The Great Coyote Shoot Part 1

THE GREAT COYOTE SHOOT PART 1
Over the last few decades the coyote has moved from the Western plains to wooded mountains in the East. Eastern coyotes are known for being bigger and smarter than their western brothers and some hunters argue that Eastern coyotes are wreaking havoc on game populations. But the coyote boom has a silver lining: it's given Easterners a new game species to pursue and has made way for the next generation of hardcore coyote hunters.
There is no better example of this trend than the Mosquito Creek Sportsmen's Association coyote hunting tournament in Pennsylvania. The hunt took place last weekend and 3,541 hunters from all across the region participated. Over the three-day tournament hunters killed 178 coyotes which was an all-time record. Along with pride, $7,082 was on the line for the hunter who killed the largest coyote.
The hunt started in 1992 when a local sheep farmer finally got tired of coyotes picking off his stock. 123 hunters participated in that first hunt, but no coyotes were taken. Participation has boomed since then reaching its peak in 2001 with 5,740 hunters. A popular way to hunt eastern coyotes is with hounds and large crews like the one pictured here (but we'll get to these boys later).
OL dropped into central Pennsylvania to experience the Eastern coyote hunting phenomenon first hand. Our hunt started on a Thursday night at the Tractor Supply store in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. Videographer, Mike Shea, and I were looking for some extra rain gear and we ran into a camo-clad Dick Billote (left) who was looking for a spotlight.
We got to talking and it wasn't long before were sipping coffee in Dick's hunting club, The Glen Richie Hunting Club, talking about a hunt strategy for the night with his hunting partners Teddy Swatsworth and Fred Albert.
Just before the official midnight start of the tournament we left the coffee and warm club and entered a rainy, chilly night. After a few hours and a handful of distress calls we went back to the club skunked.
Our first stop the next day was the Mosquito Creek Sportsmen's Association. The club and bar was full of both hunters and spectators who were just along for the ride. The tournament is about more than just hunting. For many people it's a three-day party and the event isn't short on characters.
My interaction with the gentleman on the left went something like this … Him: Hey Outdoor Life guy, if you take my picture will it go in the magazine? Me: Probably not err, I mean, that's not really up to me … but I'll take your picture anyway. We'll take one for your wife. Him: Naw let's not do that. My wife hates me. (Don't worry, I'm pretty sure he was joking).
In 2004 Alan Custead won the tournament with a 51.35-pound coyote. It stands as the largest dog to ever be killed in the Mosquito Creek hunt.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the hunt is that state colleges and the USDA use it to collect coyote samples. Here's a distribution map for all of the dogs taken in the tournament over the last three years. As you can see from the map, the northern half of the state is thicker with coyotes.
Meet Leona Davis, a 75-year-old local woman who enters the tournament every year. She doesn't necessarily hunt coyotes, but she patrols her farm for canine invaders. The tournament is interesting because it brings out every sort of coyote hunter, from the woman who keeps a rifle in her kitchen to defend her chickens to the hardcore coyote guys who spend enough time in the woods to rival any whitetail hunter.
On Saturday we would tag along with a crew of local hunters and their hounds. There were plenty of hunters who called coyotes, but the majority of coyotes entered in the tournament were taken by houndsmen. In recent years the ratio of successful houndsmen to callers was about 4 to 1.
If this seems like a large hunting party, that's because it is. At one point we had 15 pickup trucks and more than 30 hunters. It was a coyote militia, a group of minutemen who had taken up arms to defend their deer herd and livestock against the invading canines. Or, they're a group of country boys who get together to enjoy the outdoors, shoot the breeze and maybe tip over a few coyotes in the process. It depends on how you look at it.
The leader of this motley crew was Dean Carper. He is one of the best coyote houndsmen in the East and runs coyotes all winter long. He handles his three black and tan hounds and organizes the movements of all the hunters. You don't get to hunt with this group unless Dean gives you the OK. Coyote hunting is no mere hobby to this man.
Rosco (rear) is the lead dog followed closely by Smoke (front). Once you let these two dogs out of the box you better be ready to hold on to them, or run.
See how happy our Videographer Mike Shea looks here? That's because he hasn't yet spent all day running through the woods after hounds on just 10 hours of sleep over three days, with not much more to eat than duck jerky and black coffee. Soon Mike will grow dark bags beneath his eyes and his smile will turn into a determined grimace. Enjoy it while it lasts Mike.
Here's how you execute a coyote hunt with 30 guys and a handful of hounds:
1) Locate fresh tracks the night before. This involves a good amount of driving, hiking and tracking skill. 2) Use hunters to block off a section of woods that you know contains coyotes. This requires four-wheel drive trucks, radios, a good understanding of local topography, permission to hunt everywhere and a ton of teamwork. 3) Cut the hounds loose on a fresh track and let them push the coyote to a hunter. This calls for an understanding of how coyotes work when being pursued and some fast and accurate shooting. Many times coyotes will run in circles around a dog instead of taking off in a straight line. Their sense of smell directs them away from the posters as does their keen eyesight. To kill the trickiest of coyotes you need a good team of dogs that won't quit on a trail.
Finally the dogs are cut loose and our hunt is on.
Dean uses tracking collars to locate his dogs. Once they are let loose they run where their nose takes them. The only way to catch the dogs once they are on a trail is to get ahead of them and grab their collar, which is no easy task in the steep Pennsylvania hills.
One major concern is not letting the dogs cross highways. When Dean's dogs would start heading for a dangerous road we would hop in his truck and gun it to cut them off.
On some occasions the dogs would lose the track and we'd set out on foot to get them back on the trail. There wasn't a whole lot of hiking involved, but when we did hike we had to move fast.
Coyote tracks were everywhere and the dogs actually got confused when there were too many hot tracks in an area. Coyote scent, human scent and deer scent quickly mixed into an olfactory Rubik's cube.
The posters used a variety of guns. The most popular rifle calibers were .243 and .22-250, but some guys carried .270s and up. The old 12-gauge loaded with Hevi-Shot's Dead Coyote was also a popular choice.
As diverse as the guns were, the nicknames for the hunters were even more so: Skunk, Meathead, Stinks, Fish (and his son Minnow), Jackwagon and Chalmers to name a few.
By midmorning the dogs had struck a hot trail and we waited for the shooting to start. Ears strained to hear the barking of the hounds and all eyes were trained on the woods, hoping to see a coyote slink out of the underbrush.
We heard the boom from a shotgun followed by two more reports. Chris Reitz (middle) put himself in the right spot at the right time and dropped the hammer on this coyote.
It was the first of four coyotes to be taken by our hunting party and only the beginning to what would quickly become an action-packed hunt. Check back at outdoorlife.com on Thursday for the conclusion of the hunt including a massive 49-pound dog that won the tournament.

OL gives you an inside look at the world's largest coyote hunting tournament, which is hosted in Pennsylvania each year. Check out part 1 of our 2-part series.