Coyote Hunting

The coyote is actually a small wolf. Its larger relative, the timber wolf, was what kept its numbers in check in the old days. The Louisiana red wolf is considered by some authorities to be a coyote and timber wolf cross. The coydog is a cross between a dog and a coyote, while the coywolf is a cross between the coyote and the wolf. These are bigger, stronger, and potentially more dangerous.

The elimination of its number one enemy, the timber wolf, and the network of roads and bridges man built enabled the coyote to quickly expand its range dramatically. Wolves will not tolerate the competition from coyotes and will quickly kill them. No wolves means more coyotes. Cougars will also kill coyotes and are a lot better neighbors than wolves. Encouraging the return of mountain lions would help matters at a far lower price than reintroducing wolves. I’ve lived around both, and while I enjoy having a mountain lion around, I will kill a wolf on sight.

Coyote attacks on humans are relatively rare with only two fatalities, three-year-old Kelly Kleen in Glendale, California, and 19-year-old Taylor Mitchell in Nova Scotia, Canada. They do pose a major threat to pets and livestock wherever they are found, and no prey-sized small children should be left alone outside in areas they inhabit, as they have been known to attack small children. As a result of these depredations, the coyote is often hunted, many times out of necessity instead of choice.

IT IS IMPORTANT to know how to tell a coyote from a dog when hunting. The coyote has sharp, pointed ears that never droop or fold over like some dogs and it has a very sharp, narrow, long and pointed nose. That long, narrow snout is perfectly designed for sticking down holes to grab its prey when the coyote is digging out ground squirrels and such from their burrows. Its tail is bushy like a fox, not a dog.

Coyote tracks are more oval and compact with less prominent claw marks than a dog’s. The tracks also tend to go in more of a straight line than a dog’s. Like wolves, coyotes have a definite range and may follow a long route, only showing up in one area once every several days. They hunt equally well day and night. During the day they avoid human habitation, but at night they will even come up on porches after pets.

When hunting coyotes, the most common method is to call them in with a call or electronic recording. Coyote howls and rabbit calls are the most popular call sounds. The hunter should be sitting perfectly still and well camouflaged, just like a turkey hunter would be. Blinds are not necessary. Deer hunting tree stands work well if an electronic caller is placed on the ground. Locations along game trails will see coyote traffic, especially in the early morning and late evening. If coming by a vehicle that drops you off and keeps on its way, the coyotes will ignore the vehicle. If you have to park, make sure that you are parked at least a quarter mile from where you intend to hunt, as they will take notice of the vehicle and depart. In both cases, hunt into the wind because these are canines and they depend on their noses to tell them of danger. That’s you.

In places where it is legal, night vision and thermal vision devices are used, as well as spotlighting coyotes. These devices can be extremely effective and well worth their cost when dealing with both coyotes and wild hogs.

Some farmers will stake out their chicken coops waiting for coyotes, just like they once did for chicken thieves back at the turn of the century when it was legal to shoot a chicken thief. Why was this legal? Because back then, chickens were all some families had to eat and the families’ survival was often at stake. Sheep farmers, meanwhile, have resorted to dressing in white and lying down with their flocks at night, rising up to shoot the coyotes when they begin closing in on the flock looking for dinner.

COYOTES ARE OMNIVEROUS and they also eat carrion. If they have killed some of your livestock or it has just died, they will come to the carcass like vultures. Even a deer gut pile will draw them. Staking out the bait like a big game hunter works well. A tree stand overlooking the bait makes the set-up perfect. Sure as buzzards, they will come.

If you are calling them to you, you can often end up in scenarios where you are in cover and unable to see them until they are within easy pistol or shotgun range. It is infuriating to be looking right at a yodeling coyote but be unable to see him to shoot because of the brush. As it does not take much cover to hide a coyote, you probably won’t be taking any shots over 100 yards. Since these are canines, they often run in packs and you will need a good semi-auto so none get away. Anyone wishing to be sporting about coyote hunting obviously does not have livestock, pets or small children that are important to them in the area.

Coyotes are a major destroyer of all types of game animals, especially the young, and that includes deer fawns. Forget about all the balance of nature talk and just look at the facts: the population of game birds and mammals plummet when coyotes are introduced. They are not native to most of their current range. The coyote is a newcomer and an invasive species disrupting local game populations. I have seen them reduce a flock of over 200 wild turkeys to less than 10 birds. I have watched the ruffed grouse population drop just as dramatically.

The effect of coyotes on deer herds is very dramatic, as they are most efficient at getting fawns and a pack can bring down an adult deer. It is so bad in Georgia that hunting clubs that lease deer hunting land keep Georgia’s ace coyote trapper, Marty Adams, busy. Known as “Mr. Coyote,” Marty is the best coyote trapper in the business and those being hurt by coyotes are constantly calling on him.

COYOTES ARE SMALL, with adults weighing from 15 to 45 pounds and standing around two feet high at the shoulder. The chest vitals represent about a 6-inch circle. Buckshot and most any rifle cartridge work fine. Premium bullets like Nosler that do not blow up spoil less of the valuable pelts than cheap bullets. This is a fine place for the fast-handling little .30-caliber M1 carbine or the various 5.56 assault rifles. If you have a pistol-caliber semi-auto like the old .44 magnum Ruger carbine, it will work splendidly. Of course you can also use your regular semi-auto deer hunting rifles, getting in important practice before deer season.

A semi-auto scout rifle comes into its own when coyote hunting, as you are going to be doing some fast shooting to make sure you get all of them. Just be sure that your scout scope has a German 3 post reticle because crosshairs blur during aimed rapidfire and aimed rapidfire is the semi-auto scout rifle’s reason for being.

Instinct shooting with an M1 carbine or other rifle is a sure-fire method of getting them all, if you are well practiced in the old Army “Quick Kill” instinct shooting method.

On my farm deep in the North Georgia mountains, I normally use a pistol, as there is nothing out of pistol range for me there. The M1911A1, .45 Colt SAA, or a Luger pistol all perform perfectly for me.

THERE ARE OTHER methods of hunting coyotes as well. Those hunting over vast fields can glass the area with their binoculars and take some extremely long-range shots at coyotes, just as they do at deer during deer season.

Out west, the desert areas often have extremely high jackrabbit, rodent and bird populations. A coyote’s smorgasbord. In winter when there is a blanket of snow to highlight the coyotes, hunters will drive four-wheel drive vehicles through the desert with one man driving and the other watching for any suspicious shape. The car is repeatedly stopped to check these out and eventually one of them is found to have a pointy set of ears and a nose to match. Now it’s shooting time.

Others hunt from a base camp in known coyote territory and set out with overnight camping gear, glassing the ridges as they look for tracks and listen for the noisy calls of the coyote. Once they have located the coyotes, they camp for the night and then await them at first light. Most of these shots are long-range. The hunters are quietly glassing the area as soon as there is enough light, waiting and hoping to shoot one as they start their morning prowl.

A classic Western method of hunting is running coyotes with horses. It requires a recent unfrozen heavy snowfall of a foot or more to show tracks and slow the coyote but not the horses. An unfenced area suitable for horses to run without cliffs, gulleys, big rocks, high mountains, etc., is essential. The riders fan out at break of day within easy hollering distance until one locates fresh tracks. The pursuit begins. Once the coyote realizes he is being stalked, he begins to run and the horses alternate between a mild gallop and trot until the coyote is worn down in the snow, whereupon he is dispatched with a pistol or a rifle. That is, providing he doesn’t get away. Disappearing in the rocks or a den is old hat to these coyotes and they frequently make good on their escape.

A more efficient variation of this is chasing the coyote with greyhounds or wolfhounds with the hunters following on horseback. Wolfhounds will dispatch the coyotes themselves quickly and easily. After all, they were bred to kill wolves, which are much larger than coyotes.

Coyotes are sometimes run down with snowmobiles and shot. Hunting them from planes and helicopters, where legal, has also been done. Picking them off from the air may not be sporting, but killing coyotes is usually dead-serious work instead of sport.

Coyotes breed around Valentine’s Day, February 14, and 63 days later have pups around Income Tax Day. Decoy dogs are sometimes used then. The cur goes out and the coyote parents attack it. The decoy dog then runs back to its owner, who shoots the coyotes pursuing his dog.

There are three types of coyotes out there at all times. The territorial adults, this year’s pups, and adolescents looking to establish their own territory. When coyotes have pups, they are constantly hunting day and night and this is when they pose the greatest threat to pets and livestock.

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For those of you worried about running out of coyotes, just remember that they breed fast. Kill one and another will take its place in a month or two. You have to kill at least 90 percent of the coyotes in a given area to make an impact on the population, and even that won’t last long if the hunting pressure is let up. Like wild hogs, the coyote is an invasive species that is determined to stay, and breeds fast enough to do it. Its natural enemy in nature is the full-size wolf and the wolf presents even more problems than coyotes. You hunt coyotes in order to protect game animals, livestock, small children and pets. Not necessarily in that order. It is a war just like any other war. Failure to fight has unacceptable consequences just like any war. That’s why we fight them.

Story and photos by Jim Dickson