Tips for Better Coyote Hunting
It's the rush of a lifetime! I'm talking about calling in coyotes. If you've ever had a wild dog come blistering in to your set up, then you know what I mean! While many hunters shoot coyotes as incidental species during big game or even bird game hunts, there are those among us who thrive on targeting predators exclusively. For coyote hunting fanatics, predator seasons are all about the rush; more specifically duping a wily coyote, prompting them to race in to inspect the prospect of an easy meal or perhaps a potential breeding partner.
I recall one day in particular when my hunting partner and I could do no wrong. No matter where we set up, we had coyotes coming in on a dead run. Things were going so well in fact that we decided to try something that many predator hunters would scoff at. Knowing that the coyote population was high on a specific property and that they could literally come from any direction, we opted to sit smack dab in the middle of a wide open field. Resting back-to-back, we squealed aggressively and within minutes a gorgeous coyote came blasting out of the timber. Without a second thought my partner slowly rolled on to his belly, shouldered the gun that was already resting on a bipod, took aim and launched a bullet out to just under 300 yards. Making a perfect shot, he rolled the coyote on the spot!
Its days like these that coyote hunters live for. While not every outing is that productive, there are things we can do to improve our odds. As an Alberta-based big game and coyote hunting outfitter/guide I've learned there are several things we can do to tip the odds in our favor. Here are my top 10 tips:
TIP #1: Time Your Hunt
To maximize your time in the field consider hunting prime times and ideal conditions. In some jurisdictions coyote hunting is allowed year round but in most situations the months of December, January and February are the best months to pursue these wild dogs. Pelts are in prime condition and the often snow-covered landscape can greatly improve visibility for the hunter while making scavenging for food more difficult for the coyotes. Extreme cold temperatures with a slight breeze carry sound greater distances, increasing the effectiveness of calling. Mild and windy conditions can literally shut things down. Savvy coyote hunters recognize and capitalize on the best conditions. Remember, breeding season is prime time. Females go into heat beginning in January and peak by mid-to-late February. During this timeframe, there is the added bonus of increased visibility. Just as ungulates drop their guard somewhat during the rut, so do coyotes during their breeding season. They can frequently be seen frolicking in open fields or along tree lines, creating great spot-and-stalk shooting opportunities. Males are on the prowl looking for females in heat and groups of multiple dogs are often spotted together.
TIP #2: Focus on Known Den Sites
Spend your hunting time wisely. Locating and setting up near dens sites will always work in your favor. Focusing on properties that you know hold higher densities of wild dogs will usually produce better results as resident coyotes compete for available food. In areas where cattle or dairy farming is a mainstay, nearby woodlots will generally be a good bet.
TIP #3: Use a Shooting Rest
Coyotes have a kill zone scarcely bigger than a softball. Combine this small target with the potential for long-range shooting, and the need for a secure rest becomes paramount. I've done a fair bit of research and two shooting rests are at the top of my list. The first is a Harris Bipod (www.harrisbipods.com). Mounting the front of the gun stock, the legs fold up and down quickly and easily. A few models are available, but I prefer the longer version with the swivel capability to account for uneven ground. The second is a set of portable shooting sticks manufactured by Sniper Styx (www.predatorsniperstyx.com). Lightweight and easy to carry and set up, they are perfect for use in the field.
TIP #4: Learn to Use Calls
Coyote hunters typically use two main types of calls; locators and attractors. Howlers are great for locating or pinpointing the whereabouts of wild dogs. By yipping and yelping, then following up with a long drawn out howl, it's usually easy to prompt nearby coyotes to respond in unison. With practice, hunters learn to recognize and mimic territorial calls, breeding calls, and locator calls. Each has its application and can be used to entice coyotes in for a closer look. When and where each is most effective can be influenced by the phase of their annual breeding cycle. The important thing to remember is that coyotes are not only opportunistic, but they are also social critters. As such they are often enticed by the prospect of an easy meal as well as the potential for company or a breeding partner.
Electronic calls can be dynamite, but not every state or province allows them. The alternative is a mouth or hand call. Where predator hunting pressure is low, most coyotes are easily duped. Where pressure is high, skilled calling can make the difference. A variety of commercial calls can be used to emulate these sounds. I recommend a selection of predator calls made by Mick Lacy Game Calls, specifically two models - their Coyote Howler and Coyote Coaxer (www.micklacygamecalls.com). Another of my favorites is a howler and wounded rabbit call manufactured by Primos (www.primos.com). When coyotes are in close range but reluctant to proceed, a hand call such as a squeaker that mimics the sounds of a mouse can often tempt them in for a closer look.
TIP #5: Employ Good Optics
Good binoculars are always valuable, but a high quality scope is invaluable. My optics of choice for coyote hunting are Swarovski 10x42 SLC binoculars and Bushnell's Elite 4200 series 8-32x40 rifle scope. Tricked out for long-range shooting it is undeniably one of the preferred choices for varmint hunting.
TIP #6: Consider Camouflage
Coyotes have incredible eyesight. Remember, they are predators but to some extent they are also scavengers and are therefore always on the lookout for danger. When you're calling to attract wild dogs, they're looking for whatever is making the noise. By dressing to blend in with your surroundings you'll tip the odds in your favor. Realtree's new AP (All Purpose) camouflage is ideal for blending with Alberta's fall colors (www.realtree.com). Alternatively solid white fleece outfits or Mossy Oak's snow pattern for instance works great under most conditions (www.mossyoak.com).
Masking scent or using attractants can go hand-in-hand with camouflage. Regardless of camo and scents used, it's always smart to set up downwind at least 50 yards from the coyote's anticipated direction of approach.
TIP #7: Use a Decoy to Add Realism
Sounds attract, but visual "bait" often closes the deal. For added realism and a valuable distraction, use a decoy. One of my favorites is a stuffed rabbit, one that I hand picked from the local toy store. The key is to use one that is as lifelike as possible. Add movement to the decoy and you're well on your way to a kill, e.g., implant a quiver magnet. Alternatively, several commercial models are available. My personal favor goes to Edge Expedite's Quiver Kritter. Again, by setting up downwind of the decoy you can put yourself in an ideal position for a shot.
TIP #8: Choose a Flat Shooting Gun
Coyotes offer a small target. Shooting at them requires considerable skill particularly at longer distances. One of the ways that we can tip the odds in our favor is by using a flat shooting gun. Savvy predator hunters usually customize their rifle. Common favorites among coyote hunters are the .22-250, .223, .243 and most recently the relatively new .204 Ruger. Heavy barrel guns are also favored with most coyote hunting aficionados. These guns are considerably heavier and therefore generally more stable to shoot. I personally like a lightweight gun. One of my favorite varmint rifles is a Winchester Featherweight (light barrel) .22-250.
TIP #9: Select the Right Bullet
A range of bullets may be used to hunt coyotes. To minimize damage to the hide, a mid-range varmint load like Winchester's 55 grain Winchester pointed soft point bullet is ideal. I've also used and experienced great success with Norma's 53 grain semi-pointed bullet and Federal's 55 grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw. A lighter bullet accommodates a flatter trajectory thereby facilitating long-range shots. Although not always possible, the ideal when collecting furs is a bullet that makes a small entrance wound and expands to do as much damage as possible inside the body cavity without an exit wound.
TIP #10: Consider Alternate Strategies
Most coyote hunters enjoy the rush of spot and stalk hunting while employing calls and decoys. As a professional guide, I typically set up a daily routine for my clients. In the morning we walk and call near known den sites. In the afternoon we'll often adopt a more reactive approach, sitting in a blind near a bait pile. For those less ambitious and for whom the waiting game is more desirable, setting up a blind near bait (where legal) is a great alternative strategy for coyote hunting.
Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl
guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails
and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either
bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing,
waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known
outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. For more information on his
outfitting services, visit www.venturenorthoutfitting.com.
Member of OWAA & OWC.