It’s varmint season!

I don’t know what makes varmint season so appealing. Maybe because our hunting seasons are all over and we feel like we cheated the system and snuck in one last hooray. Or maybe it’s just because it is flat out fun. Or maybe it’s because after a hard-core regimented big game season you can run ‘n’ gun and shoot multiple animals. Elk/deer hunting is like a chess game. Varmint hunting is like a high-speed video game!

Who knows all of the deep psychological reasons why varmint hunting is so much fun? If you’ve never varmint hunted, don’t be a deep thinker, just do it! In this article I’m going to cover techniques and gear that you’ll need. But everyone has a budget so if you’re a kid on a paper route budget don’t despair — just buy a hand call and go cheap. You can still get some shots.

First off let’s start with what gun(s) to use. Two decades ago, a good bolt action was the ticket. Now, ARs have taken over the scene and for good reason. They’re semi autos so you can get fast follow up shots. I just got an Anderson Mfg. 5.56 and tricked it out and am now ready to have at it.

I love rifle hunting but if there’s more than one of you in your hunting party, I’d recommend one of you carrying a shotgun. I kept count one year and 40 percent of my shots were close enough to use a shotgun. How many times has one busted you when you were calling? Either sneaking in and spooking at 20-30 yards or zipping in at Mach V and you didn’t even get a shot? Have one of the hunters in your group carry a shotgun for one season and I bet it will become a rule.

For shotguns I’d recommend using good quality ammo. I use Kent or HEVI-Shot. Sure, you can use leftover pheasant shells but if you want to reach out there to 50-70 yards you need to use good shells.


When I was 5 or 6 years old, dad had an old wood call. We’d call for a minute and then wait five minutes. That philosophy has long gone out the window. Now everyone calls non-stop. That’s why electronic calls are so nice. They save you from blowing out your lungs on a hand call. After a few revolutions we’d then run a flashlight on the horizon to see if we could see any eyes.

Years later Johnny Stewart came out with cassette calls. My brother would plug one in his truck, roll down the windows and we’d stand in back of the truck. You can either run your light on the horizon or about 20 feet out from you in a circle. If you see eyes glistening the shooter gets ready and the light is dropped down on the varmint and you have about a second to shoot before they scatter. This was revolutionary.

If you buy a cheap call, you’re going to get frustrated. Buy a decent call. All the good varmint hunters I know use a FoxPro. It comes with quite a few calls and you can buy/download more. Of course mimic whatever game is in that area. Don’t use an elk in distress if you’re hunting outside of Star. Use a rabbit squeal. You get my drift.


Something that will tip the odds in your favor is to use a decoy. The most popular decoy is some kind of waggler. In a nutshell it is a wire attached to a motorized spinner that rotates. A white rag or piece of fur is tied to the end. You’d think a small white rag spinning around would scare them off but they love it.

Everyone has a budget. If you’re a kid on a paper route budget you get a stiff wire (3 to 4 feet long) and tie a turkey feather 2-4 inches from the end. Stick the wire in the ground at an angle and the breeze will twirl the feather around.

A decoy is important because a varmint hears the ruckus and comes running in expecting to see some action. If they don’t, that throws up a red flag. That also has them focusing on the decoy and not you.


You’ll need to be concealed while calling. Numerous times I’ve just hid behind a fence post or a pile of brush. A few years ago I upgraded and bought a strip of camouflaged burlap that was 3 feet by 10 feet long. I can lay this over a fence or between two bushes. Or there’s C-shaped panels that are lightweight and work great.

I don’t want to get too extravagant but it’s nice to have a chair. You don’t need a full-blown Lazy Boy. I like the Alps Mountaineering Dash Chair which is a backpacking chair. It is beneficial to have a low-profile chair for two reasons: 1. It elevates you so you can see over the grass and sage brush. 2. It’s comfortable so you will hold still longer and not spook the game.

So just because all of our hunting seasons have wound down don’t store away your rifles alongside your summer shorts just yet. There’s one more season in full swing right now — varmint season!

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at

Post Author: By Tom Claycomb

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