Back-Country Coyote Capers

Tired of fighting the crowds to get at paranoid, call-educated coyotes? Try taking a trek — a long trek.

Back-Country Coyote Capers

Sometimes thinking outside the box pays fur dividends. One of the author's most extreme walkabouts was of the four-legged variety — a cross-country horseback hunt on the outer fringes of the South Dakota Badlands.

I get a great deal of pride and pleasure from leaving the hunting masses behind — hiking until my truck is a speck on the horizon — when hunting the South Dakota Grasslands for prairie grouse each fall. Pushing through sections of unproductive acreage doesn’t bother me a bit, if it means a chance at those unmolested coveys that hide out in the far reaches of their home range. And if I’m fortunate enough to fill my three-bird limit in the morning, I do the same toward evening — after swapping scattergun for rifle — when chasing fur instead of feathers. It stands to reason that upland bird hunting activity not only pushes the grouse back off the roads, but also has the same effect on gun-shy public-ground coyotes

Furred predators, especially coyotes, acclimate to human intrusion by avoiding it — seeking remote areas where encounters are rare, and by doing most of their hunting during the night. Charles Darwin would probably agree that those critters — furred and feathered — that hang out too close to public roads, ranches and farms don’t survive long enough to pass on their idiot genes to the next generation. That’s why hunting the outback — getting out and burning up some petro and boot leather — puts hunters in a position to exploit coyotes that are more plentiful … and often more relaxed. 

The formula for successfully hunting the outback is simple. Find those secluded honey holes where coyotes can go about their business unmolested, sneak in and set up, catch them with their guard down and drop the hammer. One method requires getting out on foot and hiking to the horizon, like I do when hunting the grasslands or other huge tracts of public land and expansive private ranches out West — or large WMAs and frozen waterways on my home turf in the North. Another is to find dim two-tracks that wind through promising real estate and put your feet to work operating the clutch and gas peddle of a favorite hunting rig, stopping every half-mile or so to call. Or hunting the outer parameters of smaller public land holdings, attempting to draw coyotes in from surrounding private land — effectively turning hundreds of acres into thousands. 

But don’t disregard private land. This will obviously require getting permission and might even require paying a fee. Here’s where PR skills come into play. When hunting close to home, call relatives, friends, friends of friends, etc. who own land. A considerable amount of huntable land might be only a shirttail relative away. And don’t be afraid to knock on doors. Many ranchers or farmers, whose gates are closed to big-game hunters, will swing those gates wide open to varmint and predator hunters. A good road map and county plat book will quickly indicate who owns what piece of property and where they live, narrowing down the search considerably. Once permission is obtained from one landowner, pay a visit to his neighbors. Many are less hesitant to grant permission once their neighbor has given the green light. 

The following are a couple of tactics for effectively hunting the outback to get the creative juices flowing — along with examples of how thinking outside the box adds fun and flare to chasing cross-country coyotes.

Dim ranch roads or two-tracks that dissect large tracts of public land provide an outback advantage for hunters who want to cover large land areas in a relatively short time.
Dim ranch roads or two-tracks that dissect large tracts of public land provide an outback advantage for hunters who want to cover large land areas in a relatively short time.

Roads to Success

Coyotes use roads for travel — mostly at night — and as territorial boundaries. It’s common to see scat strung out for miles on remote ranch roads and setting up on or near these fur highways can be productive. I once hunted coyotes on a military base in Indiana where a limited amount of public deer hunting was allowed. A local hunting buddy had convinced the base’s game manager that the coyote population there was in desperate need of culling, and he and I soon had the exclusive run of the place, which was heavily wooded. It was apparent that our best chance for success was to call the critters out onto the roads. And that’s just what we did, having marginal luck during the day and better luck at night. We would set up back-to-back on straight stretches of road and at a 90-degree angles should we set up on intersecting roads. A caution here: When setting up on roads that might have traffic, shoot only down into the road ditch or right-of-way. 

Dim ranch roads or two-tracks that dissect large tracts of public land provide an outback advantage for hunters who want to cover large land areas in a relatively short time. A productive tactic is to drive these roads, stopping every half-mile or so to call. I typically hide the truck and trot a hundred yards or so in and make a quick setup, rarely staying more than 15 or 20 minutes before moving on. As I mentioned, these roads provide coyotes with ready-made territorial boundaries. When hunting during the breeding season, barks, howls (especially challenges) and other canine vocalizations can be very effective. At other times of the year I’m more apt to use food source sounds. 

Thinking Outside the Box — Hunting outside of Wickenburg, Arizona, some years back, a hunting buddy and I couldn’t help notice the dead jack rabbits that littered a busy stretch of U.S. Route 93 north of town as we drove to our first setups each morning before dawn. We also took note of the gold eyes that dashed for the ditch as we approached the flattened carcasses. Coyotes were obviously feasting on this road kill smorgasbord. I looked over at my partner and he gave me a nod and a wink. At first light he pulled his truck to the side of the highway, and between traffic streams we grabbed our gear, jumped the right-of-way fence and ducked into the tangle of mesquite and juniper on its opposite side. Hiking in a couple hundred yards, we found an open shooting lane and, careful to set up so that we would be shooting away from traffic, went to work. We called up two coyotes and killed one on that first setup and it motivated us to make a series of similar setups — with similar results.

The South Dakota grasslands provide one example of the vast amount of public lands available for fur hunters. Most of it is abandoned once upland bird and big-game seasons expire — prime time for hunting coyotes.
The South Dakota grasslands provide one example of the vast amount of public lands available for fur hunters. Most of it is abandoned once upland bird and big-game seasons expire — prime time for hunting coyotes.

Coyote Walkabout

There are several ways to effectively hunt the outback on foot — the key in most cases is to leave the truck far behind. One is to use a circular route that will eventually end up back at the starting point. I’ve used this method to hunt expansive public grounds and large private ranches. Typically I’ll strike off in a predetermined direction and refrain from calling until I’m a half-mile or more from the truck. At that point, I’ll work the terrain in a manner to keep from being detected (no sky-lining) and to exploit those terrain types where coyotes are most likely to hang out — essentially scouting as I go. I’ll stop to call every quarter-mile or so, making a long loop that eventually deposits me back at the truck. Obviously the wind isn’t always going to be favorable because it will be necessary to change directions at least three times while taking the circular route. When with the wind, try to gain a high vantage point with a clear shooting lane downwind. I have found, though, that coyotes are often less sensitive to wind direction back in those outback places where they feel safe. 

When hunting with a buddy, drop one vehicle off on one side of the property and then drive around to the other. Hunt from one truck to the other, zig-zagging through the heart of the property. If the land is broken up by rough terrain or lots of vegetation, set up every quarter-mile or so. Even if it’s only a mile between trucks, it will be possible to get three or four good stands in. 

To cover more ground, park on opposite sides of the property and hunt to each other’s truck. If the trucks are parked north to south of each other, one hunter can veer east while the other hunts to the west so you don’t overlap. When unfamiliar with the property, it’s helpful to GPS the trucks and work directly to them. At the very least, bring a compass so you can cut the opposite road. Arrange a meeting time and place … and don’t forget to exchange spare keys! 

When taking a long hike that might end up miles from the truck, it’s a good idea to bring some rudimentary skinning tools to strip coyotes on the run. A skinning knife, piece of rope, small trash bags and a medium size backpack will do the job. And don’t forget some water and a granola bar or two to stay hydrated and energized. 

Thinking Outside the Box — One my most extreme walkabouts was of the four-legged variety — a cross-country horseback hunt on the outer fringes of the South Dakota Badlands. It was there Mark Kayser and I hooked up with a local cowboy by the name of Doug Huston, who supplied the horses and an expansive ranch we could hunt. We parked a pickup on the far end of the ranch and then drove his trailered horses to the other end of the ranch with a second pickup. From there it was a simple matter of zigging and zagging through the hilly terrain — dismounting every quarter-mile or so to hobble the horses, set up an ambush and call the virgin territory. We arrived at the other truck hours later with several coyotes hanging from our saddle horns.   

All that’s required to effectively hunt the outback is some room to roam, a little forward thinking and planning, a bit of scouting and determination. So whether hunting alone or with a best buddy, endeavor to persevere by taking the fur game up a notch — and by thinking outside the box.

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