A Howl for Help From a Beginner Coyote Hunter
Guest blog from Hunter Worth, a freelance writer.
“Do not shoot my dog,” I whisper-yell.
“That can’t be Chance,” says Matt quietly.
“You don’t know that!” my voice getting louder.
Before us is an eerie scene. Eerie to me at least. It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of three o’clock on a misty cold night. Minutes before I’d been roused from a deep sleep by high-pitch howls just outside my window.
When the howling cut through my dreams I’d flipped the covers back and set my sockless feet onto the cold floor, hurried to Matt’s room and through the door without knocking, saying, “Wake up, grab your gun, where’s that dang helmet, they’se coyotes out front the house.”
My friend Matt has some cool gear, like a night-vision monocle attached to a helmet and a night-vision scope with reticles that illuminate sitting atop a Remington Bushmaster in 5.56mm.
Standing inside looking through the windowed door that separates my room from the front porch, I can see using the monocle a black dog easing toward a coyote. Chance, my merle-colored blue heeler is that color at night. Sheets of mist float out over the field. I think my dog is out there trying to socialize and almost certainly about to get his ass eaten. Then he just sits down and one of the coyotes begins licking his face. I feel a chill run down my spine. Matt and I slip out onto the porch.
“That’s a black coyote,” Matt says, leveling his rifle.
“Hell it is!” says I. “That’s Chance. Do not shoot!”
“Guess it could be, but that’d be weird.”
That’s true, it would be super weird. Something is definitely amiss. Coyotes are known to lure dogs into their midst and kill them. I’ve also heard tales of domestic dogs joining the ranks of wild packs. Twenty yards to the left stands another coyote of normal color.
“Shoot that one by the driveway.”
There’s a long gravel drive that runs from the gate of the property to the house. About halfway up, or down, depending on which way you look at it, is a low spot where water collects. Animals often drink there. The coyote is having a sip of water as Matt swings his rifle, steadies the crosshairs and squeezes the trigger. Pap! Then half an eye blink later. Thwunk!
I forgot to mention the rifle is silenced (he has the permits). The coyote by the driveway wheels around and lights a shuck out of the flat area and into a sloping sage field. I think a for-sure miss by the sound of the bullet’s impact. Matt thinks a hit by the way the coyote whirled and appeared to bite at its backside before bolting.
The dark-colored dog slowly lopes away from us. Me with the monocle and Matt with his illuminated scope watched for half a minute. He’s certainly taking his time. Now here’s another thing, Chance is gun shy. It’d make sense for him to head away from the sound of the gun, or at least the bullet smacking whatever it had hit. He wouldn’t sprint because he’d be unsure about what to do. Leave food? And love?Where would I go?! He’d make a wide circle and come back. If it was Chance.
The longer we watch that gentle jog, heading steadily away from the house, the more we come to realize what we’re looking at is actually a solid-black coyote and not the merle-blue heeler. Dogs lope, sure. But the bodies of coyotes and wolves, with those big bushy tails in tow, really undulate when they’re between a walk and a sprint.
I walk to the back door and open it. Chance looks at me from his dog house and grins. Guess he hasn’t heard the rifle’s report. Out in the field there’s nary a sign of blood nor hair and in among the sloping sage a coyote’s body does not lie dead. Matt missed.
There are a lot of things about coyote hunting I flat-out don’t like - the long hours, hunting something you can’t eat, and most of all, the dreadful sound of a rabbit-in-distress call. That is one of the most god-awful noises on the planet. It’s like listening to a helpless baby scream and all you can do is sit there and let it.
At first light we sit in an old equipment barn. I lean back against the wheel of a bush hog and lay my rifle across the gearbox for a steady rest. My varmint gun is also my deer rifle, a Remington 700 in .30-06 with no silencing or nighttime capabilities. But it’s a “tack driver” as an elderly gentleman I once knew said about a good-shooting rifle. Matt sits on the ground with both legs straight out, leaning against nothing, his rifle laid across the axle of a bright-orange planter. He looks uncomfortable. He starts calling, using what looks like a duck call but emits a dying rabbit cry. It’s awful - the sound, not his actual calling. It’s also really cold. So I think about other things, like turkey hunting.
After a half hour of not seeing anything, we move to an orchard grass field. The tree line up on a slight rise gives us a pretty good vantage point to oversee the entire pasture. We also have a fairly good wind coming off our left shoulders blowing out of the northwest. A coyote is going to circle in downwind anyways, you just have to be ready to shoot him before he smells you.
Again, that terrible cry. We sit motionless except for when Matt works his left leg back and forth a bit. The cold is getting to his old bull riding injury. Just out of the shoot he was thrown then stepped on resulting in a broken hip. That was a decade prior, and he is just going in for surgery ten days after this hunt.
Suddenly to the east, dead across the field from us, a squirrel barks. And barks. “That’s a good sign,” Matt says. “Coyot’s ‘ill stand at a tree line and scan the field for a bit before walking out. And squirrels will set up in a tree and bark at ‘em while they do.”
We crane our necks, scanning the shadows of the dense cedar thicket beneath the sound of the barking squirrel. Nothing stirs for some time. “Could be a bobcat,” Matt surmises. “They’ll just sit there for a long time until they see what’s out here dying.” We continue watching and nothing continues to happen in the stillness of the morning. Not even a crow to caw in the gray damp chill.
After a while we give up and head back to the house for coffee, cinnamon rolls, deer sausage and fried eggs. Beats the hell out of sitting in the cold unsuccessfully hunting coyotes. All across the internet I see guys with piles of coyotes they’ve killed on similar cold days, probably colder. Most times their faces are covered to prevent wind chill and they’re usually holding a setup similar to Matt’s. I’m sure there was skill involved and luck and a good population of coyotes. But I’d also bet persistence was a pretty important factor in getting those stiff-legged K9s to lie prone in the foreground. Perhaps we should have stayed out there just a bit longer, if only fifteen minutes. How many times I’ve given up on a gobbler gone silent only to raise up and he’s standing just over the rise.
I’m a veteran hunter who has never given the pursuit of coyotes much thought. But as they move into our area, even brazenly close to the house, it’s probably time to put in some effort. I’m hardly familiar with decoys or calls, so what should I use to optimize the few chances I get to go? Is my bolt-action deer rifle an okay setup if I don’t want to spend money on the high-dollar technology that Matt employs? I’m looking for someone with experience, if you’re willing, to share a little advice with a guy who just wants to sleep the night through without waking to those eerie howls and not find so many fawn carcasses piled up this spring.