Extend your hunting season by hitting the field for prime-time winter predators.
It’s February, and the first turkey seasons are still weeks away. If you don’t have frozen water where you live, then you can’t dull your deer-season hangover with a dose of icefishing.
What you do have, whether you live in Maine or Mississippi, Missouri or Montana, is coyotes, and a growing number of your neighbors are figuring out that chasing them in the dark months is a great cure for the winter blues.
The reasons are obvious:
Sheer Numbers: We have more coyotes in more areas than at any time in our nation’s history.
Long Seasons: Hunting seasons are long and liberal, and many states don’t even require hunters to buy a license.
Hunting Challenge: Outsmarting a predator is no easy task, so bagging a coyote or a fox requires all the stalking, scent-elimination, and sign-reading talents that consistently successful deer hunters employ.
Easy Transition: Chasing coyotes in the winter months is also a great way for those new to the shooting sports to transition into hunting.
Great Payoff: There is a nice payoff to coyote hunting—literally. While fur markets fluctuate wildly, and prices depend on the region, size and grade of animal, and other unknowable factors, prime coyote pelts were fetching around $50 at the time this was written (with higher prices in northern states and lower fur prices in southern states). Put together a dozen dogs, and you can buy a lot of gas and shells to subsidize your next outing.
If you’re like most deer hunters, you’ve probably killed a few coyotes opportunistically, as you encountered them going to or from a deer hunt. And you’ve probably pledged to invest in the gear and knowledge to extend your season by targeting coyotes through the winter. This guide is for you, the educated beginner.
First, figure out if your state has a coyote season and license requirements. The National Shooting Sports Foundations “Where to Hunt” page is an excellent source for state regulation information.
Second, think about all the places you’ve had great deer hunts. Your success was dependent on good habitat, access, and knowledge about your quarry’s behavior. The same circumstances apply to coyotes, but the happy coincidence is that places that hold good deer often hold good numbers of coyotes. That’s no accident.
Deer are a coyotes’ prime prey species, and the more coyotes you kill, the more deer that will survive for you to hunt next fall. Of course, as scavengers and opportunistic predators, coyotes will also hunt small game, birds, and snack on roadkill, so generally where you see the most wildlife activity, you’ll also find the best coyote hunting.
A good way to approach a first coyote hunt is to think of it as a deer hunt for coyotes. You want to be just as conscious of the wind direction, the path that a coyote might take, and the distance and difficulty of your shot as you would be for deer.
There are three basic types of coyote hunts:
A silent stand in which you post up and hope to shoot coyotes passing by.
A calling stand in which you hunker down and call coyotes into gun range;
What I call a “run-and-gun hunt” in which you drive rural roads and stop periodically to call, then set up when you get a response.
Looking at the silent stand, your standard deer-season treestand or ground blind can work beautifully, especially if it is situated between deer feeding and bedding areas. Those are the same habitats that coyotes work, so as long as the wind is favorable—that is, blowing away from where you expect to see coyotes—then you should expect a shot.
This silent-stand hunting is not a numbers game. You are relying on a dog to simply show itself, and if you shoot, or do anything to alert animals that you’re in the area, then you might be in for a long, slow day. But you can make good use of your time by observing deer, seeing how their forage patterns have changed since November’s buck seasons, and looking for antler sheds.
You can also blow a predator call periodically to lure coyotes and foxes into range. We’ll cover calls below, but know this about coyote behavior, no matter the stand type: They will almost always circle around your calling location, trying to smell you before they come into view. So, keep a close eye on your downwind side, and try to see and kill a coyote before it sniffs you, or you’ll never see the coyotes that were in your area.
For this sort of coyote hunting, it pays to invest in a long-range rifle and optics. You can’t predict how far out you’ll be shooting, but it could be several hundred yards.
Good long-range coyote calibers include the .257 Weatherby, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5-300, and even the durable .308 Win. for windy conditions.
Big scopes with dial-to-distance turrets are money here.
Quick Tip: It can be hard to see coyotes that approach through heavy cover. Look for tell-tale signs, like an agitated magpie or a crow. Watch any small openings downwind of your calling location for a fleeting shot at a moving coyote.
This is the most common way to attract coyotes. You walk into an area with abundant sign, sit down, blow a call, and shoot a dog. Of course, it’s never that simple, but the idea is to remain undetected and sound so realistic that a curious or hungry coyote or fox will shed its inhibitions and come to you.
Wind and terrain features are the big factors here. You want to enter the area stealthily, using a ridgeline or a gully or timber to hide your approach. Stay as high in the terrain as you can, to maintain visibility over a wide area, and use both good camouflage—including face masks—and shade to melt into the cover. This is a good game for a partner, one of you running the call and the other set up to shoot.
Use either an electronic or a hand call. The advantage to an electronic call, sometimes called an “e-caller,” is that it can mimic the sound of dozens of prey species, ranging from housecats to crows, and because most have remote-control capabilities, you can set the speaker many yards away from your location, misdirecting the laser focus of an incoming coyote. Hand calls can sound more realistic, and you can control the volume and cadence better than you can with an e-caller.
The universal coyote call is a rabbit being tortured. It might be a cottontail or a jackrabbit, but the death wail is the same – a high-pitched scream punctuated by growls and squeaks. Other effective coyote calls mimic deer in pain, mice squeaking, birds squawking, and coyotes howling to either challenge or court another coyote.
Most calling hunters plan to sit at each stand for no longer than 30 minutes. They typically call softly to start, to lure in nearby coyotes, and then escalate the volume and intensity of the calls for several minutes, pausing for a half-minute between to scan for incoming coyotes that might be coming from farther away.
This type of hunting calls for a light, accurate rifle along with a few other essentials:
Look to Savage’s Model 11 in flat-shooting, pelt-conserving calibers like the .204, .22-250, and new .22 Creedmoor pushing bullets like Hornady’s V-Max, Winchester’s Varmint X, or the Ballistic Tip Varmint from Nosler. Other essentials include:
If you’re looking for a hard-working e-caller, the new FoxPro Shockwave is a rager.
Rangefinding binocular like Leupold’s new RBX-3000.
A quality bipod. There are none better than the Harris HBH bipod, which extends to 23 inches.
This type of hunting requires abundant access to good habitat and a road system to get you around. Park in a place where your vehicle isn’t noticeable – in a dip or in cover – and blow your call. If you hear or see a coyote respond, set up to shoot. If you don’t drive on and repeat until you hit a receptive coyote.
Like trolling for fish, the advantage of this approach is that you can cover a lot of country. The downside is that you may call to coyotes that don’t “bite,” or respond immediately to your calls.
About the Author: Andrew McKean is a longtime outdoor writer and the former editor-in-chief of Outdoor Life. He lives in northeast Montana with his family and yellow Lab. You can follow his adventures on Instagram @aemckean or on Facebook @andrew.mckean.