The idea was simple, if a little perverse: set up a wall-tent base camp like we might for elk hunting–only for coyote season. The six of us participating in “Coyote Camp” knew the weather on Montana’s eastern plains could be nippy in February. We didn’t know how low the mercury would go… Photos By: Dusan Smetana and Andrew McKean
Our home for the week, on the prairie outside my home in Glasgow, Mont. Cabela’s provided most of the infrastructure–including two canvas outfitter tents, one for cooking and one for sleeping (and playing cards)–and all of the comfort, including double-decker cots, sleeping bags rated to -35, and battery powered gloves, socks, and even coats.
Photographer Dusan Smetana caught this image that any hunter might recognize, only this is the predator version. In no particular order: Primos’ Alpha Dogg e-caller, Cabela’s Euro binoculars, Weatherby’s Mark V in .257 Weatherby Mag., energy drinks, sunflower seeds, earmuffs, random camo, and boxes of cartridges. Keep in mind, this is Monday. By the end of this long week of hunting, my truck looked a whole lot more chaotic.
The plan was to hunt coyotes across the million acres of public land in my county. But conditions constrained us. Most two-track roads were drifted in, as I discovered after trying to drive to a favorite coyote stand.
Then the jet stream dipped south and arctic air moved in. This was the scene that greeted us one morning. The wind chill dipped into the -30 range.
Cold this extreme makes everything behave strangely. Trucks don’t start, anything that’s not in a cooler freezes solid, and propane doesn’t flow. I had to warm up gas cylinders to get them to work in portable heaters, and then switch them out in the open air, to avoid spraying my campmates with liquid propane.
How cold was it? This cold.
But the extreme cold unlocked coyotes that had been oblivious to our calling earlier in the week. In the teeth of a nasty winter storm–with snow blowing sideways and temperatures plummeting–Nebraskan Cory Peterson called in this coyote with a cottontail distress call.
The big male weighed nearly 40 pounds, one of the largest coyotes I’ve ever seen in eastern Montana. His fur was prime, with no sign of rubbing. If only Cory had left more of it on the carcass. His .220 Swift wasn’t exactly easy on the pelt.
The cold also affected other prairie dwellers. Here, Jim Zumbo ducks into the warmth of the wall tent for some refuge from the wind.
Outdoor Life’s Shooting Editor John B. Snow warms up in his Cabela’s sleeping bag.
The most dependable cure for our frostbite was a hot dinner, followed by restorative libations and hours of card games inside the wall tent.
We tried all the tactics we could think of to pile up coyotes, including hunting at night. Here, Snow aims at a distant target illuminated in the high-intensity beam of a “Coyote Light,” from the Pennsylvania company of the same name.
We tried howling, with mixed results. Finally, we worked in on a family group of four coyotes feeding on a mule deer carcass. Howling calls sent most of the pack running the other way, but one remained on the kill. I managed to stalk in and shoot it off the carcass.
Getting out was no picnic. We horsed through most drifts, and had to push the Kawasaki through the deepest snow.
A pair of coyotes in a week of hunting was our tally, but the experience of camping on the frozen, wind-blasted prairie was the real memory. A final portrait of the “Coyote Campers” — Jim Zumbo, Cabela’s Joe Arterburn, and John Snow in the front, myself, Cory Peterson, and photographer Dusan Smetana in the back. I hope feeling returns to my cheeks and fingers sometime in the next month.
Hunting Editor Andrew McKean and five of his buddies spent a week hunting coyotes on Montana’s frozen prairie. In -35 degree wind chill, they camped in wall tents and did their best to fight off the frostbite.