is that the calls we select to use are mainly determined by the time of the year we’ll be using them, and what type of predator we’ll be hunting. As I’ve mentioned earlier, in the spring when does are dropping their fawns, you can’t beat the effectiveness of a fawn bleat for calling predators and a cottontail-in-distress call to pull in foxes and coyotes.
Two things we count on to determine which calls to use are to know our target audience and understand the best time of year to take that particular critter. We use both an electronic caller and mouth callers when calling predators. Typically we don’t set up any type of decoys, but we do have a rabbit-tail spinner we use at times. Generally, we hunt predators at night with either a red light or a green light. We recently acquired some night-vision and thermal-vision optics and are anxious to get out this coming spring to try those out.
We love to hunt turkeys in the spring, also. We will set out turkey decoys. If we’re calling turkeys, and a predator comes to within gun range, we’ll take that predator. But generally we don’t try to call predators in the daytime, especially when we’re hunting turkeys.
Trap Coyotes And Bobcats
My favorite animals to catch are coyotes and bobcats. I think they are the two smartest animals in the woods. Those animals realize you’re in the woods, and when I get one of those animals to put its paw on a 2- or 3-inch trigger, I feel I’ve really done something.
Stephen and I also have learned that various areas produce different types of predators. In the regions where we catch gray foxes and bobcats, we don’t catch very many coyotes. However, in the places where we do catch numbers of coyotes, we don’t see very many bobcats and gray foxes. We’ve learned that the bobcats and foxes don’t like coyotes, and the coyotes don’t like the bobcats and foxes.
Catchin’ And Eatin’ Raccoons
I’m often asked what I do with the raccoons and possums after we skin them. I’m not going to eat a possum, but I did get a recipe from an older man in Chauncey, who told me his family had been cooking raccoons for more than 100 years. I tried his recipe for raccoon and found it delicious. Here are his directions.
• Put a quartered raccoon that’s been seasoned with salt, pepper, meat tenderizer, garlic salt, crushed red pepper and ground red pepper in a roasting pot along with onions, bell peppers, celery and carrots, one cup of apple juice and 1/2-cup Italian dressing.
• Baste the raccoon, and put it in the oven for two hours at 350 degrees.
• Wrap sweet potatoes, and bake them in the oven for two hours.
• Debone the raccoon; pull the ligaments, tendons and fat out of the meat; thicken up the juice the raccoon’s been cooked in with flour to make a gravy.
• Peel the baked sweet potatoes, slice them up, and add them and more carrots and onions to the pot.
• Bake the meat and the vegetables for another two hours at 250 degrees for a delicious roasted raccoon.
Include The Kids
I’m often asked if I’ve taught my children how to call predators. I guess the best way to answer that is to say that last Christmas, my children received rabbit-in-distress calls along with duck calls as presents. For six months after they got those calls, my wife was real thrilled with the children having the calls and blowing them constantly.
My wife is always excited when we bring a possum, a raccoon or fox and skin the critter out on her island in the kitchen. Of course, I’m being facetious here—probably very facetious.
However, my wife is a good sport. She takes all we do like a champ, because she realizes our sons like to spend time with me and are very proud of the critters they’ve caught.
I have two boys, Cale and Mason, ages 7 and 9, who enjoy going with my hunting and trapping friend, Stephen Moore and his 11-year-old daughter, Marlie. The most fun that Stephen and I get out of trapping is coming around a corner with the kids in the truck and seeing a coyote in a dog-proof set with a coil spring on its foot. The kids get so excited and so fired-up any time we catch any critters, but especially when we catch a coyote.
Our children aren’t just spectators in our trapping—they’re also participants. All three of them can set dog-proof raccoon traps and cage traps. There’s nothing more fun for us and them than running our traplines. On those trapping excursions, we spend quality time with our children, and we’re teaching them not only how to trap but also why to trap and why removing predators is a good thing for both the land and the game that lives on that land. Being able to spend that time with our children is almost indescribable.
When our kids see a coyote bouncing up and down in a trap in the morning, they’re like kids in a candy store and can’t wait to get to that coyote. The only thing that excites them more is if they pick out a place to put a trap and set the trap and if on the next day they find a critter in their trap. Then they truly become excited. They understand they may have saved a momma turkey and her babies or a fawn deer.
Our kids also get to shoot a .22 rifle to dispatch the critter. Stephen and I have taught them where to aim to take a predator quickly and not damage the hide. We use CB short cartridges that won’t exit the critters. Those shorts don’t want to feed correctly into my .22 long rifle. So, due to the shorts not working well in the magazine and the clip in my semi-automatic, I hand load the shorts.
After they’ve dispatched the animal, we let them carry the critter back to the truck. If they don’t get to, there’s usually a fight. My children have ridden with me and Uncle Stephen, who’s really not their uncle, and have seen us set traps and catch predators. We’ve let them play with small traps that won’t hurt them to begin to learn how to set traps. That came about from them asking, “Why can’t we set the traps?” But generally Stephen or I will set the trap, and the children will dig the hole, hide the trap and bait the trap. The kids became interested in setting traps when Stephen and I were boiling and dipping some new traps. We used a speed dip to eliminate unwanted scents and then waxed the traps to make the traps work better and faster. That’s when the conversation began about the youngsters doing their own trapping with us when we go out to trap.
Something else that Stephen and I do is we’ve taught our children how to look for predator sign and how to identify places to set traps. One of our biggest rewards has been watching our children, even as young as they are, honing their skills to become effective trappers and to understand that predator trapping helps to improve the land for wildlife. Of course, we’ve really enjoyed spending time with our children and building relationships with them. We’ve taught them to appreciate the woods and everything God has given us.
My oldest son started deer hunting with me when he was about 4 years old. I rigged up a dog harness to create a body harness for him to ensure he didn’t fall out of the tree. I used carabiners and a 3/8-inch braided rope to make his safety harness. So far, I haven’t seen any company making safety harnesses for children, and I wanted to teach my son to be as safe in a tree as I was and not to climb a tree without wearing a safety harness.
When we go out at night to predator hunt, if dark falls before bedtime, and my boys don’t have to go to school the next day, my boys are right in my back pocket. I love that. Once my boys catch critters in their traps, they get prideful and will say, “I caught that coon,” or, “My trap caught that coyote.” At 9 and 7 years old, my boys are much better trappers than I ever was at their ages.
So, I recommend that anyone who enjoys hunting, wants to have more game animals where he hunts and likes to spend time with his children should teach and take his kids trapping and hunting predators with him.
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