The Great Coyote Shoot Part 2

After three days of hard hunting The Mosquito Creek coyote tournament ended with this dog that weighed in at just over 49 pounds. They coyote was big enough to earn Denny McArdle a first place finish in a field of more than 3,000 hunters. Editor's Note: Part 1 of this story was posted earlier and is at the end of the gallery.
Outdoor Life staked out Frenchville, Pennsylvania for the tournament to get a better understanding of coyote hunting culture in the East.
Videographer Mike Shea and I embedded ourselves with the local hunters and witnessed some amazing things, like this black color phase coyote killed by Chaz Miller. Over the past two years Chaz's hunting crew has killed four of these black dogs. If you look close you can see it has a white-tipped tail.
We also witnessed some truly unique things (and a pickup full of dead coyotes is barely the tip of the iceberg).
When the dust settled and all the gun fire and hound baying had ceased one thing was clear: Eastern coyote hunting has come of age. Coyotes are a legitimate game animal not just vermin to exterminate. And while coyotes weren't necessarily held with the same reverence as a big whitetail, the hunters at least respected them as cunning quarry.
Our hunt continued with with Dustin McGovern, a local hunter who had been chasing coyotes since he was a kid. We met up with Dustin at 2 a.m. in hopes of a calling in a lonely dog. Armed with a 12-gauge, .270, red spotlight and calling kit we headed into the night.
Using turkey-like hunting tactics we jumped from spot to spot blasting Dustin's call and waiting for a reply. After about 30 minutes we got our first response. We were parked at an abandoned baseball field and heard a lone howl that was deep and long. "Bingo" Dustin said.
We hopped in his truck and drove to a small field. He setup his electronic call, we tucked into a big pine tree and then waited in the darkness. But the coyote never came in. We hit a few other spots and called it quits just as the sun was coming up. It was time to get the hounds.
Organizing a hunt with 30 guys and four dogs is a bit like organizing a military field operation on the fly. Everyone has to know their role for the strategy to work out. "This is going to look like when Grant took Richmond," hunt leader Dean Carper said.
Communication among hunters was important but as with everything between old friends, it was edged with humor. We were flying down the highway when the hunt leader, Dean Carper, got on the radio "Someone needs to head up near Cooney's tavern and block it off," he said. "I'm on it, but when does Cooney's open?" a man named Skunk replied. "11" "What time is it now?" Skunk asked. "10" "Oh. Someone else can take it then."
These are Dean's black and tan hounds Rosco (left) and Smoke (right).
The areas we were hunting had posted signs everywhere, but most of our hunting party grew up in the area and there was hardly a stretch of land we didn't have permission to hunt.
At one point we passed a farmer in a red pickup and one of the hunters held up a dead coyote he had shot in the farmer's pasture. The farmer rolled down his window and smiled through a few missing teeth. "Kill em all!" he hollered.
The farmer we met wasn't the exception, but the rule. Locals (especially farmers, deer hunters and pet owners) appreciate the fact that hunters are taking out coyotes.
You need a lot of room to run hounds and if the dogs break containment you have to chase after them. This would be impossible if landowners closed off their property to us.
After the dogs spent hours circling a stretch of thick woods we were finally able to close in on this coyote.
If you look close at the face, it's hard to ignore how much it looks like a wolf. The popular belief is that many eastern coyotes have a strain of timber wolf DNA, which is why they typically grow larger than their western brothers.
But we didn't have time to sit around and take DNA samples. We got a call over the radio that one of the other hunters in our party had wounded a coyote and was on the blood trail.
We had to book it over to the blood trail with the dogs to get on the track while the coyote was still in the area.
"Once I let the dogs loose you better be ready to run," Dean said. He tied the dogs to a tree right on the blood trail and let them smell the coyote track for about a minute. This drove the dogs crazy and soon they were pulling hard against the lead, straining to be cut loose. Then he let Rosco, his lead dog, loose followed by Smoke and Boom.
The chase was on and we tore through the woods after the baying dogs. I got a little ahead of everyone else and for a few minutes I was by myself running as fast as I could after the hounds. I had no gun (Mike and I weren't hunting, just covering the tournament) so I wasn't quite sure what I was running for. But there's something primordial about running behind a pack of hounds on the chase. Hunter's instinct took over and I lumbered through the woods like a caveman.
But the dogs and the coyote were too quick and after a few hundred yards I lost them. By the time Dean, Mike and I caught up, the dogs had the coyote pinned to the ground. The chase was over.
Hunting coyotes with hounds is not for the faint of heart. There's no glamour to it like there is in walking through rolling pheasant fields behind a noble pointer, and there's no romance to it like there is in bugling in a big bull elk just after sunrise …
But there is something natural about it. Since the dawn of man teams of hunters have chased and killed game with hounds. In the modern outdoors era where trophy hunting and bow hunting dominate because they make the sport more challenging, some argue that hunting with hounds isn't sporting.
To make that argument is to miss the whole point, because the hunt is not actually about the hunters, it's about the dogs and it's about the chase. "After holding that little pup in your hand and training him up till now and to see how hard he's working for these guys, that's something … that's pride," Dean said.
When our hunt with Dean and his crew was over we headed back to the club to see the weigh in.
We were greeted by stacks of dead coyotes and a small crowd of spectators. The tournament has had problems with cheaters in the past, so now all coyotes are scanned with a metal detector. This keeps potential cheaters from loading their dogs up before the weigh in.
The USDA and a team of state college students were on hand to collect data samples.
They ran tests for rabies and other diseases and also dissected the coyotes' stomachs.
A large sample size from the same region over many years has served as an invaluable pool of data for biologists.
The average coyote weighed between about 30 and 40 pounds.
However there were some really big yotes that pushed the scales past 40 like this one.
The general atmosphere at the weigh in was a cheery one and it was hard to not get swept up in moment. (During the Mosquito Creek tournament the easiest way to look impressive is to carry two big coyotes down the street).
Here's Chase English. He really wanted Outdoor Life to take a photo of him with a coyote slung across his shoulders.
Was it unusual to load a 40-pound coyote on the back of a 70-pound kid? Perhaps, but this was central Pennsylvania and those boys are country strong.
Another repercussion from cheaters of years gone by. This year one of the hunters actually failed this polygraph test.
At 4 p.m. the hunt was officially over.
Just before the winner, Denny McArdle, went in to the club to accept this check I caught up to him and convinced him to do an interview. He was tired from doing interviews with the local media and hunting all day, but I promised him if he'd do the interview I'd buy him a beer after. But after the check signing he headed home and I never got a chance to repay my debt. I'll see you at the tournament next year Denny.
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.

Hunting coyotes with hounds isn't for the faint of heart. Take an inside look at Mosquito Creek coyote tournament.