A Contrary Approach to Hunting Coyotes on Public Land

Combat public-land party goers through research, assessment, scouting and purposeful hunt execution — using an approach that might be polar to theirs.

A Contrary Approach to Hunting Coyotes on Public Land

“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” This simple quote from Mark Twain is good advice for hunters with a trust fund, a winning Powerball ticket or those lucky enough to be one of Elon Musk’s kids. For the rest of us, access to public lands and knocking on doors provides our only hunting options. 

As more Americans engage in private land wildlife management, estates that previously allowed hunting are now behind locked gates. This transition has forced more and more hunters to focus on publicly owned lands and competition for big-game to small-game and predator-hunting opportunities can be intense. And encountering hunters, parked vehicles and footprints at your favorite public hunting locations can be downright depressing. But you can rise above this competition by hunting harder and hunting smarter. And now’s the perfect time to put a plan together for success on public lands later.


Finding That Hidden Gem

With a few search-engine keystrokes, public land numbers look promising. For example, the National Forest Service manages 193 million acres of land, including forests and grasslands from coast to coast, and the Bureau of Land Management has authority on more than 270 million acres. Those are the big players on the federal level, but if you dig a bit deeper you discover other national entities with public holdings. 

Others include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the lands they manage, especially along reservoir projects, small to enormous. Despite water management as a goal, they also control lands along shorelines with access opportunities. Long and meandering, these parcels could be bare shoreline or extend into flood zones of pines, oaks and brushy habitat that is perfect for a variety of wildlife. In the same fashion, some Bureau of Reclamation lands on various water project sites have opportunities for hunters. And don’t forget the National Wildlife Refuges. Be sure to research these sites because some allow predator hunting. Lastly, investigate any military posts near you because many also offer hunting opportunities. In the case of wildlife refuges and military posts, application-only hunting is often the norm, but that limits hunting pressure if you are the lucky one who draws a permit. 

State land prospects also have potential for predator hunting. Most states have wildlife management areas, school trust lands, state parks and state forests where hunting is allowed, to name a few. Innovative state agencies that understand the importance of hunting to their rural economies also manage large expanses of leased private lands that are open to the public. Even some counties and city governments have property open to hunting with certain restrictions. 

Finally, research all tribal lands in your area. Each tribe operates as its own nation and manages its land in distinctively different manners, but many of the reservations include hundreds of thousands to more than a million acres under tribal control. Hunting is big business, and many tribes see predator hunting as another way to attract dollars to fund their economies.  

Start the search for suitable public-land options online at home or on the go. Hunting apps such as HuntStand, onX and others include property information portals that provide detailed ownership and boundaries data. Some apps might not show exact ownership but differentiate a parcel from private ownership with a “owner not listed” designation. Dig a little deeper online or at the county courthouse for the specifics. Some entity owns that land, and the vagueness could cause other hunters to avoid it for fear of trespassing. 

Hiking a mile or more into public hunting areas separates you from the crowd.
Hiking a mile or more into public hunting areas separates you from the crowd.

Make an Honest Assessment

Whether it’s in your backyard or across the country, once you have singled out a property, it is time to do an honest hunting assessment of it. This could be as easy as finding a large tract of BLM land at the end of a goat trail in the middle of Nevada, but even those lost lands will likely have a fan club. The following provides you with a means to make an educated assessment of your findings.

Begin with proximity to a cluster of other hunters. Specifically, how close does the property lie to a major urban center. Public lands that reside close to cities of any size garner attention from hunters, hikers, dog walkers and even lawbreakers who look for out-of-the-way locations to hang out, but within a short drive of home. Human activity tends to push animals to the outermost edges or even off a property if human pressure is excessive. Do a weekend visit to the area to calculate usage by various groups.  

A 15-minute drive does not sway many people from a quick visitation but turn that drive into an hour and you immediately see a drop-off. Add limited road access to the long drive and the guest list decreases further, and rough, eroded trails leading to access points hinder even the SUV crowd. Toss in ATV or UTV access only and the crowd diminishes even more, especially during cold weather. A long ATV ride in below freezing temperatures is no drive in the park. I do not relish a cold ATV ride, but if it results in separating me from the truck crowd when treacherous trails lay ahead, I don’t hesitate. 

Even arriving at a property after a jolting journey could change the minds of many. Now add a long hike into the mix. The best areas are often closed to vehicle traffic. Although wildlife has the capacity to live with humans, the majority would rather go about their business in a more tranquil setting. Walk-in-only access provides that buffer from the approximately 70 percent of those Americans who are overweight or obese. 

A last but major consideration should be your assessment of whether coyotes and other predators live on the property. Depending on your ZIP code, the area could be a wasteland that holds few, if any, predators. Is the habitat managed with wildlife in mind? Does it have a solid prey base? Is the environment too sparse to support a large prey and predator population? During this assessment, reach out to animal damage control officials in the area for their viewpoints. Government agencies and landowner cooperatives still manage predators and you do not want to spend a week in an area where aerial coyote hunting occurs with regularity.  

A couple seasons ago, I spent a morning calling on a public land allotment with no results. The reason became clear when I ran into a rancher on my way out. During our exchange, he shared with me that there were coyotes everywhere until the past month. Complaints from the surrounding ranches prompted predator control agents to fly the area extensively, resulting in the removal of dozens of coyotes.  

The author does the bulk of his coyote hunting on public lands and evaluates each parcel before executing a hunt.
The author does the bulk of his coyote hunting on public lands and evaluates each parcel before executing a hunt.

A Hunting Strategy of Opposites 

Once you drop a waypoint on a credible chunk of public land, you still must hunt with the savvy of a coyote to ensure you leave other diehard hunters in the dust. Begin with backdoor access. I understand many public properties encourage you to embark from a designated parking area. But, if possible, ditch those for an out-of-the-way entry. 

Look for neglected or forgotten trails, rights-of-way that parallel the property, a friendly landowner or other routes of legal ingress. The best entrances provide a doorway opposite where the general public filters onto a property. Again, hoping the masses do not have the energy to go far from the trailhead, you open yourself to more lands that hopefully harbor unpressured predators.  

During your hunting app flyovers, possibly boosted with firsthand hikes into an area, find the roughest, nastiest and hardest to reach areas on a property. Coyotes seek out these honey holes for hunting, bedding and escaping from trailhead activity. Combine these characteristics with waypoints in the farthest corners of a public apportionment for increased predator encounters. Water sources such as creeks, rivers and swamps also hinder access to some areas. A portable raft, hip boots or a canoe could be the key to accessing this untouched country.

Even on large tracts of national forest or other public lands, consider hunting border areas. This provides access to predators, especially leggy coyotes living on the other side of the fence. By setting up on public land, you have the advantage of calling animals across a fenced boundary and into your sights. In addition, the neighboring land could be aggressively managed for wildlife, causing dispersion as younger animals look for new home territory. I always have my HuntStand hunting app with maps downloaded of areas I plan to hunt for border coordinates and to keep me on the right side of the fence. 

Some properties, regardless of their size or location, might see overwhelming use. In such instances, it again pays to do the opposite of other hunters. Instead of hunting on the weekends like so many other hunters, flex your hours and take advantage of weekday solitude. Most hunters pursue predators on the weekends instead of taking off precious vacation time they might need later for family activities. Some hunters simply do not have careers that allow them to hunt during the week. They might have staff to manage or regular office hours to keep. 

In addition to fewer hunters about during the middle of the week, studies have shown that game oftentimes relaxes and returns to use public areas they avoid during the weekend. Most of these studies reflect whitetail movements, but predators follow prey so it would lead to the assumption that coyotes might drift back during midweek as well. 

 Putting a plan of opposites into play, I adjusted my freelance schedule to hunt during midweek and at daybreak I was situated on a fence line of a public parcel bordering a large pasture of wintering cattle on private land. Using a short series of howls combined with some fighting yips, I waited anxiously. Thirty minutes later, a coyote casually strolled to the top of an adjacent ridge to check things out. It saw my decoy dog and began circling to achieve a downwind advantage. A Hornady ELD Match bullet ended that runaround play. 


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.