What the heck? I stared, as a coyote darted in front of my truck headlights. What’s a coyote doing here? I’d driven the route dozens of times during daylight and never once did it register in my mind as being a coyote retreat. Nevertheless, the evidence nearly left a smear on my ARB bumper.
A daytime return trip and further probing revealed what I’d overlooked from the roadway. Hidden behind the rolling hills of the bare agricultural field was a long, winding wetland. The coyote was using the nasty tangle of cattails for bedding cover and likely lunching on the rodents and rabbits also calling the slough home.
What other possible coyote areas had I been overlooking? If you struggle to find coyotes, you might be passing up obvious canine haunts. As you reassess your setup sites, consider some of the following settings that could provide coyotes with condominium comfort and the occasional condiment.
1: THINK REMOTE
Coyotes lust for rugged, densely covered terrain. I’m talking Western badlands, Southern swamps, Midwestern coulees and the like. In all cases think remote. Most coyotes consider humans as danger. Why wouldn’t they? Farmers, ranchers and hunters all take shots at them year-round when opportunities arise. This means coyotes look for habitat that puts them far away from human activity, especially when they’re hoping to catch a dog nap.
Scour county plat and public land maps, and even do a virtual flyover the Google- Earth way. Look for blocks of land that have limited or no road access. Note the location of trailheads and access points, and then look a mile or more beyond them to find coyotes. Average hunters rarely venture beyond a mile from where the road ends. To increase success, set up and call from the opposite direction of your entrance route. Coyotes might come to a call from any direction, but they tend to avoid moving toward danger, such as a trailhead or road. Calling them away from danger emboldens them.
2: WILDLIFE-RICH AREAS
Find a wildlife-rich region and you can bet a steak dinner coyotes will be lurking nearby. Any productive ground can offer haven to wildlife, but be on the lookout for overlooked sites. Areas off-limits to hunting, such as nature reserves, wildlife refuges and even large, privately held estates, can harbor inordinately large densities of wildlife. Of course coyotes ignore the “No Hunting” signs and set up camp. Because coyotes have large home ranges, they often stray from these boundaries and your mission is to secure access to adjoining properties.
Also consider private hunting clubs, outfitters and landowners who are trying to reduce predator populations on their properties. These people might not advertise for coyote hunters, but a simple meet and greet could open the gate. If you target a coyote-dense property, match your calls to the prey base, but if that doesn’t work don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try prairie dog, pronghorn and piglet distress sounds, even if these critters can’t be found nearby. Curiosity killed the cat, and it might also kill the coyote.
3: CITY DWELLERS
Coyotes seem to show up nearly everywhere these days. My parents winter in a retiree community in Arizona and nobody raises an eyebrow to the sight of a coyote walking past the 18th hole of the local golf course. Coyotes have raided Quiznos restaurants and hitched rides on commuter railways.
That means you might find some of the best hunting opportunities just past your backyard trampoline. Scout your neighborhood and note the defined city limits. Look beyond them for dense cover that could provide a daytime retreat for nighttime coyote marauders. Gravel pits, overgrown storm drains, weedy lots and nearby farms can all harbor coyotes. After dark these cautious canines boldly invade the city looking for scraps, pets and urban wildlife that call your backyard home. Set up on the fringe of your city and don’t overlook calls that have city appeal, such as a canine in distress or the meowing of a cat in peril.
4: WHERE’S THE BEEF?
Coyotes love cows, but the relationship isn’t mutual. Livestock of all shapes and forms attract coyotes—including goats, horses, pigs, poultry and sheep. Livestock deaths go hand-in-hand with production, and coyotes waiting in the wings capitalize on the misfortune of livestock and quickly reduce the unfortunate to scat. Coyotes also prey on the weak and feeble, including young-of-the-year. And, of course, with the arrival of newborns are the leftovers in the form of afterbirth, another cuisine delicacy coyotes savor.
Livestock attract coyotes year-round, but they pay special attention during the spring when the young are being born. To avoid irritating livestock owners, stay away from the herd and set up on the fringes with a safe shooting backstop. Imitate an invading coyote using howls and aggressive barks. Any coyote that’s staked a claim to the herd should show up with fighting vigor.
Like whitetails, coyotes are creatures of the edge. One edge in particular where they thrive is foothill locations—where the forest and plains meet. They provide coyotes with ample escape cover and bedding opportunities in the relative cool of the canopy.
Beyond and below the forest foothills areas open up into mixed grasslands, pastures and agricultural fields. These regions represent a buffet of coyote hunting opportunities with prey thriving there. Coyotes cruise these areas after sunset and then return to the forest areas as dawn arrives.
An ideal foothills strategy is to move into a high position where the timber meets the open before daylight and without tramping through coyote hunting grounds. At shooting light you’ll be in a tactical position to either ambush coyotes returning to the forest or put in play any number of calls. Plus, rising thermals will keep your scent in an uphill flow.
Grasslands have a unique appeal for coyotes and it’s not because they’re big fans of the literary series, “Little House on the Prairie.” Grasslands provide the accommodations for a coyote menu favorite: rodents. You name it: Mice, voles, moles and rabbits all thrive in the steppe-country of the nation. Of course the Great Plains hold the market on grass, but you can find grassy pastures from coast to coast.
Contact your local Natural Resource Conservation Service office for information on enrollees in the federal Conservation Reserve Program. These lands are set aside from farming activity and re-planted in native vegetation. Coyotes love them.
7: DUMPSTER DIVERS
The days of shooting rats at your local dump might be long gone, but that doesn’t mean coyotes aren’t raiding your municipal landfill. You won’t likely be able to gain access to a landfill for hunting purposes unless you live in a rural outpost or are the mayor of a city. Instead, scout the surrounding properties and decipher where the coyotes are bedding. It’s doubtful they’re napping in the recyclables, but any cover within a mile or so of the landfill could offer daytime protection.
Dumps oftentimes overlooked are those set aside by large livestock producers to dispose of deceased animals. It’s just a business fact that calves, lambs, piglets and the occasional adult animal will die, and ranchers generally have a pit or ditch set aside for disposal purposes. Coyotes visit these sights with the vengeance of an addicted shopper sweeping a Target store for deals.
If possible, walk the perimeter of a municipal landfill and look for entrance points—broken fences, low spots and gaps in gates. Look for tracks and especially hair hung up on strands of fences and set up to catch coyotes coming and going.
8: RIPARIAN ZONES
River rats Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn have nothing on coyotes when it comes to the love of a river or creek corridor. Whether you target a dry, desert creek-bottom or a Southern river, you’ll find coyotes along the bank. The reason is simple: Riparian zones represent some of the densest and consistent cover in any region. This cover creates shelter for coyotes and prey alike, allowing both to thrive in the ideal environment.
Riparian zones also create travel routes and corridors between habitat zones. Coyotes use the banks and bottoms to move between hunting areas and loafing sites. They also routinely bed in the dense cover of the riparian surroundings.
Hunting a riparian zone requires careful scouting to find openings with a predominantly downwind site for setup. An even better bet is to sit high on the river bank or even perched in river breaks. This gives you elevation, and if the waterway is frozen coyotes love to run on the open ice.
9: POSTED PROPERTY
This one was touched on briefly, but posted property closed to hunting doesn’t necessarily mean a dead end for coyote hunting—it represents a sanctuary that coyotes exploit. Secure permission next door and you have the recipe to continually manipulate coyotes into a neighborly trap.
Coyotes will come to calls from a mile or more away, depending on the terrain and wind conditions. And if you evaluate your property and Google-Earth snoop the neighbors, you might find what coyotes already know: There are greener pastures on the other side of the fence. Whether you have a natural attraction, use bait or simply serenade a coyote across a border, be conscious of posted property boundaries.
In the West, I use public-land avenues to hunt along private property routinely. I snoop maps and locate public parcels adjoining private hot spots, and then I call coyotes off the refuge and into my sights.
10: FARMS AND RANCHES
Last, but not least, always pay attention to farms and ranches. Coyotes steer clear during the bustling daylight hours, but you might catch one meddling in the manure after dark. At night, coyotes invade to scavenge for dead livestock, dumpster dive, raid the pet bowl and even pluck vegetables from the garden. Ask any farmer or rancher who owns a dog and you’ll likely hear a story about a 2 a.m. dog fight in the yard between Old Yeller and Wile E.
The key to targeting a farm or ranch is to get in place for an ambush between the domicile and where you expect the coyote to be a dawn or dusk. Look for thick cover a mile or more out and peruse for any opening that gives you the chance to spot an incoming Green Acres candidate.
Coyotes are the modern-day homesteaders. It’s up to you to not overlook any locations where they might be dwelling, no matter how ridiculous the notion.