Despite efforts by ludicrous lawmakers in California (Scott Weiner, we’re looking at you and your attempts to ban black bear hunting) hunting is still an incredibly popular activity in America. And despite what anti-hunting groups would have you believe, the majority of hunting in America isn’t done for sport.
So what role, then, does predator hunting have in our modern system of wildlife management? Well, it’s fairly simple – since we, as humans, have taken it upon ourselves to manage wild game, we have to manage the animals that prey on our wild game. In a world without us here, this balance would sort itself out. But we’re the apex predator on the landscape, and therefore, it’s our job to cull the populations of all animals.
That brings us to coyote hunting. As multiple conservation groups and wildlife management agencies have noted over the years, coyotes can take a big toll on deer populations. I’ve watched coyotes chase fawns and yearling mule deer here in the Rockies, and the number of animals a coyote will kill and eat in a given winter is astounding.
Wolves are far more voracious, but they’re also political, and therefore harder to hunt. Removing some coyotes from the landscape will have a positive impact on deer populations, even if it wouldn’t be as noticeable as removing one wolf, but I digress.
So, if you’re interested in going after coyotes, or you want to try some new kind of hunting this winter, pull up a chair and get comfortable. We’ll be here for a minute.
Coyote Hunting – The Basics
I grew up hunting prey animals – rabbits, deer, elk, ducks, upland game. The stuff that’s the diet of bears, wolves, and yes, coyotes. I know how to hunt those animals, and while I’m far from an expert, I’m proficient enough to put meat in the freezer.
Switching to hunting predators was a bigger learning curve than I expected. For one thing, you have to play the wind like you’re stalking the biggest bull elk you’ve ever seen. Coyotes base almost their entire approach off their sense of smell, and it’s astute. If the wind so much as flutters in the wrong direction, they’ll sniff you and vanish. And given how far scents carry on a breeze, especially in open prairies where coyotes are prevalent, you could very well spend a day hunting the critters and never seen one if you’re not playing the wind correctly.
A good rule of thumb is to remember to keep the wind either directly in your face, or coming at you from the side. That’ll help you always determine which way your scent is drifting. One trick that my hunting mentor taught me when chasing elk is to always carry a lighter. When closing the distance on an elk, he’d pop open the lighter, watch the flames, and adjust his approach based on what he saw the wind do to the open flame. It’s a trick I’ve used to get within spitting distance of several large bull elk.
You should also keep in mind that coyotes are among the most adaptable animals in the world. Since the 1950s, they’ve expanded their historic range by about 40%, occupying all of the continental United States, Canada, Mexico, and Alaska. The vacuum left by the near-eradication of wolves in the 20th century meant that coyotes had room to thrive. In addition, some in the Midwest and the East Coast bred with wolves native to the Great Lakes region, which results in a bigger, meaner coyote. They’re still nowhere near as big as purebred wolves, but they’re definitely a problem animal.
Master of your Domain
One aspect of coyote hunting that’s been impressed on me for years now is the need to be absolutely aware of your surroundings when hunting coyotes. Here in the West, most of the coyote hunting I do is in the prairie. That’s a stark contrast to all the elk hunting I do, which is typically in thick, nasty, dark timber. When you’re in forest that dense, you have a bit more room for error with your movements, simply because an elk’s line of sight is impeded by the foliage.
On the prairie, you don’t have that luxury. You need to be in good cover, downwind, but also able to project a predator call that’ll bring coyotes in. These animals will travel up to 100 miles to find their next meal, so you can bet that they hear your dying rabbit calls. Whether they come to investigate, though, depends on if they can sense any danger at all. If you’re not holed up, camouflaged, and completely aware of your surroundings, you’ll likely not have much success trying to hunt coyotes.
In addition, it’s vital to know what the local food base is for coyotes. If you’re in an area with tons of rabbits, for example, then dying rabbit calls are a good bet to lure in coyotes. It’s rare that you’ll be able to simply spot-and-stalk these animals. Unlike elk or deer, they don’t depend on the strength of the herd to protect them against prey animals. Coyotes use their speed, sense of smell, hearing, and generally good eyesight to stay out of trouble. They only move in to feed when they’re sure they’re safe.
Also, keep in mind that coyotes are omnivores. They’ll eat just about anything they can find, so if you’re in an area that doesn’t have a huge food base of smaller mammals, you can get creative with how you call in a coyote. The principles remain the same in both scenarios, however.
Here’s where you can have an endless debate within the echo chamber that hunting can sometimes be. Which gun should you use to knock down coyotes?
Well, the answer is that it depends. If you’re purely hunting coyotes just to curb the predator population in your area, you probably don’t care about the quality of the pelt. And in states where a coyote bounty is in play, the quality of the pelt doesn’t affect whether you make money off that dead dog. In that case, there’s no reason not to use a fairly large rifle. A .300 Win Mag is overkill, mostly because the cost per round is so high, but even a .25-06 isn’t too much gun.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of folks who love to hunt coyotes with their AR-15. The .223/5.56 is a round that’s plenty capable of knocking down coyotes, especially at a few hundred yards. I even know some folks who hunt with a .22 long rifle. In that case, your shot placement matters a lot more than anything else, but the folks I know who hunt with a .22 are the kind who can put shots in tiny windows at distance.
The newer .224 Valkyrie also has promise as a coyote round. It’s a flatter-shooting, more stable bullet than the .223, but it’s not widely available in many rifles at the moment.
The .22-250 Remington, .243 Winchester, and .250 Savage are all great options, too. If you want to hone in your long-range shooting skills, a .257 Weatherby Mag is another great caliber to look at, as well.
Regardless of what you choose, you need to pair it with good optics. The right scope can help make or break the shot you get on a coyote. A 4-12x scope with a fairly good sized objective lens is all you really need. You won’t need something nearly as high-tech as what you see on some elk and deer hunting outfits these days.
Finally, you want to make sure you’ve got the right camo. I’ve always been told to approach coyote hunting like turkey hunting – assume they can see everything that doesn’t blend in with your surroundings. If that means wearing all white to look like you’re just another snow drift, then that’s what it means. Most of the time, though, you’ll be fine in muted patterns that don’t seem out of place for the terrain you’re hunting. You really need to focus just on blending in, and limiting your movement. If you can do those two things, you’ll become a successful coyote hunter.
While some people may decry predator hunting as less-than-ethical, it’s a great way to help ensure the health and future of your local big game herds. Coyotes are opportunistic feeders who usually need 2-3 pounds of meat per day to stay healthy. A pack of coyotes won’t be afraid to tear into fawns or yearling deer if they get the chance, and they certainly won’t pass up pets in the backyard, either.
Regardless of how you choose to chase them, hunting coyotes is a great way to ensure that you keep your stalking and tracking skills sharp for big game season. Even though coyotes aren’t big game, hunting them effectively requires the same patience and attention to detail. If you want to stay sharp year-round as a hunter, I can’t think of a better activity than to actively hunt coyotes whenever you get the chance.