The habits and habitat of Southern coyotes may be vastly different from their Northern and Western counterparts, but any avid predator hunter knows that a coyote is a coyote no matter where you find him. They all use their impressive array of senses, wit and instincts to survive, and after more than a century of human attempts to eradicate them, coyotes are in fact more numerous now than ever.
As the saying goes, you can fool a coyote only once. If he comes in to a bait or call and you miss him, all you’ve done is educate another coyote. He won’t make the same mistake twice!
Many folks look down on the coyote as a lowly predatory varmint, but those in the game know that the brush wolf is one of the most difficult of all animals to hunt, more challenging than deer, bear, turkeys and waterfowl combined. To beat a coyote at this game you must plan ahead, set up properly at every stop and be ready to shoot the instant your quarry comes into range. If you take chances, overlook details or act out of impatience or impulse, you will fool very few coyotes.
Coyotes are quick, intelligent and alert, but they can be mastered. Don’t underestimate these top-end predators; just learn to use their senses and insatiable appetites against them. Do it right and you won’t have any trouble collecting a few hides for the wall or dealer.
Like most predators, coyotes are forever looking for their next meal. When food is plentiful (and coyotes will eat anything), they spend their nights hunting for food and their days basking in the sun. Around sunset, coyotes spend a few minutes howling in anticipation of the hunt or to gather other members of the pack. They spend the next several hours looking for mice, birds, rabbits, deer, beavers, skunks, even dogs and cats — just about anything that is made of protein, vegetable or fruit, live or dead, is a prospect.
When food is scarce, coyotes may hunt around the clock, which is why they are often hit on highways during the day as they travel or pause to eat rotten carrion on the side of the road. Injured, ill or mange-stricken coyotes may run and hunt continuously, which only adds to their thin, rangy and diseased appearance.
Because they are always hungry, coyotes pay attention to every possible source of food, even newly-spread manure, which contains undigested seeds and vegetable matter. The list of coyote foods is endless and they are always looking for more. When the spring breeding season begins, coyotes become even more desperate for food because they may have as many as 14 pups to feed! That means a lot of foraging in competition with other coyotes, foxes, bobcats and predatory birds, and all this is good news for hunters, who can take advantage of the coyote’s bottomless stomach to bring them in close enough for a killing shot.
CALLING STRATEGIES AND TACTICS
Setting up for coyotes depends on the habitat you’re hunting and the equipment you are using. In wide-open, flat grassland, there’s not much sense in using a bow or shotgun because the odds are that much of your shooting will be at 50 yards or more. Sooner or later the coyote will run out of cover options and will stop, stand and stare at you. This is when you must take your shot because he’s not going to come any closer. In this case, a long-range varmint rifle or small caliber deer cartridge (.222 Remington, .22/250, .243 Winchester and similar calibers) will do the trick.
In river country, brush country or woodlands, a bow or shotgun (even a handgun) may be used with success. This is where your patience will be tested because a coyote coming in under cover is a stealthy dog indeed! They’ll slink from tree to tree, brush pile to blow down, stone wall to beaver dam, even creep up between crop rows (such as corn, peanuts or soybeans) and the process can take 30 minutes or more. But, as long as there is suitable cover between you the coyote will keep coming.
It’s not necessary to be able to see a long distance while coyote hunting. You need only be able to thoroughly cover the area directly downwind from you, in a path about 20 yards wide. The coyote will zig and zag as cover allows all the way up the scent trail, and he will keep coming as long as your cover scent is working and you do not make any unnecessary moves.
The coyote’s eyes and ears are its personal protection devices, but the coyote hunts primarily with its nose. No matter what it sees or hears, the coyote (and foxes) will follow the scent trail to the source no matter how far it must travel to get downwind of the subject. This is critical information for hunters, because even if you have the perfect setup and are the world’s greatest caller, you still won’t ever see a coyote if you make the mistake of facing upwind. Sure, you will call predators in to within spitting distance, but that does you no good if they show up behind you!
So, Rule No. 1 in coyote hunting: face downwind. This means you must use a cover scent because no coyote is going to come running into the scent of a human being no matter how often you wash yourself or your hunting clothes. There is nothing in the human realm that attracts coyotes, so go with the natural flow and use a realistic, local cover scent such as skunk, rabbit, fox or raccoon — anything that’s not human or patently illogical for your part of the country. If the coyote hears realistic calling but smells unfamiliar odors, those eyes and ears will be on high beam and the game will be over — you simply can not fool them with a cavalier “good enough” approach.