With your hunting skills fine-tuned from deer season, hit the woods for a thrilling encounter with a predator.
Predator hunting is becoming more and more popular east of the Mississippi River. And the coyote is undoubtedly top dog here, nosing out the bobcat, fox and even the masked raccoon for that number-one ranking.
Also known as brush wolves, brush dogs, yellow-eyes and song dogs, Eastern coyotes average between 30 and 50 pounds, much larger than their Western cousins, with some northeast specimens reportedly tipping the scales at over 60 pounds. Coyotes stand 2 feet at the shoulder and stretch 3½ to 5 feet nose to tail. That tail, by the way, measures about 14 inches and is generally held in a horizontal position. You’re lucky if you see one, though. Coyotes may be among the most popular animals to hunt, but they’re also among the hardest.
When to Scout
Dawn and dusk are the best times to be afield looking and listening for coyotes. Their distinctive high-pitched yipping and howling helps individual coyotes stay in touch with other members of the pack. Single drawn-out howls are used to locate mates and help delineate territories; barking generally serves as an alarm signal.
Coyotes mark their territories with urine and fecal droppings. Their scat is cylindrical in shape, about a half inch in diameter and 3 to 5 inches in length. It often has lots of hair or fur woven into each dropping along with small bones, berry skins and seeds, depending on what the predator has been ingesting recently. Look for it along logging roads, open trails and edges of hay meadows.
Coyote tracks look like those of a medium-sized dog-four toes ahead of a triangular-shaped pad. Prints measure 2 to 2½ inches in length and 1½ to 2 inches in width. Their stride is about 14 inches. Coyotes are digitigrade, meaning they walk with only their toes touching the ground.
Calls and Decoys
Calling is the most challenging method of hunting coyotes. A plethora of books, videos, DVDs and Web sites can help steer a neophyte into the path of a song dog. Keep in mind that although coyotes are nearly color-blind, they have excellent hearing and their noses are second to none. Nonetheless, mouth-blown, hand-held and electronic calls are all effective, especially when you combine them with proven bowhunting and turkey hunting skills.
For example, full camouflage, although not necessary, is an asset. You want to break up your human outline, so set up against a solid backdrop and try to blend in with your immediate surroundings. This also helps disguise those involuntary movements we all seem to make.
[pagebreak] Your next order of business is to be scent-free. Combine carbon-based garments with a clean body, clean clothing and the liberal use of quality scent eliminators-and then play the wind. Call-shy coyotes will often circle downwind. Toss some fox, skunk or coyote scent bombs to the four winds to help confuse the critter long enough for you to shoot.
Finally, you must remain motionless. If you are set up on abandoned farmland, lay your shotgun on top of your knee. If you are calling across a frozen lake or a corn-stubble field, fit your rifle with a sturdy bipod and get into the prone position. If a coyote sees you move at the moment of truth, the game is over.
What vocalizations will lure a wary coyote? A single howl will help you locate a lone dog or a resident pack, and could tweak its sense of territory. And your version of a frantically yipping pup can sometimes bring an adult in for the rescue. Your rendition of fighting foxes or a flock of raucous crows might also fool a stubborn coyote. If you hear a series of high-pitched barks, however, it usually means he’s on to you.
The traditional favorite call is a dying rabbit. It alone probably accounts for more coyotes meeting their demise than any other call. Rabbit decoys help; even your kid’s stuffed critter can be of assistance, especially when the fake can bee controlled with a cord.
Other “tunes” will also work on call-wise coyotes, and especially when paired with a decoy. The putt-putt of a wild turkey, for example, will lure a hungry coyote to a painted plastic bird, as will the honking of a Canada goose when teamed with a spread of wind sock look-alikes. And don’t overlook the possibilities of a fawn- in-distress call when paired with a spotted foam fawn. Again, movement in the decoy spread is often the key to grabbing a dog’s attention.
What should you do if your coyote hangs up just out of range? Use a mouth-blown diaphragm or rubber band “squeaker” to finish the job. You might also want to rustle some leaves. The incoming coyote is expecting to find a struggle, and the sound can only add to the ruse.
Many states allow you to bait coyotes with beaver carcasses, dead farm animals or even road kills. Coyotes can also be run successfully with a pack of trained hounds. The former is easy on the legs. The latter? Well, you’d better be in shape. A running coyote can reach 40 mph.
The Coyoten Diet
Where does Canis latrans (“barking dog”) live? Anywhere near a food source-and coyotes will eat almost anything. They’ve been known to chow down on chickens, domestic ducks, house cats, small dogs, raccoons, calves, lambs and carrion, but seem to depend on rabbits, hares, woodchucks, ground squirrels, mice, moles, small reptiles, ground-nesting birds, berries, fruits and various insects for their daily dose of nutrition. Coyotes also like to eat foxes. If a pack moves into the neighborhood, you can bet your last cartridge the fox population is in big trouble. They show no mercy in this regard. It really is a “dog-eat-dog” world.
But it’s their appetite for whitetail fawns that makes coyotes a prime target for so many sportsmen. Coyotes like to eat newborn fawns, and will seek them out relentlessly in late spring and early summer. One farmer told me a pack of New York coyotes killed and ate nearly a dozen spotted fawns he had on his dairy farm last summer. This should be an incentive for hunters to control the predator population.
Use the Right Gun
Recommended firepower includes everything from the ubiquitous .22 Magnum right on up through the .22 Hornet, .222, .223, .22-250, .220 Swift, .243, .25/06 and even the .270. Vermont big-woods specialist Jeff Grab uses 140-grain Fail Safes in his .270 to minimize pelt damage.
If you’re hunting in heavy cover for brush wolves, consider a slide-action or semi-automatic 12-gauge, either a 2 ¾- or a full 3½-inch magnum. When you’ve got dogs closing in on you for an easy kill, the shooting is fast and furious.