The silent treatment
To successfully hunt coyotes during winter, it’s often easier—and more effective—to leave the predator calls at home
Too many hunters think the only way to hunt coyotes is with a predator call, and that’s a big mistake. After all, the smartest coyotes have learned to avoid those suspicious noises, making the calls all but useless. And besides, hunters managed to harvest plenty of coyotes long before predator calls ever came along. In fact, I take many of my coyotes each winter without resorting to calling, instead using these proven tactics. Modify them to suit your local conditions and you, too, can become a silent coyote hunter.
Locating and patterning
The first step is to find the coyotes and learn their daily routines, which typically involve foraging at night and sleeping during the day. Since a coyote’s schedule revolves around finding food, you should start by identifying a food source. Livestock operations such as cattle feedlots, pig farms and chicken barns are great places to begin.
Also check out bale yards and unharvested crops, as these can be infested with mice and voles—a favourite food of coyotes. And don’t overlook more natural food sources. Thickets with good rabbit populations and the areas around beaver ponds can also be productive, for example.
A successful hunt starts with finding food sources
Odds are, coyotes will work such areas during the hours of darkness, then move elsewhere to spend the day. The distance they travel between these two points can vary, but the snow can reveal their routes. Look for concentrations of tracks connecting food sources to secluded areas with cover, where the coyotes can nap in the sunshine, undisturbed by human activity.
Once you’ve identified a travel route, you can set up an ambush along it. Coyotes will follow these routes at daybreak and sunset, just like commuters. I’ve found dawn to be the most productive time, so plan to arrive well before legal shooting light. Set up in a predetermined location, keeping approximately 200 metres away from the coyote highway. Terrain features don’t always allow for that, however, so you’ll just have to work with what nature gives you.
Whether your ambush site is within shotgun range or it allows for a long rifle shot, always keep in mind that coyotes live by their noses. To ensure they don’t catch your scent, set up with the wind in your face and wait for the commute to begin.
Search for coyote tracks between food sources and secluded cover
You’ll see early travellers and latecomers, with some in a hurry and others walking slowly. If you’ve got a good set-up, they’re all good targets, so taking multiple coyotes in one sitting is not uncommon. Just don’t run out to retrieve downed animals until you’re finished for the day, or you risk blowing your set-up. I suggest sitting in one place for a full hour, sometimes even two.
If hunting at the crack of dawn isn’t possible, there are also options for midday hunts. One such tactic is pushing, although it requires a group of hunters for it to be successful. It simply involves sending two or three people walking through an area where you suspect coyotes are spending the daylight hours, pushing them out into the open where the others can take a shot.
This technique works best in relatively open countryside with small patches of brush scattered about. The pushers should position themselves so the wind carries their scent to the coyotes, making them flee in the opposite direction toward the waiting shooters. Making noise also works well—barking like a dog is particularly effective, since coyotes certainly don’t want to encounter both humans and dogs together.
If there’s a drawback to this technique, it’s the amount of care required to make sure none of the pushers are endangered when the shooting begins. To avoid dicey shots at running animals, try barking at the coyotes once they break cover. This will often make them stop long enough to present a stationary target.
Position hunters to intercept any coyotes that are pushed out into the open
Where legal, baiting can be one of the most successful strategies for coyote hunters. It’s possible to hunt over the likes of undisturbed roadkill, a rancher’s dead pile or winterkilled big-game animals. However, you won’t always find such baits in an advantageous location for hunting. In that case, you can either try to work with what you’ve got or strategically place the bait in a different area.
The best area to place bait should be near heavy cover. This helps the coyotes feel secure when approaching the bait, and confident they can slip out of sight with just a few bounds. Likewise, the hunter should be able to approach the bait site and slip into shooting position without getting detected.
As with an ambush, the best set-up should be 200 metres from the bait. That distance offers the perfect compromise between not being seen and having an easy shot. And, of course, the prevailing wind needs to be in your face. Setting up at the crack of dawn is usually the most effective strategy, although coyotes can visit a bait site at any time of the day. How long you wait and watch is merely a factor of your patience.
Spotting and stalking
When you get tired of waiting patiently for a coyote to show up, it’s time to employ the time-honoured spot-and-stalk method. As with any other game animal, before a stalk can begin, the challenge is to actually spot a coyote. For me, that happens most when I’m driving between hunting sites or walking back and forth between my truck and my hunting areas.
Staying vigilant is key. If you’re always on the lookout, you’ll notice coyotes sleeping on top of round bales, foraging in open fields, patrolling the edges of cattle herds or simply staying on the move. Pulling off a successful stalk on these randomly encountered predators can be a real challenge, but it’s worth the effort.
If you spot a coyote from your vehicle and you have a hunting buddy with you, consider dropping him off where he can’t be seen, then moving the vehicle down the road. I’ve frequently done this, as it’s a good way to fool a coyote into thinking the threat has gone. Of course, the person who gets dropped off needs to mind the wind, stay silent and begin stalking only when the coyote is looking down or in another direction.
Always be on the lookout for coyotes on the move
To be a complete coyote hunter, the ability to take animals at long distances is an important skill. Whether you’re ambushing, baiting or stalking, opportunities for long shots will inevitably arise, and any properly set up coyote rifle should be capable of putting fur on the ground out to 500 metres. As we all know, however, the shooter is usually the limiting factor.
Along with a rifle and ammunition combination capable of sub-minute-of-angle accuracy, there are several other items that can help you make long shots. These include a laser rangefinder, a riflescope that can be dialed in to compensate for bullet drop, and a rifle support system, such as a bipod. But even having all these aids isn’t much good unless you practise shooting with them.
Shot opportunities at distant coyotes are often fleeting, so you’ll increase your success if you can quickly range, dial and shoot. Shots of 800 to 1,000 metres aren’t impossible, but to make them, shooters need specialized rifles and exceptional skills, particularly when it comes to reading wind and mirage. The key for most hunters is to start practising at distances that challenge them, even if it’s only 200 to 300 metres. That means spending time on a rifle range and taking long shots under simulated field conditions. The skills you learn there will quickly become very useful in the field.
Alberta contributor Al Voth is an avid predator and varmint hunter.