We’ve all heard people talking about how they’ve shot a coyote at a thousand yards on a dead run. How they’ve had three coyotes come into their calls and bagged all three of them, and my favorite scenario is when the coyote came in so close that they didn’t even have to aim.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that these things can and have happened. I have a friend that can take out a coyote at a thousand yards, and I know several people who have taken more than three coyotes at one stand. I guess it all boils down to our limitations. I personally think shooting a coyote at a thousand yards is a bit out of my range. I have never killed more than two coyotes at one stand, and I have always had to aim at them.
There are three basic guidelines to keep in mind when hunting coyotes:
1) always hunt where the coyotes are;
2) entice the coyote to come to you;
3) when the coyote shows up, make the shot count.
I would like to focus on making the shot count. I have missed more coyotes than I have killed, so I speak from experience when I say it is more fun to make the shot count than to watch the coyote run back to where he came from.
When I first started hunting coyotes I was told when two or more coyotes are coming into the call, always shoot the one farthest away. This will leave you more time to shoot the closer one. I thought that this really made sense. Well, as luck would have it, a couple weeks later I had two coyotes coming into me. I was able to keep my head and remembered the advice I had been given. I watched the closer coyote come to about 50 yards, turn broadside, and disappear into some thick brush below me. The further coyote was at about 200 yards and on a little bank looking for the rabbit that was singing the death blues. I felt very confident about the 200 yard shot so I slowly started to squeeze the trigger. Just as I squeezed, the coyote leapt from the bank causing my .22-250 bullet to hit the dirt just above him. The report of my rifle caused both coyotes to vacate immediately. I couldn’t believe how things could go wrong in such a hurry. I got two shots off at their fleeing hides but didn’t bring home any fur on that trip.
I related this experience to a friend of mine who happens to be a government trapper. He told me the most important thing he had learned in his 40 years of hunting coyotes is to take the shot when you know you can kill the coyote. Remember, the goal is to bring home the fur. If you pass on the close coyote in hopes of killing two coyotes, you might just come home empty. I have learned several things since that fateful day that have helped me bag more coyotes in many difficult situations. One thing that will help is to know when to take the shot.
Understanding coyote behavior can be useful when determining when to shoot. When you have a fawn-muncher coming into your stand, watch him closely. His body movement will tell you a lot about what is going on inside his head. Knowing these signs and movements will help you to decide when to take the coyote.
Coyotes are nervous individuals. Especially those that have had lead thrown in their direction in the form of a .22 caliber slug. They are rarely relaxed when coming into a call. They are very alert and attentive to everything that is going on around them. Don’t get nervous when they stop to look around and check the wind as they are coming in. They are just checking things out.
One major problem I have seen is that when people see a coyote stop, they think he is done coming and they hurry and shoot. That is not always the case. Knowing body language will help you decide if the coyote is going to keep coming.
If the coyote has stopped facing you, more often than not, he will keep coming. If he sits down facing you, my experience has led me to believe the game is almost over. He has come as far as he is willing to go, and he is going to stay put and check things out. If the shot is possible, I suggest taking the shot at this point. If the coyote is coming in and then turns broadside, chances are he knows something is not right and will either leave, or start to circle to get down wind and scent you. When I see a coyote doing this, I’ll usually take the shot while he is standing still, or squeak or bark to stop him long enough for a shot. Remember, if he is still facing you and on his legs just be patient, he will more than likely keep coming.
Another important element to remember is patience. It is very easy to get nerved up and get “Pup Fever” when a coyote is on the approach. However, the calmer you stay the better off you are. I took a friend of mine and his son out screaming a couple of winters ago. It was his son’s first time calling critters. My friend had done a little bit but hadn’t had any success.
On our second stand of the morning I immediately spotted a yote coming in at about 500 yards. I whispered to my friend’s boy that there was a coyote coming in and told him where he was. It took the boy a minute or two to find him, but as soon as he did I knew we were in trouble. He started shaking and moving his gun in a panicked manner. When the coyote was about 350 yards out, I heard him take off the safety. He just couldn’t take it anymore, and before I could tell him to relax and stay calm, he fired an off hand shot. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with his shooting. That coyote was in the next county before I could even think about getting a shot off.
Later on this same day we were calling in some thick brush. I told both of them the coyote was probably going to be close when he came in so be ready to take the shot. None of us were prepared for what happened next. My friend was on a little rise about 40 feet to my right while his son was to my left about 60 feet on another little rise. About two minutes into my calling, the son suddenly leapt to his feet and shot what looked to me to be the ground right in front of him. I never did see that coyote, but apparently in the coyote’s attempt to get to me, he had jumped right across the boys lap. This scared him so bad, he stood up out of instinct and took a wild shot at the fleeing dog.
These are two examples of when not to shoot. I do, however, have some examples of when to shoot. I took my wife calling last fall near our home. We hadn’t been calling very long before I spotted a coyote at about 600 yards coming in fast. I told my wife to just be patient and that it would keep coming. periodically it stopped on it’s way in. It stopped at about 200 yards but it was still facing me with its ears forward and alert. I knew he would keep coming. I finally shot this coyote at about 70 yards. It pays to be patient when the pressure starts.
I can remember the first time I shot a double. It was the middle of February and I was out hunting some juniper sage covered hills. I positioned myself on the side of a little hill. After making sure the wind was right I howled and then started ringing the dinner bell with those sweet dying rabbit blues. After a minute or two, here they came. A pair of yotes and they were serious about coming in. At about 150 yards they disappeared in some high sage brush.
I waited and waited but didn’t see anything. After what seemed like an eternity, there they were. Both of them standing, the closest one at about 50 yards and the other at about 80. Both were well within my range. Suddenly, the 50-yard dog stopped and turned broadside while the 80 yard dog kept coming. Figuring the game was almost over I piled the closest dog and immediately turned to the furthest who was now hauling the mail for China. A few pup yelps caused him to make the fatal mistake of stopping for a quick look. I dumped him at about 200 yards. What a great day that was!
The best way to understand coyote body language is through experience. No amount of book smarts can take the place of getting out into coyote country and learning from the coyotes themselves. They are very good teachers and always seem to keep their students eager and humble. I’m thankful for the time I’ve been able to spend with them, but more importantly, I’m thankful for a wife who lets me take the time to learn from them.
From one predator hunter to another, I know your success will increase as you take the time to learn all you can from these wily ol’ coyotes. You will know when to shoot, when to wait, and when the game is over. Good luck and happy hunting.