My First Coyote
In 2007 I had my first western hunt in eastern Washington state. While hunting mule deer (see the story “Ultimate Muley”) I experienced the wide open spaces of the western sage country. Glassing over miles of terrain was an entirely new way of hunting for me. It was also my first experience with seeing and learning the habits of the elusive coyote.
I had never hunted them but I did want to add one to my lifetime hunting achievements. I sighted them several times throughout my week of hunting in Washington. They were usually several hundred yards away and despite attempted stalks the distance almost always increased immediately after spotting them. These clever canines were even more adept at spotting hunters than we were at them. I don’t know how these four footed predators kept an ever watchful eye out for small rodents while all the time scanning the horizon for potential danger. But they did it and they did it well.
I had just one real opportunity to harvest a coyote on that hunt. My friend John and I were sitting on a rise just about in the center of our host’s property “section” (a one mile by one mile square of land). We saw a coyote top the horizon roughly three quarters of a mile away and began to hunt her way toward us. The “’yote” worked the brushy draws in and out of view back and forth in a zig zag pattern looking for breakfast prey.
As the morning wore on she was getting closer and closer to us completely unaware of our presence as we sat amid the sage on a rise overlooking several miles of acreage. John asked if I wanted to take a shot at her and I confessed that I did. I decided that if she came within two hundred yards, I would be able to reach out and take her. I was carrying a 30-06 and felt fully confident that I could hit a coyote sized target reliably at anything under 200 yards so long as I was given plenty of time and a solid rest. The coyote would pause periodically and look around. At each of these periodic intervals she would stand still for a few seconds up to half a minute. So all I had to do was let her come within range, and then get my scope on her and wait for her to stop.
She was just getting within that 200 yard range, when a movement on the horizon caught our attention. It was a group of five mule deer, and they were headed our way. The coyote closed to 190, 180, 175…. The group of mule deer descended the rise at the edge of the property and began to follow roughly the same path that the coyote had followed an hour before. If they continued on the same route, they too would walk right within rifle range. But if I fired my rifle, there would be no way that these muleys would stick around, let alone wander in closer.
As much as I wanted a coyote, I wanted a muley more. I decided to let the coyote go in the hope that this group of mule deer contained or would be followed by a legal buck for me to fill my tag with. At about 160 yards, the coyote ducked into a gulley and followed in as it angled off to my right and away out of sight. I was sorry to see her go, but consoled by the sight of five muley does walking toward me. As it turned out, no shooter buck followed them that day. I was eventually blessed with a muley buck and dressed him out in the sage brush listening to the yelps of a coyote pack calling to each other in the gathering twilight, but that is another story.
After my close encounter, I sighted the same or other coyotes a couple of more times while I was in Washington, but never got close enough to seriously consider another shot at one. I flew home happy to have had a successful hunt but resigned to put my desire for a coyote pelt on hold until I was able to hunt the wide open spaces of the west again. While we have coyotes and cross bred feral ‘coy-dogs’ at home, they are rarely seen and almost never during shooting light.
I forgot all about my wish for a coyote as white tail deer season opened in my home state. November means white tail hunting almost as much as Thanksgiving dinner, so Thanksgiving morning found me walking past the gut pile from my friend’s opening day deer just to see if anything had been into it. I was surprised to see that it was nearly gone! Normally a gut pile near my home disappears over the course of a week or so as small predators and scavengers like weasels, pine martins, and fisher cats tear it apart. I have seen gut piles lay untouched for weeks. So the fact that this one was reduced to a few scraps within days was something noteworthy. We clearly had a larger scavenger at work. I wondered if it might be a neighbors' dog, and allowed the shiver up my spine when I considered that it might be a wide ranging black bear wandering down from the more isolated areas of the Adirondacks.
My friend had shot this deer within a few hundred yards of my house as it was en route to a saddle where two ridges dip down together. This natural funnel is a spot where several game trails come together.
It was my intent after passing by the gut pile to continue down the ridge to where I could watch this intersection and ambush the next deer to come along.
I continued to work my way down the slope walking quietly but not yet really hunting hard because I was not yet “on watch” at my stand.
It had rained the night before so even though there was a heavy coat of fallen leaves on the ground, they wet, soft, and quiet.
I heard a stick break down slope ahead of me and that put me on high alert. Sticks just don’t snap in the quiet woods without something fairly heavy stepping on them. I had just been thinking of bear, and I was certainly hoping for deer. I slowly and cautiously worked my way in the direction of the sound until I could peer down through the hardwoods to that intersection of trails at the low point of the ridge. I never expected to see what came over the rock ledge toward me from the valley below.
It was the first coyote that I have ever seen in daylight except for on my western hunt, and the first one that I had ever seen in this patch of woods. She was coming right at me (and towards the remains of the gut pile). I thought that it was strange that she had broken a stick that I could hear from at least a hundred yards away but this yote was in a hurry. She was moving at a trot with a definite purpose in mind.
Knowing how keen coyotes eyesight was from my past experience trying to stalk up on them, I waited fro her to cross behind a big bushy pine tree before I brought my rifle up and rested it against the side of a handy Beech tree. I found her in my scope and debated whether to wait for her to stop before attempting the shot, but she was stepping along so quickly that I was afraid that she would spot me and / or change direction and get out of sight before I could get a better shot at her. So when she stepped clear of the pine I put the last of my 300 grain Swift A-frame loads (loaded for my African hunt several years before (see the story ‘Africa at Last’ on this website) from my faithful 375 H&H Winchester model 70 through both lungs at just 60 yards. The impact of the bullet spun her a full 180 degrees and put her down for good.
I took the attached “in the field” photos and returned to home within just 30 minutes of having left my door that morning. It was completely unexpected but at that Thanksgiving dinner, I had one more thing to be thankful for – an additional species to add to my trophy list.
After action report:
At some point in the past the coyote had a broken front leg as the lowest joint of the left front leg was fused almost straight. Perhaps that’s why she was noisier than normal, but it did not seem to be hindering her movement at all when I saw her.
I had experimented with home hide tanning the year before and thought my deer hide had turned out pretty well. So I used the same technique on the coyote hide and preserved the skull as well (photos attached). I found the hide somewhat difficult to work with since the skin is much thinner than that of a deer and prone to tearing. That made it difficult to get the fat off the flesh side of the hide thoroughly. I eventually ended up washing it in a strong solution of grease cutting laundry detergent and hot water to get the fat and oil off the hide. The end result was a skin that I am proud to hang as a trophy from my first coyote.