Coyotes: Our most challenging game?

Coyotes: Our most challenging game?

Coyotes have both an image and reality surrounded by contradictions. They are not indigenous to the East Coast, yet they are thriving here. They have considered varmints, yet their coats have real commercial value. Many people have historically considered the canine timid and cowardly, yet they often show surprising – and sometimes frightening – boldness. They can survive on the rudest of diets yet will take fresh prey whenever the opportunity presents itself. Similarly, they have viewed from widely varying viewpoints by their human observers. Some, such as livestock owners and managers, see them as an enemy, or at the very least a real nuisance.

Hunters view them as one of the wariest and most intelligent of game species available in North America. (Consider that, despite the thousands of coyote hunting permits sold in New Jersey the past couple of years, only four animals were taken during the hunting season the first year, and six – I believe – the second.) And those who oppose hunting in any form regard them as a delight, as a sacred symbol of the American wilderness.

I recall a recent instance in which an equestrian barn in northern New Jersey was, according to various reports, experiencing some difficulties with nearby coyotes harassing the riders and horses. When they were approached for permission to hunt the land for the coyotes, they responded with comments along the lines of “we love the coyotes; the horses love the coyotes; how can you even think of harming the poor defenseless animals?”

No matter. Whatever your opinions, the facts remain that coyotes are increasing in numbers in New Jersey, they are legal game for a couple of weeks (January 30 through February 15), they have repeatedly been linked to reports of predation or threat, and they are challenging to hunt successfully.

To that end, there are some approaches that have been shown to work on our Eastern coyotes. The tips presented here are gleaned from the experiences of others who have had something to show for their coyote hunts.

Basics, like total camouflage, good calling techniques, and remaining motionless are assumed.

An initial consideration is: go where the animals are. Simplistic as this sounds, it should figure prominently in your planning. Just because you know that there were specimens of Canis latrans roaming your target area last year is no guarantee that they’re there again this season. Do your pre-season scouting for a sign; talk to local people in attempts to get sighting reports.

Locate as many likely calling stands as you can because you might not know in advance exactly where you will be (you’ll see why). Once you’ve determined the general region of interest, spend the pre-dawn hours of your hunt day cruising the back roads adjacent to, and intersecting, the area. Stop every so often to get out of the car and howl (use a commercial howl call unless you’re real, really good), and listen for a response. When you get one, you’ve found where to park. Now go to the nearest calling stand that you’d already designated (now you see). A useful characteristic of a stand is that it’s bordered on one side by some barrier – a cliff face, perhaps, or an open field. The reason for that is to address any responding coyote’s likelihood of circling your position to wind you. It can’t creep up on a perceived meal through a solid barrier, and it will have a harder time sneaking through the open field unseen.

Scent control is critical, no matter how good your stand position and calling are. There are lots of options here, ranging from charcoal-lined apparel designed to keep human scent in, to special laundry detergent marketed specifically to hunters and other wildlife seekers, to a plethora of commercial, scent-removing sprays and liquids, to a wide range of cover scents (skunk, fox, fruit, and what-have-you). Successful coyote hunters take this subject very seriously – if any nearby coyote catches any whiff of your human scent, the chances are excellent you’ll never even know he had been there.

Finally, patience is a real virtue in this kind of enterprise. Despite published suggestions of giving each calling location 20 to 30 minutes of effort before moving to another, other sources believe that doubling that time frame isn’t a waste of your time. Our coyotes, particularly the ones that have made it to adulthood, have learned the value of being persnickety and will check out every potential meal very, very carefully before committing.

Try a break from the Canada goose season and winter fishing opportunities. The silence of the winter woods, punctured only by the faint sound of furred paws or even a howl, is well worth the effort of getting there.

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