After months of anticipation, deer season is upon us yet again. Soon enough, hot summer days will give way to cool fall mornings and nearly every Georgia hunter will have big bucks and backstraps on the brain.
However, Joe Morris, of Waycross, has a different agenda during the fall hunting season.
While other hunters focus solely on deer hunting, Joe uses the cooler months to target coyotes at night using some of the latest high-tech thermal imaging equipment available.
Joe, who has been in law enforcement for 26 years, stays pretty busy between his job as a firearms instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick and all of his hunting during his off time.
Luckily, I managed to squeeze in a hunt with Joe just before GON went to press, and despite it being a rainy evening, I had high hopes for a good hunt and was eager to learn more about targeting these song dogs under the cover of darkness.
When we sat down at Joe’s kitchen table before we headed for the woods, I asked him how it all began and what got him into hunting yotes.
“Back in 2006, I was deer hunting when I saw nine coyotes in a pack cross right in front of me. I knew right then that I wanted to hunt them in a effort to control the population,” said Joe.
Joe, who is also an avid deer hunter, says that we need more deer hunters to get on board if we’re going to make any headway in reducing the coyotes’ rapidly growing numbers.
“The DNR just doesn’t have the resources or man power to keep up with the rapidly growing coyote population,” Joe said.
Joe says that September is his favorite month to target these predators because there are so many young pups in the woods that are easy to lure in.
“That’s the great thing about the fall months, there are lots of young coyotes that will respond to calling and are easier to harvest than their adult relatives. The added bonus is that if you get them while they’re young, they won’t have a chance to have a negative impact on the turkey population or deer herd,” says Joe.
Joe has spent the last 12 years learning how to target coyotes, and says he has learned a lot along the way and is still learning as he goes.
“Hunting these animals is as tough as it gets. They are very smart, and at times it can get downright frustrating, especially when you’re new to it,” says Joe.
It can be so frustrating that three years into coyote hunting, Joe decided to call it quits and even sold his gear.
After some time off, Joe decided to give it another go and managed to call in a yote his first time back out in under four minutes one evening, and he says that’s all it took for him to be hooked again.
“The real game changer for me was when I gave up the daytime hunting and started going after them at night. It makes better sense as they are a primarily nocturnal animal,” says Joe.
Joe started out using scope mounted lights and says he had more success than daytime hunting, but admits he was still spooking a pile of coyotes.
“A coyote is real wary about lights and the shadows that they cast in the woods. I would have coyotes come in to my call and then spook when I put the light on them,” says Joe.
That’s when Joe’s longtime friend Jeff Hughes introduced him to using thermal imaging scopes for coyotes.
“It didn’t take long for him to persuade me. He was killing one almost every time he went, and I was looking for a better way to hunt them,” Joe said.
As we got ready to head out, Joe took out his coyote hunting equipment and gave me a quick break down of what he uses to target these elusive predators.
First up, Joe’s weapon of choice is a .223 Bushmaster Predator with a 20-inch fluted barrel. He uses 60-grain Night Opts ammunition and says that the accuracy of this gun/ ammo combination is hard to beat.
His scope of choice is a Trijicon IR-HUNTER IRMK2-35 that he purchased from Thermal Optics Plus. An article, or book for that matter, could be written on thermal scopes and how they work, but Joe put it into layman’s terms like this.
“It’s kind of like watching sports on a TV. You’re basically paying for clarity. The better scopes have a clearer picture, especially on fast-moving targets, just as a higher-end TV has a clearer picture when you’re watching a fast-paced sports play,” says Joe.
Interestingly, thermal scopes do not show a live feed through the scope. There is a slight delay as it plays back the image being displayed. Joe says that’s where the better scopes really shine, as they have less of a delay than some cheaper models, making moving shots more manageable.
Next up, the coyote call is without doubt an important piece of equipment a coyote hunter must have at his disposal. Joe’s call of choice is a Foxpro Shockwave electronic call that has rechargeable batteries and a wireless remote that enables Joe to place the call 50 yards from his hunting location.
“There are all kinds of mouth calls and electronic calls out there that will work, but I haven’t found anything that works as good as this one,” said Joe. “A good call is essential, as a coyote will leave in a hurry if anything doesn’t seem or sound just right.”
The last major piece of equipment Joe says is crucial is a good tripod.
“I use the slick 700 tripod with a Reaper grip. It enables me to lock my gun in and scan with my scope in a full 360-degree circle,” says Joe.
“A few other things to have are a Thermacell, bug spray, a good headlamp—and snake boots aren’t a bad idea either, especially when you’re walking through tall grass.”
After loading up his gear, we headed out to try our first location of the night.
Joe says that pecan orchards, hay fields and other fields with low agricultural crops are prime areas to call in a song dog under the September moon.
“What you don’t want is to try to set up in dense woods or areas that you don’t have a large field of vision. That will get frustrating in a hurry, as I can promise you will get busted more times than not,” says Joe.
Hunting options isn’t too hard to find, as most landowners, hunting clubs and farmers want coyotes off their property.
As we parked the truck, Joe told me our first spot would be along a set of powerlines where we could set up and see about 300 hundred yards.
“We’re going to walk about 200 hundred yards to where we’re hunting to keep from spooking them. You have to keep noise and scent to a minimum when you target these animals,” said Joe.
For this reason, Joe will only hunt with the wind in his face, even if it means going the long way around or not hunting at all.
“If the wind isn’t right, you’re wasting your time,” said Joe. “I’ve learned that lesson the hard way more than once, and unless you just get plain lucky, he’s going to be gone the second he smells you.”
After making the walk to our spot, Joe set the electronic call about 40 yards in front of us and began using a pup distress call about once every five minutes.
Joe says that this call is effective at luring in both male and female coyotes, as well as pups, as it makes them curious as to what is going on. It is a simple call that basically sounds like a injured puppy that is whimpering and barking frantically.
After about 20 minutes, Joe spotted our first visitor of the night, a 200-lb. hog that was rooting around about 75 yards away.
“I kill a lot of hogs this way as you encounter them frequently at night. We’re gonna give this one a free pass for now and see if we can get a coyote to come in,” Joe said in a whisper.
A little while later another critter cut across about 200 yards in front of us.
“I think that was a coyote. I didn’t get but a quick glimpse though, so it could have been a small deer. You have to know what you’re shooting at night because animals can appear slightly different through a thermal scope,” said Joe.
We continued to hunt without seeing an animal again for about an half hour.
Then a group of hogs began walking toward us at about 150 yards.
“By now if a coyote was going to respond, he would have already come in. I say we stalk in and try to get a shot on one of these pigs,” said Joe.
We spent the next few minutes stalking to within 75 yards of the pigs. As Joe readied his rifle, the pigs began to run, and he squeezed the trigger.
Pigs took off in every direction and a downed pig squealed, indicated a hit. Before he could fire another round though, the pig jumped up and bolted through some thick brush. We spent the next while trying to locate the animal and failed to do so.
After loading up our gear, Joe drove us to another piece of property he has permission to hunt. After we parked, Joe took out his phone and carefully examined Google Earth to determine where we should hunt.
“I just started hunting this piece of property, and it’s loaded down with coyote sign,” said Joe. “What I’m looking at now is where will be the best place to set up with the wind in our favor.”
After a few minutes of considering possible locations, Joe decided we should walk a few hundred yards and set up alongside a clearcut.
After setting up and calling for roughly 10 minutes, we heard a train coming down some nearby tracks.
“If there’s a coyote nearby, he will almost always howl when a train blows its horn. It’s the craziest thing, but they will do it almost every time,” said Joe.
A few minutes later, we heard what sounded like a coyote calling from far away to our left.
Joe continued calling every few minutes and scanning the clearcut in hopes of luring in the predator.
A short while later it began to rain, and Joe said that the high humidity impairs thermal vision tremendously. As the rain grew heavier, we both reluctantly decided to call it a night.
Even without a lot of action, it had been a great night in the woods. There’s something about setting up with a high-powered rifle and trying to lure in a predator in the pitch-black dark that really gets my blood flowing, and you can bet that a return trip with Joe is already on my mind.
If you have a piece of property in southeast Georgia with a coyote population that needs to be reduced, you can reach Joe at (912) 816-6744. He doesn’t charge anything to weed out these predators and says it is hard for him to keep them thinned out on all the different properties he hunts; however, he does try his best.
Additionally, if you have questions about night hunting or equipment, Joe says he’s glad to help with that if you give him a call.
“I absolutely love it. I’m still learning something every time I go, and that’s what makes it special. It’s a challenge like no other,” said Joe.