February 04, 2020
By Andrew McKean
This article originally published in the West edition of the December-January issue of Game & Fish Magazine. Subscribe Here
Your dog knows a lot that you don’t know.
She knows where the garbage is that missed the dumpster. She knows which cats to chase and which will stand their ground with claws and attitude. She knows which neighbors are good for an ear scratch and which are surly soreheads.
And your dog knows all about the coyotes that roam your street long after you’ve turned in for the night.
If you watch her, your dog can give you glimpses into the secret parallel universe of wild canines that occupy your neighborhood. That you rarely—if ever—see these coyotes is a testament to their ability to live on the fringes of your world. But they’re there. You’ll see them if you’re on the streets at odd hours, or if you venture into the rough margins of your domain—the brushy lot at the end of the street or the overgrown creek that runs through the park.
And you’ll see them through your dog, sniffing extra-long at a patch of grass or loitering over a fresh track at the end of your block.
Biologists know your dog is right. Study after study confirms that population densities of suburban and even urban coyotes exceeds that of their rural cousins, and that coyotes have expanded across the country over the last 20 years and are just as likely to be seen in suburbs as they are out in farm country. Their home range is smaller than on most of the West’s public land, which means there are more coyotes per square mile in the best suburban habitat.
From a predator hunter’s standpoint, this expansion means opportunity. No longer do you have to drive way out of town to parcels of remote public land or cultivate relationships with farmers in order to find places to hunt coyotes. In some cases, you may be able to hunt them within sight of municipal water towers.
But, as with any close-in hunting enterprise, opportunity comes with special considerations. The first is knowing the laws. You probably can’t fire a rifle or a bow inside city limits, and even unincorporated suburban areas have restrictions. Know jurisdictional boundaries and hunt right up to the edge of those places where shooting is legal.
Now, with that caution out of the way, go hunting, but recognize the curious considerations that close-in coyote hunting entails. Here are some tactics to help you put some suburban coyotes on the ground.
USE FAMILIAR CALLS
The arsenal of predator calls you might use in the wide-open West will work to lure suburban coyotes, but the gold-standard for these habituated coyotes is a housecat-in-distress. If you doubt its efficacy, go ahead and blow one in the presence of your dog and watch him turn himself inside out to get at the source of the sound.
Coyotes, especially those that spend their lives in the presence of cats, and probably dream nightly about encountering one with its defenses down, will definitely notice a screeching cat call. Just make sure you employ all the best practices you would anywhere: watching the wind, entering your hunting area stealthily and keeping your profile low and broken.
You can also use rabbit-in-distress wails, pup-in-distress whelps, all manner of bird calls and even fawn bleats. Just don’t count on howling to bring in these close-in coyotes. They’ve gotten by in our midst by being relatively quiet, and a loud howl may act more as a repellent than an attractant.
HUNT TRAVEL CORRIDORS
Land-use patterns in unincorporated suburbs are irregularly regular, meaning that most residential lots are of similar size, anywhere from a quarter acre to an acre, but roads and streets tend to be curvaceous, providing tons of cover in the inside and outside of curves. But what makes suburbs so attractive to coyotes is the presence of brushy and wooded stream corridors that connect all those little brush corners and backyard woodlots.
Coyotes use these streams as their roads, traversing longish distances and finding den sites along the roughest and least visited (at least by humans and their offspring) spots along these brooks and streams.
Use this knowledge to your advantage and set up a calling location just above a brushy creek. Make sure you have good visibility, sit against a stout tree, and expect to see coyotes trying to get downwind of you.
If this sounds like turkey hunting, then adopt the tool you use for gobblers—a full-choked shotgun shooting heavy loads (like, um, turkey loads). Heavy-cover coyote hunting is often a short-range game, and it’s often useful to trade your rifle for a 12 gauge.
This is also a good tactic to use with a buddy, with one of you calling uphill, near the edge of the cover; the shooter sitting downhill, in the trees or brush. Use facemasks and gloves and expect snap shots at close quarters.
USE VISUAL AIDS
While habituated coyotes can be easy to unlock with the right calls, they can also be maddeningly savvy. They see us all the time, know our habits and patterns, and have learned the rewards of patience. So, you need to be prepared to add tools to your box that appeal to at least two of their prodigious senses: smell and sight.
Scents don’t always work in big, open-country expanses of the West. However, they can certainly work in the tighter cover of our human interface. Coyotes here are used to a diversity of smells, and they often forage on the basis of olfactory cues. There are two commercial scents that are worth using here. One is fox urine. Coyotes can’t stand competition from foxes and, if they think one is in the neighborhood, they may just abandon caution to dart in to confront the interloper. The other is cat urine, which you can harvest from your own kitty-litter box, if you prefer.
Along with scents, it’s a good idea to have a decoy in your arsenal. It can be as simple as the goofy fur-baby motion decoys that come with some electronic calls or as elaborate as a 3-D or life-sized decoy of a rabbit or fawn, or even another coyote. Check out the silk-printed fabric decoys from Montana Decoy.
Either the “Miss Hoptober” rabbit deke or the “Kojo” coyote decoy can help unlock suspicious canines.
Or even unsuspicious canines.
One caution here: Don’t be surprised to find that you’ve called in your neighbor’s Lab, or a strange domestic dog that comes trotting to your distress calls. You might even call in a raccoon, a domestic cat or a bobcat. Be sure of your target. And (this should go without saying) leave your own dog tied up or inside your house. The last thing you want is to learn that your own dog responds better to a predator distress call than to your own here-boy calling.
.224 Valkyrie Versus .223 Rem.
One is a hot-rod newcomer to the centerfire .22 world. The other is a seasoned veteran. So, which is better for habituated coyotes?
Let’s look at the merits of both. The .224 Valkyrie, introduced by Federal Ammunition in 2017, is a rimless cartridge that utilizes .224 projectiles. The Valkyrie, based on a necked-down 6.8 SPC cartridge, is designed to run in AR-15 platforms as well as bolt guns, and brings two advantages to predator hunters. The first is a long-for-caliber projectile, which has excellent ballistic attributes. Mainly, it bucks wind better than shorter bullets, and it’s fast as hell, averaging a little over 3,000 fps with standard bullet weights (including the 90-grain Sierra MatchKing, the 90-grain Fusion and the fur-getting 60-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip).
The Valkyrie is really geared for long-range target shooters, but it’s become a darling of long-range predator hunters, too, especially those who like the downrange performance of heavier bullets.
Then there’s the good old .223 Rem. Optimized for AR platforms, it’s also a darling of heavy-barreled predator hunters. The gold-standard bullet weight is 55 grains, but one of the advantages of the .223 is that you can shoot anything from very light 33-grain bullets up to 77-grain MatchKing target bullets. Muzzle velocity for the .223 is a bit below the Valkyrie, averaging about 250 fps less with a similar length barrel.
So, what does this mean? If you are hunting wide-open country, where you can expect to encounter coyotes at 500 yards and beyond, the Valkyrie gets the nod. But if you are hunting the suburban interface, where heavy cover, residential development and roads limit your effective range, the .223 shooting expanding bullets are good choices. Consider the 40-grain Varmint & Predator Tip load from SIG Sauer, Federal’s 55-grain V-Shok Nosler Ballistic Tip, or Hornady’s 55-grain V-MAX.