March 10, 2020
Winter in the South may not seem as dreary as it is in the Northern states, but the effect on wild predators, especially coyotes, is practically the same. Small mammal and bird populations are at their lowest, insects and other invertebrates are scarce and succulent plants have long succumbed to early frosts. All of this leaves coyotes scrounging for a meal, which is good news for winter predator hunters. There are plenty of ways to find and fool winter predators but the following two methods are the best strategies for bringing them into range.
Bait for coyotes can be anything from a random pile of pumpkins or even a steaming manure pile to a stack of choice pieces of meat and bones. Most successful baiters use a combination of seasonal vegetation, road kill, discarded farm animals and butcher-shop remnants to establish and maintain their winter coyote bait sites.
Wise hunters learn early to cover their bait piles with sheep fencing or some other loose, open covering that allows coyotes to feed at the site while preventing them and other scavengers from taking a morsel and running off with it. Also, the best winter bait sites are set up well away from nearby brush or woods because all of these animals (and scavenging birds) will drag their prizes into heavy cover where they can’t be seen or pestered by the competition.
Selecting the proper bait site is a challenge because it must be attractive to hungry coyotes, provide them with a degree of safety and privacy while they eat, and it must be downwind of a position where it is safe to shoot from a stand or blind. For these reasons most winter coyote bait sites end up in the far, distant, lower corner of a pasture, cotton field, peanut field or soybean patch simply because those are the places where all the elements of a good bait site may be found.
It is possible to set up bait stations in wooded areas where creeks or beaver flowages dominate the scene; however, this means setting up blinds and tree stands closer to the bait site, creating issues with approach, wind and other factors. In winter coyotes often spend their spare time lying close by well-established bait sites, but if the hunter is not careful in his approach and departure techniques, then he will ruin the spot indefinitely. Hungry coyotes can be fooled at bait sites if extreme care is taken — but sloppy or careless setups will attract few predators, at least in daytime.
For continued action all winter hunters should be prepared to replenish bait sites at least once per week but more often if scavenger activity is high. In most Southern farmlands there will be a wide variety of visitors to the bait, ranging from blue jays and vultures to skunks, raccoons, mink, opossums, armadillos, foxes and feral cats and dogs. A busy site can require frequent visits to restock the bait pile, which is not a bad thing. When other species are abundant and visit the site frequently coyotes will not be far behind.
For a variety of reasons the best choice for hunting coyotes over bait is a flat-shooting, small-caliber, centerfire rifle in the .22- to .24-caliber range. Of course, the coyotes don’t care what you kill them with and can be taken with any rifle that can place its bullets in a 3-inch circle at 100 yards. For greater success, consider moving back 50 or even 100 yards to reduce the chances of being seen or scented by incoming coyotes.
Baiting is not legal everywhere. Always follow local laws and ordinances concerning firearms use, bait site placement, landowner permission and other considerations when planning to bait coyotes in winter. There are few landowners who will object to the sport but may ask that hunters clean up their bait sites at the end of the season and place some restrictions on site placement, shooting hours, etc.
One of the more peculiar yet effective methods for taking winter coyotes is “howling.” Coyotes are pack animals and extremely territorial. They often howl at sunrise or sunset to establish their territory and announce (to other coyotes) that they are about to embark on a scavenging trip—all who hear should beware!
Anyone who cheers for their favorite football team or concert performer can master the very simple art of coyote howling. Any loud, sustained, high-pitched version of yodeling will have the desired effect—coyotes will listen, answer and investigate. A few minutes of practice (in the truck on the way to the hunting site) will get your vocal chords in shape for an effective session of howling for coyotes.
To add spice to the presentation, consider bringing a youngster or two (anyone over 5 years of age can howl in a coyote). The mix of high- and low-frequency howling will often bring coyotes in on the run, which is exactly what you want to happen.
One does not just walk through the woods howling at random—coyotes don’t do that, and neither should hunters. Instead, pick a spot at the upwind, high end of a field or pasture, tuck back into the woods about 10 yards and begin howling just before sunrise and just after sunset. If coyotes are within a mile of your position they will answer quickly but briefly and then suddenly shut down.
This is the hunter’s cue to get ready to shoot because those curious, territorial coyotes are going to come running to see who is violating their territory. Expect to see anywhere from three to five thoroughly agitated coyotes appear at the opposite side of the field, some even running well into the open in their zeal to deal with the interlopers.
The shooting will be fast and short-lived but an accomplished marksman should be able to down two or three coyotes before the pack realizes it has been duped. Instruct the younger howlers to keep it up even as the pack approaches, which often fools the incomers and creates additional shooting opportunities.
Of course, howling sites provide immediate, short-term opportunities where the action is over in mere minutes. When the action ends, head for a new spot (several miles away) and try again. Coyote territories in the South can range from 2 to 10 square miles. It makes sense that any family group of coyotes within hearing of foreign howls will respond to any howls they hear, so plan to move 5 miles or more between sites and challenge another pack.
Winter coyote howlers can borrow a page from the spring turkey hunter’s handbook by putting one or more well-concealed shooters in position on the downwind side of a field or pasture and then howling from 100 yards or more behind them. This will fool coyotes into thinking that the howling is coming from across the field. Coyotes that respond to the challenges may run right past the shooters, often at close range.
For this kind of tag-team hunting the shooters may be armed with shotguns loaded with BB shot, .22 rifles or any varmint caliber set up for close-range shooting (100 yards or less). Tag-team hunters should also handle their weapons with safety in mind. Know where your partner is at all times. When howling alone shots may be at longer distances so any flat-shooting, small-caliber rifle will do the trick.
One cautionary note: Pets, feral dogs and other canine predators may respond to howling as well as coyotes. Hold fire until you are sure of your target. If non-desirable critters show up, move to a new spot and try again.