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Hunting the Eastern coyote has become more and more popular over time, to the point that many clubs and organizations now pit hunter against hunter for coyote cash in many tournaments around the country. But the lure runs much deeper for most than the smell of green.
For many hunters, it is the mystique and excitement of luring a toothy critter up close, sometimes within handshaking distance, all the while knowing that the animal is coming to eat what you are imitating that creates the draw. Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores. That means they will eat about anything that slows down that they think they might extract nutrition from. It may be far less exhausting to steal a rabbit from another predator than to chase one across the countryside and try to nail it.
Calling your quarry
Predator hunters take advantage of this bully characteristic by imitating the sounds of a wounded prey animal via either mouth-blown or electronic callers. There are as many calls on the market as there are coyotes out there, or so it seems. There are calls that imitate the sounds of wounded prey, such as small rodents, songbirds, rabbits and fawns. There are also calls for locating and or challenging coyotes. These calls are open-reed calls or diaphragm calls that are operated by blowing air through them, or electronically. Electronic callers now use modern technology to store literally hundreds of varying sounds in a tiny package. Sometimes a coyote will respond quickly to a call, but then for one reason or another will hang up a hundred yards out, sometimes just sitting down until their senses give them the go ahead to move on. Changing the sounds one is using will sometimes lure the coyote to close the gap.
After spending countless hours scouting to locate where coyotes can be found, one would do best to approach the area from downwind and with as little noise as possible. This means no slamming car doors or talking, etc. It is important to be in position and in full ready mode before the first note of a call is made. Sometimes it is literally seconds from the time the sounds emit till a coyote is in your lap. Again, this is after scouting and knowing you are in coyote territory and assuming coyotes are close at hand. For that reason, one should always start with softer calling so as not to spook coyotes that may be bedded or hunting close by. After a few minutes with no results, the volume can be increased accordingly.
Opinions differ on whether or not one should call for a bit and then take a break and then start again. Some hunters believe that, because coyotes can be very competitive when it comes to getting to a potential prey animal in distress, the calling should start softly and then increase in volume and urgency so that if a coyote is responding, it believes it must get there quickly or lose the chance at getting the meal. For me, there are no rules on coyote hunting written in stone. You learn as you go, and often the animals will dictate how you should proceed.
Pay attention to the wind
Wind is probably the biggest factor in hunter success. If the wind is swirling or blowing toward the area your scouting efforts show the coyotes should be coming from, either stay home or pick another spot. If you think fooling a whitetail’s nose is tough, you have never come against the olfactory senses of a yodel dog. They will almost always circle the call to let their nose tell them whether to rush in or not. A coyote lives and dies by the power of his olfactory system. His nose finds him food and mates and helps him avoid danger. I stay home on nights when the winds are swirling and unpredictable. Those winds limit the distance your calls can reach and broadcast your scent to every corner of the compass. A coyote responding to a wounded prey sound, knows that there is another predator already on scene. He will swing a wide circle to get downwind to find out if he is encountering a weasel or a black bear. In doing so he will also quickly discern your human scent and turn tail and disappear into the inky darkness—and you may never even know you had one on the way.
I think the most often asked question I get regarding coyote hunting is when is the best time. I really prefer to hunt first light and last light. A coyote that has napped all day wakes up hungry as the shadows lengthen. On the other hand a coyote that has hunted all night may be headed to bed hungry. Either makes a likely candidate for the call.
That’s not to say that night hunting isn’t good as well. It is harder to hunt at night, and there is obviously more gear required. A good light is a must, and one has to practice shooting at night in order to hit the target as well as ensure safety. Many animals will come to the call under the cloak of darkness, and a hunter must positively identify his or her target before shooting. Those glowing eyes make every caller want to settle the crosshairs, but restraint must be employed. I was out with someone one night, and we were using an electronic caller. Suddenly glowing eyes appeared and I heard the safety click. I quickly whispered “gun on safe, hold your fire”. Good thing I did, because it was a large, curious doe whitetail stalking the sounds. I have seen everything from owls to raccoons come to check out the call.
A decoy is another tool that many hunters use to distract the attention of an approaching coyote. Decoys come in a variety of descriptions and can be a stuffed animal to a ceramic lawn ornament or feathers tied from a string to a more sophisticated electronic decoy that wobbles and waves feathers or fur in a tantalizing fashion. When a coyote comes to those sounds of an animal being mauled by another, it expects to see some kind of activity. I have seen coyotes on the run coming to a call skid to a stop a hundred yards out to survey for danger. When the motor for the decoy kicks the attractant into flailing motion, the coyote throws caution to the wind, as it now sees the quarry and wants to seal the deal. Modern decoys are light and easy to carry and a far cry from my early days of a tanned cottontail hide stuffed with excelsior and mounted on a wire with fishing line attached to create motion!
As I said earlier, hunting coyotes where there are no coyotes is like fishing a farm pond in the spring after a pair of otters spent the winter there. If you call to an area void of yodel dogs, there is not much hope of being successful. Scouting is a must. Having been hunting coyotes more than 20 years and having spoken at seminars about it across the northeast, I find the biggest mistake coyote hunters make is calling to areas where there are no coyotes.
Tracks and scat mean coyotes have been there, but where they are right now is what hunters need to focus on. Coyotes spend their time from evening till dawn combing the countryside for food. By day, their secretive nature has them holed up in heavy brush, a stump pile, a dense thicket, or similar cover. That daytime lair might be a couple of miles from where you are looking at their tracks from when they were passing by last night. Some of the success that comes from scouting will demand that you know this animal well enough to understand that if they are causing issues at a local farm with a couple of hundred acres of fields, calling there is not likely to be successful. You must know where those coyotes come from and go to so you can hunt them where they are. If there is a thickly vegetated draw or hillside loaded with laurel and rhododendron, that might be the place to send a few sound waves. If you can get an elevated vantage point that overlooks these brushy areas so you could see an approaching coyote, you have found a great place to make a set up.
Successful coyote hunters notoriously spend more time studying an area and scouting potential calling stations than actually calling. Once the calls are falling upon the ears of a coyote, one at least stands a chance that it will respond. I have actually been looking right at coyotes and hit the caller and caused no reaction at all. On other occasions I have had coyotes literally a few feet away before I even set the caller on the ground after adjusting the volume. I always say “A hungry coyote is a good coyote.”
Hunting coyotes can be done alone or with a partner. Two people working together have a great chance of intercepting coyotes that swing wide and downwind as they approach the call. Often it is the “wing man” who gets the shot if the coyote circles. With one shooter sitting slightly downwind of the other, the caller might get first crack. Often when hunting in a team, one hunter sports a shotgun and the other a rifle. Any coyote willing to run right in will catch a load of shot and those wanting to keep their distance can be reached with any light, fast round such as the .223. Most rimfires are a little light for any coyotes at a longer range, so I stick with the .223 and know plenty of hunters who use a .243. For shotguns you can go all the way up to number four buckshot in your payload, allowing one to put the smack-down on even a large male out to 60 yards with the proper choke.
Hunting coyotes is not easy. Be prepared to hit the hay empty handed more times than not—but seeing eyes even once will make you want to try again. This game, if played correctly, can provide some of the most exciting hunting action of your entire season.