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Learning how to hunt coyotes is just about the same thing as learning how to get very good at hunting. Being an effective predator of predators requires sound woodsmanship, scouting skills, persistence, and marksmanship. Coyotes are one of the most accessible critters to hunt in North America. They’re found on public lands coast to coast, and many private landowners will give you access to hunt coyotes, if nothing else. But they are intelligent critters, and being consistently successful on them is, in my book, more difficult than being consistently successful at deer or turkey hunting, especially in the Eastern United States. In order to learn how to hunt coyotes effectively, you must master the fundamentals and stick to them. Here is everything you need to know, from gear and strategies to setting up and making the shot.
Gear You Need to Hunt Coyotes
Coyote hunting doesn’t require copious amounts of gear but you do need the right stuff to be successful. You’ll want an accurate rifle, which we’ll get to, some shooting sticks or a bipod if hunting in open country, and some warm clothing and boots. Most important, you need some good coyote calls. (Without those, you may not get a chance to use the gun.) Though deer and turkey hunters do take incidental coyotes, most purposeful coyote hunting is done with calls that either mimic coyote vocalizations or some form of prey in distress.
Though coyotes do take down larger prey like adult deer and wild turkeys at times, most of their diet consists of rabbits, mice, songbirds, fawns, and the occasional puppy or kitten. All of those little things emit horrible, desperate screeching noises when in distress. But to a coyote, those awful noises might as well be the sound bacon sizzling in pan—and if they’re hungry, coyotes will come to those sounds on a run.
Closed-Reed Distress Calls
There are many types of predator calls designed to mimic prey in distress. Hand-blown calls are effective and economical, and every serious coyote hunter carries a few of them. I learned to call predators with a closed-reed rabbit-in-distress call, like the Haydel’s GHC Government Hunter Cottontail. These calls run about $20 on average, fit in a shirt pocket, and are easy to operate. To learn how to run a hand-blown call, just Google “rabbit in distress sounds” online and mimic what you hear. (Hint: In the field, if you’re calling up crows, hawks, and owls, you sound realistic enough.)
I keep a closed-reed predator call handy most of the time, because sometimes a deer or turkey hunt can turn into a coyote hunt. You can get calls to make different sounds and tones, too, like the raspier cries of a jackrabbit or the soft squeaks of a mouse.
Open-Reed Distress Calls
Some predator hunters prefer open-reed calls, like a Haydel’s BD-11 Black Death, especially out West. Open-reeds are a little more difficult to master, but they’re more reliable in blistering cold weather, and they allow for a wider range of sounds, including coyote yips and howls.
Electronic Coyote Callers
For pure effectiveness and ease of use, electronic calls are the way to go. When I was a kid, that meant a Johnny Stewart or Lohman system that paired a loudspeaker with rabbit distress sounds recorded on a cassette tape. The noise was scratchy, as cassette tapes were, and if you confused mixed tapes, you could find yourself blaring Shout at the Devil across an otherwise serene landscape just before dark.
Today’s e-callers, as they’re commonly called, use pre-loaded MP3s that are either saved on the system itself or on apps and communicated via Blue Tooth. The sounds are crisp and clear, and swapping from a baby jackrabbit to a coyote howl to a blue jay in distress is as easy as pressing a few buttons. Most e-callers can be operated remotely from a distance, provided you have a clear line of sight to them, which is helpful for taking a coyote’s attention away from you. The best of them, like Mojo’s Triple Threat and FoxPro’s HellCat, have motion decoys built in. Like any electronic device, e-caller reliability can get sketchy in cold weather, which is often when coyote calling is at its best. That’s why you keep those manual calls handy for backup.
Best Guns for Hunting Coyotes
Sometimes, I think if I read another “Top 10 Cartridges” list or “.308 vs. 6.5 Creedmoor” faceoff, I might have to look for a Chevy Astro Van so that I can slam my hand in the sliding door to have something better to do. The quick point that I’ll make on coyote guns is this: You can shoot coyotes with just about whatever you want to. Shotguns work, but rifles are better.
The longer point is that most shots taken at coyotes responding to calls are inside 100 yards. Your deer rifle will work fine, and so will your AR-15, or favorite .22 Magnum rimfire. Classic coyote cartridges include .22 centerfires like the .223 and .22-250, and they’re indeed handy for longer shots. If you’re looking to minimize fur destruction, choose your bullets carefully. In my experience, a polymer-tipped or hollowpoint bullet out of a .22-250 does more damage to soft-fleshed predators than a sturdier deer bullet from a .30-06.
Coyote hunting is no place for a heavy-barreled varmint rifle. Save those for the prairie dog towns and bench rests. An average day of predator calling involves far more walking and carrying than shooting, so a setup of less than 8 pounds, scope included, is ideal.
What about shotguns for coyote hunting? More has been written on that subject than on the dime bag of cocaine found in the West Wing. I’ve covered it several times myself (the shotguns, not the dime bag). The subject of scatterguns and coyotes captivates outdoor magazine editors everywhere, most of whom have never seen a coyote lope away after being rolled by a 12-gauge. To be certain, you can kill coyotes with a shotgun—I’ve done it—and with a good predator load and choke tube combination, you can even have a gun that’s effective to 50-plus yards. But coyotes are tenacious for their size, and I’ve seen more of them wounded and lost with a shotgun than I have killed dead on the spot. Those are just the facts. If you’re taking a scattergun, pattern it religiously, aim for the head and neck area, and keep your shots close.
How to Scout for Coyotes
I like to call coyotes, but I really enjoy trapping them. My winter lines have taught me that a coyote’s habits are much different than a deer’s. They use the landscape much like we do while hunting in that they stay on the move in a large home range, hitting a milk run of productive spots along the way. Just like human predators, coyotes seem to understand that too much hunting pressure in one spot can be counterproductive in the long run. Because of that behavior, I like to run a trap line for a minimum of 10 days at a time. I catch some coyotes early and some late, but most are caught on days 3 through 7. The trap needs to be there, waiting, when the coyote next passes through.
Callers can take a similar approach by locating a good area, and then calling there multiple times during the season. Big picture, you can find a coyote’s preferred hunting grounds by looking for tracks and droppings, which are similar to dog turds but full of hair, bone fragments, and vegetation, depending on the time of year. ATV trails and dirt roads coursing through crop and hayfields are ideal places to scout and determine whether or not coyotes are in the general area. In the nearer term, like before daybreak on a morning hunt, you can use locator howls to confirm that coyotes are indeed close by.
How to Hunt Coyotes: Top Setups
Learning to make a good setup separates good coyote hunters from poor ones. It begins with planning; always envision that the coyotes you’re calling to are holed up in cover, and direct the sounds of your calls toward that cover. Meanwhile, you need the coyote to cross an opening of some sort en route to you so that you can make the shot. Most responding coyotes will attempt to circle downwind of your calls, so you need to factor that in to your setup. Also, be sure to work the wind and use cover on your approach so coyotes can’t smell or see you as you set up. Failing to do any of those things dramatically hurts your chances of a response at any given calling set.
So to use a hypothetical scenario, let’s say you know coyotes are using the edges of a rolling hayfield, and you know there’s a thick creek bottoms on the south end of that hayfield. On the north end of the field is a fence row, and behind that fence row is a good-sized hill. The caller can use the hill to stay completely out of sight while approaching the hayfield, and then set up carefully in the fencerow, overlooking the open field. He directs his calls toward the creek bottom, where coyotes are hopefully bedded. If the wind is from the south, from the creek bottom to the fence row, it’s blowing in the caller’s face, which is perfect. But even if the wind is crossing from the east or west, a coyote responding from the creek bottoms will have to show itself in the open hayfield—hopefully giving you a shot—in order to get downwind of the sounds. If the wind is from the north, from the fence row to the creek bottoms, the caller should select a different location or save the area for a better day.
Hunters should sit with their backs to cover, ideally with some shadows, and wear full camouflage. Shooting sticks are standard coyote hunting gear, and your gun needs to be up and ready before the first rabbit squeals begin. Most coyotes will respond within the first few minutes, but you should give every setup 20 minutes to a half hour, at least. Double that amount of time if you’re targeting bobcats as well. Start with your calling at low volume, and gradually increase it as the setup lingers on. There’s rarely a need to run an e-caller full blast, as coyotes can hear soft sounds, and blaring speakers are unnatural.
Coyote calling is a numbers game. Secure areas to go and plan your setups ahead of time, and then make as many of them as you can. Early morning and late evening are best, and long stretches of cold weather put coyotes on the move in search of food. A decent response rate in the East, when conditions are favorable, is about 1 in 10.
How to Hunt Coyotes: Making the Shot
Coyotes are quick and flighty, and they’re deceptively small targets under all that fur (most adult coyotes top out at 40 pounds). Don’t rush the shot when the coyote is on the move, but don’t tarry when he stops. Steady your crosshair and pull the trigger.
Coyotes frequently get suspicious and turn away when coming to a call, but evidently with mixed feelings, as they frequently look back over their shoulder while loping away. You can stop a coyote in that circumstance with a few quick wails on a manual rabbit squaller, or by woofing at them, like a dog, with your voice. Just don’t expect that to work more than once, and be ready to shoot fast.
If you miss? Well, that coyote’s going to be tough to call in next time—but there’s no shortage of other ones out there to set up of next time.