How to Hunt & Kill Coyotes
Choose the right load and lead shot is just as effective on coyotes as the nontoxic heavyweights and less expensive to boot.
In my experience, BB (.18 caliber) is the smallest size to use, but larger shot sizes such as BBB (.19 caliber), T (.20 caliber) and No. 4 Buck (.24 caliber), with their higher energy levels, are better so long as pellet count and therefore pattern density is high enough to deliver multiple strikes to the relatively small vital area of a coyote out to forty yards or so.
Getting a coyote into forty yards, well, that’s a whole other story.
Choosing A Call
Like other predators, the coyote can be brought into shooting range by imitating the distress calls of various small animals, and for obvious reasons, you will have to coax them a bit closer when using a shotgun than when you’re using a rifle.
I’ve used a C-3 Long Range Fox Call from Burnham Brothers for the past forty years, and it pulls coyotes in like a magnet by imitating the scream of a cottontail rabbit as it is being torn to pieces.
During the past few months, I’ve also been using with great success the new CompuCaller II, a digital call from the same company. I find my old mouth call to be just as effective at bringing in the yodel dogs, but I’ll have to admit the electronic caller does have its advantages.
Pushing a button on a battery-powered remote controller is not as tiring as blowing a call for hours on end, and there’s the tactical edge as well.
Like a turkey gobbler, a coyote is quite good at pinpointing the precise location of a call, and having the sound originate some distance away from the shooter is a definite advantage.
Gary Roberson, the owner of Burnham Brothers, recommends setting the caller fifty yards away when hunting with a rifle, and I find half that to be about ideal when using a shotgun.
His unit has the best sound of any electronic caller I’ve ever used, and I’m sure the dozens of coyotes that have come to mine would agree if they were still around.
You can see first-hand how effective it is by ordering the DVD “Eyes Front III.”
Getting The Shot
Setting up to shotgun a coyote is a lot like setting up to call in a turkey gobbler, with one exception.
Whereas a gobbler depends mostly on its excellent eyesight to keep it out of the roasting pan, the coyote has that plus a very sensitive nose that can sniff you out long before it’s within range.
So, Rule No. 1 is to set up with the wind or breeze cooling your face as you look in the direction from which you expect a coyote to approach.
Turkeys and coyotes are about even when it comes to detecting movement, but the eyes of a coyote are much more capable of separating the form of a hunter from his surroundings, even when that hunter is sitting absolutely motionless.
This is why a camo pattern that makes you appear to be a natural part of the coyote’s home turf is so important.
The wind had been howling across the prairie for two days, bringing intermittent sleet and more than six inches of snow. The weather was fit for neither man nor beast.
On the afternoon of the third day, the wind subsided and the sun broke through the clouds to reveal a beautiful snow-covered landscape. I already had a touch of cabin fever, so I dropped my office work and grabbed my .22-250.
I had three hours of daylight left, and I was going to make the most of it. In no more than a half-hour I was backed into a cedar tree with the rifle across my lap and a predator call in my lips.
The awful sound can set a human’s nerves on edge, but to a hungry coyote it is the melodic invitation to a warm rabbit dinner. Little did they know that hot lead was the fare.
Shortly, a coyote loped across a distant flat toward the call and my secluded spot on the ridge. There’s something about the stark contrast of a coyote on new snow that makes him appear more vivid than life.
In less than a minute he was 50 yards out and still coming hard directly toward the sound when the crosshairs quartered his chest.
The long hair of a winter coat makes a coyote appear bigger than he is, and I was careful not to hold too low. I took slack from the trigger, and all the energy of the Speer’s hollowpoint was dispensed in the coyote, slamming him to the ground. It was decisive and clean without excessive destruction on the outside, a satisfying climax.
I threw the coyote on the Bronco’s rack and was again driving along the four-wheel-drive trail in semi-open country, looking for coyote tracks in the fresh snow. Soon, I spotted where a pair of coyotes had crossed, and it was clear where they were headed–a wide, brush-choked draw far below.
I drove to within a half-mile of the draw, coasted to the bottom and quietly got out and headed for a low knoll. Taking note of the wind–a slight breeze drifting from the brushy draw to the knoll–and, being careful not to skyline myself, I crawled to the crest of the knoll and rapidly got into position with a low bush at my back. This time, I blew softly on the call, and in seconds two coyotes were coming to dinner. To make a long story short, I repeated this performance until by dark I had six coyotes on the Bronco’s rack.
Coyote populations have exploded in recent years because pelt prices are low. The fact is that coyotes cannot be over-hunted. They have few natural enemies except disease (and good coyote hunters), and they’re prolific breeders. A female coyote mates at the age of one year and produces an average litter of more than five pups, according to one study. Individual litters have been known to contain 15 or more pups.
There are liberal hunting seasons and no bag limits, for the most part, and many landowners are only too happy to let coyote hunters on their properties. Song dogs are a challenge to hunt and have senses that put whitetail deer in the shade. These facts, combined with increasingly limited hunting opportunities for other game species, put coyote hunting at the top of the list for serious action throughout the year.
I’ve hunted coyotes nearly every year for more than 40 years, and the thrill of bagging one of these wary critters never wanes. Calling for coyotes is one of the most exciting sports you’ll find, and it is neither difficult nor expensive. All you need are a rifle, a call and some means to get into country where coyotes are.
It doesn’t really matter whether you use a mouth-blown call or an electronic call, and it doesn’t seem to matter how you call–particularly when you’re imitating the sound of a prey species such as a rabbit in distress. The call itself is not critical because distressed rabbits make different sounds. Some rabbits call shrilly, others are low-pitched. Some almost growl slowly, and some shriek in repeated, high-pitched and short-duration bursts.
However you call, you should begin by calling rather quietly. If there is a coyote close by, loud calls at the beginning can spook him. Spend at least 10 minutes at each setup–20 is even better. The most important factors in coyote calling success are the areas you hunt, the specific spot from which you call and how you get to the calling site. In new snow you can seek out fresh tracks. If you don’t have snow, you can find coyotes by locating droppings in the road or tracks around water holes. If it’s dry, coyotes are often concentrated around water.
Once you know the general area where coyotes are, focus on picking the calling site. Keep in mind that you want to select a spot that puts the sun at your back. The best camouflage is to sit in the shade. Never sit in bright sunlight while calling because you stand out like a beacon.
Sometimes coyotes will run right by a vehicle and ignore it; other times the sight of a car will stop them in their tracks or send them running. Try not to drive through areas you want to call. In ridge country, stop the vehicle before you top out on a ridge. In flatter terrain, park in a low spot or in a brushy area where approaching animals won’t spot your truck.
Always keep the wind right; nothing spooks a coyote faster than human scent. This includes your scent trail–the one you left when you walked to the calling site. Take this into consideration as you move into calling position.
It’s extremely important not to advertise your presence. Avoid slamming the car door, working a rifle bolt noisily or making any loud, metallic sound. If you’re calling with a buddy, don’t talk after you leave the vehicle. Communicate with hand signals. Walk in draws or through brushy areas so you’re as invisible as possible. If you’re calling with a buddy, it’s a good idea to have him sit downwind from the calling site, particularly if there is country downwind that can’t be seen by the caller. Coyotes nearly always circle downwind on their approach approach, and if there’s heavy cover in that direction, the animal may come in silently and see you before you see him–then leave as quietly as he came. A buddy can pick off these animals.
Calling coyotes doesn’t have to be much more complicated than this. The more you learn the habits of the animal, and the better you know the country where you’re calling, the greater the chance of success.
While I’ve talked about using a car or truck to access coyote country, any type of transportation will work: quiet four-wheelers, horses, feet. Snowshoes or cross country skis also offer a great means to get into country that otherwise might be inaccessible. I’ve had some dynamite coyote calling by snowshoeing across the countryside. It works well if you have a buddy. He drops you off and drives to another location while you begin your cross-country hunt. He then hunts to still another destination. When you get to the vehicle, you drive around to pick him up. It’s a great way to cover a lot of country in detail without backtracking.
Imitating the sound of a prey species in distress is not the only way to take coyotes. You can imitate the sound of coyotes themselves. This requires a certain amount of knowledge of what various coyote sounds mean and possessing the skill to imitate them. The method is often referred to as howling, though not all the sounds are howls. You can acquire the necessary knowledge by listening to recordings of experienced callers. With this ability in your repertoire, you can increase your calling success.
Some coyotes get educated to one type of sound or another, particularly in areas where a certain type of electronic sound is favored. The more types of calling sounds you are capable of producing, the better your odds. Coyote calling can be like fishing: If they aren’t taking a particular lure, try another.
Night hunting for predators is allowed in some states, and while this can offer an advantage to bobcat and fox hunters, I am not sure the night holds much advantage for coyote hunting. Coyotes respond well to daytime calling. If conditions are right, midday is just as good a time to call as any, and you get the added excitement of clearly seeing the predator work it way in–sometimes from great distances.
Calling is not the only method of hunting coyotes. Sometimes you can glass them up and make a stalk on them, particularly during midday when they’re typically bedded. It takes a good eye to spot a coyote that’s bedded . Sometimes they are bedded in groups, and you can get lucky when a single coyote that’s moving around gives away the whole group.
A single coyote may also just mill around in a small area without moving much. If you spot one of these loners, you can plan a stalk to get within shooting range. If the coyote is slowly moving cross country, as they often do, you can plan an intercept route. If you find a winter-killed deer or cow where coyotes have been feeding, make note of it and plan to come back later that day or the next morning. Don’t wait too long because coyotes can make quick work of a carcass. Plan an approach where you can get within shooting range without being seen, scented or heard.
Where legal, you can bait coyotes by placing frozen meat scraps at strategic locations. You can freeze meat scraps in water to make blocks of ice and then set them in the shade where they may draw coyotes for several days as the blocks thaw.
Few game animals offer the hunting opportunity that coyotes do, and winter is prime time for hunting them. They’re working hard for food this time of year and will in early January (in much of the country) become quite vocal as mating season approaches. This time of year, their coats will be luxuriously heavy in much of their range, making them a handsome as well as challenging trophy.
|GUNS AND CALIBERS|
|For riflemen who want to match a cartridge with the game, the larger .22 centerfires are the best choice for hunting coyotes. The .222 Rem., .223 Rem., .22-250 Rem. and .220 Swift are top-notch candidates. These calibers do the job nicely without over-kill, and they’re easy to shoot well.The.222 Rem. is an excellent choice for calling because of the mild report. A second or third coyote is likely to show up–even after you’ve shot one coyote–at the same site. If you frequently take coyotes at long range, the two largest .22s, the .22-250 and the Swift, are capable of taking coyotes at any distance you’re likely to shoot.
If you are hot on long-range shooting and aren’t worried about pelts but are worried about getting a bullet through woody vegetation, the .243 Win., 6mm Rem. and .25-06 Rem. are better choices.
For calling, a standard-weight rifle in a medium to short barrel length is easiest to get into and out of a vehicle repeatedly and handiest to carry to a calling stand. Keep the variable scope turned down to the lowest magnification. A power of 2X to 4X is about right. Field of view will be more of a problem than lack of magnification in most calling situations.
Coyotes are often spotted in open country where shooting distances are unlimited. If you’re into taking coyotes at really long range, a super-accurate heavy-barreled rig with a high-magnification scope (8X to 24X) and bipod make a great combination.
If you are more interested in killing coyotes than being a skilled rifleman, a shotgun is mighty effective, particularly in brushy country. A 12 gauge loaded with buffered and copper plated BBs is my first choice. (Comparable steel shot loads also work well.) If shot size gets much larger than that, pattern density suffer–much smaller and you lose penetration.
Since called-in coyotes usually offer shots on the near side of the 50-yard mark, it can make for great handgunning, too. If you’re calling in heavy cover, you can hone your quick-shooting skills using a .45 Auto stuffed with easy-expanding hollowpoint bullets. I’ve used the 185-grain Sierra and 200-grain Speer bullets with good success. My scoped Thompson/Center Contender chambered in .257 JDJ has also accounted for a good many of the wary predators.–RJ