Pedaling for Coyotes
January 13, 2011
Because modern mountain bikes are designed for off-pavement use, they make an ideal vehicle for coyote hunters who want the higher success found when quietly scouting and hunting remote areas away from roads.
Photo by Ed Park
In the carefree days of youth, neighborhood buddies and I would bomb around our city's streets on heavy, balloon-tired bicycles that featured one gear, coaster brakes, wide handlebars and a rack over the rear wheel to haul junk. We raced around the roads, jumped curbs, pounded across the rocks and logs of vacant acreage, and generally beat those bikes, and ourselves, something fierce. The bikes survived because they were tough, while flesh and bone eventually healed.
Our bikes also took us to nearby out-of-town hunting spots, and nobody gave a second thought to a gaggle of kids riding the streets with shotguns tied to handlebars. It was long before the days of gun paranoia.
In time those old balloon-tired bikes gave way to agile 10-speeds, featuring lightweight frames, skinny tires, low-slung handlebars, handgrip brakes, and gears - lots of gears. Kids still bombed around town, but those rather delicate 10-speeds couldn't take the abuse, and the repair business boomed.
In the 1970s bicycle mechanics began merging technology. They salvaged used-up Schwinns from garages and junk shops, stripped them to their still-solid frames, then rebuilt them with fat, gnarly tires on sturdy rims, hand-grip brakes from motorcycles, and multiple gears. The tough frames and wheels provided strength, stronger cantilever brakes on both wheels improved braking, wide tires gave off-road traction and stability, and multiple gearing allowed both power and speed. The mountain bike was born.
Such handmade bikes were expensive until mass production of mountain bikes in the 1980s delivered a price tag that was blue-collar friendly, and in moments of reminiscing, I bought a Schwinn Sierra mountain bike. It became yet another tool for hunting.
That bike has taken me on many outdoor adventures. I can pedal far beyond roads and into places motor vehicles are not allowed, but bicycles are.
Of the many kinds of bike hunting I've tried, nowhere has pedal power proven more valuable than for coyote hunting - for many reasons: conditioning, scouting, covering expanded territory, and quiet hunting.
Most of the best hunters I've known practice a year-round conditioning program. My own life-long conditioning has been a mixture of walking, hiking, backpacking, jogging, running, rough-country hunting - and mountain biking.
I combine much of my biking/conditioning with scouting. On such dual-purpose trips I tend to ride slowly on the outbound leg, allowing my legs to warm up slowly and giving me opportunities to stop often and check tracks in the dust of back roads, trails and cow paths. I take time to walk around and select future calling sites. My bike's odometer allows me to measure distances and mark locations on maps.
Even on scouting trips I carry my rifle and predator calls, and if a location looks "hot" - seeing steaming-fresh sign or the actual coyote that left it - I may set up and call.
Mostly I keep going, so I can devote my allotted hours to serious scouting. I can then return later, when calling conditions are ideal - the winter season, at dawn or dusk, on days with little wind - and bike directly to the best spots, as I shift gears and become a hunter.
After my relaxed outward scouting ride, I'll tend to pedal hard on my return, to get the conditioning workout that is an important part of such a dual outing.
Other days will be entirely scouting trips, where I'll poke along and enjoy all the pleasures of being afield. Beginning bicycle scouts quickly recognize that the advantages of biking are like those of hiking. You are in the open air, just as you would be when hiking, although you can cover more ground. You will more readily spot tracks, droppings and other animal sign than you would from the seat of a pickup. You can stop and walk about more readily, and enjoy seeing the flowers and bluebirds, hearing the complaints of magpies, smelling those favorite aromas of sagebrush and juniper, and feeling the warmth of the sun.
Another major advantage of bicycle scouting and hunting is being able to expand your territory. Sure, you can drive many back roads with a pickup, but a bicycle can go farther along trails, cow paths or even cross-country. I've explored and hunted much remote country on public lands, where I'm able to get many miles from any road, and can get there much faster and more efficiently than I could by hiking.
In areas heavily hunted by other coyote callers, most such hunting is done near roads. A bicycle allows me to get back away from others and hunt country not yet tested by others.
IS IT LEGAL?
Of critical importance is learning where you legally can and cannot go. For public lands, such as those administered by state forestry departments, U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, call local offices and ask.
In general, you can ride bicycles where you can legally hike, with one major exception: Bicycles are not allowed in officially designated wilderness areas. There may also be other local or seasonal exceptions, so find out before going.
I've obtained trespass permission to large ranches, where the ranchers know I'm after coyotes, am a safe and ethical hunter, leave gates as I find them, and won't disturb their livestock.
For actual hunting, bicycle riding has great advantages. I'm a firm believer in the tremendous keenness of a coyote's senses. His ears, eyes and nose are superb, and I'm convinced that every coyote within driving range of my home recognizes the sound of my old pickup - when I start it up in my driveway.
I've watched as coyotes, chasing mice in a field, suddenly stopped hunting, perked up, and then trotted to some brushy cover to hide. From what? Long minutes later, a rig would bounce along a road a quarter-mile away. The coyote heard the rumbling long before I did.
On the other hand, as I've pedaled quietly along a dirt road or trail, I've often surprised coyotes at close range. Such a silent approach is not possible with a pickup and will increase your hunting success.
Some hunters paint their bikes in muted tones, and especially cover any shiny chrome parts such as wheels or handlebars. I carry a small camo tarp that I lay over my bike when I stop to call, although a bicycle lying on the ground under tall sage is adequately hidde
Since we humans cannot comprehend the keenness of a coyote's nose, I'm only guessing, but I believe they can smell the fumes from any motor vehicle that is upwind, even over tremendous distances. My bicycle doesn't emit fumes.
Bicycle accessories are worth considering, and you can check them out at local bike shops or on the Internet. Racks allow you to carry food, water, clothing, hunting equipment or anything else you want. The most common racks fasten over the rear tire, but other racks and bags fasten over the front wheel, to the main frame, or hang over that rear rack.
Rifles can be carried in padded, soft-sided scabbards tied across handlebars or onto various racks.
For the ultimate in hauling capabilities, I've used a trailer that easily carries more than a backpacker would want. The trailer not only lets me take all the equipment I need, it allows me to haul several dead coyotes. More than one on-foot hunter has learned that four 25-pound coyotes is a formidable challenge when you're miles from your rig.
Different bicycle hunters have various opinions on carrying repair equipment. The more cautious will take along wrenches, tire patching gear and an air pump, and maybe even spare parts, to make minor repairs. Others know that breakdowns are rare; they will walk out if they get stranded. Since the most common failure is to tires, as a minimum I'd suggest carrying a can of compressed air/sealant, or a spare inner tube and the tools to change it. A pump easily mounts to the frame of your bike.