Coyotes have dramatically expanded their range and even adapted well to life in the big cities of Chicago, Denver, Portland, and countless others. The species, once confined to remote areas of the western United States, now lives across the entire nation—with the exception of Hawaii—and as far north as Alaska. They are abundant and vocal but getting one in your sights can be a real challenge. Here’s a quick and basic guide to coyote hunting if you’re new to the pursuit.
First, perhaps foremost, is resigning yourself to the fact that you’re facing an adversary with finely tuned survival instincts. You might hear them howling in the distance every night, but even accomplished predator hunters know getting on that pack or even taking a coyote every outing is never a sure thing.
Scout it Out
Maximize your chances of success by finding areas that offer plenty of food—rodents and small game, for example—and look for signs coyotes are hunting the area. How many of the song dog packs there are per acre varies widely, usually determined by habitat and forage, so close Inspection for tracks is good place to start.
Keep an eye out for coyote feces, or scat, though. Unlike dog droppings it’s usually prominently deposited right in the middle of a trail or along the edge of their territorial boundary. It’s deliberately visible and, like a domestic dog, somewhat ropelike in appearance. Unlike pets, though, it will have hair and bone fragments that reflect the wild menu they live on.
Visit at night, dawn, or dusk, and listen for howling. Once one coyote sounds off, odds are good others in the pack will join the chorus and give you a rough population estimate. If you’re lucky others within earshot may even join in.
Adapt to Terrain
Once you’re confident you’ve found a location that holds the so-called song dogs, it’s time to survey the landscape. Coyote hunting is very rarely a spot-and-stalk affair with a lot of hiking, glassing, and crawling to get close enough for a shot. A huge part of your success depends on where you set up.
If the area is relatively flat, look for clearcuts, edges along marshes, meadows, or any other feature with an edge to work from without compromising your view of the opening. The setup maximizes your ability to see a coyote when it moves in and allows for longer shots. Coyotes are fast, so setting up in the middle of thick brush is more often frustrating and fruitless than not. The openings also let your calls (more on that later) carry further, enticing your quarry to leave cover in search of the easy meal.
If the terrain is more rolling, with valleys and ridges, set up the side of draws or washes in positions that provide a clear view of the other side—hopefully a portion of the bottom as well. You’ll be able to see any coyotes moving in from that vantage point and, with luck, have the time to deliver a precise shot.
Regardless of the area, identify several spots that look good. When one doesn’t pan out, or the wind is uncooperative, you can move, set up and start calling, rather than wasting time scouting for another suitable location.
Coyotes have incredible hearing and detect noise well above those frequencies detectable by human ears and even those of a domestic dogs. They hear and, according to some, can even triangulate the source’s position from as far distances as far as a mile—in ideal conditions, of course.
Timber, terrain, wind, and other environmental factors limit any call’s effective distance. For that reason, you may need to turn up the volume when are less than ideal. With experience you’ll learn just how much it takes and gain an ability read the effect of weather and even season.
Electronic calls work extremely well and are a great solution for both beginners and experienced hunters. Mastering mouth calls takes practice and patience. It’s worth the effort, but when it comes to sheer variety of vocals, it’s hard to beat the digital approach. Today’s feature-packed electronic units deliver everything from accurate-sounding distress calls, to magpies and crows, right out of the box. There are even remote-controlled units capable of working at impressive distances, with some of the best wearing a feather or other small decoy to add to their attraction.
Which sound brings in coyotes the most reliably? Expert predator hunters often vary their call by season or weather, but there’s one that’s almost guaranteed to catch a coyote’s attention. A distress call, like the noise made by a wounded rabbit, sounds the dinner bell. They’re always in the mood for an easy meal. Whether they rush in, or not, depends on a variety of factors, including your stealth.
Silence is Golden
That incredible hearing means silence is golden when coyote hunting. Even car doors shutting in the distance can put them on alert.
Remember, too, they hear things that are inaudible to humans. Chambering cartridges as quietly as possible to avoid any ultrasonic, metal-on-metal clang. Top up magazines before you get there for the same reason. Walk silently and, if you must communicate with a hunting partner, whisper.
Hunt into the wind, or at least ensure the breeze is blowing from your side. A coyote can detect human scent at somewhere around 350 yards, given the right conditions.
They prefer to circle downwind of their prey to aromatically confirm their meal. Song dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell to survive and it’s a formidable foe for inexperienced hunters.
Even if you work the wind to your advantage, keep in mind you can skunk up the works when placing a remote-controlled call downrange. Keep the electronics clean and scent free. The same goes for your boots and clothes. Consider using a laundry detergent designed for hunting that avoids the perfumy commercial trend. The fact that wind shifts adds emphasis to the odorless requirement.
Dress for Success
We know a lot about coyote hearing and sense of smell, but there’s some debate about its eyesight. One scientific study estimated they are nearsighted, with roughly 20/75 vision. In human terms, that means what they detect at 20 feet is what a person with 20/20 vision sees at 70.
Those who pursue them with passion disagree. For that reason, experienced hunters always wear camo and cover their hands and face with it as well.
Movement should also be minimized. Those same biologists who claim coyotes need bifocals also found they have 260-degrees of peripheral vision. A professional basketball player, trained and practiced at watching every passing lane, has perhaps a little more than 180 degrees.
It’s not the time to scratch every itch when you’re in pursuit of coyotes that can sneak in close, undetected, waiting and studying their surroundings. With a very slow move you might not be seen, but without camo it’s akin to waving a skier-down flag.
If you’re not using a remote-controlled call with decoy that moves, consider using something to draw their attention away from your position. A feather tied to a branch by a thread downrange will move in a breeze. It’s old-school, but the approach works.
AR-15s Top the Chart
AR-15s are ideal for coyote hunting, but you don’t need one chambered in a heavy-hitting cartridge. The 5.56 NATO does a great job taking them down, in a soft-shooting, reliable semi-auto platform.
They also provide fast follow-up shots for those times the rest of the pack shows itself. Bolt guns work, but their slower operation makes modern sporting rifles an ideal choice for this fast-paced pursuit.
You don’t need cutting-edge terminal performance from the bullet, either. Inexpensive FMJ loads work, which are inexpensive and available in bulk packs. If you’re stretching the distances, though, consider some of the flatter shooting, cutting edge loads with match-grade bullets available today for your coyote hunt. At 300 yards or beyond you’ll appreciate the difference they make.
Another good option is the .223 Wylde chambering, which allows the safe use of both 5.56 NATO and .223 Rem. cartridges without compromising either’s accuracy. It’s a big advantage when the next ammo shortage hits.
Perhaps just as importantly, though, AR-15s are versatile, and easily adaptable to the different conditions encountered by coyote hunters. Along the edges in areas with thick brush, guns with a fast-handling 16-inch barrel are a decided advantage. If you’re out west, in rolling terrain where you’ll see coyotes approach from greater distance, longer barrels dominate by wringing the last bit of velocity out of that bullet—ultimately flattening the trajectory. Bear Creek Arsenal’s BC-15 lineup gives you both options, and many more.
If you’re a traveling hunter and face both situations throughout the year, the AR gives you yet another budget-friendly solution. Buy an upper with a different length barrel, but in the same chambering. Swap when the situation dictates.
Predator hunting continues to evolve and it, much more than others, harnesses advances in technology with mind-boggling speed. Night vision, for example, has become affordable and almost routine, providing an all-new opportunity to pursue coyotes when they hunt most aggressively—the darkness hours. Check local regulations, but the odds are good going after them from sundown to sunup is legal.
It’s a high-tech and cutting-edge approach. There’s no telling what will come next to the sport, but there’s one thing that will never change—there’s fast-paced fun and excitement in coyote hunting that defies simple explanation. To understand the exhilaration of calling one in, witnessing that wily approach and hearing a pack break out into song “just over the ridge,” it must be experienced first-hand. You can do so by following the few steps in this basic guide to coyote hunting, but be forewarned, it's addictive.
[We'd like to extend a huge thank you to Guy Sagi for his hard work on this article! For more hunting content check out our guides to 350 Legend and Hunting with an AR-15. Comment your thoughts below.]