By Steve Sorensen
Know when coyotes are vulnerable and
take out the competition for deer!
I saw my first eastern coyote in Washington County, Maine back in 1982. I was deer hunting not far from the Canada border. Coyotes yipped and howled like party animals every night.
At home in Pennsylvania, that same month, a friend got a picture of one as he was photographing deer. That answered the question neighbors down along the paved road were asking, “What was all that noise on Deer Ridge every night?” More party animals.
Back then not much was known about eastern coyotes, even though they weren’t completely new. They had been in the East since the 1930s (see my article “Eastern Coyotes: Photographic Evidence of Their Origins”), but few of us had much exposure to them. Now we’re learning these party animals are deer predators.
How? When? Where?
Deer hunters are asking: where will we find coyotes? How do we eliminate them? But the big question is this: when are they most vulnerable?
To kill coyotes, it helps to know when they’re vulnerable. I told you about the racket coyotes made on Deer Ridge in the early 1980s. A year or two later in August, my Uncle Gary was hunting woodchucks in a large field in the area, saw some coyotes and even got some video footage. A couple of evenings later we headed back to that field hoping to knock off one or two.
We had just arrived and were standing in the middle of the field about 100 yards from one edge when Uncle Gary whispered, “A coyote, behind you at the edge of the woods.” Instead of turning around to look, I placed Gary’s homemade rifle rest in front of him. I stepped aside and he sat down to fire a shot through the critter’s pump station.
We figured it was over, and we sat behind a strip of grass the hay mower had missed. Soon I noticed a deer acting nervous at the far edge of the field and saw a coyote trotting toward it. I launched a bullet on a 160-yard jaunt at my first coyote.
Those were young coyotes, a female weighing 20 pounds and a male weighing 22. Another buddy took one a day or two later. We didn’t think it would be so easy, but we probably cut the litter in half. The lessons: when they’re young, they’re vulnerable, and it pays to know spring and summer coyote habits.
Spring: Spring turkey hunters sometimes call coyotes in. One grabbed my decoy — the mistake of a lifetime. You’ve probably seen YouTube videos of the same thing. Why does it seem to happen then? And why are these mostly adult coyotes?
By late spring and early summer, adult coyotes are transitioning their young to meat. That’s when prey populations are at their annual high, so adult coyotes leave the dens to go on killing sprees and bring meals back to their pups.
Summer: Coyote pups begin to explore the world for themselves in mid- to late-summer. They’re essentially teenagers, and don’t know much about danger yet. Like many teenagers they have some traits you can take advantage of. They’re risk-takers. They’re eating machines. They’ll often be together, or not far from each other, and they won’t be far from their dens. They’re on a fast learning curve, so use scent strategies.
If you want to prune the predator population, take advantage of these habits in seven ways:
- Talk to farmers. I’ve seen farmers watch coyotes from the seat of a tractor pulling a hay baler. Check your favorite farms every couple of weeks. Leave your phone number with the farmers. That should give you some likely hot spots.
- Talk to people. Stop at the local diners or other hangouts. Bring up the topic of coyotes. Ask neighbors if they’ve heard them yipping at night. People keep secrets about deer, but they’ll usually talk about coyotes.
- Watch harvested hayfields. These are like hunting preserves for young coyotes. They’ll hone their skills on grasshoppers and mice, which had plenty of cover in long grass a few days earlier. When young coyotes are hunting, they pay little attention to anything else.
- Use binoculars. When the grass grows back to four to eight inches, spend some evenings driving country roads. Stop to check fields with binoculars. Watch the behavior of deer. If they look nervous, keep watching.
- Look for sign. Check for tracks or droppings where tractor lanes enter fields. Look on trails that connect fields. Don’t overlook rocks, stumps and ant hills — for some reason coyotes love making deposits on elevated spots.
- Use trail cameras. Place them near fields where coyotes might pass by. If you have a particular field corner worth watching, aim a camera toward the field and another into the woods. Check them every few days. If you get a photo, hunt the area immediately.
- Try calling. Howl a little, yip a lot and squeal like a prey animal in case a coyote is in the vicinity. The young ones especially might come running.
Here’s one more example of how summer strategies work. Several years ago a friend of mine had a horse get loose in late July. On the way home from fetching it he spotted several coyotes in a cut hayfield. That night he called me.
The next evening I was barely 100 yards from my truck when I saw coyotes pouncing up and down in the fresh-cut grass, brutalizing mice and grasshoppers. I slipped a diaphragm turkey call into my mouth and squealed like a wounded rabbit. I’ve never seen such cautionless coyotes. They came on a dead run. I shot two, and I would have shot more if I hadn’t been using a single shot rifle. It was that easy.
Summer coyotes are not wearing prime fur, but fur isn’t the only reason to go after them. Remember, every coyote you kill saves other animals. You’re not going to crash the population, but dead coyotes stop eating. It’s as simple as that.
About Steve Sorensen:
Steve Sorensen is the author of “Growing Up With Guns” and “The Everyday Hunter Handbook Series.” He writes an award-winning newspaper column called “The Everyday Hunter®” and edits content in the Havalon Post. He has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com.
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