Coyote hunter Aaron Perras, of Massachusetts, has killed well over 400 coyotes from the SAME bait pile in the last ten years. That might not sound like much in some states, but the Bay State has less than a six-month season on coyotes, there is no hunting on Sunday or from midnight to dawn, and you can only use .22's and shotguns from dusk until midnight. So how does he do it?
"There are four important elements to a bait pile; the location must allow coyotes to feel safe approaching the bait, the pile has to be easy to refresh, the background has to be safe for shooting a high-powered rifle, and the hunter has to be able to get into position without being detected," Perras said. "But the real key to shooting a lot of coyotes off one bait pile is to shoot the Alpha pair the first chance you get."
I tagged along with Perras one cold January morning and the bait pile we hunted was exactly as described. We eased into position at the end of two huge plastic storage holders of hay, seven feet tall and 50 yards long. It didn’t take long for the first coyote, a male, to pop its head out of the hedgerow. It was headed for the bait pile, which was 200 yards away on the outside corner of a cornfield.
"This placement is important for two reasons; you can't place the bait pile out in the middle of the field and expect the coyotes to come running out like you just rang the dinner bell. They're too cautious to expose themselves for that long a period of time in an open meadow. If they do cross a large field to get to the bait, they'll either do it late at night, or they'll be running flat out. This setup lets us get into position without being detected. I've come up here lots of times on the morning hunts and there are already coyotes on the bait," Perras said.
This bait pile was placed about 50 yards into the field, and from the angle of the shooting blind, there was a small mound of snow behind it that helped us see coyotes because it offered a white background.
"They may not like crossing an entire field, but they'll come out 50 yards if they’re hungry enough. Usually they come up through the small brushy gully, and then pop out right at the bait. If not, then they'll always hug a tree line or a fence line in their approach", he said. On this cold morning, Perras drilled two coyotes, a male and a female that came in separately, in less than an hour.
"Another important part of being a successful coyote hunter over bait is when and how often you hunt it." His favorite time of the year to hunt coyotes is right after the first of the year. "This is when coyotes are most active. The pups from two years ago, both males and females are out looking for new territories, and it’s the start of their breeding season. If I shoot the Alpha Pair in this territory early enough in the year, then more coyotes will continually pass through because they know by the howling from remaining pack members that this area is safe. This is probably the biggest key to the number of coyotes that I see. Almost every time two coyotes come into my bait together, it seems that they’re a medium sized male and small female looking to set up shop. And it seems that the more coyotes I shoot, the more coyotes come into my bait," Perras says.
Vermont wildlife biologist Kim Royar agrees with Perras. "Coyotes will travel hundreds of miles to find new territories. This is the way that coyotes originally established themselves here in the Northeast. There are two times a year when coyotes will disperse, autumn and winter, depending on food and habitat availability, and a hunter can open up a new territory by killing off the alpha pair," Royar said.
Perras prefers to hunt coyotes in the early morning; right at dawn, when high-powered rifles are legal. He's found that this is the best use of his time. "On the morning hunts, usually the coyotes will hit the bait one more time before they go to their den. They've probably gone all night without killing something and they’re very hungry. When I hunt at dusk, sometimes I'll sit there until almost midnight before the first coyote comes in. I think that when they come out of their den in the early evening, they take a trip around the perimeter of their territory first to check for intruders, and then they go hunting."
Perras won't set up closer than 200 yards from the bait. "It’s too easy for a coyote to smell, see or hear you. At this distance, coyotes are a little more forgiving of human sounds and smells, especially on a farm like this. Not that we can make a lot of noise, and not pay attention to the wind, but it's easier at this distance. You have to have a blind that you can get into without being detected. Sometimes in the morning, there will be coyotes already on the bait, so I have to get into position without them knowing that I’m there," Perras said.
Not only is placement of the bait crucial for getting good shots at coyotes, it's also important to have the bait pile located in a convenient spot to restock it as necessary.
"As wary as coyotes are, they don't seem to mind old human scent around the pile. You have to be able to easily replenish the bait because it can get to be too much of a problem to drag a plastic sled with old deer parts to the pile. It's not a big deal in knee deep snow if you have a snowmobile, but it's a very big problem if you don't have a snow machine," Perras said.
I hunted with Perras a second time a few days later. Just as we got into position, we noticed a good sized coyote going across the meadow headed for the tree line near the bait pile. It took a minute, but soon thereafter two more coyotes, a bigger one and a smaller one, popped out of the woods and they were on the bait. Perras put the crosshairs on the largest one and dropped it in its tracks. The smaller one started running back the way it came when Perras barked a few times like a dog. The coyote stopped on a dime and Perras dropped it. We hadn’t been there five minutes and two coyotes, a medium sized male and a smaller female lay dead 200 yards away.
"This is the one weakness in their defenses. If they don't know where you are, even after you've shot at them, you can always get them to stop running by barking like a dog, but you have to be ready with your rifle at the same time. If two or more coyotes come in together, always shoot the biggest one first; it's the smartest dog in the bunch. The smaller, younger ones won’t know which way to run, and you can get off a couple more shots before they figure it out," Perras stressed.
Royer concurs with Perras’s observations. "Many times, there will be some disruption in the coyote pack once the Alpha pair has been killed. The next in line to take over the pack hasn’t been established and there will be disorganization among them. Studies have shown that high birth rates occur in areas where coyotes are heavily hunted, meaning that there will be more young coyotes in this years' pack. Researchers believe that coyote populations are likely to respond to extensive hunting pressure with an increase in reproduction and survival of the young. Heavy predation can also change the sex ratios, juvenile survival, and the percentages of females that breed. This is the down side in areas where coyotes are heavily hunted," Royar said.
Safety is always a concern when hunting, and it's a bigger issue when using flat-shooting, long-range rifles. Perras uses a Remington 700 Varmint Rifle in 6mm, topped off with a Burris 4-16X scope. He also loads his own ammunition using a polymer tipped 70-grain Speer over a charge of H380 powder.
"This load is very fast and flat, and I usually sight in at 300 yards, which is exactly the distance from my blind to the bait pile. I have the bait situated where there’s a hill right behind it so any misses go into the dirt and not off into the horizon. I've tried the smaller .22 calibers, but I've had too many coyotes run off wounded. It can be a pain to run down a wounded coyote on deep crusted snow when it’s staying on top, and I'm breaking through on every step. Here in Massachusetts, we have to report every coyote we kill to Fish and Wildlife, so it wouldn’t be right to just let the coyote run off and die," Perras said.
"To sum it all up, it's really quite simple. Keep your bait fresh, easily accessible to you, and safely accessible to the coyotes. Have a blind that you can get into without being detected, and get a good varmint rifle and scope. You need to figure out when the coyotes are hitting the bait, and don’t over hunt a certain bait pile. Always shoot the biggest coyote of the pack. It's no different than any other type of hunting, you just have to stay with it and pay attention to the details," Perras concluded.