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Many of us who weren’t lucky enough to draw a late deer tag or a coveted sheep tag are wondering what to do with our hunting gear and ourselves in December. In the previous issue of Hunting Highlights, biologist Mark Zornes wrote enthusiastically about abundant small game opportunities. His prediction of a good year for the small game hunter is proving to be accurate, and the abundance of small game (prey species) indicates that it should be a pretty good year for predators—and predator hunters.
Predator hunters generally go after coyote, bobcat and fox (gray and kit). They also hunt mountain lion and bear. Because of the abundant prey statewide this year, most adult predators survived the past summer; we also saw a high rate of survival for this year’s young. Next year, predators should be even more abundant as this year’s pups and kittens reach full adulthood. Predator hunters should find success in most parts of the state this fall and winter, and even better success next year.
The most successful method for hunting predators is calling with predator or varmint calls. These are found in many sporting goods stores, in various catalogs and at online stores. Hunters can choose an inexpensive mouth call or a more expensive electronic call. Electronic calls are relatively easy to use, while mouth calls require practice. To improve your technique or find someone to hunt with, contact one of the state’s wildlife-calling clubs (visit our hunting resources page for a list).
Coyote, bobcat and fox
Season dates for smaller predators are found in Commission Order 13, Predatory & Fur-bearing Mammals. The season for coyotes (and skunks) is year-round. The season for bobcats and foxes (along with raccoon, ringtail, weasel and badger) runs from Aug. 1 to March 31. To hunt on national wildlife refuges, check the regulations for season dates, since they differ from the statewide seasons. Bag and possession limits for these species are unlimited.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department collects jaws from coyotes, bobcats and foxes to determine the age structure of the state’s populations. Hunters can assist by removing the entire lower jaw from harvested animals and dropping them by the department’s Phoenix office or one of the regional offices.
Bear seasons (Commission Order 9) are open at various times in each unit, and are managed using female harvest quotas in addition to season dates. Successful hunters are required to report their harvest to the department in person or by phone within 48 hours and then submit a pre-molar tooth from the harvested animal. When a unit’s female harvest objective is reached, the hunt will close at sundown on the Wednesday immediately following.
Bears are all about eating during the fall season, as they build up their fat stores prior to winter hibernation. Bears are typically concentrated at lower elevations gorging themselves on prickly pear fruit or at higher elevations gorging themselves on acorns. Figuring out where the food is separates successful hunters from unsuccessful ones.
This year’s favorable precipitation patterns brought plentiful pear fruit and acorns. This means that earlier in the season, when most bear harvests usually occur, bears were not concentrated in small areas but dispersed throughout suitable habitats. On the bad side, fewer hunters than usual were successful at that time of year. On the good side, many female harvest objectives were not met as early as usual. When this article was written, some bear hunts were still open. Before going into the field, call the bear line at (800) 970-BEAR (2327) to see which units have closed. Always check the commission order notes for specifics (good advice no matter what species you’re hunting).
Mountain lion seasons are set in Commission Order 10. Seasons are currently open statewide all year. The state’s lion population has been relatively stable over time, and lions can be found almost anywhere in the state (the southwest corner of the state has only a sparse lion population). The bag limit is one lion per year, except in units with a multiple bag limit. In these units, a hunter may take one lion per day until the unit’s harvest objective is met. After that, the unit reverts to the statewide limit of one lion per year. Units in the southwest part of the state are combined into one hunt with a harvest objective of one—when one lion is harvested there, all of the units close. Successful lion hunters must report their harvest within 10 days and submit a pre-molar tooth to the department. Check the notes in Commission Order 10 for details.
So, whether your big game hunts are over, or you were never drawn, or you got a cool new gun for Christmas, or you’re tired of being at home, remember that you always have an opportunity to head for the hills (or the flatland if you prefer) and hunt predators. Take a friend with you, too.