With the kids’ new video games from Santa blaring from the TV, it’s time for some quiet exercise outdoors to sweep out winter’s cobwebs. Most Montana hunting seasons are closed during winter, but one option for hunters is to strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis and head to the hills for coyotes. At the onset of winter, coyotes congregate on the lower- elevation foothills, where deer spend the winter. Coyotes start preying on deer with winter’s first snow, particularly after a dry summer. Not only will the deer be in poor shape, but a dry summer will leave fewer mice and other small animals for coyotes to feed on.
A coyote hunter out for a day’s exercise requires little equipment. Cross-country skis are an easy way to roam the gentle foothill slopes, especially on the downhill glides. Snowshoes provide better traction in steeper country and are more maneuverable in the confines of brush and trees.
I recently started using Tubbs Altitude snowshoes. The Altitudes’ crampons and the side-to-side flex of its bindings are an immense help when crossing sidehills. A white parka helps you blend into the background while stalking or calling. A hand call that simulates a rabbit in distress helps lure coyotes. Electronic calls keep wailing long after your lungs play out, but they’re cumbersome to tote.
Since avoiding detection is essential, some technique is required when skiing after coyotes. Stay off the ridgetops, move into the wind and pick a stand with a background that conceals your silhouette and any movement.
Here’s the wrong way to do it: One morning, steam from my breath rose in the frigid air as I chugged up the hills on my skis. At the crest of the first ridge I spotted a coyote at the far side of a mile-wide basin. I lay down on the ridge and squealed loud and long with my hand call. The coyote immediately started running my way. When the coyote was nearly in range I brought my rifle to bear. The coyote picked up the slight movement and changed its direction immediately.
Here’s the right way: Another morning at first light I snowshoed to the edge of a timbered draw. I took a seat against a fir tree to hide my silhouette, sitting with a good view of all sides of the draw. I called, then snuggled in behind my rifle propped on my knees. After a couple of minutes a coyote cautiously stuck its nose out of the trees. Hunger got the better of caution and it stepped into the clear. The coyote never saw my finger pull the trigger.
The day was looking up. A crack of sunlight shone over the southern ridge as I climbed out of the draw with the coyote. The winter sky dawned a brilliant blue and the mountains built up white across the valley below.