Operation Calf Killer

A group of weekend warriors team up to put an end to depredating coyotes.

Operation Calf Killer

Sunrise was still 15 minutes away, well within legal shooting time on the first calling stand of the day. Loren Lunsford, my hunting partner for the weekend, was sitting 15 feet behind me and facing the opposite direction. The e-caller had been screaming for less than a minute when we heard three separate packs of coyotes letting us know they were less than pleased with our intrusion. I muted the call and instantly heard howling very close to where Loren was sitting. Here they come! I thought. 

A few minutes later, a lone coyote came in way to my left, about 50 yards out. It had weaved its way through the sage undetected and neither of us had noticed it until it was almost to the caller. The coyote stopped briefly and looked right at me, completely unconcerned, and then looked away. I raised my Howa .22-250 Rem., waited for it to walk directly in front of me and squeezed the trigger. And just like that, the first Nevada calf-killer of the contest was on the ground. 

In September of 2022, my good friend Eric Mayer invited me to hunt the second annual Calf Killer Coyote Hunting Contest in Winnemucca, Nevada. The year before he had been contacted by a cattle rancher in the area who told him that coyotes were preying on his newborn calves. Eric quickly put together an online hunting contest with just four hunters, including me, to help out. Now, a year later, we were back to assist the rancher with his coyote problem once again. And this year, we had three teams of two headed to Nevada for the coyote killing cause. 

The rancher’s property was a mix of cattle pastures, alfalfa fields and acres of native sage. The livestock had been corralled in a separate field and out of the way. With a free run of the place, we were all excited to see how the weekend would unfold.

Loren Lunsford hikes into a stand during the calling contest. The rancher's property they were hunting was a mix of pastures, alfalfa fields and native sage.
Loren Lunsford hikes into a stand during the calling contest. The rancher's property they were hunting was a mix of pastures, alfalfa fields and native sage.

Off to a Good Start

After that first stand, Loren and I made our way back to the truck, loaded up the coyote and headed out to make another stand. We had all decided to stay in contact through a group text, letting the other teams know how the day was going. When we got back to the truck, we were informed that Cache of Team Cache and Jake were already on the board with a coyote called in on the first stand as well.

After a few blank stands, Loren suggested we hike out to a lone hay bail and call to the sage field out front. We hid the truck behind a haystack and headed out on foot. Once again, we sat back-to-back and started calling. To our left and right were huge, circular fields of alfalfa, and we had seen coyotes bed in the bright green crop several times. In fact, the previous year I had killed a large male that was hunting the water pivot track as we drove by. 

We got settled and Loren started the e-caller. With flat terrain stretching in all directions, if something came to the call, we’d easily see it. I was scanning the green field in front of me when I heard a shotgun blast from Loren’s side only a few minutes into the stand. I turned in time to see a fluffy coyote tip over only 30 yards to the left of where Loren was sitting. Even though this was an individual calling contest, I was very excited that Loren was on the board and Team Tim and Loren had two for the morning hunt.

We spent the rest of the day dodging thunderstorms and looking for new areas to call. The ranch was big, but with three, two-man teams running around, I knew we’d be hunting public land surrounding the ranch on days two and three.

That evening we tallied the count. Team Eric and David, who checked in sporadically during the day, did well and came back with five coyotes. Eric killed three and David killed two “volunteer” coyotes that were encountered between stands. 

Team Cache and Jake ended the first day with one coyote recovered and two hit but not recovered. Loren and I ended that first day with two called in and two killed. It seemed Eric was steadily pulling away.

Day Two and Plan B

We started day two by making the first stand on the ranch, but you could tell our presence there the day before had taken a toll. Loren and I decided to start exploring public land around the ranch. We had already mapped out a few stands from the day before and were anxious to get back on the board. Neither one of us liked being in a three-way tie for third place.

We pulled off on a side road and started scanning the terrain for good calling country, and as we came over a slight rise and I spotted something standing in the road. “What is that?” I asked as I slowed the truck a bit. I think we both realized it was a coyote at the same time. We pulled to the side of the two-track and scrambled for our rifles. Eric had made it clear that “volunteers” counted toward the contest tally, and we wanted to add this one to the count. 

The coyote trotted off the road and stopped. I had it in the scope first, found the sweet spot and squeezed the trigger. My second coyote of the hunt was down. We loaded up our passenger and started back down the road. We hadn’t gone a mile, when both our phones went off with another text. Eric had shot his fourth coyote. I hadn’t even had a chance to update the group with my kill yet. I took a quick photo and sent it in, knowing that it was going to be difficult to catch Eric.

Despite our early success, midday calling was slow. Jake finally killed one they could recover, and Team Cache and Jake tagged teamed one, with each hunter gaining half a point. We hadn’t heard any new reports from Team Eric and David, but Eric was sitting on a comfortable two coyote lead. I envisioned him spending the day in some bar, his feet up, enjoying a cold one while we suffered through the dusty Nevada backroads.

David Hillis poses with a last light, long-range coyote. Team David and Eric killed five coyotes the first day of the contest.
David Hillis poses with a last light, long-range coyote. Team David and Eric killed five coyotes the first day of the contest.

A Change of Scenery

After lunch we hit a new road and some great looking country. We found a nice spot where I could hide the truck and hiked in. After we got settled, I started calling. The wind was perfect and from where we sat, we could see almost a mile of perfect sage-covered habitat.

After 15 minutes of nothing, I started getting sleepy. The early hour and the lack of action had me wondering what we were doing wrong. For some reason I decided to give the stand three more minutes. The area just looked too good to leave. At the 18-minute mark, I spotted a coyote out at 185 yards walk into an opening and look our way. I slowly moved my rifle and sticks over slightly, and it must’ve seen me. The coyote bobbed its head a bit and reversed course. But for whatever reason, it popped back out in the same exact spot, and I dropped the canine in its tracks. 

I dragged my third coyote of the hunt back to the truck and we headed down the road. I looked at my phone and noticed that we didn’t have cell coverage. That didn’t bother me much, because I was glad to keep the rest of the group in the dark about our success.

As we drove, Loren pointed out that the coyote I had just shot put me in second place all by myself. I am not much into coyote contests, and I was fully aware that this endeavor was more about helping the rancher and bragging rights than anything else. But being so close to tying for first and catching Eric had me focused and energized. We drove out of the canyon and headed back to the first road we had hunted earlier in the day. We had identified two great looking late afternoon stands at the edge of the ranch.

The first stand was a blank, and with fading light we hiked out to the last setup of the day. As Loren placed the caller out front, I realized I couldn’t see much from where I was sitting. I grabbed my gear and motioned to Loren I was moving. I found a small mound to his right that gave me a great view of the canyon.

Almost as soon as Loren started the call, I spotted a white ball out at 600 yards. I got the object in the scope and saw it was a coyote looking our way. It stood there motionless for half a minute and then started slowly trotting toward us. I followed that coyote for a good eight minutes as it weaved in and out of the sage. Occasionally I’d lose sight of it, but its white face and chest would always give it away as it moved toward us. Finally, at about 150 yards, the coyote crested a small mound and just stood there. It glanced right at me, determined I was no threat and looked back to the caller. That was the last thing it did.

With day two in the bag, we headed back to town. The rest of the group had been quiet, and we hadn’t had the cell service to update anyone. When we got close to town, Eric gave us a call. 

At dinner we discussed the standings and the plans for the final day of calling. With my day two tally of three coyotes, I was tied with Eric for first place. Jake had dropped one and he and Cache shared half a point for the tag teamed coyote. David was in second place and the rest of the hunters were fighting for third place.

The Final Countdown

The morning of the third and final day, Loren and I decided to move north of the ranch and put some distance between us and the rest of the group. We found some open country and made half a dozen stands without seeing anything. Toward late afternoon, we had a hard charger come in way to my left and wind us before I could get the crosshairs on it. With my heart in my throat, I sat there wishing the coyote had given me just one more step. That was the only action we saw on day three.

Cache killed one early on day three, but after that, the rest of the day was a blank for the entire crew. Eric and I ended up tying for first place, and the teams removed 17 coyotes from the ranch and neighboring area.

On the long drive home, I thought about the hunt. Except for the coyote giving us the slip on the last day, Loren and I had killed every coyote we encountered. My day two success had put me in the lead with Eric and that felt good. With the extra activity on the ranch and the number of coyotes removed, I’m sure we gave the rancher and his newborn calves a bit of relief. Contest or no contest, I’m sure we’ll be back next year for Operation calf-killers III.


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