I live far enough north that when mid-winter rolls around the amount of daylight available to hunt coyotes can be less than eight hours. That means I need to be spending my daylight hours hunting, not scouting for someplace to hunt. But any coyote hunter worth his skinning knife will tell you that to be successful, you have to hunt where the coyotes are. The more coyotes, the greater your success will be. The key then is to have a scouting method that finds concentrated amounts of coyotes - fast. I have such a system and it's never failed me.
My first coyote hunt of last winter is a great example. I hadn't scouted for tracks, listened for howling, searched for scat or poured over maps. Instead, I scouted from the comfort of my truck, covering large amounts of country at 50 miles per hour and stopping only to talk with landowners. When I set up to make my first stand of the winter a young male coyote responded to my rabbit call within ten minutes. Eventually, he stepped out onto open pasture and without hesitation came straight for me. I let him get about halfway, barked him to a stop and a 35 grain Berger bullet dropped him where he stood.
This coyote and three of his friends were hanging around a large winter cattle-feeding
operation when the author convinced them to check out an injured rabbit.
At my next stand, it was only five minutes until a big male trotted across the ice at me. He made it most of the way across the beaver pond on which I sat and froze when I moved my rifle into position. A moment later, another Berger bullet collapsed him in his tracks. I continued calling and it wasn't long before another popped out onto the ice. This one was more cautious so I dumped him at the edge of the trees. A third coyote appeared after more calling but he hung back in the black spruce. No matter, the Leupold on my rifle separated him from the shadows and I had a triple.
These results weren't luck. I knew these coyotes were there because I knew cattle were being wintered in the area. And cattle are easier to find than coyotes. Just go for a drive in the country and you'll see them everywhere. Once you've found cattle, you've found coyotes.
The tracks of this called coyote, lead directly back to a herd of cows.
Come winter, cattle need to be fed; and so farmers and ranchers typically gather the herd into one or more centralized locations to nurse them through the cold months. Feeding techniques vary from spreading feed directly on the ground in large open fields to controlled feedlots. But the key is that this entire cattle husbandry "system" creates what is in effect a giant grocery store for coyotes.
A typical winter cattle-feeding operation.
This is what you're looking for when scouting for coyotes.
It starts with the feed. Coyotes will eat just about anything and they'll eat some cattle feed, especially corn and the cereal grains. Beyond that, hay bales make cozy homes for mice and voles and when these are lifted, moved and broken apart these candy-like rodents become accessible to coyotes.
These three coyotes were all taken within 20 minutes,
and all were hanging around a winter cattle-feeding operation.
Then there are the cattle themselves. They are trying to survive the harshest months of the year and there will always be mortality in the herd; not necessarily from predators but rather from cold and especially disease. When this happens, coyotes are on the gravy train and there's only one thing better than a dead cow for attracting coyotes, calving time.
The possibility of a dead cow or two is just one of
the reasons coyotes hang around cattle herds.
I'm convinced that when a herd is calving, every coyote within twenty miles knows it and is there waiting. Given half a chance, they will kill a newborn calf in a heartbeat. They will certainly go for the placenta and if something goes wrong, like a stillborn or a partial delivery, they will do things I don't want to write about in a family website. However, it's all part of nature and part of the coyote's nature is to go where the pickings are easy. That's why, in the winter months, these cattle herds can be a hunter's key to success.
To coyotes, these three cows are a walking grocery store.
The coyote's tendency to raid this grocery store means ranchers and farmers don't have much use for them and that makes it easy to get permission to hunt around cattle operations. That's the first step in hunting them here. Your biggest obstacle to getting that permission is the rancher's perception that you will be shooting in the midst of his herd. You need to establish immediately that you'll be a healthy distance away and you are a safe and responsible hunter. I usually try and work in a reference to my own heritage of having grown up on a cattle farm and comment on how many years I've been shooting coyotes without ever mistaking a cow for one.
And while getting permission, ask the landowner where he's seeing the coyotes, where they run too when they are spooked and where he dumps his dead animals. The answers to these questions will give you additional clues about where to look for the predators.
That brushy ravine in the distance has coyotes during the day,
at night they raid a nearby cattle herd.
Although I've found them as far as four miles distant; usually, during the daytime, you'll find them within a mile or so of the cows. Look for patches of bush or a ravine where they can hide and lay up until dark, when they'll start to forage. If you need to confirm their travel routes, take a walk around the herd looking for tracks. You might want to try some locator howling or even a siren. Go through that exercise a few times and it won't be long before you'll be able to look over a winter feeding operation and with some certainty, declare exactly where the coyotes are hanging.
Once you've found cattle, a quick look for tracks around their feeding area
will confirm which routes the coyotes are using to move into and around the herd.
A word of caution here; be careful in calling or howling close to cattle, as they are capable of strange reactions. Most of the time, they will look at the source of the noise and then carry on with whatever it is cows do. Sometimes, they will wander over for a look. If they do that, your field of fire is cut to zero. When that happens, you're just educating coyotes. The worst-case scenario, however, is a stampede. I've had it happen once and I was lucky in that the field they were in was huge and the cows ran out of gas before they ran into a fence. If it hadn't been, I have no doubt they would have run right through any fence. The key is to put some distance between you and them, with two hundred yards being my personal comfort level.
Rifles like this Remington 700, chambered in 204 Ruger, are ideal for hunting
around cattle. The smaller cartridges make less noise and the bullets seldom exit or ricochet.
Once you've found cattle, it's time to make your move. Now, it's all basic hunting; check the wind, make your approach and call like you mean it. That's what I did with the stands mentioned at the beginning of this article. All four of those coyotes came trotting in from the immediate vicinity of cattle-feeding operations. Over the course of any winter, I'd guess three-quarters of the coyotes I lay crosshairs on arrive there from the same basic source. And I found them, not because I was looking for coyotes, but because I was looking for cattle. Just remember this, once you've found cattle, you've found coyotes.
A typical winter cattle-feeding operation.
Cattle are often kept near barns and outbuildings, so that's where coyotes
will show up too. Always check your field of fire and be prepared to let the
coyote go if the shot can't be made safely.
Check out the author's coyote hunting blog at www.coyoteschool.blogspot.com .
Al Voth is a lifelong hunter and shooter who recently retired from a career in law enforcement. He now splits his time between forensic contracts and freelance writing. Additionally, he is the author of two novels, B-Zone and Mandatory Reload; the hero of which is, among other things, a hunter.