On whichever side of the philosophical predator fence you sit, there is no getting around the fact that coyotes are opportunistic killers. They travel along roadbeds, fence rows, edges of open fields and anywhere else there is a break in habitat. Their keen noses and sharp, alert eyes are always in the active, target-acquisition mode.
While coming into a distress call, they will instinctively detect, track, capture and devour a rat, mouse or any other morsel, without missing a step, all the while having their ears locked onto the sounds of dying “whatever.”
Forever hungry, they are out there, seeking, finding and eating.
When I was a young man, there were few deer in Georgia and even fewer coyotes. It was 1980 before I saw my first coyote, and it would be another 10 years before I saw another.
Now, their quiet-evening-interrupting interrogation and serenade howls are common throughout the state. Both fur and nuisance trappers are filling their skinning sheds with coyote hides. The balance of predator and prey says, “As prey species numbers rise, so do the numbers of their associated predators, always in trail.”
For several decades, we enjoyed a steady rise in the numbers of white-tailed deer throughout the state without paying much attention to the rise in coyote numbers. With such fervor from various hunter groups around the state speaking of declining numbers of deer in their hunting areas, perhaps it is time to start taking a fresh, different look at the mysterious coyote, as well as our approach to controlling their numbers; perhaps with alarm.
Coyotes are tough, resilient, smart, adaptable canines and are easily conditioned by our human routines and hunters’ mistakes in the field. However, they do have their vulnerabilities. If the thousands of years of DNA flowing through their veins had not done it before, coyotes have become conditioned to the high birth rates of our white-tailed fawns hitting the ground in May, June and early July. Perhaps that is why, with their shorter gestation period, coyotes’ pups are born just prior to that time. I am fresh out of an all-seeing crystal ball, but it seems a reasonable conclusion. After all, that same line of reasoning is found in college textbooks, explaining the reason for the timing of our fawn births, being the season of fresh vegetation for the does, which improves the nutritive value of their milk to increase the survival and recruitment rate of their offspring.
If after all the year’s fawns are born, there are coyotes living in the land lot you own, lease or hunt, then it’s likely you will have less deer to hunt the following fall due to coyote predation. Now, in all fairness to Mr. Wiley, he is designed, born and lives to get the sick, weak, old, dumb and the stupid, leaving us the smart, healthy, fast and genetically superior to hunt. It would appear as if he is doing us a favor. True, if he was only taking adults, but their fawn kills are arbitrary and opportunistic. Like I said, it is a philosophical fence. Coyotes taking adult deer from the herd is one thing; those deer had their chance. But fawns are pervasively helpless. Their only defenses are nature’s camouflage, being relatively scent free and remaining motionless. But once bumped out of their hide, they are quickly overtaken.
Fawn kills are the coyote’s chance at the smart, healthy, fast and genetically superior… and they are taking their toll. I once found an abandoned coyote den site with 12 fawn skulls littered about. Did I make my case effectively enough that you are ready to get out there and do something about the coyote numbers on your hunting ground? Suffering through some hot August coyote hunting summer will create more fun in the fall; so, let’s get started.
Recently, I was contracted by a large landowner in the southeastern region of our state to conduct a coyote abatement project in and around their agricultural operation, for the benefit of the deer hunters who pay a membership fee for deer and turkey hunting privileges on that property. The tract was very large, so on arrival I was supplied with a detailed map of the estate, with three primary areas of concentration already highlighted. The map was a great aid in decreasing my learning curve of the property and my knowledge of where the largest concentrations of coyote could be found.
Tip No 1: Most recent information (MRI) from the landowner, farmer and the neighbors is invaluable in time and money savings. Go ask.
After settling in the spacious and comfortable hunting lodge, I spent an hour at the dining-room table burning into my mind the major landmarks, roads and fields in the highlighted areas. When you enter an area to hunt coyotes, more stealth is required than when hunting deer. My pre-hunt map reconnaissance allowed me to get directly into the potential hunting areas without wandering. I do not scout places to coyote hunt. I listen for them. I only scout during retreat from the places I have hunted, while sticking to roadbeds, looking for fresh tracks and scat.
Hunters cannot remain undetected in coyote country. This may seem assumptive, but it is to emphasize the importance of being quiet and careful before you get to and once in the woods. Pay close attention to the tips I offer and commit them your working knowledge, not just memory. They will serve you well.
The tools required to effectively hunt coyotes during the summer are few: An accurate rifle (caliber of whatever is in your closet) or your favorite full-choke shotgun (most of my shots are about 50 yards), a fawn decoy, snake-proof boots, bug-proof head-to-toe camouflage and three types of calls (coyote howler, pup distress and fawn distress). The most important tool is the awareness that YOU are now the predator who is hunting a predator that is better at making a living than you are.
I parked north of and a half-mile from the first of the three, long and thin 40-acre, cotton fields, which were all connected by a single road at their west end.
Tip No. 2: Be prepared to walk a good distance. Coyotes will not tolerate the sight or sound of your vehicle while being manipulated. Know the wind direction in advance.
The wind, as anticipated, was from the southwest. Since I was hunting alone, hunting into the wind was not an option, because I could not simultaneously see behind me and in the direction I was calling.
Tip No. 3: Always assume the coyote will come from downwind. They never go anywhere their nose hasn’t gone first.
Therefore, my set would have to be made mid-field, crosswind.
With rifle in hand and backpack cinched down, I walked south on the sandy farm road and immediately started seeing fresh coyote tracks and scat of various stages of decomposition, which was sign of routine use. I walked past the first field and entered the second, walking to mid-length, and then crossed over and through the hedge to the edge of the most southerly field.
There, I unloaded the contents of my backpack and quietly as a mouse, began building my setup. About 50 yards away, mid-field, I placed the fawn decoy on top of a small pile of debris, giving it a prominent presentation. Back at field’s edge, I moved and trimmed a few limbs, got seated, positioned my rifle, and made sure I could remain undercover while freely moving about my assumed field of fire. Satisfied, it was time to call. I selected a long interrogation howl, and after my breath was expended, I waited.
Tip No. 4: Believe in your call and in your calling. Coyotes didn’t have a music teacher. Blow heartily. Be heard. Make every animal is the area stop and want to listen. ALWAYS assume coyotes are coming.
After two minutes had passed, I let out another hair-curling, skin-crawling, 10-second howl. Immediately, a male, with his unmistakable low-tone, howled back. Easing back on the reed for a higher pitch, I challenged him with a short, sharp howl and bark. This time, I let three minutes pass before I would try anything else. My eyes flicked back and forth quickly, without moving my head; nothing. I knew he was there. He told me so. But I did not know if he was a single or the alpha of a pack at a den site. Distress-call time, but not the fawn bleat. The pup distress call has a better chance of bringing them straight in, without all the circling downwind that they are more prone to do if they were being attracted by prey distress. With my lips out on the end of the howl tube to create a hi-pitched yelp, I let it rip. We have all heard our young pets let out a series of yelps when accidently being stepped on. That is the sound you want to make… a lot of it.
After a full minute of sounding like a beagle pup with his tail caught in the kitchen door, I set the call down and waited. Within one minute, my patience and preparation efforts were rewarded. Across the hump of mid-field and on the south edge, a coyote appeared, turned, (in which direction…of course, downwind) trotted 30 yards, turned again, and faced into the field.
Tip No. 5: Always assume they know exactly from where the call came. They come in looking for an excuse to leave.
The hump in the field allowed me to move my hands. I placed the end of the howler back to my lips and slightly squeaked, and here she came. Before, I had only a head shot from 250 yards. Not a high percentage shot for this ol’ guy. The next time she stopped was when she saw the fawn decoy. As she slammed on the brakes and hunkered down for the stalk, I eased the safety off and let the crosshairs settle on her front shoulder. As with every well executed shot, the suddenness of the rifle’s bark surprised me. So did her disappearance as she dropped from view, but the thump of the bullet’s report told the story of her ending.
I successfully repeated that same scenario every morning and evening for the next three days. Only twice did I have to blow the fawn distress, and it was really interesting seeing those coyotes stalking the decoy. All the others were killed using coyote vocalizations only.
Most coyote hunters I know here in the South tend to concentrate their predator pursuits during the few winter months following deer season for several reasons, such as cooler temperatures, good visibility and fewer snakes or bugs to deal with. That season is great for bobcats, another significant contributor to fawn predation, but unless you are an absolute pro, that time of the year is the poorest and least productive time of the year for coyote calling due to their secretive activities leading up to mating.
One successful hunt in 20 during winter may be recorded as excellent.
Tip No. 6: Concentrate your winter coyote calling around cattle operations for better success.
Not so with mid-spring and early summer hunting. Pups are hungry. Everybody is hungry. The nights are short, increasing the odds of catching them out during daylight hours.
Appreciate hunting during the different, warm season time of the year for its different experiences. Hunt with “close” in mind. We do not have the luxury of wide-open spaces as do such western states as Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Remain ever vigilant to potential heat-related hazards.
BELIEVE they are coming when you call.
ASSUME you did not see them because they found a better reason for not coming into your set. Be patient. Be adaptable. Be safe.
Remember, every predator removed from deer-hunting grounds leaves more deer to hunt in the fall.