By Troy Hoepker
Where were all the coyotes? This wasn’t part of the plan? This beautiful river bottom full of CRP grass, timber and crop fields held them all the time. I’d called triples here, doubles, singles, and coyotes from all directions over the years? Yet today nobody was home at sunup? We were supposed to be dragging our first coyote or two of the day out of here and then head on to the next strategically planned spot for the next one. Instead we walked out empty handed, behind in the game and needing to catch up.
A mile up the road at the next spot, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of a bald eagle circling high above my partner Bob Marquart obviously intrigued by the sight of him laid out prone over a terrace after hearing my mouth calling distress. The moment of amusement was interrupted abruptly by the sounds of turkeys putting and making all kinds of racket to my north. Two of the turkeys left their perch and soared off between Bob and I. Curious as to what could possibly be approaching, my concern over a possible predator on the way was confirmed a moment later as a squirrel began barking his fool head off between the turkeys and I. That was enough to convince me to leave my seat and get the gun pointed that direction to wait for whatever it was.
I barely got settled into my new position when something came bouncing along the tree line and through the grass. I must have still been settling in a little as the critter approached because when it saw me it stopped dead in its tracks staring directly at me! It was too late however and I had the predator’s head in the scope. A bobcat! I wasn’t going to get a better shot at this point and sent a 50-grain pill northward at 3300 fps. This one hit right between the eyes and I watched the cat drop into the tall grass that surrounded him. We were on the board and now it was time to hurry off to the next spot. The cat had only taken a few minutes to come in which is just what we were after on this day. Fast coming predators. This is competition style coyote hunting.
I thought things were really starting to go our way at the very next location as I called a coyote so close to me that I could hear his footsteps in the leaves as he approached within ten feet. In the end that coyote got away, and with him it seemed our chances of placing in the competition did as well. Bob and I hurried in and out of several more spots that day but the winds picked up heavily by noon and rain hit us by late afternoon making things tough. We wouldn’t kill enough coyotes to be in the money but the fun of a day hunting in a competition was still enjoyable.
Coyote calling competitions have been around for years but a large majority of them are held in states out west. They have grown in popularity in recent years and more events are popping up all over the map. Still many hunters as well as avid coyote hunters have either never heard of them or never participated in one. What may surprise some people however is that possibly the largest coyote calling competition in the country is held every year just a few short miles south of the Iowa Stateline right along I-80 in Bethany, Missouri. I’ve been able to participate in the Northern Missouri Coyote Calling Competition (NMCCC) for the last 6 years.
The NMCCC is the vision of Rick Plymell when more than a decade ago, he thought he’d start a coyote contest right here in the Midwest. Rick has attended calling events all throughout the western states, going to his first one over 15 years ago in Montana. In 2013 he and his partner Jeff Rheborg won the National Coyote Calling Competition in Wyoming. He has won other contests as well and his enjoyment of competing in such events inspired him to start his own contest. Rick‘s expertise and knowledge of calling predators is second to none and he told me a bit about how he developed a love for calling around the age of 14 or 15 years old; “My Grandpa used to call fox and coon with homemade mouth calls or he’d use his own voice. In the late 1960’s coyotes started moving in and every time it’d snow we’d go hunting for them.” He said.
“I enjoyed the tournaments so much and knew there was a lot of people around here that were interested in coyote hunting. That first year we had 12 teams participate”, Commented Plymell.
To say Rick’s event has grown a little since that first competition in 2005 would be a huge understatement. This year 319 teams entered! It has grown every year and Rick has had to seek out larger facilities to house all the participants. In just the last year the team total increased by almost one hundred teams. Word is getting out about the NMCCC but it is still kind of a hidden little secret for those who live farther away. Dedicated coyote callers do come from other states to participate however. Rick said he’s had participants from South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and other states attend. The NMCCC is held every year on the second to last full weekend in January.
Participating in the contest begins by attending a mandatory rules meeting the night before the hunt. The entry fee is $100. Rick hands out the rules and explains them and each team is given tags to apply to each coyote they may shoot the next day. No more than two people are allowed per team but a single hunter can participate by themselves if so desired. No hunting can be done prior to the set time per contest rules as the sun comes up. Each time a coyote is killed the team is required to slide a tag in the coyote’s mouth and zip tie the mouth shut. The hunters must write the time off death on the tag and the hunter who shot it must initial it. Each coyote entered must be shot by method of calling the coyote. Pushing or coyote drives are not allowed, no shooting coyotes from the road and no other person may assist in killing the coyote. Contestants can hunt anywhere they would like as long as they have permission in their spots, they hunt together and are back with their coyotes by the check in time of 7:30 that night in Bethany. One minute later than 7:30 is too late.
The team with the most coyotes wins. In the event of ties, each team’s coyotes are weighed and the team with the heaviest combined weight wins. This year two teams brought back 5 coyotes. The team whose coyotes weighed the most took 1st place and the other team took 2nd place. Now are you ready for a mind-blowing total? The winning team won $3,828! 2nd place won $2,552! 3rd place had 4 coyotes and won $1,914 while the 4th place team also had 4 coyotes and won $1,021. 5th place through 10th place each brought in 3 coyotes apiece and were paid place winnings as well.
Teams also have the chance of winning one of the very lucrative pots as well. Each pot paid $3,190 dollars this year. Those pots are for the mangiest coyote, the biggest male, the biggest female, the smallest male and the smallest female. So even if you’re not in the place winnings it can only take one mangy coyote to win a lot of money. It gives everyone a good chance of winning.
Along with the prize money, Rick does some very generous things with a percentage of the funds as well. In the past they’ve given to different charities but this year they donated 10% of the entry fee to the Harrison County Cancer Transportation Fund, which amounted to $1,595. In addition to the prize money, several rifles are raffled off each year to lucky winners. Two gun safes were raffled off as well this year in a separate pay in raffle. Each held a different gun inside of them for the lucky winners too. $3,660 was raised through this raffle and given to the Harrison County 4-H Shooting Sports & FFA to support kids actively involved in shooting and hunting.
Along with the raffles, Rick has hundreds of sponsors and each donate items for a general door prize raffle. Most of the participants walk out of there with some sort of door prize. Everything from DVD’s, hats, targets, calls, and many, many more items are given away. Your entry fee also includes a supper put on by volunteers that help cook and serve all the team members. A youth wins a gun every year and veterans are honored as well. Overall $28,710 was paid out in winnings at this year’s event. The only money kept is to cover expenses for food, building rent, etc. and that totals another 10% of the entry fees. Rick puts on a heck of a show!
I asked Rick if the success and popularity of his contest has surprised him. “Yes it has! I thought it’d really be something if I could ever break over 100 teams. I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that we’d have over 300 teams! It’s overwhelmed me that people have put so much trust in me and I haven’t heard one negative comment from a contestant.” Rick continued to add; “I think seeing all the good sportsmanship of all these guys is the best part for me. Some people never kill anything but they come back every year because they have fun and enjoy it so much.”
You’re probably wondering about cheating and how it is thwarted? There are several rules that discourage cheating. For example, the tag put in the animals mouth must be marked with the time of the kill so that any coyote winning money can be temperature checked to make sure that the coyote did indeed die near the time marked on the tag. A temperature check on the coyote helps insure that there is not any night hunting being done before contest time begins. The tags have holes in them so they can be slipped over the lower K-9 teeth and cannot be put in the coyote’s mouth after rigor mortise has set in. No shotguns are allowed in this particular competition to discourage people from driving ditches with vehicles or doing coyote drives and pushes to each other.
Any winning coyotes are kept and skinned to make sure there are no shotgun holes or trapping marks. Any coyote that shows visible signs of being snared or caught in a foothold are disqualified. Furthermore, if there are any questions about how a coyote was killed, each team member can be separated and given a polygraph test. There is a lot of money at stake here so cheating is taken very, very seriously. Anyone caught cheating will not only be banned from the contest, but also be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. A DNR officer is present at the event also.
One of the coolest things I’ve personally enjoyed is meeting and visiting with many of the teams during supper. You can sit down next to anyone and strike up a conversation about how their day went, coyote calling or hunting in general almost like old friends because everyone there shares the same interests and passions of hunting.
There are several different strategies for hunting on a competition day. Obviously hitting spots quickly is a must. The more places you can hit, the more coyotes you have a chance at calling in. Some teams might concentrate on sections that have been good producers over the years and sit for ample time to give a coyote a chance to come to them. Other teams are looking for that 15-minute coyote. If nothing shows within 15 minutes, then it’s up and off to the next spot. Teams can get in more properties in a day’s time this way.
When coyotes do come in, there isn’t a need to worry about pelt damage. You may want a larger caliber rifle that puts coyote’s in the dirt. Extra attention is placed on any mangy coyotes that might respond to the call as well as any coyote that looks especially large or small since they could fetch a hefty prize. Killing a double or a triple on a contest day can really help put a team in the money so team partners need to have an understanding of how to handle that situation should it occur to kill the maximum amount of coyotes possible.
It’s imperative to know exactly where your rifle is shooting at different ranges and it’s important to plan for anything that might go wrong on contest day such as having a backup rifle along and fresh batteries in your e-caller. There should be no last minute deciding on which property to head to next. Having a list ahead of time of the order of spots based on the wind direction saves time.
Rick also hosts another tournament in February each year called a Jackpot hunt. He estimated that 30 to 50 teams from Iowa competed in his contest this year. I hunt on the Iowa side and drive down to Bethany when I’m done. You just have to make sure that you can make it back to Bethany by 7:30 pm if you have any coyotes to turn in. I visited with teams that hunted as far south as Columbia, Missouri to as far north as Des Moines, Iowa this year and still came back for check in. If you’ve never been around an event like this and enjoy calling coyotes, consider trying it.
This year over 160 coyotes were killed and I’ll guarantee that you’ve never seen so many dead coyotes in one place at the same time. Plus it’s just a great excuse to hunt all day; like we need an excuse. Other competitions might have some differences in their rules and prize winnings but most are similar to the NMCCC. For more information about the NMCCC you can visit their website at: http://northernmissouricoyotecallingcontest.com/. They can also be found via the facebook link on the website.