”I am not in Illinois anymore,” I said to myself as I stood on the edge of the steep drop off looking over an enormous grassy valley that extended for miles towards the Belt Mountain Range.
A few days earlier, my wife and I left our one-room apartment in the inner-city of Chicago, where we both work full time with a church that focuses on urban outreach. I would be spending the first half of the trip in the middle of Montana hunting with friend and FOXPRO field staffer Troy Adams. The second part of the trip would include running with Scott Shreve of Buffalo, Wyoming, also on team FOXPRO.
The view from my first stand of the morning was overwhelming. The sharp grade of the landscape and rolling hills cut with draws and ravines made the idea that we would call a coyote in and convince it to ascend such a steep incline almost impossible for me believe. What sounds could we make that would motivate a coyote to exert the kind of energy necessary to climb all the way up within shooting range?
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Speaking of shooting range, that was another concern of mine. After hunting in Illinois for most of my adult life, I’ve gotten used to taking shots on a more level plane. States don’t get any flatter than my home turf. Now I would have to take a shot pointing my rifle at a downward angle. In the back of my mind I knew this would affect my bullet’s trajectory and this type of shot was not something I was prepared for. Like most things in my life, I knew I would learn the hard way and school was in session. Thankfully — or coincidentally — Troy is not only a seasoned coyote hunter, he’s also high school teacher. While on stand I heard his “teacher voice” more than once. However, this was the first class I ever really wanted to get an “A” in, so I listened.
My train of thought was interrupted by the sound of a lone howl coming from Troy’s Shockwave. After several howls, Troy let some coyote-fighting sounds peel across the valley.
I suddenly saw movement on my right-hand side. It was a coyote that had popped up out of nowhere and now was running in hard to get down wind of us. I had a small window of opportunity before we were going to be busted. I swung my rifle into position and took a less-than-ideal shot and missed. The coyote disappeared as fast as it had arrived. I bombed my first test!
We moved to another stand, where the landscape was just as intimidating. Troy started with the same sounds. A coyote way below us responded immediately. The sound the coyote made was one that made us feel as if it wasn’t rolling out the welcome mat anytime soon. It sounded ticked.
I scanned the rolling hills below me for any sign of the creature that was howling threats at us. Then I heard Troy whisper, “Here it comes!” I looked and didn’t see anything.
At this point in the story I must admit that I have woefully discovered that my long-range vision leaves much to be desired — a negative side effect of living in the cramped confines of the inner-city of Chicago for the last 30 years.
I could tell by my partner’s voice that he was anxious for me to get a visual on the coyote that was closing the distance to our e-caller. I frantically scanned but could not find the coyote. I didn’t want to fail another exam. Troy broke the tension by telling me to get up and move 20 yards to my right. The coyote had dropped down into the ravine below and would be coming up down wind of our position. Troy wanted me to reposition so I would not to repeat the mistake we made on our previous stand. I was reluctant to make any movement on a hot stand, but the urgency in his voice changed my mind. I scuttled over to a clump of sage brush at the appropriate distance and hunkered down with eyes scanning and heart racing.
A few seconds after I knelt down, a big male appeared 50 yards down the hill in front of me with a look in his eyes that said he was ready to brawl. I leveled my Savage Model 11 and connected with a straight-on shot. After I dragged the coyote’s large carcass up the steep hillside, Troy took some photos and handed me a much-needed water. I might pass this class after all!
Our third stand of the morning found us with terrain almost identical to the earlier two stands. Troy again opened up with coyote vocalizations — and again we had a quick response. We spotted a coyote several hundred yards off just as mad as it could be at what we were presenting. After several challenge howls, it decided it was time to come up and kick some butt. I watched through my binoculars as it raced up the hillside and disappeared behind some thick brush. Troy pointed to an opening in the brush about 160 yards below us and told me, “Be ready to shoot there!” I repositioned my rifle and shooting sticks to the designated spot. Like clock work, the coyote appeared. I put the crosshairs on the shoulder of my target. Bam! It dropped right where it was standing. Troy broke his normal stoic expression with a big smile and said, “Not bad for a guy from Chicago!” I wasn’t going to make it on the honor roll this trip, but at least I was above average and had learned a lot from a guy who has earned his tenure in the wild world of predator hunting.
Due to some bad weather and prior obligations, Troy and I were not able to connect for several days, but I made the best of my time and did some mountain trout fishing. Even though fishing was my “Plan B,” I was blessed with enough to catch my limits of some of the most beautiful fish ever created using some of my homemade lures. Amy (my wife) even got in the action and caught her very first cutthroat trout.
The weather cleared after a few days and it was time to get back to coyote hunting. This time Troy and I were joined by Matt Piippo. Matt is head of pro staff with Predator Quest Television, and I have connected with him through social media and my hunting cartoons. It was great to finally meet him in person and share a few stands together. His sense of humor had me in stitches, but he also taught me a few things about predator hunting that day.
On our first stand of the morning, Matt produced some sweet sounding howls with a latex mouth call that impressed me and the coyotes. It drew responses from about every pack in all four directions. He also showed his shooting skills when a female coyote ran right out in front of me and I missed a chip shot only to have Matt follow up and stop her escape at 175 yards.
I felt quite honored to spend a day with both of these guys and was hoping some of their savvy and skill would be contagious.
My time in Montana was amazing, but like all road trips you must keep moving.
My second leg of the trip found me in a gas station parking lot in Buffalo, Wyoming, at 4 a.m. I was waiting on my friend and host, Scott Shreve. When his truck finally rolled up, we shook hands and loaded up my gear for what would become a very exciting and memorable morning for me.
After we arrived at our destination, the first thing I noticed was how dry and rocky the area we were hunting was compared to the terrain in Montana. Scott knew all the water holes in the area and said that they would determine where we made stands.
We slid over a hill and hunkered down next to an old water tank that looked more like an oversized bath tub. Scott placed his FOXPRO Cs24c call below us at about 20 yards. Before he fired it up, he pulled out a custom horn call then produced several long, lone howls.
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Responses immediately came from all around us. The most aggressive was out in front of us about 1,800 yards. I pulled up my binos to get a pinpoint on him. I found him while he was howling it up, unhappy that there was another coyote near his water hole. I lowered my glass to see another coyote running right in front of us at under 30 yards. I quickly lowered my rifle on him and barked in attempt to get him to stop. I ended up taking a hasty shot and missing. I thought the stand was over, but that wasn’t the case. Scott let things settle for a minute, turned on his e-caller and cranked up the coyote pup-in-distress sounds. The more distant coyote started howling and barking again. I thought to myself there was no way this coyote could be fooled into coming within rifle range. Scott thought differently. He alternated between hand calls and different sounds on the FOXPRO. I watched through my binos in amazement as the coyote crossed the distance. It eventually came in on Scott’s side, skirting a ridge covered in sagebrush. It was about to drop out of view, which forced my companion to take a 300-yard shot. He missed as well. I turned to him and whispered, “Now you are just trying to make me feel better for my miss.”
I was ready to pack our gear up and head to the next stand when Scott turned to me and said he thought there might be some more coyotes hung up on the other side of the hill from where we were sitting. We crouch-walked over and suddenly Scott stopped and motioned me to get down. He turned to me and said in a whisper, “There are three coyotes about 500 yards away on the other ridge just milling about.” I found them in the glass and assessed the situation. I told Scott I wasn’t comfortable taking a shot at that distance with my rifle, and I indicated he should go for it. He just gave me a giant grin and handed me his rifle saying, “Use mine.”
If I’m being completely honest, I could hardly believe what he was saying to me.
If my rifle had feelings, I am sure it would have had abandonment issues as I laid it down on the nearest sage bush and cradled Scott’s custom rifle as if we were on our first date. It’s a custom 6mm Crusade made by GA Precision, topped with a NightForce scope and a suppressor on the business end of things.
I flipped out the bipod legs and belly crawled until I had a clear shot on the unsuspecting coyotes. As I settled in and found my target, Scott called out the range using his Leica binoculars. I brought the appropriate yardage demarcation to the coyote’s shoulder and fired.
My first shot went slightly high, but the coyote just stood there unbothered. Wow! I could get used to shooting with a suppressor on my rifle all the time.
Scott whispered, “Rack another one, aim a tad bit lower this time.”
I did as he said, and this time I connected. The coyote crumpled right where it was standing — 441 yards. What a rush!
This is nothing like what I experience while hunting in Illinois. It’s strange for me to not only shoot a suppressed rifle, but to be allowed to drive around with a rifle uncased and safely accessible between stands. Suppressors are illegal to own in Illinois and a rifle must be cased while traveling. The freedoms people enjoy in the Western states (as well as many others) should not be taken for granted.
Scott and I hunted coyotes for several days and had some great stands. When the action slowed, Scott introduced me to the thrill of prairie-dog hunting. Again, Scott called out yardage and I got to pull the trigger. The fun had to come to an end, but it wasn’t until we ran out of bullets.
My time with both Troy and Scott was an amazing learning experience for me and also gave the chance to connect with fellow hunters and share the bond that has been forged since time recorded between those that go afield with a weapon.
As I drove the long journey back to Chicago, I thought back on all the great memories I will cherish for many, many years. Not to mention the lessons I learned and how I could employ them in my hunting style in the future. I believe I will be returning to the land of Lincoln a better hunter. Unfortunately, I will still need someone to point out any coyotes beyond 200 yards.