Predator Hunting At Night With Joe Zaffuto/Night Eyes
By C.C. McCotter
When it comes to predator hunting there’s a lot out on the interweb that folks are using all around the country but not so much that applies directly to our region. And make no mistake, our region is full of predators like fox and coyote that need thinning.
So when we met Joe Zaffuto at the recent Virginia Outdoor Sportsman Show and listened to his incredibly informative hunting seminars we had an “Ah-ha!” moment; here was the guy that had mastered the dark arts of predator hunting at night AND he has a system he’s willing to share with others.
Before we get to Jedi Zaffuto’s predator hunting system, a brief look at his background will demonstrate how qualified he is teaching these tactics.
Zaffuto is a Pennsylvanian that has dropped hundreds of foxes, coyotes and other pests, all hunting at night using trial and error with special lights.
His company, Night Eyes offers headlamps in single beam or dual color beam with color options of red, green, or white that are used to spot, blind and hold normally super wary predators still so you can off ‘em.
Zaffuto also offers a three color handheld scan light, a small, compact 200-yard gun light and a slightly larger 300 yard gun light along with a 350 yard infra-red gun light – all used in his night predator hunting system.
We asked the nocturnal hunting expert to describe the different between western and eastern coyote hunting.
“There are approximately eight different subspecies of coyote in the United States. Most people know only two and classify them as the western and eastern coyote. The most obvious difference between the western and eastern coyote is their size. Coyotes in the west are smaller averaging around 25 to 35 lbs. Here in the east they average between 33 to 45 lbs.
“No matter East or West, coyotes can be called in using mouth or electric calls however, coyotes in the west are much more willing to come to a call over say coyotes in Pennsylvania. Coyotes in the west can be called day or night with a high success rate. However, coyotes in the Northeast are more likely to respond to a call just before or after dark. Here in the east you will be more successful targeting coyotes after nightfall. I would say your odds of calling at night are about three times higher for success than during the day.”
With that information in mind we next asked how do his Night Eyes lights work on foxes or other varmints?
Lights work very well on predators, however like with any tool they have to be used correctly.
“The biggest problem I see with hunters that are using lights and are not successful are that they do not use the lights correctly. It is crucial that the scan light does not reflect off of any close vegetation or your hunting partner while scanning for those eyes. That is why I choose my hunting stand in open areas. I either sit or kneel in an open field and I use my scan light as my concealment.
“As long as the scanning light beam is being shinned on the approaching predator they cannot see you. If for any reason the scanning light beam is taken off the approaching predator you very well may be going back to the truck empty handed.”
Zaffuto told W2 that he believes the red light works the best. He says red not only helps keep the hunter’s night vision but it also has less reflection off of the humidity or particles in the air thus allowing the hunter to see more clearly. Red also seems to have a calming effect on animals.
The PA hunter notes he
hunting on darker nights. The darker the night the better. He generally does not hunt on full moon nights unless there is 100% cloud cover. He says if you decide to hunt on brighter nights use the shadows of trees to set up in.
So when you’re ready to get outfitted to night hunt here’s what Zafutto recommends you have.
“When it comes to equipment I like a rifle rather than a shotgun and I prefer using the .17 Hornet with a 25 grain hollow point. I use the .17 Hornet when I set up where either a fox or coyote may come to the call.
“The .17 Hornet is deadly out to about 240 yards although most of my kills are between 75 to 125 yards. It is also a fur friendly round which helps when it is time to sell the fur to market.
“If I am targeting just coyotes I prefer a .223 caliber 50 grain hollow point. It has a little more punch over the .17 Hornet and less likely to have a large coyote run off. My rifles are equipped with either 4-12X44 or the 3.5-10X50 Vortex scopes.
“I like using shooting sticks rather than bipods since they are easier to swing around if a predator attempts to circle down wind. I use open reed calls and when using an electric call I use a Foxpro.
“I scan with the Night Eyes HL50-Q red/white headlamp using the red beam at 40% brightness. I switch to the white beam for game recovery. My scope is topped with either the Night Eyes F6-R or the GL-300R gun light.”
So how exactly does a Night Eyes Light assist a hunter?
“The objective of a scanning light is to continuously scan the calling area while looking for the reflection of approaching eyes. A lower-intensity diffuse beam will do this at surprisingly long distances.
“The Night Eyes Headlamp and handheld scan lights were designed specifically to pick up predator's eyes at over 300 yards while set at only 40% brightness, even if the center of the beam is not directly shining on the predator.
“The light has also been designed to minimize the odds of spooking the predator. The orange peel reflector housing fragments and diffuses the light beam and the fully adjustable brightness control lets the hunter dial up as little or as much of this diffuse light as desired. Keeping this minimal amount of diffused light on the predator conditions it to the light as it continues to approach. (This is called light conditioning)
“The predator gets use to the light and then when it is in shooting range, the hunter can switch on a brighter gun mounted light for positive identification and the shot. “The Night Eyes GL-300 gun light can positively identify any predator at distances of 300 yards or more. “Because the predator has been conditioned with the less-brilliant scanning light, the brighter shooting light does not immediately trigger the animal's photo-phobia (aversion to light), thus keeping it in range longer.
“I am sometimes asked if it is better to turn off the scanning light once the gun light is on the animal. “Basically, it comes down to preference but because I am using a headlamp rather than a handheld scanning light, I am able to leave the headlamp turned on when I switch on the gun light to make the shot. “Not needing to turn off the scanning light gives me one less thing to worry about, and a halo shield on the scanning headlamp prevents unwanted peripheral light shining in the scope.”
How important are calls when hunting coyotes and foxes in the east?
“A coyote or fox needs to hear something for them to respond to. So having a mouth or electric call is very important. It is not so much the type of sounds that are used but more importantly how they are used.
“Although, some sounds may work better than others it is more important to use the sounds correctly.
“For example, if using an electric call, prey sounds such as a dying rabbit should be played low to medium volume with periods of silence. The volume should be varied while calling with at least 15 to 30 seconds of silence every two minutes or so. It is also important if using an electric call to keep the call close to you (within 20 feet).
“Remember, at night because you are using a scan light you want the approaching predator looking at you so you can pick up their eye reflection as soon as possible. Unlike when calling during the day you want them looking away from you.
“If targeting coyotes and coyote vocalizations are being used such as howls or pup distress they should be at full volume or as loud as one can blow a mouth call. Coyotes are very loud and you cannot be too loud when using coyote sounds.”
Can you offer advice on how to use calls in different scenarios?
“If hunting red fox I like using higher pitch distress sounds like a baby cottontail or woodpecker. For grey fox I prefer cottontail distress or grey fox pup. For bobcat I use bird sounds and play them continuously with no periods of silence. Bobcat lose interest quickly so it is important to keep the call playing.
“When targeting coyotes I start out with prey sounds for the first 15 minutes or so then change to several howls. After a few minutes of silence and about 30 minutes of calling I’ll end with a pup distress.”
What calls do you recommend?
“If using mouth calls I like using open reed calls. They will not freeze and just by moving your teeth back and forth on the reed the sound tone can be changed. This is important if you have one hung up that is too far to shoot. Just by watching how it reacts while changing the tone and giving the predator what it likes to coax it in close.
“I also like lip squeaking as they are approaching. This keeps their interest and also alerts my partner to the approaching predator.
When using an electric call I use a FoxPro.”
Do you have any new items coming up?
“Our GL-300 gun light, HS-3 handheld, and our Inferred IR-350 light are new for 2017. We are working on some other products for the fall of 2018.”
Editor’s Note: You can reach Zafutto at 814.364.9660 and visit his website at www.nighteyeslights.com.