From The Readers: Nighthunting Coyotes Without A Light

A moonlit night with snow covered fields can make for some exciting coyote hunting.

From The Readers: Nighthunting Coyotes Without A Light

Eric Ketterer | North Dakota

FTR-Small-LogoMy Hunting partner, Tom Haas, and I had been waiting all year for an opportunity to night hunt coyotes by a full moon. A cloudless sky with little to no wind and a snow covered landscape make for the perfect conditions. The odds of all this happening on the same night in North Dakota are slightly worse than winning the Mega Millions lottery or taking a selfie with bigfoot. However, the stars aligned and it happened the first weekend in December of 2014.

We geared up around 6:30 p.m. at the farm and headed out to our first spot. The temperature was about 15 below zero and wind was out of the NW at 2 to 3 mph.  Moon rise that evening was just before 5 p.m., which meant we had plenty of shooting light by the time we set up our first stand. We decided to start out on a large slough about 3 miles from the farm. Being careful to approach the lake undetected, we walked in from about 250 yards down an abandoned road and positioned ourselves on the edge of the ice in the snow. I placed our new FOXPRO Shockwave (we paid for it with fur money earned last year) out front and 50 yards to the left. I started with a lone howl, then sat quiet for about 3 minutes, then cued up “lightning jack” on low volume for the next 2 to 3 minutes. I stopped calling and sat quiet for a minute, then started the call back up a bit louder and ran it for about 10 minutes.

I thought I saw a pair of song dogs milling around on the other end of the lake.  They looked very small on 6X so I guessed they were about 400 yards away. They were still hard to see through my Leupold Mark AR scope that far in the full moon, so I lifted my Swarovski binoculars and it was confirmed, no doubt about it — coyotes! They just weren’t coming in hard. I switched calls to “pup in distress.” I pressed the button, and instantly both coyotes stopped in their tracks and looked our way. They took a second to acquire the position of the sound, and it was on!

“Here they come,” I whispered to Tom and pointed out the direction of our quarry as he slowly repositioned and prepared to defend himself. It took the coyotes about two minutes to come into range. They stopped a few times to look at something. It turned out to be another four coyotes that we hadn’t even seen responding to our call!

At this point we were enjoying perhaps the best 18 minutes of our calling in our predator-hunting careers — thanks to the weather. We now had six song dogs from 60 to 100 yards out, and still bearing down fast. We kept perfectly still until the coyote closest to the call stopped and looked around, likely smelling our dirty trap. It turned out to be the last trap he ever smelled as Tom’s .223 rang out in the darkness. “BANG…WHOP!”  To those who don’t know, that’s the greatest sound of all — a confirmed hit.

Soon after the first shot rang out, “BANG…WHOP!,” was heard as my AR-15 connected with a second dog. At that point there was a mad scramble of song dogs as two more shots rang out at running dogs, neither connecting. As we got up to go collect the downed coyotes, Tom saw one of the scramblers standing out on the lake. The FOXPRO was still playing “pup in distress.” The confused coyote was standing broadside about 150 yards out looking at the two dead coyotes. I saw the flash from Tom’s rifle muzzle, and that song dogs confusions were over. We loaded up the three coyotes and sat in amazement in the pickup after what just happened. We were almost speechless as we made our way to the next stand roughly 4 miles away.

We set up on another large slough. We walked 200 hundred yards across a soybean stubble field, then climbed down to the lake where we sat in front of some large boulders for cover with the wind at our backs. I started out with the same sequence: a lone howl, then quiet for a few minutes, then “lightning Jack.” At the 15-minute mark we switched to “pup in distress.” Once the 22-minute mark hit, we were thinking of leaving, when Tom whispered, “Dogs coming in from the right.”

Four coyotes were on their way in, when all at once they stopped and looked across the lake. Lo and behold, here comes another coyote. Once the first four saw the other dog running, they turned on the afterburners as if they were U.S. Navy jets leaving an aircraft carrier on an intercept mission.

When the first of the four slammed on the brakes 20 yards from the call (which was placed about 50 yards out in front of us) my AR-15 barked — “BANG…WHOP!” Followed almost instantly by Tom’s rifle, sending that coyote to the afterlife.The remaining dogs scattered in every direction, not giving us any opportunities.

It was the best opening two stands of coyote calling in my many years of hunting predators. We called in at least 11 coyotes that we could see through our scopes.We ended up with our best night to date, and since we can’t use artificial light in North Dakota, we were limited to using moonlight. And boy, was the moon smiling down on us that night!

I often think how great it might be to hunt in Arizona where the coyotes are plentiful and the weather is much warmer, or calling some heavily-wooded forest for gray fox and coyotes where the wind is calm. However, we live in a place where it can be harsh just to survive. With wind chills reaching the 30 to 50 below zero range, which can cause your eyes to freeze shut when you blink. Just trying to sit still for up to 30 minutes when its 30 degrees below zero with the snow drifting around Sometimes you can find yourself freezing to the ground. In conditions like that, an ill-prepared rifle will downright refuse to function due to something as minor as too much of the wrong weight oil. Sometimes just trying to see with the snow blowing around on the ground is near impossible, especially if you forget your goggles. All of these factors made us realize how many things had to come together perfectly on one cold moonlit night in December, on the frozen prairies of North Dakota, to bless us with such a successful hunt.

That particular night is one that Tom and I won’t forget any time soon, and it will keep us awaiting the next time that the moon is full, the wind is low and the song dogs can’t resist the charms of the FOXPRO.

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