"Save a Deer shoot a Coyote."
If you are a Deer Hunter in California I have to ask, "Why aren't you Predator hunting!" I will be the first to admit that predator hunting isn’t for everyone. I personally enjoy predator hunting for several reasons. Primarily I hunt coyotes because I have witnessed firsthand how a sudden large influx in the coyote population takes a toll on the young fawns in the springtime. Growing up on a large ranch as a young man I also know what a coyote population can do to a herd of cattle with young spring calves or a herd of sheep and goats and that’s not even to mention what they can do to smaller domestic livestock like chickens or ducks and your family dog or cat.
If you’re going to play the sport, you need to practice the sport. Big Game Hunting is a sport, just like football or baseball and all athletes need to practice in order to improve their game and coyote hunting and other varmints makes good practice for deer hunting and other big game. We always put significant amounts of thought into shooting our rifles and working up the perfect big game load and wearing all the right clothes and buying the latest gear, but we often forget to practice the sport in the off season. Hunting coyotes is a good time to practice those incredibly long shots and if you waste a few bullets learning what your limitations are while predator and varmint hunting who cares.
Spring is usually the time to find turkeys and go fishing and watch the kid’s soccer and baseball games and we usually just kind of sit back and take it easy. But spring is also a good time to tune in to the wilderness and feel out what the next year will bring. You can learn about new places and there is no pressure to shoot an animal like there is during regular big game seasons.
I prefer to hunt coyotes in the same areas where I deer hunt or where I know there is a wintering deer herd or spring deer herd resting and dropping fawns. Blacktail and Mule Deer fawns usually start dropping around the second week of April and into May and the fawns seem to be very active during the opening week of trout season which is the last weekend of April for most of the state.
Determining why you are coyote hunting determines the best time of the year and where to hunt these creatures. I say this because, if you are hunting coyotes for their pelts the best time is late November, all of December and the first couple of weeks in January. This is when it’s coldest and a coyote’s hide is thicker (the skin), and the fur of the coyote is usually the thickest and worth more money during this time of the year, at least in California.
About the middle of January two things start to happen. First off, coyotes start their breeding cycle right about the middle of January and the truth be told if you’re shooting them for pelts you don’t want to shoot the breeding dogs because you are just reducing your pelt income for the next year. Most people I know who are truly pelt hunters shoot coyotes until about the end of January. Once they shoot a female with a swollen vulva or one that looks pregnant then they shut down and leave them alone until the following winter.
If you’re shooting for “Predator Control” to reduce or eliminate the coyote population then it really doesn’t matter when you shoot them but honestly January to April are the best times for reducing or eliminating a population of coyotes. If you shoot a male at that time, then you have killed one coyote but if you kill a pregnant female or a wet female which is a female that is nursing a litter somewhere then more than likely you have killed her entire litter. Once she is dead if the pups are not old enough to venture out on their own then they will starve to death or more than likely be eaten by other coyotes usually the stray males that have been looking for the female to come back into season. Even without hunters killing the mom the males will often sneak around and kill off the pups. If the mother loses all of her pups before she gets too far into the spring season she will come back into season again, so the stray males will often go around trying to kill the pups anyway even if you don’t shoot the mom. Keep this in mind when you’re hunting because a stray male coyote makes a great decoy! (More on this later)
The best location to find coyotes depends on the time of year you are hunting. In the winter they usually hold up along the edges of cover and scout for and claim dens. Like most animals at that time of the year they are looking for cover but cover for a coyote could mean almost anything. Usually it's brush, trees and landscape that hides their movement. Clusters of rocks, low ravines, old barns, and haystacks also hold the occasional coyote or two.
During the breeding season when they are “Denned up” this is usually March April and May you will find them in rock piles where they can squirm into them and find a spot to nest, inside large stacks of hay where they will burrow between the hay dumps (small spot between where the Harrow bed dumps the stacks of hay bales next to each other) under pine trees around the base where the snow around the tree has created a natural snow cave where the pups can stay warm. But usually you will find breeding coyotes in the lower county out of the snow or below the snowline on the sides of the hills, burrowed up under boulders and other natural areas where they can have some kind of a small natural cavity to den up and have their litter in peace. I have also found them under the floors of barns and outbuildings and living under farm equipment like stationary bulldozers and large tractors that have been parked for the winter.
Coyotes know that they find the occasional meal near houses and developments, but we should steer clear of people when coyote hunting especially if you are calling. I have called in more than one Golden Retriever and one very angry Rottweiler while calling and so my advice is to keep your distance from humans unless you have permission.
In the late spring and summer, the young pups start to venture out and will be in groups of two or three and will easily come to a predator call. During this time of year there is really no telling where you are going to find a coyote. They are spreading out and finding their territory and I have found them in the oddest of places so keep an open mind.
With coyotes it does not matter what time of the year, winter or summer spring or fall it's all about the food. Find what they are eating, and you will find the dogs. Take note of where you see the coyotes throughout the year while deer hunting and fishing and throughout your outdoor travels and try to remember what they were doing when you saw them. If they are out in the short grass looking at the ground, and occasionally jumping up and pouncing on something, they are hunting mice or other small rodents.
If they are in a field snapping in the air or acting like they are eating bugs, well that’s what they are doing eating grasshoppers. This is a common activity in late summer when other food sources dry up. I found this out once when I shot a coyote through the guts on a nice hot sunny summer day. There was a huge pile of grasshoppers in his stomach and two other coyotes we shot this same day were also eating grasshoppers. It was disgusting to say the least.
If they are cruising near housing tracks, they are usually looking for rats, cats, small dogs or puppies and garbage. If they are out in the rice fields in the fall, they are most likely looking for planted pheasants or crippled ducks and other birds.
In the spring from February through about late April, you will find them around waterfowl nesting areas eating eggs and ducklings that are too young to fly. Or eating baby pheasants who can't fly very good for the first three weeks.
If you find them around large colonies of ground squirrels that’s more than likely what they are hunting.
During the early spring there are lots of coyotes who volunteer to test out the latest turkey loads and end up coming into a turkey call and attacking a decoy. Those same coyotes (the ones that don’t get shot) will more than likely come to an afternoon predator call if you’re using something that sounds like a small bird in distress or a turkey flopping around screeching for its life.
In the spring and fall, if you see coyotes walking through a herd of cows with small calves, just kind of slowly walking with their heads down these coyotes are looking for afterbirths and dead calves that didn’t make it. They are also looking for sick calves and newborns that are too weak to fight them off. These coyotes get really brazen and will often sneak into herds in the middle of the day to beat out the other coyotes and vultures. These coyotes are on the top of the list for me because of livestock damage and I waste no time in giving them the copper.
If you happen to come across an old dead cow or dead horse these are awesome places to look for coyotes, they will smell this for miles and come check out the carcass looking for something to eat or something to eat that’s eating the carcass like opossums, rats and other nasty things.
There are various ways to hunt coyotes. There is the "tried and true" way of cruising around in your truck and checking the usual haunts and just hoping to find Mr. Coyote strolling around looking to be shot. I actually enjoy this method because I can be lazy and just step out and shoot.
You can hunt other animals such as turkeys or deer and just run into one by accident and blast him to kingdom come with your deer rifle or some #2 Turkey loads. This is probably the most common way a coyote meets his maker other than a vehicle accident or natural causes.
Coyotes do have natural predators. This includes Cougars that kill adults and pups, Bobcats that kill pups and other Coyotes that kill pups to eat. Large eagles will also take their fair share of small pups but other than Cougars, not too many things actually attack an adult coyote other than a domestic dog.
You can also Trap coyotes if you are so inclined and have the proper trapping license, but I won’t go into that because trapping is a whole other subject and to tell the truth it's out of my area of expertise.
The primary way that most people hunt coyotes is with a coyote call. It can be a mouth call or an electronic call and this is often accompanied by a decoy.
I use both mouth call and electronic call but prefer an electronic call. The electronic call I use is the "Primos Alpha Dogg" with a Primos "Sit and Spin" decoy, I like keeping my hands free and limiting my movement. I also use a squeaker. This is a squeaky out of one of your dog’s squeaky toys. Everyone who owns a dog has seen one, it’s what is left over after your dog destroys a squeaky toy. They are usually white or somewhat see through and they have a small bladder that you press, and it squeaks. I tape one of these to the fore end of my gunstock and when the coyote gets close, I shut down the electronic call and just squeak the squeaker a few times and get him to stop or come into range.
I start by selecting a call that is close to whatever I think the coyotes are fe on. If they are near ground squirrels, then I will use a small rodent call. If I think they are after turkey chicks I will use a small bird and if I am out in the high desert, I will use a wounded jackrabbit call. But I actually very seldom use a wounded jackrabbit or rabbit call because they are so overused. I think a lot of people that are new to calling try this call first and the coyotes unless it's a young pup have heard it a thousand times and so they actually run away from it. An older coyote can easily tell the difference between a plastic mouth call and an actual bloody rabbit gargling through a terrible death and soon learn or get conditioned to run when they hear this fake noise that they can literally hear a mile away.
I have more success with a wounded fawn call out on the desert or even a wounded bird call than I do a wounded rabbit call. Which brings me to another area of concern. When selecting an area to call, avoid areas where you think there are bears. Unless you are targeting bears and if so, you better be using a mouth call and you better have a bear tag and it better be during season. It is Illegal in California to use an electronic call for bears or other big game. Very Illegal.
Bears really like to come to a varmint call, and when they do, they are usually very pissed off and ready for a fight. I avoid calling in bear country, I have learned my lesson. A buddy and I were mouth calling for coyotes just north of Santa Barbara in the Las Padres National Forest. We had settled in for a calling session and shortly after the first blast a giant Cinnamon colored Black Bear came charging into our set up. I mean charging in, it was July or August, and bear season wasn’t open, and we probably didn’t even have a tag, but the bear charged in and stopped about 15 feet away from us only stopping because he saw two guys scrambling to get their guns and we scared him away by total accident. We were startled but laughing and after it had quieted down, we decided to blow the call again in the exact same location. To our surprise two coyotes came in from downwind behind us at a full run and ran right into the low depression we were hiding in. We did not see them until they were actually within arm’s reach of us, they were easily within 3 feet of us. It scared the heck out of us because we were both thinking “Bear” when suddenly an unknown couple of mammals came charging in. The best part is we never even got a shot off. We were both so startled and confused we just laughed at each other all the way home.
When selecting an area to call be selective because you are quite literally ringing a dinner bell and when you ring that bell be prepared for visitors. I have called in bears, bobcats, foxes, jackrabbits, all kinds of dogs and housecats and countless coyotes. Deer will often come into a predator call and can also become very aggressive, especially the Does. But all you have to do is stand up and they run away. I have never called in a Mountain Lion, but I am sure they were around and listening, but they didn’t come in but in the thick timber I would keep an eye out. I did have an acquaintance call in a bobcat once with a mouth call. I did not witness it but did see the scratches on his hands and face. He was facing into the wind completely camouflaged and using a mouth call and fluttering his hands while using the mouth call when suddenly a bobcat leaped over the top of him from behind and grabbed his hands and face thinking he had caught the wounded animal. Apparently, there was a lot of screaming and yelling and a visit to the doctor for some stitches to the face and head and a bit finger, but he recovered just fine. The Bobcat got away unscathed and probably had his own story to tell.
I call facing into the wind or with a wind blowing across in front of me. I never blow with my back to the wind because they will smell your scent cone well before you can see them. The perfect set up would be the sun at your back, the wind in your face or coming at your face from an angle, your back up against a tree or a large rock, and a dead cow somewhere within rifle range that you know the coyotes have been visiting.
Cover up scent is nice to use in small doses. I use scent for dog training such as pheasant scent or rabbit scent and I sprinkle it around near my decoy but not on my decoy. You don’t want to put anything on your decoy because it won’t wash off and your decoy will smell pretty awful after a week or so of calling and you don’t want that in your truck, your garage, or your tack room.
Use as much camouflage as I can, especially a mask and gloves. The second you blow that first note on your call everything for a half mile knows where you are and exactly where your call is located and will be watching so camouflage and no movement are very important. Don’t move once you start your call, stay still if you have to move, do it slowly and deliberately. Don’t wear anything blue, white or red. A Tom Turkeys head is Red, White, and Blue, the colors of our flag, turkey hunters that are in your area may hear you calling and spot those colors and pull the trigger without thinking. Never ever wear these colors in the field especially during turkey season.
Have your rifle on a bi-pod or tripod and up to your shoulder and facing in the direction you expect the predator to come from, and always have your back against something like a rock or a tree to break up your image and never be on the horizon or skyline where you will stick out against the sky. Place your call as far away from you as you can and put your decoy next to it.
After you have started the call run it for about a minute on the lowest sound setting you have. Coyotes can hear it, trust me. Then wait about 5 minutes and run the call again for about 30 seconds only this time turn it up just a little. Wait another 3 to 5 minutes and run it again and turn it up just a little bit more. Continue like this for about 20 minutes. Never run the call at full volume imagine how far away you can hear someone talking on a quiet summer evening. A coyote can hear a human voice at over a mile on a quiet evening so remember it's not about how loud you use the call, it's more about using the right call and the right rhythm to the call and staying as still as possible. I think one of the most common mistakes a new predator hunter makes is blowing his call too loud. Start the call volume as low as you can until you learn what works for you in your areas.
Now imagine you look out and see a coyote in the distance and he’s coming in hard, just leave the call running, don’t mess up a good thing. As soon as he stops, take your shot. One thing about hunting coyotes is it's okay to take ridiculously long shots at them or shoot at them when they are running away. They are not deer or other big game and it you miss, so what.
It's also okay to just practice your calling, and let the coyote come into the call and tinker with the call to see what works.
If your coyote hangs up and won’t come in, turn off the call and just use the squeaker. Imagine your teasing your dog. This sound drives your dog nuts, and it will drive a coyote crazy too. It also works to stop a coyote that has decided to run away, and it works to get a coyote to stick its head up where you can take a shot. Just a note, it works to get a buck to stick his head up too.
This will take several calling sessions to get right so don’t get frustrated if you don’t call in a coyote right away. It may take you 10 attempts but once you get a coyote to come in you will suddenly realize what you need to do to get it right. I have had times where I called in coyotes almost every time I went out and times when I just couldn’t get one to come in. Then I realized I just had to change my calling a little and suddenly they were back again.
Another thing, it's okay not to kill every coyote that comes in. Sometimes it's nice to just watch and play with the call and see what noises make the coyote act differently. Play with the coyote and try to study its behavior this will go along ways on your future hunts.
Earlier in this article I spoke of stray male coyotes and how they make a great decoy. During the spring coyotes become very territorial, especially the breeding pairs. If they see another coyote they will take off after it and chase it down and fight it and actually try to kill it so that it does not kill their puppies. This is why in the spring you hear of coyote attacks or “encounters” as Fish and Wildlife Officers like to call them (sounds less dangerous when they use those words) on people walking their dogs or children in areas where the coyotes usually aren’t aggressive. So a little trick you can play on the coyote is to go coyote hunting with your dog. Just have your dog with you casually walking around doing little things that dogs do and when the coyotes spot him, they will come over to give chase and that’s when you take your shot, before your dog is in danger, but coyotes will come after your dog they are very good at taking and killing dogs even the bigger tougher dogs. Please don’t let your dogs chase coyotes! It sounds like fun, and I have seen guys do this on TV thinking it's funny watching their Pitbull chase after a coyote. This is called the “Draw Play”, or “Ambush” one coyote makes itself visible and gets a domestic dog to come after if or play with it and when the domestic dog gets totally committed other coyotes that are lurking nearby join in and kill the domestic dog. I have also seen Youtube videos of dogs who have filmed playing chase with a coyote usually with a fence between the two. That coyote isn’t playing, he’s trying to size up that dog and learn it's weakness and how to kill it. Coyotes are very good Predators, and they are tricksters and can easily trick a dumb house dog. Another reason you should not let your dog play with coyotes (if the other reasons aren’t enough) all coyotes carry some form of Parvovirus. They have developed ways to cope with it through evolution, but your domestic dogs have not and you’re just exposing your dog to an unnecessary risk. Caution should be taken when handling dead coyotes, not only using latex gloves, but keep your domestic dogs especially young unvaccinated puppies away from dead coyotes.
You can use just about any modern rifle cartridge to hunt and kill coyotes but anything larger than a .22 will significantly ruin the pelt. Back year and years ago when I did hunt for pelts, I used a .22 Long Rifle. It would do the trick up close but past 100 yards they usually ran off to die later. Now I use a .223 Remington or a .243 Winchester because I don’t care about the pelts. Believe me when I say this a .243 Winchester will flat out ruin a coyote pelt no matter where you hit them. But to tell the truth I usually hunt them with whatever rifle I am going to be using to hunt during deer season because I like to practice with the rifle that I will be using.
No matter what, don’t take it too seriously. Coyote hunting should be fun, low pressure with a lot of near misses and few kill shots. If it's anything other than that you’re taking it too seriously. Make sure you have a current hunting license, check your new hunting regulations and double check to make sure you are in a legal area to hunt coyotes and for Heaven’s Sakes don’t shoot a wolf!!! It is very easy to tell the difference. Look up on the internet the difference between a wolf and a coyote, there are plenty of resources out there. Know the difference before you go!