As coyote populations have exploded over the last decade and the popularity of hunting them has skyrocketed, the cunning critters have become increasingly difficult to dupe. Here's how to rewrite the playbook and start dropping more dogs.
Hunting Suburban Coyotes
by John B. Snow
It was the look on the coyote's face that changed the direction of Cory Lundberg's life. He was a college student with some free time, so he figured he'd give predator hunting a try. He bought a book on calling coyotes, made his own camouflage, and hiked into a patch of Utah sagebrush with his rabbit squealer call. He set up in a spot that prevented him from being skylined, just like the book said.
"I started calling, and then that first one came in," Lundberg says. "I'll never forget the expression on his face. I could see the confusion in his eyes, like he's looking for the rabbit thinking, I know the stupid thing is in here somewhere. I was addicted right away."
That first success turned into many more, and since then Lundberg has devoted much of his life to understanding what makes coyotes tick and how to coax them into the open when other hunters have failed. Here's a look at the most common scenarios he encounters when hunting coyotes--and how he tackles them.
Hunting in Town
Coyotes have established a considerable foothold in suburbia, haunting malls, cul-de-sacs, and other spots where prey is abundant and hunting pressure is nearly nonexistent. This presents hunters with some excellent opportunities, but some additional challenges as well. The biggest, according to Lundberg, is that it isn't just the hunter versus the coyote--there's a whole neighborhood to think about. Putting in pre-hunt work to get squared away with local officials and residents is essential.
"First, I'll check with the police to make sure it is legal, and then I do the same with the city," Lundberg says. "Then I'll approach landowners. I like to inform as many people as possible so that they don't get worried and call the cops when I start hunting."
When speaking with people in the neighborhood, Lundberg works hard to make a good first impression. "I don't wear camouflage and I don't drive fast. I make an effort to be polite and tell folks that there's been a problem with coyotes in their area and what I'm planning to do. If they have kids or pets, they're usually pretty receptive."
This soft touch and low profile extends to his hunting style. Where it's legal and safe to hunt with centerfire ammunition, he opts for subsonic loads, though most of his suburban hunting is done with a shotgun.
When selecting calls, Lundberg avoids howls, which are a mainstay during the coyote rut in February. They are effective, but they can create other problems. "If you start howling, it can get the dogs in the neighborhood going and create a big racket," he says. "During mating season, I'll usually stick to distress sounds--kittens in distress or puppy whimpers. I use a lot more bird sounds near homes: woodpecker calls and other high-pitched noises."
As for locating good spots to call, he's found that suburban coyotes can be anywhere. "A lot of guys think you have to head far out of town, but you can find coyotes right off the highway. In the suburbs, they are used to traffic and sounds. They'll adapt to anything," he says. "The closer you are to town, the easier they are to call. They don't get the pressure, they don't get hunted."
Because of this lack of pressure, suburban coyotes will respond and come in more quickly when called. In light of this, Lundberg uses a run-and-gun approach and will call for only 10 or 15 minutes (about half the time he devotes to a set in rural areas) before moving on.
It's a classic coyote conundrum. The hunter calls and a coyote appears on the horizon. And there, way out of rifle range, it sits and stays with the patience we all wish our Labs would exhibit in the duck blind, but rarely do.
This is no time to be timid, Lundberg says. In order to close the gap, he turns up the heat, trying different sounds and calling more aggressively.
"I don't think they know the difference between a cottontail and a jackrabbit, so it doesn't matter what they're used to preying on. I recently had two hung up out there at 500 yards, so I just started cycling through sounds," he says. "They were looking my way, milling around, and one started mousing. Then, once I got to the cottontail-in-distress, they came in. For whatever reason, they liked that higher pitched sound and rapid frequency."
When coyotes exhibit some reluctance to commit to the caller, Lundberg establishes a "red line" using a reference point in the landscape. Once it's crossed by the coyote, that's his indication to shoot. The point is not to get cocky and try to get an especially wary coyote close to your position. Wait too long and you risk that the coyote will spook and bolt.
"I pick a point out there, and once he gets there I'll stop him with a barking sound and shoot," Lundberg says.
It's the dream scenario for predator hunters: not long after calling, a pack of coyotes comes charging in. But as anyone who's spent time wingshooting knows, when a covey of quail bursts skyward, it's much tougher to hit any of them than it is to hit a single bird in flight. So how do you handle multiple coyotes without whiffing?
"If I'm hunting by myself, I'll try to bring a shotgun along in case this happens," Lundberg says. "I always let them come as close as I can get them and start with the easiest dog first.
"If I have a rifle, then I shoot the one farthest back and work my way forward," he says. "The second or third one will usually check back on its friend. When that happens, I hit a pup-in-distress or ki-yi [hurt dog] call, and that sometimes makes them stop, giving me a chance to get a shot at another dog."
Another approach is to try to shoot the dominant--usually the largest--coyote if you can identify it. With that one down, the others are more likely to hesitate, offering follow-up shots.
If you're hunting with a buddy, make a plan beforehand, Lundberg says. "One of us will have a shotgun, for sure. The guy with the rifle usually goes for the coyote farthest out, and he's the one who makes the decision to shoot," he says. "He'll bark to stop them all, and after his shot, it's kind of a free-for-all."
Montana Hunters Draw Coyotes with Unorthodox Decoying Method
by Brett French
It's a back-and-forth, sometimes deadly dance between dogs and coyotes that's rarely seen in hunting. When the tactic works, says Ryan Lawson, "Anyone who sees it is in awe." Using trained mountain curs, the self-dubbed Montana Doggers--Lawson and friends Chad Muus and Levi Johnson--lure coyotes into shooting range, sometimes only an arm's length away. The coyotes chase the curs--and it often looks downright playful--back to the trio of camouflaged gunners. "There is always action," says Muus.
Their hunts typically begin in a large bowl-shaped area above a draw or creek (the bowl helps their calls reverberate outward). They spread out just below the top of the rim with the wind in their faces and rocks, bushes, or trees breaking up their outlines.
"I prefer to hunt early in the morning because it's cooler and less windy, and it's easier on the dogs," Johnson says. "I don't like to hunt in the evenings because if something happens to the dogs, it's hard to help them in the dark."
After sitting quietly for about five minutes and getting their rifles situated atop shooting sticks, the hunters start calling. Johnson first uses a mouth call, imitating a howling, yapping coyote. If there's no response after five minutes of silence, he turns on his electronic digital caller to imitate an injured rabbit. If a coyote still hasn't appeared, Johnson switches to digital calls of coyote pups in distress.
Johnson compares the calls to a series of challenges. At first he is telling the coyote he is in its house. The next one says, "Hey, I'm in your refrigerator!" The last one says, "Now I'm messing with your family!" If all goes well, he says, the coyotes come in to say, "Get out of here!" It's only after the coyote makes an appearance that Johnson releases his dogs, Copper and Dezi.
Training Dogs to Decoy
Mountain curs, originally bred to hunt cougars and herd livestock, are one of 19 cur types bred in the United States. The dogs aren't big, weighing between 45 and 60 pounds when fully grown. And despite their single-mindedness in luring coyotes to their death, curs make great family pets, Johnson says.
To train them, he first used a tanned coyote hide to introduce the pups to their future prey. He would let them fight with it and play tug of war. Their first hunts were simply to acquaint the dogs with the game. Johnson would call in coyotes and Dezi and Copper instinctively ran out to meet them. Initially, the dogs were intimidated, running back to their master with their tails tucked between their legs. As the dogs got more confident, they would run farther out. If the dogs strayed too far and failed to return to Johnson's whistle, he would tickle them with a small shock from an electronic collar. Now they respond to the collar's tone to avoid being shocked.
"Now that they're four and five years old, they know the game," Johnson says. "They used to work only on sight, but now they go on hearing and smell, too. Sometimes a coyote will come in and we won't see it, but the dogs will wind it and let me know."
Because Johnson is the one who has invested the time and effort into training Dezi and Copper, he makes the call on when to shoot, ensuring his dogs are clear before any lead flies. "The main thing is just having your dogs under control," he says.
Tools of the Trade
The dogs and the calls complement each other, one working when the other cannot or fails. The calls pique the coyote's curiosity, bringing it into view. The dogs lure the coyote in closer, and keep it focused on them and oblivious to the hunters. If the coyote stops advancing, Johnson will hit the pup-in-distress call, or the curs will turn and chase the coyote before retreating toward the hunters again. When the coyote sees the dogs retreat, its instinct to chase kicks in and it pursues the dogs once more.
"Usually when pairs come in, one will hang up," Muus says. "When we shoot one and the curs start tearing up its hide, the other one will come in." The second coyote, attempting to help its mate, dodges back and forth, snapping and barking at the dogs, but never leaving. When it runs far enough away from Johnson's curs, he calls for the shot.
For the Doggers, these tactics have proven successful. One month, the trio shot 62 coyotes hunting just on weekends. Their longest shots have ranged out to 640 yards, but typically the coyotes come in much closer, sometimes within 5 feet.
Their gear lets them go long distance when necessary. Each man shoots a slightly different customized setup. Johnson and Lawson shoot Remington Model 700 SPS rifles modified with Jewell triggers set at 1 pound of pull. Johnson tops his rifle with a Vortex Viper 6.5-20x50 scope. Lawson uses a Viper HS LR 6-24x50. Muus and Lawson's rifles are chambered in .243 Win. Muus shoots a Ruger modified with a Timney trigger, a Leupold VX-3 6.5-20x50 scope on top, and loaded with Sierra MatchKing 107-grain HPBT bullets. Johnson shoots 55-grain Nosler Trophy Grade Varmint loads in his .22/250. All three rifles have H-S Precision Pro-Series Sporter stocks.
Prior to focusing on their Montana Doggers gig, the trio became friends when they all guided deer and elk hunters for the same outfitter in central Montana. But they don't guide hunters to shoot coyotes--Johnson is too worried that an excited client might shoot one of his dogs instead of the coyote--so the three hold down regular jobs. Muus makes his money in the North Dakota oil fields on a work-over rig, Lawson is a pipefitter at an oil refinery, and Johnson is a town maintenance worker.
United by a love of all types of hunting, and interested in videotaping their unusual canine encounters, the trio formed the Montana Doggers two years ago and produced a DVD with the hope that a television network would see their unique hunts and sign them for a full show. That hasn't happened yet, but there are other incentives to their coyote hunts.
"I do it because it opens up doors with ranchers," Lawson says. "They often will let us come hunt during big-game season, too."
Even without that side benefit, the Doggers enjoy hunting with each other in the vast, coulee-cut sagebrush prairies of eastern Montana. The outings are always a bit competitive, with bragging rights going to the one who makes the best, longest, or most difficult shot. Good-natured boasting follows a top shot; ridicule comes after a coyote is missed. They sometimes make whoever blows a shot wear a red clown suit as a mark of shame. "Trust me, around this bunch you don't want to miss," Johnson says.
Tactics for Nocturnal Eastern Predators_
by Ben Swenson_
The moon hasn't yet risen when Chuck Taylor and Jonathan Cawley silently slip out of the truck, parked beside a small field of sorghum. Only a couple of distant sounds--some yippy family dog and a church bell--echo in the night. "There's no wind," whispers Taylor. "That's good."
Taylor and Cawley are president and editor-in-chief, respectively, of the six-year-old North Carolina Predator Hunters Association. The way they hunt coyotes at night--which North Carolina's Wildlife Resources Commission began allowing for the first time last August--differs little from the way they hunt during the day, save for a red spotlight used to illuminate the dodgy dogs' eyes. (Ed. Note: In November, a Wake County Superior Court Judge issued a preliminary injunction halting coyote hunting at night with the aid of artificial light in five eastern North Carolina counties.) Hunting Eastern coyotes at night, however, gives hunters a leg up, as the animals have largely become nocturnal. Nevertheless, night hunts still require great care to fool the coyotes' keen senses, including their ability to see well in low light. The Eastern states' general lack of wide-open tracts means that everything--landscape features, hunters, and coyotes--is in close proximity.
"The hunt begins at the truck," says Taylor. That's because coyotes' acute hearing can detect unnatural noises. Loud conversation, slamming doors, clanging gear, and heavy footsteps are all audible warnings to predators that something's amiss. Calling in coyotes at night is far from a sure thing, explains Taylor, who has killed some two dozen of them. "I can't guarantee we'll kill a coyote tonight," he says, "but we'll have a good time trying."
The men know there are coyotes in the area--Cawley has heard them howling at night. A couple of days before, he scouted sites near his home in rural Corinth, about an hour southwest of Raleigh. Cawley talked to neighbors and picked a few promising spots that likely contain coyote dens--among them a couple of brushy bottoms and the field where they're now prepping for a nighttime ambush. He made note during daylight of good shooting lanes and structures to avoid.
The pair slinks into the rows of crops and sets up near the crest of a gentle rise, a forested edge not quite 150 yards downhill in front of them. Cawley, seated, points his .223 bolt-action rifle in the direction from which the dogs are most likely to arrive. Taylor sits a few yards away, positions his spotlight, and readies his mouth calls. No electronics tonight. They wait in silence for 10 minutes, letting the night's stillness envelop them. Taylor pierces the calm with a locating call--mimicking a lost coyote--in three 20-second bursts. He powers on the red spotlight afterward, slowly sweeping the slope in front of them, looking for beady eyes reflecting the glow. Nothing. Taylor dims the light and again they melt into the silence.
For the next half hour Taylor repeats various calls--a cottontail in distress, a field mouse, a coyote pup--following in measured sequence with a sweep of the light and a lull in movement. Taylor has more calls, but just as in flyfishing, he says, coyote hunters must "match the hatch." The calls he's using for this fall hunt are the most appropriate for the location and season. The cottontail and mouse are precisely the animals that would be feeding on the sorghum in this field, and a pup would yelp excitedly if it snagged one of these meals.
The Waiting Game
They sit longer still, waiting. "When you think it's time to get up, wait 15 more minutes," Taylor says. "I can't tell you how many dogs I've seen that way." At one point during that long wait, he illuminates a distant patch of tall grass. There's s a jerky, unnatural movement, but nothing emerges. Two deer later appear at the edge of the field. Taylor reads them like a book. "They're standing there, not a care in the world," he says. "It's time to go."
They drive a short distance to a cutover and again take an uphill position intended to draw the coyotes up a rise. This time, after several rounds of calling, two different packs of coyotes, far apart, respond, filling the night with a chorus of howls. Taylor keeps at the routine--calling, sweeping, pausing--but the coyotes won't come in. They're on edge tonight, elusive and distant. But surely, one night soon, curiosity will get the best of one of the pack, perhaps more, and Taylor and Cawley will be there in the dark, waiting and ready.