It was a Saturday morning in early June. A pre-dawn summer rain had just stopped as I drove toward a local cattle farm to do a little coyote hunting.
To me, any time is a good time to hunt coyotes, but this time of year—late May, June and early July—are especially key. That’s because it’s fawning time for Georgia deer, and it’s the perfect time to hunt coyotes that have learned to hunt and kill fawns. Take out a coyote that is killing fawns this time of year, and you can directly improve fawn survival on that tract of land.
The time for debate is over. Coyotes are taking a serious bite out of recruitment rates—the number of fawns that survive to 6 months old. Study after study in the Southeast shows recruitment rates have fallen from about 1.0 fawns per adult doe making it to 6 months old to about 0.2 fawns. Deer populations have been hit hard on many tracts of land. A combination of coyotes and overharvest has devastated deer numbers on some properties.
As I drove onto the property, I knew it was the right time of year for good coyote hunting because fawns will usually drop from May to June in Georgia. I had taken several coyotes over the years on this property, and I knew I had a good chance of calling one in, primarily due to low hunting pressure, but most importantly due to no calling pressure and the presence of young fawns on the ground.
It was a perfect northwest wind that morning as I slowly walked to my stand location, which was a fence row that separated two pastures. We use the word stand while coyote hunting in reference to the place we set up. There are times when I have to hunt four to five stands before I have any luck in bringing in a coyote. That’s just part of the coyote-hunting game.
After placing my FOXPRO Fury electronic caller out in the field about 60 yards in front of me, along with my Montana Fawn decoy, I focused on a pine thicket that bordered a swamp bottom at about 150 yards. I thought with any luck a coyote should enter the field from that direction and give me the best shot opportunity. With my AR-15 resting on my shooting stick, I softly started calling using the whitetail fawn distress on my electronic caller. The fawn distress works very well this time of year, but here’s a tip—even if you have a fawn decoy in the field, you can still rotate calls throwing in a cottontail distress.
About 12 minutes into the hunt, rotating between fawn distress and an occasional cottontail distress, a heavy-coated male coyote appeared, looking for the injured animal. He was about 140 yards and closing the distance on my fawn decoy. With the electronic caller now on mute, he approached and began to make a wide circle. Coyotes are quick to try to pick up any scent. This time, the wind was still in my favor. It was time to take a shot when he stopped. I let out a bark, and he stopped at 100 paces. With a steady rest, I was able to take him with no problem with my accurate AR-15.
Coyote Calling Basics
Coyote hunting is one of the fastest-growing hunting opportunities in the United States, especially here in the South. With deer hunters and land managers increasingly alarmed about coyote impacts on deer, opportunity is at a peak. Not only is it fun and challenging, but coyote hunting is fairly inexpensive. Plus, as we mentioned, hunting coyotes this time of year might save a fawn or two on your property.
To be successful, we must first understand the coyote and why calling is so effective. There are three major factors we use when trying to call in a coyote—hunger, curiosity and desire to breed.
An animal-distress call is what I use 90 percent of the time. Coyotes are always hungry. So what type of animals do coyotes eat? Coyotes are very adaptable and will eat almost anything. They hunt rabbits, rodents, frogs, turkeys and will wreak havoc on your deer herd. They kill calves or other livestock, and even household pets like small dogs and cats have become easy prey for coyotes. I have had two friends over the past several years who had their dogs attacked by a coyote.
As I mentioned earlier, many of the calls we use in the field mimic the sound of distressed animals. These calls can be mastered by anyone. Distress calls are hair-raising, high-pitched sounds that tell a coyote there is an injured, distressed animal in the area. It’s a dinner bell.
In May and June, when does start dropping their fawns, it is a prime opportunity to take out a few coyotes before they take out a few fawns. I have noticed in many areas I hunt that the deer numbers are down. I am constantly getting calls from plantation owners with strict trophy-management practices who need help with a coyote problem. It wasn’t long ago that trying to keep a healthy balance in the deer herd was a real challenge because of too many deer. Now, the rise in coyote predation is impacting fawn survival, thus affecting the deer herd and forcing the state to bring back “doe days.” Scientific studies—some done locally by researchers at UGA—tell us predation impacts deer. Deer herds in some areas are decreasing even with proper management, while coyote populations are on the rise. It is affecting deer numbers. I personally see more coyotes today than I did five years ago, even from the deer stand.
During the summer months—May and June—when the fawns are just born, is a good time to get a fawn decoy and start calling. Coyotes, with their keen since of smell, pick up quickly on the birth of a new fawn. They know each year that May and June is feast time. Even when they can’t smell a newborn fawn, coyotes have learned how to hunt fawns in high-grass areas and thickets.
Keep in mind, when you use a fawn distress to call up a coyote, you will also more than likely bring in anxious does looking for the injured fawn. That is the motherly instinct of deer. Sometimes you will bring in several does at once and from all directions.
Fawn-distress calls and a fawn decoy will also attract a coyote, and when it does, you know it’s a coyote that has a taste for whitetails.
I personally hunt coyotes all year at different intervals, but the primary times are late December when deer season is waning to late January and into February, and then from May through June, when the fawns are being born. If you follow that basic guideline and space out your hunting trips so you don’t overcall in an area, you can have continued success on a tract of land and can reduce the coyote population at a consistent level.
Types of Calls
There are basically two types of calls, manual and electronic. I use both in the field. Electronic calls are really good because they can come pre-loaded with several hundred sounds that are pre-recorded and have excellent sound quality. Some of these calls are wireless and can reach out to 100 yards. These electronic calls range between $100 to $600. As a beginner you can eventually make a decision based on your budget.
Manual, or mouth calls, come in different types—open reed and closed reed. The closed reed is usually easier to master for the beginner. The open reed call takes a little more practice but still can be mastered by all. These calls are fairly inexpensive and range from $8 to $25. An experienced coyote hunter will often have five or six mouth calls around his or her neck while moving from stand to stand trying to bring in an elusive coyote.
One last calling tip: Typically you only need to hunt one stand location for an average of 15 minutes for coyotes. That is a basic rule of thumb. After 15 minutes, move to another stand a good distance from your previous location. Bobcat and fox require a little longer time on each stand. The reason I like hunting coyotes is that you can set up on a stand, call, and then move in a short time, continuing this active hunting technique until you are successful in bringing one in. It pays to have hunting permission from multiple landowners so you have options for stand locations.
I believe decoys are a must in closing the deal on a coyote. Once the call gets their attention and they move in to investigate, the decoy takes over and moves their attention away from where they heard the call come from (you if you used a mouth call). A decoy also confirms to a wily coyote that the sound being made is an actual distressed animal. The coyote sees a fawn or a rabbit. Even a bird decoy works in closing the deal on a coyote.
When coyote hunting, I always analyze their body language as they come to the call. An educated coyote will bob and weave its head as it slowly creeps toward the call. A coyote that turns broadside as it slows down is thinking about circling downwind or leaving. One that comes in loping or has a hop to its step is fixing to stop, and one that is coming in head on likes what it sees and hears and is more relaxed.
A coyote that looks behind is letting you know that there is a good chance another coyote is coming in as well. By watching their moves, you can anticipate when to take the best shot, and that shot needs to be quick. Keep in mind that the closer they get to the decoy, the better chance they have of picking up any of your scent left while placing the decoy out, no matter how careful you are. When you have a good shot, take it.
Coyote hunting really does not require much equipment. A good rimfire rifle with a basic 3×9 scope works perfect for coyotes, but I also have a rigged-out AR-15, which I use quite often, especially when I hunt at night. A good shooting stick or bipod is a must. Coyotes have keen eyes, so a good leafy camo or a ghillie suit is recommended. They also have an extreme sense of smell, so use a good cover scent and scent eliminator, and play the wind.
Night hunting brings a different level to the game of coyote hunting. I personally prefer to hunt early morning and late afternoons because I like to film; however, I do sometimes go hunting during the night to change up the pace. Night hunting can get expensive if you want to use thermal or night-vision devises, but a good spotlight will work fine as well. Your pocket book will determine how you hunt the night. Even at night, staying stealthy is the key. Again, that means playing the wind.
Most importantly at night, you’re going to have to call them in closer so you can positively identify a coyote. Obviously, no shooting at eyes. Fox and bobcat can only be shot in season, and other unusual animals might curiously be attracted to all your calling.
Coyote hunting can be fun for all. Here in Georgia, it is open season year-round for coyotes. Need an excuse to head to the hunting camp? Coyote hunting gives the outdoorsman a chance to be in the woods during the offseason. It doesn’t require lots of cash, and once you master the techniques, you will find out how much you enjoy the sport. Taking out some coyotes, especially this time of year, will also do you part in conserving other animals and their offspring that might fall prey to a coyote.
Good luck, but foremost always hunt safe, and always clearly identify your target.