Hunting close to the cover and close to the breeze, watching downwind while listening for telltale footsteps from behind, a coyote hunter east of the Mississippi is likely to find himself playing this game very close to the vest indeed. No matter what the terrain or locale, calling to a predator creates an interactive element, and gives the hunter the definite sense that it’s him who is being hunted. While a coyote is not a grizzly or dangerous game, it definitely gets the hunter’s heart rate up when those yellow eyes appear at 20 yards, looking for the source of those sounds with a meal on its mind. It’s not always a long-distance game.
The added measure of challenge found in working smaller spaces can mean far more in the way of benefits than difficulties. Since you’re calling to coyotes that may well be within a couple hundred yards at the outset, a quiet approach to your setup and the direction of the wind become vitally important. Your choice of firearm and optics may be impacted, and your likely time spent calling effectively per setup may be shortened. On the other hand, the number and variety of set ups available to you within a given area may well be greatly increased. This benefit alone is well worth the added difficulty.
One of the happy consequences of hunting tight places is the opportunity to change calling locations without changing zip codes. It’s still necessary to move a mile or so, but in a tight places hunt, it’s very possible to have several choices of terrain and set up within a mile. Among those choices will be those best hunted on a south wind, a north wind, a swirling wind, some early, some late and so on.
Consider possible locations for a tight-spaces coyote hunt from the same perspective you’d use in choosing a deer stand location. Depending on the wind, you’ll first need to know the direction from which you can best approach. Next, consider the location of the cover where the coyotes are most likely holding in relation to the planned field of fire and to the cover in which you plan to hide and call.
East of the Mississippi, most coyote hunts are conducted in and around evidence of man’s impact on the environment. Fence rows, pastures and power lines surround woodlots and croplands. Abandoned barns, derelict farmhouses, stands of young planted pine and land in the crop rotation program or CRP all hold rabbits, mice and countless other forms of coyote food. They also offer shelter for dens and cover.
Here again, the lay of the land offers both punishment and reward. When the coyotes you intend to call may be bedded within a hundred yards of where you intend to set up, a quiet approach unimpeded by wind direction is essential.
Upon arriving at your spot, getting squared away quietly is a must. While you still want to be adequately hidden, cracking and popping limbs to make a quick blind isn’t a good choice. That’s where excellent camouflage patterns like Mossy Oak Break-Up, Mossy Oak Obsession or Mossy Oak Brush come in handy. These let a hunter disappear into virtually any background, allowing him to focus on choosing a spot where he can 1) see the area he’s calling, 2) be comfortable and 3) make any shot likely to be presented.
Even with the easy availability and quick access afforded by a variety of handy hunting locations, working the same spots over and over again is a problem. Coyotes are quick learners and easily become call shy or call wise. By taking care to keep your calling volumes to a minimum, your sequence lengths to a reasonable level and your calling variety spread to a maximum, you’ll keep your best hunting spots fresher longer. For Charles McLean, who has pursued coyotes as many as 100 days per year in the past, that variety is a big part of the attraction of the hunt. “I try to keep track of what calls I’ve used in what locations, so that when I go back I’ll be prepared to use something different, “he said.
On any given day at any given time, coyotes well within earshot of your calls may simply be unwilling to play the game. They may be thoroughly fed, thoroughly tired or just thoroughly uninterested. If you don’t educate them to your intent with a serenade that is too long or too loud though, you may well be able to bring them to the dance next time around. By being able to reproduce a wide variety of sounds a wide variety of ways, you’ll find you’re able to interest and bring in more coyotes.
As far as call quality goes, McLean says he’s killed as many coyotes with curiosity as anything else. “I’ve had lots of success with a lot of different kinds of calls,” he said. “I think they’re inquisitive a lot of times and if they hear something in distress they’ll come to see what it is, no matter what the calling sounds exactly like.”
Just like the other techniques specific to the game, the choice of firearm can be affected by the close quarters common in a tight spaces coyote hunt. For McLean, it boils down to a choice of optics. For other veterans of the game, it involves a more complex strategy. “I usually like to have at least 50 or 100 yards or better to see and call in,” McLean said, “but pretty often I’ve worked with a lot less. They can come out running wide open and you need to have some room to get on them. My favorite rifle has a 6.5x20 Leupold on it and even that’s too much some times.”
An avid shooter, hunter and handloader, McLean stresses an individual shooter’s comfort with the firearm of choice, rather than that firearm’s specific caliber, is the more important consideration. On an often-close, likely-running target that is more about shooting than aiming, a tight-spaces coyote hunter’s firearm needs to be one with which he’s very familiar.
“I’ve shot them with everything from a .223 to a .300 Remington UltraMag with ballistic tip bullets,” McLean said. “Anything from a .22 magnum up is sufficient. I would not go with a 7mm magnum intentionally, but if that were all I had to go with, I wouldn’t let that keep me from going. Whatever you’re confident with that’s sufficient to do the job is the best thing to use.”
For Mossy Oak VP Carsie Young, a multi-shooter strategy has proven to work best. “Normally what we would do is, somebody would have a .22-250 or a .220 Swift, something that could reliably be shot 300 yards with a big scope,” Young said. “Then the next rifle would be a .223 with a mid-range scope, then the third would be a shotgunner with No. 2s or BBs. In that set-up, the shotgun is probably going to get about 50% of the shots, and the two rifles split the other half.”
For Young and his hunting companions, that’s a strategy that’s paid off surprisingly often. “I remember one hunt in particular,” Young said. “I had a .220 Swift and I was looking out over a 70-acre field that was cut low enough that I would see anything coming. My partner was on a shotgun looking over a two-acre field that had grass maybe knee high. We called a while and the first indication I had that a coyote was anywhere around was when my partner shot one that appeared 20 feet off the end of his gun barrel. They’re bad sneaky, and they know how to use every tool to their advantage.”
Ultimately, like any outdoor sport, the game is what you make of it. When the urge to hit the woods strikes, the who, what, where and how become secondary concerns for McLean, Young and other veterans. “When I want to go I’m going to go,” McLean said.
By always being responsible hunters and by keeping the particulars of the game in mind, we all have plenty of opportunities to find coyotes in tight spaces.