Admittedly, I am mainly a wing shooter and whitetail hunter, chiefly in Vermont and New York, and have been hog hunting a number of times. However, faced with the long brutal winter — showing no signs of coming to a end — and turkey season some months off, I turned my thoughts to coyote hunting. With no experience of calling them, it seemed to me that hunting them over bait would be the best way to get a shot. After all, I had hunted hogs over bait and it isn’t exactly rocket science. The feeders open, the hogs come in; you light them up and take a hog or two. Obviously, it would be much the same with coyote.
I was able to schedule a week in March when I could get away from work, emails and the phone. So did my sometime-hunting partner, Kris Littledale. After some research and a few recommendations we chose an outfitter and lodge in northwestern Maine — 15 Mile Stream Lodge & Outfitters — owned by Shane and Rachel Crommet. Rachel urged us to reconsider our dates because the week before would be the full moon allowing us good night hunting conditions earlier each night. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change dates and her advice turned out to be quite important.
After settling in to our appointed cabin, our guide took us each to our blinds — an insulated shack, much like a gardening shed, equipped with propane heater, comfortable chair and a window looking 60 to 80 yards across a clearing to a deer carcass.
I was armed with my trusty old Savage 340B bolt rifle in .222 Remington with a Weaver side mount and an old Busnell Scope Chief sporting a “post reticle,” perfect for low-light applications. My ammo consisted of 52-grain Speer Hollow Points over 22.2 grains of N133. These have proven an accurate combination in this rifle and would be more than adequate for these distances. This area of Maine is mostly owned by paper companies and consists of tens of thousands of acres of softwood plantations interspersed with logging roads. There are no fields to speak of, so the only open areas are around these bait stations or out along the loggings trails.
The idea with hunting over bait is that there are only four likely times coyotes will come in: last light, all night, dawn and pretty much any time of day. Now this may be a slight exaggeration, but if you’ve ever hunted over bait, that’s exactly how it feels. The reality is that coyotes are not by nature nocturnal and don’t see as well at night as we want to give them credit for. While they may slink in for a feed in the pitch black, they much prefer to dine by moonlight. Yet they will also swing by the bait during the day to check if it’s still there, see if any other predator has been by and left scent, or to run off the crows, ravens, and eagles that are tearing up the bait. The end result is that hunting over bait is exhausting. You grab a couple of hours to eat and sleep during the times you hope are “off-shift,” but every minute spent outside the blind plays with your mind and the paranoia sets in: “I’m eating, so maybe the coyotes are, too. Am I missing a shot? Why did I leave? I need to get back.” As a fellow hunter noted during our stay, “I’m not sure I even like it [hunting coyotes over bait] but I need to be there. I’m afraid of what I’m missing when I’m not out in the blind.”
Fortunately, outside the blind was a high degree of comfort. Our outfitter boasted warm, well-designed cabins with hot showers and in-room amenities such as coffee makers, a microwave and refrigerator. An added bonus was the utter lack of any cell phone signal whatsoever. In the Lodge we were stuffed to the gills with hearty, delicious food from a kitchen run by co-owner Rachel. In the few moments afforded to recreation, we also enjoyed the fine ales and spirits of the bar. There, locals and visiting snowmobilers offered, often at great length, their observations on coyotes they had seen over the years, advice on coyote hunting, and opinions on our clear inadequacy as coyote hunters. But enjoyment of Rachel’s culinary delights and the Lodge bar was diminished by our increasingly erratic hours.
Monday and Tuesday passed without our seeing a single coyote. Snow threatened for Wednesday, making any moonlight that night an unlikely prospect. And as Rachel had warned us when we reserved, that moon was rising later each night, driving us to spend even more time in the blinds. We'd be seen briefly at a late morning breakfast with red-rimmed eyes, three-day beards, generally disheveled appearance, mumbling about demon dogs. The isolation becomes both increasingly voluntary on the part of the hunter and increasingly welcome on the part of others who can see the deterioration accelerating. By midway through a weeklong hunt we needed a solid night’s sleep, and the arrival of heavy snow that would blot out that ever-later rising moon provided the excuse to take it.
Meeting at breakfast, Thursday, after a dawn stint in the blinds, we felt somewhat refreshed, if not exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. A new optimism was in the air However, our guide, Shane, was increasingly concerned and pessimistic. “They’re on hot meals,” he said. That afternoon I watched five deer scuttle off the road and try to make headway in snow up to their necks. I now realized that coyotes could more easily take down full-grown deer.
By Thursday night, Kris and I were barely speaking. The occasional grunt passing each other on the way to or from a blind or over a meal was it. With the weather warming up to near double digits and Rachel offering to pack meals and snacks, there was little reason to leave the blinds. Just then our guide chimed in, “There’s a lot of time in there to sort "stuff" [edit: not exactly his word] out.”
And in that madness, our hunt came to a screeching and unsuccessful end. As Friday night rolled in, with an eight-hour drive home the following day, I called it quits. That’s right, no last minute reprieve by the dying light or heroic shot by the waning moon. While Kris apparently saw a coyote at some distance through brush mid-week, the only coyotes I saw were the group nailed to the bragging board that hangs outside at 15 Mile Stream headquarters informing locals of the excellent work that at least some of their hunters are doing in taking pressure off turkey, grouse, deer and other game. I had to withstand the withering queries of my wife and children, “But you didn’t get even one?” No, I didn’t get even one. Despite an excellent outfitter, great setups, endless hours in the blind, and plenty of coyotes, I came up empty.
What's the longest streak you've gone without seeing a coyote on stand?