Coyote Hunting

Coyote Hunting 101: Most Everything You Need to Know

When you're ready to go coyote hunting, here's your source for everything you need to know.

We all know the old hunting phrase: No matter what you're after, it immediately turns into a coyote hunt when you see one.

With that in mind, you'd assume hunting coyotes would be easy, right? Well, hold on there purveyor of the predator hunt, because the wily 'yote is more of a formidable foe than some would think.

Predator hunting can be a difficult thing to do unless you are educated and prepared. You need to think in terms of concealment, wind direction, scent control, movement, decoying, and your weapon of choice.

When most whitetail or muley hunters in the United States have left the regular deer season behind, they are typically looking to create a little space for next spring's fawns to breathe easily in. Coyotes have a completely natural way of following deer populations in that the better the deer are doing, the better the predators will be doing.

Sometimes what isn't so natural is the fact that coyotes will take many more prey animals than are necessary for its survival, leaving deer hunters that are trying to create a managed herd holding the bag. We're left to wait and see what wildlife management agencies in our respective states do about it. They're the ones with the power to set the seasons, limits, and method of take. Abide by their regulations, and coyote hunting can be fruitful, fun, and advantageous.

Let's settle in and look at how and why we hunt coyotes as both sportsmen and conservationists.

Why We Hunt Coyotes

For most in the hunting community, this method of population control is used to ease the strain that coyotes take on recently-born fawns in the spring. Coyotes are known to target the most vulnerable, and deer don't get any more vulnerable than when they're first born.

It can also be said that coyotes in many areas do a great deal of damage to other big game animals like elk or pronghorn and even beef calves that are born in areas where coyotes are prevalent. For many, coyote hunting as much about damage control as it is about livelihood.

Coyotes can also have a large range when it comes to looking for prey, which means that when the chips are down and food is scarce, they can and will come into urban and suburban areas to feed meaning that pets can be on the top of their menu.

Trapping (and in some cases shooting) coyotes can also be a lucrative practice, as their pelts can attract real money. How many other hunting excursions can result in a profit? Some, but not many.

According to Trapping Today, "The best quality Western coyotes should average $70-100, with semi heavy Westerns and top quality Easterns averaging $40-50." Now, these prices are a couple years old, but trends haven't changed too much.

For hunters out to make an extra buck on coyotes or any other predator pelts, they need to remember that these pelts obviously are worth less with bullet holes in them. If hunters stick to medium caliber firearms and ammo and learn to skin them properly, coyote pelts can still provide some extra money.

The final big reason we'll mention is that coyotes offer hunters a method of practicing. No matter if the coyotes come in from 25 yards out of nowhere to all the way over a half a mile away, it takes skill and patience to hunt them, like any other animal. Having these sneaky predators as your target species will hone your hunting skills like no other due to their stealth, guile, sharp eyes, and great noses.

One thing that they will teach you right away is that you have to act as a predator to hunt a predator effectively.

Since coyote hunting can be just as exciting as any other hunt, it sometimes causes us to relearn our hunting efforts and skills. For instance, making critical decisions with little time to do it is tough to replicate, but real life hunting experiences can help. It is an imperative in hunting to make quick decisions on the fly, especially when that decision means not taking the shot.

This is one of the most important parts of our hunting lives: standing down when we're not entirely sure of the target and what's beyond. Not downing a coyote or other predator is not the same as missing the opportunity to take your target buck, but it can teach us a lot about the patience and skill it takes to get a wild animal into shooting range and be patient for the right chance.

If nothing else, getting out with our favorite firearm, especially in the winter, keeps us active when the weather tends to dictate otherwise. You may have to trudge through the snow or simply walk some distance to set up, but you'll be breathing the fresh air of the outdoors, giving yourself another chance to see something for the first time or learn something new.

When to Hunt Coyotes

For a predator hunter, the cold winter months of January and February generally mark the beginning of what is arguably the best time of the year to hunt coyotes. 'Yotes are usually more in search of food and can be less wary at this time, and thereby easier to decoy and call.

As the winter progresses, coyotes begin mating, which makes them seem to be more active than usual and sightings increase. Another great reason to target coyotes in the winter is due to the obvious fact that their coats are at their thickest, and in prime condition for the pelt market.

In most states, coyotes can be hunted day or night during the open season, with many having little or no limits on them. Some states even offer year round hunting for them. In southern states, it is easier to pull off a winter hunt, as conditions are typically more mild.

Coyotes aren't just meat eaters, but are actually omnivores, meaning they will eat everything from berries and insects to rabbits and full grown deer. This can make them a target in various types of landscapes, and at anytime of the year. Maybe the second best time to hunt coyotes is in the spring when the fawns are dropped and there is more coyote activity.

Calling and Decoying Coyotes

Scouting and setting up to hunt coyotes often starts when we are scouting for deer, simply by seeing them on our trail cameras. Getting to know where they are by their scat and their footprints is imperative as well. Sometimes, areas that were obvious homes to rabbits and squirrels and no longer hold those critters can be clear cut coyote territory. If there's a drastic decrease in the population of small animals, coyotes are almost always the first assumed culprit.

This is all to say that once you know and understand the land you are going to hunt, how do you know there are coyotes on the property, and how do you locate them to get your shot? Coyotes can be so elusive that we often don't even see them until we have them in the crosshairs of our scope.

Now, it behooves the hunter to get them in closer by giving them something that they want: an easy meal. This begins by using a call, like a coyote howl, to get their interest from a distance. This can also be done by using mouth calls like a diaphragm or other reed calls that look similar to duck and goose calls.

These work great and are easy to use, but in recent years, the electronic calls have won the day since they give the hunter freedom to keep both hands ready when the moment of truth arrives.

An electronic call can make the perfect imitation of different animal noises with a variety of sounds loaded on it and a loudspeaker to get it out there from a distance.

Obvious prey calls include sounds to mimic all range of distressed animals, from rabbits, to rodents, to birds, and even fawns. Other sounds include coyote calls that imitate breeding season vocalizations and especially territorial barks and howls of dominant males that challenges a dog's jurisdiction.

Pup distress calls can and will work, but pups are only present in the spring around April or May, depending on the area.

So now you've gotten their interest, what's next? Getting them to arrive at your location and getting them close enough to shoot are two different things, so you'll need something to seal the deal. Decoys are a great way to convince curious coyotes to commit to investigating your calls once they've heard you, and there are some great options.

These can mimic a rabbit or other critter in distress by its movement, coupled with the sounds. They can be remote controlled so the hunter can have his or her hands free when the big moment arrives. The best ones have a rabbit fur or squirrel tail that is connected to a battery operated system that gives it lifelike movement.

The best part is that this gives a coyote something to distract it from the hunter's location.

Use of decoys can also include a full-body coyote decoy in conjunction with a prey decoy, but this is not recommended for public land hunting as another hunter could easily mistake it for the real thing. Some of the most important things about using calls and decoys include location, visibility, sound amplification, distance from the target, and particularly the wind direction.

While you need to have your decoy visible to you since it is going to do the work of luring the 'yote in, you will certainly have to be camouflaged to the animal's eyes: snow camo in the winter, and leafy camo in the spring depending on the conditions. Coyotes are also notorious for their great noses, and if they come in downwind of you, chances are that you will never even know that they were there.

Even the best setups can be defeated, but this is another great reason to hunt scent free, just like during deer season. Add in some yips and howling to give coyotes within earshot the impression that others are inspecting your spread.

Coyote Hunting Gear

Let's make a quick list of coyote hunting gear and then review them individually.

  • Firearm
  • Call
  • Decoy
  • Shooting Sticks
  • Hunting Pack
  • Seat
  • Camo
  • Binos or Spotting Scope
  • Rangefinder (optional)
  • Spotlight (optional)
  • Night Vision (optional)
  • Bait (optional, depending on your local game laws)

Trying to pick out the best coyote hunting firearm is like trying to choose the best bass lure; there are a lot of choices for a lot of different circumstances and for the most part, you will be successful with any of them. This is not to say that it doesn't matter what firearm that you use. On the contrary, all rifles and ammunition are not the same.

It really boils down to rifle caliber, even though some coyote hunters still use shotguns successfully. Generally speaking, and arguments notwithstanding, the .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and the 6.5 Creedmoor seem to get the most attention. If you plan on taking longer shots then the higher calibers such as the .270 Win Mag and even the .308 Win has plenty of power and range to more than do the job. The choices are seemingly endless.

Archery tackle is far less common for coyotes, mainly because of the shot distance. A crossbow with a long effective range makes more sense, and is becoming more popular. If you choose to go bowhunting for coyotes, you're gong to need a lot of luck, and probably some advice we just aren't suited to give.

We've already hinted that there are many calls and decoys to choose from. For argument's sake, we'll simply say that it's to have them while hunting coyotes, and it's up to you plow through the many good choices that are out there.

Shooting sticks could almost be an afterthought and listed under optional, but most coyote hunting is done close to the ground, sometimes even in the prone position, so much so that having a good pair of shooting sticks or a bipod system on your rifle to steady your shot almost goes without saying.

The hunting pack is an obvious choice for carrying not only the calls and the decoy, but your lunch, water, extra clothing, cell phone, radio, attractant scents (where legal), rangefinder, binos, and first aid kit. Good packs are camouflaged, waterproof, and have plenty of pockets.

Seats might seem optional, but they really pay dividends. These can be the smaller folding chairs that are easy to carry and provide a quick setup, or the larger and more comfortable options when you're hunting areas that you know will involve a long sit without much movement. Even a simple cushion placed on the ground, as when turkey hunting, works well. It all depends on the location.

Camouflage for coyote hunting can range from the usual suspects like brown and green leafy patterned camo, to winter specific camo, to the rocky terrain patterns of the west. Some hardened coyote hunters love to use the esteemed Ghillie suit for the ultimate in disappearing and concealment.

Binos and spotting scopes could also be an option for those who are hunting more open areas where line of vision matters more. Again, the choices are endless, but the nice thing is that they are a bit like fishing rods: you almost can't go wrong with any of them. These are some items that can make a hunt more expensive, but more importantly, more successful.

As listed, laser rangefinders, spotlights, night vision scopes, and even bait are optional depending on location and game laws. Night hunting for coyotes is one of the most exciting ways to hunt for them, but you will certainly need a spotlight at the minimum and a night vision scope for optimal hunting.

Bait is a very subjective thing, but in many areas—especially areas where coyotes are a big problem—local municipalities rely on hunters to check the coyote population in any ways that they can to benefit game animals, farm animals, pets, and people.

Last Thoughts

Whether you are hunting close (50-70 yards) or embarking on a long range hunt for coyotes, these furbearers are smart, tough, and wily enough to see right through your decoys, calls, and other imitations. These varmints will smell you, see you, and outwit you every chance they get with little limit as to how well they can escape your crosshairs.

North American coyote hunting has developed from a necessity for population control and management into an industry that has seen a rise in popularity from the West Coast to the East. It's true that human encroachment has caused some of the problem, with people now living so close to natural coyote habitat. But these adaptable animals have a way of surviving and even thriving in these areas, making it even more imperative to keep an eye on their numbers.

That's where coyote hunters come in.

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