Coyote Hunting, Part 1

Bobby Edwards


 One would be hard pressed to find a faster growing hunting venture right now in the mid-Atlantic region than coyote hunting. I canÕt say that IÕve been in a sporting goods store recently that didnÕt have predator hunting supplies in stock. This new hunting is unlike anything most of you reading this have ever experienced in our Ōneck of the woods.Ķ It parallels tactics used on predator hunts for fox and bobcat. It has similarities to turkey hunting and compares to whitetail deer hunting and even shares the uncertainty of hunting bear.

  Once you try it IÕll be youÕll probably come up with more associations of your own.  

  Coyote hunting has been a mid-west tradition for decades. For us and most on the eastern seaboard, itÕs still in its infancy. As mentioned before, this is a new hunting venture for most of you as it is for me. IÕve recently decided to learn more about this animal and the hunting tactics used.

  Over the past fives years IÕve watched this sport grow in popularity. More TV shows, more accessories, more gun options, news stories and even landowners that have lost livestock to these predators. This is Part One of a two-part series that will begin with some biological information supplied by the VDGIF about coyotes and finish up with more about hunting techniques and equipment being used to hunt these furry scoundrels by some of VirginiaÕs top predator hunters.

   I had my first introduction to wild coyotes in 1991 at hunting camp. I was in the Jefferson National Forest along with several of my hunting buddies. The first night in camp I woke in the middle of the night to howls unlike any IÕve ever heard. Cold chills immediately made the hair on the back of neck stand up.

   The howls were in close proximity and they ended as quickly as they began. Being worn out from the lack of sleep the night before and the full dayÕs hunt, I was comatose once again. Before sunrise members of our camp woke and someone finally asked if any of us heard something howling last night. Whew, I was relieved to know that I wasnÕt the only one that heard it.

  That was over 16 years ago. As the years passed we began to hear and occasionally see them more often. My first close encounter with one of them was very enlightening as well.

   I was sitting in a blow down deer hunting during muzzleloader season watching three does work a trail above me, when suddenly they became alarmed. I had a right-to-left wind and the wind typically didnÕt swirl above me on this stand, so I quickly determined something else had them spooked.

   When the lead doe began to stomp her foot and stare past me and slightly to my right, I too slowly turned to see what had alarmed them. I saw the tips of two ears behind a fallen tree. I slowly moved my gun in that direction when it cleared the tree. The coyote stopped dead in its tracks a mere 20 yards away and stared right at me. At this point my muzzleloader was shouldered and my iron sights on his chest. I slowly moved my index finger to push the safety off and in a flash he was gone. IÕve had deer, bear, and turkey walk within 10 yards of this blow down that never had a clue I was there. Wow, was all I could think.

  IÕve had many other encounters as the years went by. I started to hear coyotes howl regularly. Many acquaintances began to see them more often. I even hunted them a few times with no luck. While on a spring gobbler hunt last year, I was calling when I heard what I thought was a deer coming my direction. Before I knew it a coyote was a mere 30 yards and closing. I quickly shouldered my shotgun and sent a load of #5 shot as he turned to run. I recovered the canine mammal. He was a shabby looking male weighing right at 35 pounds.

  The Encarta Dictionary defines Coyote: Canis latrans American canine mammal: a carnivorous canine mammal, similar to but smaller than the wolf Native to North America.

  Information acquired from the VDGIF states that coyotes are not native to Virginia and were first observed in the very western regions of the in the early 1950Õs. Coyotes are about the size of a medium dog. The fur color can vary from vary blond, light reddish-brown or tan, grayish black, or black with a small white blaze in the center of the chest. Coyotes in the eastern U.S. are typically larger then the western coyote. Females average 20-40 lbs; Males average 35-45 lbs and can reach 60 lbs. Coyotes have been reported in every county of Virginia and prefer semi-forested areas. Surveys of hunter harvest and observations while hunting indicate that the coyote population in Virginia is more abundant in counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  Coyotes are elusive and normally avoid humans. They are found to be active day and night, but are more typically observed at dawn and dusk. Coyotes communicate by barking, yelping, and howling.  

  Male and females form a pair bond and establish and defend a territory where they will raise 3-12 pups that are born anytime between late March and May. The pups are fed by both the male and female, and sometimes by one or two offspring from a previous litter. The pups may disperse and leave the parents territory anytime after August. If the territory has good prey resources the pups may be allowed to stay in the territory as late as February.

   A coyote develops a Ōsearch imageĶ for a prey type that is more easily scavenged or killed. This includes visual, auditory and olfactory senses. The Ōsearch imageĶ of a coyote can change since they are an opportunistic animal that seeks out the easiest accessible food resource available in its home range.

     The coyote will consume anything of nutritional value. They do not specialize in hunting and killing only one type of prey. Coyotes generally prey on small rodents, rabbits, birds, snakes and frogs, but they will kill larger animals such as turkeys, deer, fox, raccoon, opossum, skunks, pets and livestock.

  The coyote mainly hunts and kills  the larger animals during periods when they are most vulnerable. For example, turkey hens on nest, deer fawns soonÜafter birth, lambs, kid goats, ground hogs, beaver and newborn calves. The coyote will not pass up a free meal of artificial food resources like pet food and exposed garbage.

   The VDGIF report goes on to say that coyote populations, not unlike all wildlife populations, will continue to grow until their numbers are limited by food availability or space. Unlike most wildlife populations, the reproductive potential of coyotes is such that harvesting coyotes for recreation or fur pelts or other economic incentives will not generally have any impact on limiting or even reducing the abundance of the coyote population.

   In general, increasing coyote mortality through hunting and trapping will tend to only change the age distribution of the population rather then change pre-whelping population density.

     Fact is that coyotes are going to be here with us barring any drastic changes in habitat and food sources. They were almost non-existent 20 years ago in the region, but now with the abundant food sources available and the proper mix of habitat, the rough population statistic is exceeding 50,000 and growing. 

    Next month IÕll cover more on the guns, hunting techniques and equipment used to hunt this wily predator. ItÕs a new game when a hunter is hunting a hunter. The coyote possesses a wealth of hunting skills that are used night and day every day of its life. To match wits with this new component is not easy.

The closest correlation to hunting a coyote as quoted by Capture Outdoors Pro-Staffer and accomplished coyote hunter, Gene Minso Jr.

  ŌHunting a coyote is like hunting a gobbler that can smell danger like a whitetail.Ķ Gene will be joining us in next monthÕs article along with others as we learn more about closing the deal. Whether good or bad, coyoteÕs are established and itÕs now a hunting opportunity that we have been provided with. Are you up for the challenge?