Watch Mike Schoby, of Petersen’s Hunting, as he hunts a cautious coyote in central Illinois.
Many experienced deer hunters turn their attention to coyote hunting after the whitetail seasons end and wonder why their tried-and-true stand-hunting tactics don’t seem to be working.
For starters, coyotes are canine predators that have to run for miles and work hard for every meal, while deer are browsers that can fulfill their dietary needs inside a relatively small home range.
In winter, coyotes may roam over 100 square miles as they search for food, and when the pups arrive in February they may well double that in order to be able to feed the new family.
Cold-weather hunters who sit in the corner of a farm cornfield and expect coyotes to come running in like whitetails are in for a long wait!
To fool a predator, a hunter must become even more devious and creative than his quarry. Catching a coyote by surprise is not easy considering that these omnivorous predators have spent thousands of years perfecting their craft, but the hunter who puts his mind to the task will definitely take more coyotes.
Just as coyotes are relentless in following their long-standing rules of survival, hunters must be equally vigilant and determined. Once you step out of the truck you are in the coyotes’ domain, and whatever happens next is entirely up to them.
In order to succeed in a winter coyote hunting, the hunter needs to be prepared, focused and determined. When a hunter allows boredom, laziness or distraction to interfere with the game at hand, the coyote wins — every time. Count on it! Make no mistake about it, coyotes make very few mistakes.
WHERE TO HUNT WINTER COYOTES
Because coyotes roam far and wide in search of food, it’s imperative that the hunter seek permission to hunt on a variety of farms, woodlots and other private lands in addition to public hunting areas as allowed by state law. Most landowners will allow coyote hunting, although they will usually ask the hunter to wait until after the deer seasons have ended.
That is actually to the hunter’s advantage because human activity will be nil unless the landowner allows rabbit or quail hunting on his property. Even so, small game hunters usually are off the property during prime coyote hunting hours such as dawn, dusk and at night. And thus there are few conflicts.
Livestock farms are ideal coyote hunting areas, as are pastures and hay fields where mice and other rodents are abundant. Coyotes patrol these areas almost daily and can sometimes be seen there during daylight hours.
For that reason, farmers can often help hunters pinpoint areas with high coyote activity, effectively narrowing the hunter’s search for his next furry victim.
State-owned or managed properties including wildlife management areas, state forests and parks, and national forests are also good places to find and hunt winter coyotes. Regulations vary from parcel to parcel so be absolutely certain to check the regulations before hunting.
However, in most cases coyote hunting is allowed year-round or at least during regular hunting seasons.
The best coyote hunting in any of these areas tends to be along the border of adjoining farmlands. Coyotes will spend their daylight hours in the forested parcels and then sneak into the adjacent farmlands to look for mice, rabbits, and domestic farm animals.
Any source of food will attract coyotes in winter, even subdivisions where small dogs, cats and other pets provide a ready and easily obtained food supply.
Hunters should begin making their access inquiries well before winter begins. If possible, do some scouting on unfamiliar property.
Look for coyote tracks and scat, trails and crossings, good places to set up to call or establish bait sites (only where legal, of course). Time spent studying maps and consulting with landowners will make those first few coyote hunts much more productive.
CALLING TECHNIQUES FOR WINTER COYOTES
In a coyote’s world nothing matters more than food.
The bulk of a coyote’s prey consists of mice, rats and other small rodents. Anything from road kill and discarded garbage to birds, armadillos, raccoons, rabbits, turkeys and, of course, deer also are on the menu. In fact, the list of possible coyote foods is essentially endless, up to and including each other and their own feces.
Coyotes are known to come rushing in to the squalls of a dying rabbit or squirrel, far less hesitant than the average fox, bobcat, raccoon, owl or hawk. Being the largest predator and the top of the food chain, coyotes waste no time claiming their prey.
That is good news for the winter varmint hunter, whose gambit is to exploit the coyote’s naturally aggressive behavior. A proper setup and some judicious calling will have coyotes and other predators running (and flying) in from all directions.
Winter coyote calling is not rocket science, of course. Nevertheless, there are some basic rules hunters should follow that will make the difference between a successful hunt and a long day of looking at old tracks and scat piles.
BASIC CALLING TECHNIQUES
The first and most important rule in productive coyote calling is to get there early and to get set up first before calling. If you thought ducks or turkeys were a challenge to call in, wait until you try to match wits with a sharp-witted coyote. There’s no more suspicious predator in the South than this top-end predator.
On most coyote hunts the hunter won’t even know what he did wrong or that the coyote caught the error long before it came into view of the hunter. Generally speaking, if you set up to call coyotes and nothing shows, you likely made a mistake.
The coyote won’t tell you what that mistake was, and so you have no choice but to review your tactics and make the necessary adjustments.When you do it right, you will know it!
To begin, assume that your hunt starts the instant you step out of the truck. Keep the radio off, ditch the cell phone and close all doors quietly. Leave the tailgate up or down — don’t risk alerting coyotes that may well be just over the next hill.
Move quickly and quietly into your pre-determined calling area. That can be a brushy ravine, gentle slope, river’s edge or hedgerow, any place that provides a convenient backdrop where you can sit and face downwind or with the wind quartering from left to right.
Consider a spot that provides sufficient cover where you can hide from incoming coyotes but where you can see far enough in front of you to be able to see — and shoot — any predators sneaking in using the wind and available cover to their own advantage. Sooner or later the coyote will have to expose itself, even for just a few seconds, which is all the time you’ll need for a killing shot.
Upon arrival at your chosen calling site, sit down and get ready to hold tight for at least 45 minutes. Use a low seat or cushion to sit on, set up your shooting sticks or bipod, place your calls nearby and put on your facemask and gloves. Don’t begin calling until you are comfortably in place with your rifle or shotgun at the ready and all your peripheral gear is out of sight.
Look around, think about it, and fix anything that looks out of place. That is what an incoming coyote will do. If he spots your errors first, he will depart without a sound and that site will be ruined for the day.
When you’ve settled down and are prepared to call, check the wind again and decide where the coyote is most likely to appear. Remember that it will come in with its nose into the wind. Also, keep in mind that the coyote is going to have your position pinpointed from the first squeak — it’s how they make their living and they are very good at it.
When you’re ready to call, give two or three loud, pitiful squalls over a two- or three-second period and then shut up, sit tight and watch. Nearby coyotes will show up in mere seconds, hence the reason for being in place and ready to shoot before you call, or it may be 20, 30 more minutes before a shot opportunity is presented. Wait at least 20 minutes and then force yourself to stay put 10 minutes longer before calling again.
If all goes as planned, the coyote will show up well within range, pause broadside for a moment as he scans the area and your shot will be spot on target. Nothing to it!
At this point you know how to call coyotes, but now the real fun begins. Coyotes are long-range roamers with large home territories. They may be in your back yard one day and then you won’t see or hear them again for a week.
It’s not unusual for winter coyotes to roam 50 or 100 miles in their never-ending search for food, which means sitting and calling in the same corner of the same field every day is not going to be very productive. Coyotes move around and so should you.
To establish a productive winter coyote hunting regimen it’s important to develop a fluid network of spies and consultants — folks who see and hear coyotes howling and are willing to let you know within the next day or so.
Farmers, delivery drivers, rural residents, fishermen and others who are outdoors at dawn and dusk and who have occasion to bump into coyotes should be on your list of informants.
Listen to what they tell you, get specific directions and details, and then plan to be there that evening or the very next morning.
Coyotes don’t linger in one area more than a few days because it’s too difficult to feed a family group without a ready, steady food supply. That means coyotes must travel widely. In fact, over time you’ll see a pattern of movement based on the reports you hear from your team — here one day, gone the next.
In most cases coyotes give themselves away by howling just before sunset as they prepare to make their rounds of local food sources including farms, pastures, riverbeds or lakeshores. It’s important to find out where the coyotes were howling because it’s likely they will be there again for the next few days or the next time their travels bring them to the area.
Scouting will reveal several nearby calling sites. Be sure to vary your approach and calling sounds (using those of birds, small animals and rodents) to keep coyotes coming in while they remain within the area.
BAITING WINTER COYOTES
Where legal, baiting is an excellent way to lure winter coyotes into range. Baiting offers no more of a guarantee than calling, but coyotes will respond to a well-maintained bait site.
Coyotes will investigate any manner of bait, but “natural” road kills, farm offal, and animal carcasses will get the most attention. Check with game wardens, livestock operations and butcher shops for sources of fresh meat scraps. Expect to haul a barrel of bait to each site per week, more if coyotes are numerous or other meat-eaters (anything from mink to stray dogs) are common.
Here’s how to do it. To begin, select a site that is remote and out of sight of ordinary human traffic. Coyotes are extremely shy during daylight hours, but bait that is readily available and set up in a secluded corner of a farm, field or clearcut will get plenty of visitors.
Be sure all baits are securely staked down or covered with chicken wire or sheep fencing to keep coyotes and other predators from stealing the bait and taking it into the woods where you can’t see them feasting on it.
Bait sites are good places to set up using tree stands along trails leading to the bait, or in blinds that are placed well away from the bait site. Two hundred yards is not too far away. Plan to be in the stand or blind at dawn and dusk, and on into the hours of darkness wherever night-hunting of predators is allowed.
It’s also a good tactic to set up bait sites and not hunt directly over them but simply to use them to keep coyotes in the area. Through scouting, howling reports and your networking reports, you can find areas where coyotes are most likely to spend their days and then call them from other nearby sites.
In the end, successful coyote hunting comes down to a couple things: pre-planning, careful setups, proper calling techniques and accurate shooting. If you are looking for a sporting challenge this winter, give coyote hunting a try.