September 2006
Predators & Prey

First Chance Coyotes

First Chance Coyotes

Autumn was beginning to show in the trees as I strolled across the pasture. Sweat dripped from my brow as I walked in the late afternoon shadows. Only the sounds of the hay bailer at work disturbed the silence. Soon I knew the farmer would retire for the day as we had planned. Then I would begin the task of trying to reduce the number of coyotes that had been harassing him.

Dozens of hay rolls sculptured the landscape as monuments to the farmer’s work. I savored the fragrance of freshly cut clover blending with the cooling air. Minutes passed while I reviewed the field and noted the wind direction. Then I elected a shady position to establish my point of ambush. A spot providing me both a downwind location with full visibility of the field.

In minutes, I had unrolled the shooting matt and prepared my rifle. The preparation consisted of merely snapping the Harris Bi-pods in place and loading the gun. Then a few more minutes were taken to use the range finder to mark some designated distances. This could become very important as the length of the field extended beyond five hundred yards.

The late afternoon sun had disappeared behind the adjoining trees, casting shadows across the field. Slowly I scanned the edges of the field with my compact binoculars. This would continue for approximately thirty minutes before I suddenly detected movement.

The coyote appeared at the edge of trees. Like a statue of stone the animal stood carefully inspecting the field. Excitement surged through me as I directed the rifle’s muzzle towards the predator. Though I had it sighted, I would not prepare the rifle to fire.

Experience now controlled my actions as I continued peering over the scope at the coyote. This would continue for only a minute before it began walking into the field. Then, before my eyes, four other coyotes emerged from their hiding to follow the first.

Carefully I inspected each animal through the riflescope. I was searching for the largest animal, as this would be male. It would be this unfortunate creature that would become the primary target. Then the next in line would be the runner-up in size indicating the adult female. The remaining critters would become targets of opportunity when the primary targets were gone.

Time slowly passed as I continued watching the family venture farther into the field. Like vultures circling a rotten corpse, the coyotes worked around the hay bales. Then with a sudden pounce, the leader captured a field rat. This would quickly transpire into a game of catch as the rodent was tossed into the air several times. Then after numerous pitches the rat met its fate.

Darkness was approaching as the coyotes continued their rodent rampage. Three other victims had fallen prey to the canines during their venture down the field. Now the coyotes had lessened their original distance by over fifty percent. These actions had placed them in grave danger as I slowly released the rifles safety.

The leader now clearly filled the crosshairs of the rifle scope. Only the squeezing of the gun’s trigger determined the time left of its earthly existence. Instantly the coyote crumpled as I slowly began working the rifle’s bolt. Moments of confusion would pass for the coyotes as another deadly round fed into the gun’s chamber.

Realizing something was not up to par, the big female coyote began trotting towards the woods. Like her mate, the power of the .22/250 Remington cartridge would prove to be more than she could cope. Now it was time to reunite the family as I placed the first of three youngsters in the crosshairs.

Like its parents, the first dropped with the sound of shot. The remaining two had now reached the edge of woods. Safety was theirs as I could not match their speed at such a short distance. However, experience would prevail as I knew their weakness for family connections.

Darkness was quickly approaching when I retrieved the coyote howler from my pocket. Immediately on producing a single howl, the youngsters appeared from the woods. Caution was cast away as they both hurried into the field with the leader filling my sights. These actions allowed me to reunite it with its elders as the other spun away and escaped to the safety of the woods. This did not bother me as I felt it had simply bought some time and we would meet again.

Coyotes are always attracted to freshly cut hay fields. The works of a hay field provide abundant rodents and small animals for prey. The reduction of cover reduces the protection for the prey. The works of machinery often create easy meals for coyotes thus making the field even more attractive.

Ambushing freshly worked fields is an excellent means of reducing local coyote populations. It is also an excellent way to enjoy a pleasant afternoon building a hunter/landowner relationship.

So if you want to have an edge on controlling a possible problem, plan to make the most of a hay field. The key to these areas, however, is that they are generally only productive for a day or so after cutting. In fact, I recommend being ready when the machinery begins, as these animals know the sounds of a dinner bell.

Bill Bynum has written extensive articles and has published a book, Predator Hunting, on the subject, and he is editor of Predator and Prey magazine.