LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
So, bow season is quickly coming to a close and you are looking for a challenge; something to keep your senses razor-sharp in the off-season, something to test your skills as a hunter. Well, look no further than coyote hunting. If you think the task is easy, you’re only kidding yourself. Without a doubt, these predators are some of the most difficult to kill (especially with a bow), but trust me it can be done. Here’s how.
Whether you’re chasing whitetails, turkeys or coyotes, there is simply no substitute for scouting. “Scouting” for coyotes sounds fairly difficult and more like an easy way to empty a gas tank without reward than anything else. However, it will most definitely make your hunting time more successful when chasing these elusive creatures. Unlike scouting for deer, turkeys or birds you typically aren’t looking for the actual animal when coyotes are the target. Spotting an evasive coyote is a plus, but there are a multitude of other things to look for that will help improve your hunt. Depending on where you are planning to bowhunt coyotes, it’s nice to know where ranchers place their dead livestock. These areas will generally have coyotes in the vicinity for months; even if it seems like the carcass is nothing more than a scantily dressed pile of bones.
Just like deer hunting, look for coyote sign to point you in the right direction.
Tracks are the most informative sign a predator hunter can find. While a single set of tracks may not tell much, several sets will give an excellent indication of where to start hunting. Coyotes utilize “trails” much the same way whitetails do with the exception that they don’t typically bed in the same location day after day. However, they will hunt in the same places daily.
Hay fields and CRP fields are places that are highly inhabited by rodents— the number one food source most coyotes. Coyotes are opportunistic feeders and voracious predators, eating everything they may stumble upon, but when it comes to hunting for food, the easiest meals typically win out. This means mice or field rats. In cold winter months the energy expelled chasing larger prey simply isn’t worth the exhaustion when rodents are plentiful.
Any location that offers an “easy meal” is worth considering.
LocationsTo Set Up
Setting up to kill a coyote with a bow is far different from hunting with a rifle simply due to the close proximity you will share with the animal. Coyotes typically prefer to come in through cover without exposing themselves if they can. Unfortunately, this isn’t always an option; specifically for western hunters. When a hunter can set up in cover (tree row, timber patch, tall sage, etc.) with the majority of the cover up wind, he’s headed in the right direction. If you are lucky enough to locate dead livestock, it shouldn’t take long to figure out if coyotes are hitting the carcass. In a situation where coyotes return to a carcass to eat, the grand majority of the time they will approach from the down-wind side to assure it is safe to dine once again. Setting up in a bad wind will most definitely leave you empty handed and make several coyotes much the wiser.
Reaching Full Draw
Regardless of where a bowhunter sets up to hunt coyotes, it’s important to give yourself an opportunity to draw. That means don’t setup where a predator has to come 100 yards across the open and you have to draw while exposed. You’re better off in thick cover with fewer shooting lanes with the hope you can draw undetected.
Prepare for the kill by practicing at ground level; since that is where the majority of shots will occur.
In places with thick cover, my favorite method is to back off of the thicket as far as possible while still keeping the “edge” within shooting distance. Coyotes and bobcats both prefer the security of the thick cover and are often times more likely to come investigate my distress sound. In the West, that strategy is useless because the sage brush flats provide no such cover. Now, I look for hard edges, a rocky out-cropping, a sharp ditch bank or an edge of sage brush that opens into a grass flat. These coyotes are used to being in the open and seeing, well… everything, so hiding is the main goal. No different than hunting deer, you have to learn your individual properties.
Calls to Use
When we think of “predator calls” most of us automatically think of a high-pitched screaming rabbit. And, while this is definitely the most popular sound, it’s far from the only one that will produce results. The way I figure out which call I’m going to start with is to figure out what would be the primary food source in the area. In locations with lots of hardwoods, a Woodpecker or Blue Jay in distress call can produce great results. Where I hunt, there are no Blue Jays. Therefore, a Jack Rabbit or a Cottontail is what I reach for first. With that said, coyotes (and bobcats alike) hear a distress sound and not necessarily a “Woodpecker.” I’ve called in several predators with a jack rabbit call in areas that have never harbored a jack rabbit. The one call that I feel every predator hunter should have on them at all times is a mouse squeaker, like that out of a dogs chew toy (or simply be able to lip squeak at any given time).
There are plenty of calls to choose from but the author favors those that move and take the attention off of him. Making the task of reaching “full draw” much easier.
Style of Call
There are literally hundreds of predator calls on the market and fortunately most of them will probably work. However, there are three basic styles of calls: open reed mouth call, closed reed mouth call and electronic calls. The open reed calls are my personal favorite because they produce (to my ears) a very pure sound. They are also very versatile when it comes to the pitches that you can create with the exposed and moveable reed. Closed reed calls are extremely simple to use… just blow. Just remember, you don’t have the versatility of an open reed call.
Remote, electronic callers are worth their weight in gold to a bowhunter chasing predators. The single most difficult part of killing a coyote is drawing your bow when the animal is coming to find you. From the moment they hear the call, the hunter has been pinpointed. Trust me, the knack that animals have for pinpointing a sound is uncanny. When you are both the sound and the shooter, you’re chances start dwindling before the coyote even arrives. A remote caller allows a single shooter to operate a call with minimal movement or exhaustion. Therefore, the remote caller has two distinct advantages. First, it allows the hunter to set up away from the call in way where he won’t be detected by coyotes approaching from down-wind. Second, when a coyote does get close, he will be focused on the call producing the sound and not the shooter.
A good pair of bino’s will allow you to see target animals approaching from a distance.
Electronic calls have come a long way since Johnny Stewart came out with their electronic caller some 25 years ago. For example, you don’t have to carry a cassette tape, a speaker, a tape player and a battery pack any longer. There are several electronic calls on the market, but in my opinion the FoxPro Series is light years ahead of the others. They can be operated manually or by long range remote control and they also have decoys that can be controlled by the same remote to give your quarry something to look at other than you.
It’s important to have multiple calls in your arsenal for different weather types, wind conditions, etc.
Success or failure when coyote hunting is affected by the wind the same as when deer hunting. Why? Because if prey animals are on their feet, you can bet the predators are as well. Calling in cold weather is always a good plan (a blizzard is a different story) as animals typically have to eat more in colder, calorie burning conditions. My personal favorite time to call is right after a big winter storm breaks. High winds, cold temps and snow will hold coyotes and prey animals bedded down and in their holes, but when the weather turns around, it becomes the “perfect storm”, no pun intended, for hunting predators.
When it comes to hunting predators, scent control and wind direction will make or break your efforts.
The Right Decoy
Decoys (like electronic callers) can be the difference between a coyote sitting down at 100 yards and coming in on a line to receive an arrow from your bow. Catching a coyote’s attention from a distance affords the shooter a much better chance to be undetected by the approaching predator. Like predator calls, there are many to choose from and most likely, they all work. I prefer to use the decoy in combination with my electronic caller. Therefore, I choose something similar to the FoxPro Jack-Attach Decoy. The decoy doesn’t have to be special though. I know several old-timers that still utilize a turkey feather on a string, hung from a branch or grass that spins and drifts in the wind. The basic idea is to get the attention off of the shooter and onto the decoy. This can be accomplished with the simplest distraction.
Hunting coyotes with a bow (heck, any weapon) is a difficult challenge. However, the reward is so worth it. To match wits with these cagy animals, and beat them on their own terms is something to be proud of because not many hunters achieve such a goal with archery equipment.