Coyotes, bobcat harvested during frigid Predator Games
HILLMAN – Beautiful but dangerous animals flit through Northeast Michigan woods, said camo-clad hunters who gathered for a weigh-in at the conclusion of a predator hunting tournament on Sunday.
During the Predator Games, which spans two winter weekends, hunters search local woods for coyotes, foxes, and bobcats, animals hunters say endanger game animals, pets, and even humans.
Winning teams take home cash and trophies, but the greatest prize is the exhilaration of the hunt, during which hunters sometimes stay in the woods all day and night in the coldest days of winter, the successful hunters said on Sunday as they traded stories around Hillman’s buck pole.
In its fifth year under the name Predator Games, the tournament has long drawn hunters from around Northeast Michigan, and beyond, to the region’s woods, said organizer AJ Lyttle.
Coyote hunting season runs all year in Michigan, with no bag limit. Hunters can harvest gray and red fox Oct. 15 to March 1 statewide, with no bag limit, and bobcats in January and February in Northeast Michigan.
During the second of two Predator Games weekends, the tournament’s 40-some participants harvested at least 21 coyotes, two foxes, and a bobcat between Friday evening and the end of the hunt on Sunday at noon, working the woods in double-digits below-zero temperatures.
“For every one of these, you’re saving seven fawns,” said Joyce Lyttle-Taylor, of Hillman, nodding toward the coyotes hanging on hooks on Sunday. “It looks like a massacre, but it’s better than some other options.”
Coyotes sometimes snatch pets from yards – especially in mating season, in January and February – and endanger deer, rabbits, and other small game populations and can even pose a danger to small children, the gathered hunters said.
In six overnight hours Saturday to Sunday, Jeff Sobey, of Hillman, spied 14 coyotes in area woods with the help of infrared scopes.
“I went ‘click’ several times,” he told another hunter, describing a series of gun malfunctions that kept him from bringing in a coyote for weighing.
His son, Jack, took a coyote during the hunt, however, the proud father said.
To attract coyotes, hunters may use calls that mimic the sound of an animal in distress or the locator howls and pack yips of other coyotes.
Predator hunters are not guaranteed a kill, however, he said.
“You want to be cold, tired, and disappointed?” he asked. “Let’s go coyote hunting.”
Often nocturnal around humans, coyotes can evade hunters as they glide silently through the woods, said Jennifer Drake, a hunting guide out of Afton, as she watched the weigh-in.
“They don’t call them wily coyotes for nothing,” said Drake, who brought in a 26-pound bobcat on the hunt’s second weekend and several coyotes on the first, in late January.
She and the other hunters, cold and tired but cheerful after a weekend in the woods, traded stories about missed chances, perfect shots, heart-pounding excitement, and the one that got away.
Passers-by slowed to a stop to gape at the animals on the pole, asking where Drake found the cat and describing coyotes they’d spotted patrolling near their homes.
One woman peered from her car, eyes wide at the sight of the bobcat.
“Ooh, I’m not going in the woods ever again,” she told the hunters, despite assurances that the predators might hunt her pet poodle but wouldn’t hurt her. “I’m not going to take a chance, thank you. You guys just keep up the good work.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.