Patterning Farmland Coyotes

Coyotes are creatures of habit, and savvy predator hunters take full advantage when planning their ambush.

Patterning Farmland Coyotes

Pre-existing trails such as those made by snowmobile traffic tempt coyotes to travel there.

I vividly recall when I first learned the potential there is in patterning coyotes. A friend of mine reported seeing a pair of them leaving the farm where he works and trotting up a distant knoll into a grove of trees overlooking the farmyard. He suggested I sit in the trees at dawn, and I’d likely be successful. It seemed like a good idea, so the following morning a cold orange glow in the eastern sky found me sitting in ambush at the spot he’d suggested. By the time the sun peeked over the winter horizon I had three coyotes sprawled out on the snow in front of me. 

As educational as that was, the most fascinating part of the morning was watching the valley below. My elevated position on the knoll and a good binocular allowed me to see everything moving in a mile-wide vista. It was difficult keeping track of the number of coyotes I saw, so I gave up after counting 20. 

That valley has a large cattle feedlot operation at one end, and it was obvious the coyotes were working it hard all night and then escaping at daybreak as human activity began. It was easy to tell they had some favored routes to daytime bedding areas, and I mentally mapped those out for future reference. 

Just two days later, I was back with several friends. It was still fully dark when I began dropping them off along local grid roads with instructions about which direction to hike and where to sit in ambush. I took a spot for myself where I could hide the truck and still have a reasonable walk to get into position. 

Once again, the action started at first light when I spied a coyote exiting the feedlot and heading toward one of my friends. From my position a half-mile away I watched the coyote collapse into the snow and a few seconds later the sound of a rifle shot reached me. Our plan worked perfectly, and by the time we called it quits there were eight coyotes stretched out in various spots across the valley. Notably, the valley never echoed with the sound of a predator call the entire morning. 

Taking 11 coyotes from the same spot in three days made for a memorable enough event that I now pay a lot more attention to patterning coyotes in farm country, and it’s paying off in some highly successful hunts. I’ve managed to locate several intensive farming operations that coyotes find irresistible in the lean winter months and have identified the routes they travel to get in and out of these food sources. I call these routes “coyote highways,” and here double and triples are the rule rather than the exception. And on those special mornings when everything works perfectly, a half-dozen coyotes at a time is possible. 

The Right Location

Finding these spots begins with locating exceptional food sources and this typically means intensive animal husbandry of some sort. Cattle operations are just one such source, while chicken and turkey farms are another, as are hog production sites. I know of one operation that during the winter months keeps 12,000 sheep on 160 acres. Trust me, the coyotes know where it is, too. Everything about these spots makes them coyote magnets, including the inevitable loss of some animals due to disease or other causes, the feed used to sustain the animals and even the manure. Coyotes can make use of it all. 

Unlike a thicket infested with rabbits, where the coyotes can both eat and hide away undisturbed, farmland coyotes living as scroungers need to travel between their bedding area and the food source. For the attentive hunter, those travel corridors become a kill zone.  

During coyote season in my part of the world, there’s usually snow on the ground, so locating these coyote highways simply requires navigating a wide circle around a likely agricultural operation. Pay special attention to directions that would take coyotes into a spot with some cover to hide in, far from human activity, and be prepared to be surprised at the size of some of these corridors. This is especially true late in the season as the snow builds up. Coyotes have a tough time navigating deep snow and it’s then that these routes are the most heavily used. 

Where I live, most of the rural landscape is intersected by a series of grid roads, creating uniform blocks of land that are 1 mile wide and 2 miles long. This means the most isolated spots exist in the center of those blocks, making them a favored daytime destination for coyotes. I’ve also noticed coyote highways often follow a farmer’s fence, skirt along the edge of a treeline or utilize a natural depression in the land where the canines can stay out of sight.  

Beware, however, not all agricultural operations are ideal for patterning coyotes. I hunt one cattle operation that would be great for this type of hunting except that a large, dense patch of forest exists right up the edge of the feedlot, dead-pile and bale yard. The coyotes can come and go as they please through those trees without being seen. A place such as that calls for different strategies. 

I should also add that while my best stories come from hunting large, sprawling commercial operations, the same patterning strategies work for much smaller family-sized farms. But instead of 20 or 30 coyotes working a site in one night there might be only three or four. The coyote highways won’t be as obvious or as wide, but they will be there, because the coyotes have a pattern. 

Ambush Strategies

I’ll start this discussion on strategies by explaining what not to do, and that includes sneaking within range of a feedlot’s dead-pile and shooting as many coyotes as possible. Yes, this will typically bag a hunter one or two ’yotes, but that’s it. The better option is to pull far back and wait along one of these coyote highways, taking the canines as they show up. 

I’ve watched enough coyote fights at dead-piles to know there’s a pecking order in coyote culture, and it dictates the strongest dogs eat first. So, when daylight comes, and with it the danger of humans, the big dogs leave first. Coyotes further down the order will stay longer to fill up. It all means coyotes don’t travel their highways as a pack, but instead are strung out in singles or pairs for up to one hour. However, I do admit to sometimes breaking this rule, but only when I have other hunters positioned along escape routes. For the lone hunter, sticking with the ambush option is usually the most successful strategy.

Like with most coyote hunting, it’s important to consider wind direction. The obvious reason is that if coyotes detect human odor, they’ll quickly swap directions and make their escape. However, when patterning coyotes and their travel routes it’s also important to realize that whenever possible, coyotes prefer to head for their daytime hangout by traveling into the wind. This, of course, provides them with advance warning of any danger that might be lurking ahead. 

At one location I hunt, coyotes have three possible travel directions at dawn, the one they choose will be the route that gives their noses the best chance of acting as an early warning system. Therefore, I’m fussy about wind direction when hitting this spot and I pour over wind forecasts with a special zeal. Typically, I’m looking for a wind that is quartering to the coyote’s direction of travel. For example, if the wind is from the northwest, then I’ll expect the coyotes to use a route they have that takes them straight north at sunrise. Therefore, I’ll approach from the northeast and set up on that side of their travel route. 

On the other hand, if the wind is straight from the north, they’ll still use this route, but I’ll hunt somewhere else, because the way scent cones expand over distance means they’ll bust me long before I see them.  

Creating a Pattern

For hunters living in snow country, patterning coyotes works exceptionally well when the white stuff gets deep. I used to think they disappeared when the snow got too deep for them to move around freely in the fields. And to some extent they do vanish, because when the snow gets that deep they stop any daytime wandering they might be inclined to do, and it’s rare to spot one while driving on rural roads.

When these conditions exist, I’ve gone so far as to “help” the coyotes out by creating a track of packed snow for them to follow. Snowmobiles work great for this, as do ATVs or any other vehicle with the capability to navigate the snow. I often ask landowners to run their tractor down a path I want coyotes to follow, and then while they’re at it, to create a different one for me to walk in on, too. After all, if I’m going to make life easier for the coyotes, I might as well do the same for myself. 

And don’t discount creating man-made trails just because the snow isn’t deep. Like people, coyotes are creatures of habit and will take the same route to and from “work” every day. Making a travel route for them, even in relatively shallow snow can pay off. It’ll take a week or more for coyotes to discover this easy walking path, but once they’ve started using it, that route can become a regular producer for the patient hunter. 

Making Refinements

While coyotes travel these routes in two directions at two different times of day, I’ve always found hunting the morning direction to be more effective. Coyotes seem content to travel to the night’s feeding area in the dark but will linger at their destination as long as possible. I should also add that night hunting is not allowed in my jurisdiction and therefore isn’t an option. 

If scouting has identified any choke points, such as fence lines, creeks or ravines that the coyotes must cross, these are prime spots to wait in ambush. Likewise, just as in whitetail hunting, the point at which two game trails (i.e., coyote highways) intersect is a good bet for a successful hunt. 

How long the shots will be depends on the terrain, where the hunter can hide unseen and the capabilities of the rifle and shooter. A good balance for me is something between 100 and 300 yards. If I’m doing everything right, any coyote within that bracket should be catching a ride in the back of my truck.

Patterning coyote movement means I’ve killed a lot of them without ever sounding a predator call. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take calls with me when going out for a morning ambush. There’s often a use for some minor calling to help get a coyote that’s wandered off the path back where it belongs. And when a pair comes down the coyote highway, I find FoxPro’s FoxBang feature is particularly useful to freeze the one that didn’t get the first bullet. And, of course, that first bullet should be directed at the last coyote in the row, as the sound of the bullet's impact behind them will confuse the lead coyote(s) about which direction to run. That moment of confusion is useful to get off more shots at stationary targets.  

Of course, all the usual rules of coyote hunting apply: Hide the truck, hide yourself, practice patience, be prepared to do a little coaxing with a predator call and always be ready for anything.   

Discovering coyote travel patterns and utilizing them to my advantage has become the deadliest tool in my arsenal. For example, over the course of this past winter, I took three triples in the same place, just a month or so apart. Every year I manage four at one sitting somewhere, and every few years one of those magazine-emptying events occurs. I experienced one of these special mornings this past winter when I positioned a friend in what I suspected would be a hot location and he took six coyotes without moving or calling. Patterning coyotes works.  


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