Late Winter Rules for Coaxing Coyotes

Hunter holding a dead coyote

The Dog Soldier, Steve Criner, on gear and strategies for calling and hunting coyotes.

By Jay Anglin

Hunter in camo aiming a scoped AR-15 rifle
Mobility is a key to predator-hunting success. Tenzing’s TZ TT15 Predator Pack affords fast set-ups in any location, while keeping calls, ammunition and all other necessary gear at the ready.

The first time I saw a coyote was on a family vacation sometime in the early 1980s while traveling through the Black Hills of South Dakota. To me, coyotes represented the wild west—a place where animals roamed free with little regard for the hustle and bustle of the humans they only occasionally encountered. I never imagined that one day coyotes would be common, live in close proximity to humans, and be considered a nuisance from coast to coast.

I killed my first coyote sometime during the late 1980s while chipping away at a limit of quail on a sunny November afternoon. I watched in amazement as my venerable Labrador dove into a dense patch of grass with a violent growl. To my utter amazement, a large coyote scrambled out the opposite side of the cover and turned to face my dog. I instinctively shouldered my shotgun and, before my dog got in the way, flattened the coyote with a single shot of heavy load of 7.5 shot to the head.

That may have been my first coyote, but it would not be my last. Not too long after, a friend and I started to hunt predators with more initiative. Foxes were plentiful then, and we did well on reds and grays, but coyotes were few and far between. When we did encounter them, they frustrated us with their intellect to no end.

Close up of electronic caller in the hunter's hand
Advanced electronic callers like Flextone’s FLX500 and FLX 1000 models come pre-loaded with categorized calls and can store hundreds more. Remote operation allows hunters to place the caller away from their location and help avoid detection.

That was 25 years ago. Since then, I have taken several with archery equipment while deer hunting, with shotguns when they attacked goose decoys, and, of course, when they sniped my turkey decoys. It seems coyotes are always there, watching and waiting.

Anybody who has spent time hunting coyotes knows these animals are very smart. Like other wild canids and cats, they are wary to the point of paranoia. Their craftiness is legendary, and they consistently make hunters look foolish—whether the hunters know it or not.

No longer relegated to the American West, coyotes are now common from Canada to Brazil. They have adapted to all types of habitat including urban centers such Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. My brother related a story of party-goers tossing pizza crust off a balcony in Hollywood to the clever coyotes waiting below. Not surprisingly, many coyotes have pushed the envelope of acceptable behavior; one walked into a sandwich shop in downtown Chicago a few years ago during the lunch rush.

Coyote hunting seasons are long and liberal. While some hunters consider coyotes strictly an incidental target of opportunity while hunting other species, a growing number chase coyotes full-time. Coyotes and other predators are great for filling the gaps between other seasons, and are often one of the only legal game species during cold winter months. Coyotes not only provide a challenging opportunity, in many places, they are plentiful and harvesting them is a very important element of wildlife management. Furthermore, most landowners want coyotes “gone” so it’s often easy to gain permission to hunt them on private ground.

Some hunters have taken predator hunting to a new level. One such individual, Steve Criner, is well known throughout predator hunting circles as the Dog Soldier; Criner hosts the popular program Dog Soldier TV  and started hunting coyotes 22 years ago. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who knows more about targeting these elusive canids.

“One of the biggest mistakes hunters make is they think it will be easy. Coyotes are dynamic survivors–they simply won’t tolerate mistakes and if you take them for granted you will fail. Hunters need to scout hard and pay attention to the wind just like they do when deer hunting,” says Criner. “In recent years it has become much more difficult to hunt these animals as hunting pressure has increased tremendously. There may be more coyotes than ever, but hunting them hasn’t gotten any easier.”

Clearly, stepping up your game is an important factor when hunting coyotes. Using the best calls and firearms loaded with quality ammunition should be standard operating procedure. Criner prefers the fairly specialized and extremely accurate Winchester Model 70 Coyote Light in .22-250 caliber or .243 Win., teamed with Winchester Varmint X polymer tipped 55- and 58-grain ammo, respectively.

“I’ll occasionally use a shotgun for close range stuff, but those two calibers are usually the ticket,” says Criner, who believes other rifle rounds such as the .17 HMR are too light for clean kills, while larger calibers such as the .308 are too heavy if pelt damage is a consideration. Regardless of what you use, be sure to practice with your chosen firearm and strive for clean, ethical kills.

FLIR ThermoSight R-Series
FLIR’s newest ThermoSight R-Series thermal weapon sights come in three models with multiple lens and image resolution options (50mm RL model shown). Where legal, they represent the ultimate targeting system for hunting predators under any lighting conditions. Additionally, new ThermoSight C-Series clip-on models (available later this year) provide full thermal capability in conjunction with standard daytime scopes.

I asked Steve what calling advice he had for hunters who are fairly new to predator hunting. His approach is surprisingly simple: “I use vocals year-‘round. I’ll cold call all day, but during bedding times I may move in closer to where they I expect them to be for a little extra coaxing. I like to howl, wait a minute or so, then follow-up with prey sounds such as a dying rabbit. Then I’ll do it again. After about 10 to 20 minutes, I’ll move to another spot.”

Coyotes are usually active during early morning hours, as well as late afternoon, and evening, and these are prime times to call for them. Where I live in Northern Indiana, frigid cold spells are my favorite time to hunt during the winter months. Many states allow predator hunting at night, and coyotes are often on the prowl long after the rest of the world has gone to sleep—especially when it’s cold.

Thermal-imaging optics are legal for predator hunting in many states (check local game laws where you hunt), and are great options that make night hunting easier and a whole lot more fun. Thermal rifle scopes such as FLIR’s ThermoSight R-Series have come down in price in recent months and represent the ultimate targeting system for hunting coyotes under any lighting conditions.

Hunter holding a dead coyote
Late winter is prime time for coyote-hunting success… as long as you have the proper gear.

Flextone Game Calls produce a diverse range of predator calls and attractors. Criner has worked with Flextone to design the Dog Soldier line of calls, including mouth and electronic options. Using mouth calls for predators is fairly easy. To be perfectly honest, it almost seems a little comical the first time you belt out a dying rabbit screech or a series of coyote yips and howls.

While most predator hunters carry various mouth calls, an increasing number of them are using lightweight electronic calls such as the durable Flextone FLX Series remote e-callers. The FLX 500 and 1000 callers come with a remote control and are pre-loaded with categorized calls, though they are capable of storing hundreds of other audio tracks. Despite their tremendous volume and range, these callers are amazingly power efficient with AA batteries.

Hunting wary coyotes and other predators requires close attention to details. Plopping down at the edge of a field and randomly calling may produce results occasionally, but more often than not it’s an exercise in futility. Like any other wild animal, coyotes have their ways, and patterning them—where they live and when they are active—is critical to success. Any hunter would benefit greatly from getting serious about hunting these challenging predators. And using the best equipment and concealment will assure that nothing is left to chance.

Do you have a favorite caliber for song dogs? How about a favorite call or technique? Share your answers in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (4)

  1. I really do not feel that coyote hunting is right unless there is a real lose of stock problem. I have a ranch in Colorado and have no problem with the coyotes Why shoot them for no reason? They are going to be eaten. I like hearing them howl at night too. I feel coyote hunting give ammunition to the anti gun and anti hunting nuts.. When I harvet an Elk I have freeser full of meat. Why shoot a coyote?

  2. I love guns and own a lot of them. I carry a pistol in a holster daily everywhere I go. I shoot all the time, but not being a hunter, I am curious as to why people enjoy going out and killing coyotes, mountain lions and other animals that don’t provide meat.
    I don;t live in an area where I can can hunt so it’s something I’m less familiar with.
    Logic tells me that unless the coyote is in your perimeter threatening your pets or livestock, this is purely for the enjoyment of killing the animal.
    It can’t be because they could threaten your pets or livestock and therefore a guy goes out to look for them away from your living space, because you can never make a difference in their population overall.
    When the coyote population gets low, they have more babies. So is it because hunters enjoy killing for the sake of killing? Do people sometimes regret doing this? Like I said, I really don’t understand it so I would like to know.

    1. Coyotes are in competition with hunters. They kill the same prey animals we eat. Managing them like any other natural resource is ethical.

      In large numbers they, like deer, will starve and could become dangerous to humans by spreading disease, or (in the case of canids) attacking humans and their pets.

    2. I hear mountain lion meat is tasty. Cat meat had the highest of protein. All predators need control since humans have taken over a large part of the world. Death by a gun may Not sounds like fun but it is less cruel than disease and starvation by nature. You love your dogs and cats so how will you feel when your local coyote grabs them up ? Or you infant child you are standing next to ? Or you ?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.