By: Troy Hoepker
We had a coyote up and running just moments earlier, but for the time being, he had seemingly pulled a typical “Houdini” trick on us. Just like they’re so good at doing, this coyote had just disappeared. Grandpa pulled the truck into a field down by the end of a timbered finger that lead up to the road and shut off the engine. We sat there for what seemed like an eternity listening to the occasional chatter on the c.b by the other hunters in our group who were trying to get the coyote moving again. Nothing seemed to be stirring. Why were we going to sit here where we couldn’t see anything? Why weren’t we going to go find another coyote if this one was lost? That’s what goes though your mind when you’re an impatient youngster anxious for action.
It seemed like forever listening to the lackluster conversation of several of our hunters trying to find sign of the coyote, when another group member could be heard trying to interrupt the conversation. “Break -Break – Break! Copy on a coyote!” broke through the air. Those had become some of my favorite words all put together in the same sentence and remain so today. For a coyote hunter it means that the action is about to start. Our pushers were able to have some luck and get a reluctant coyote back up and running again.
With a quick description of the whereabouts of the coyote and the direction he was headed broadcasting across the speaker, I heard three familiar sounds. First, was the metal zipper being casually unzipped on Grandpa’s shotgun case. Next I heard the “Pop” of the door handle on Grandpa’s old ’77 Ford as he slid off of the seat and out of the door. Loading up a couple of shells while I admired the shine of his Remington 1100, he grabbed the guns breech bolt, pulled it back and let it slam shut which racked one into the chamber. Man I loved that sound! “Stay in the truck and watch for that coyote while I step out for a look,” he said with a wink.
Grandpa left his door open so he could hear the radio chatter and eased around in front of the truck and stood waiting almost like it was just another day. For me, this wasn’t just any other day. This was coyote hunting with Grandpa and better yet, we had one running! How could he just stand there so calmly? I kept scanning the ground around us with my head on a swivel but there wasn’t much to look at except a few trees that dumped out into a small open field down in the bottom ground between the end of the draw and a culvert that went under the elevated road ditch. I wondered why we were sitting here and not on the move looking for that coyote?
Just then I could hear the sounds of a truck coming down the road and then a second truck towards our location. Leading a swirl of snow, two familiar trucks owned by members of our hunting party began slowing as they approached the culvert. That’s when it dawned on me that this coyote must be close. I looked back just in time to see Grandpa raising the shotgun, though I saw no coyote. He must have spotted it on it’s way through the trees, because he was ready when that little prairie wolf bolted out of those trees like a bullet from a gun. There he was, right before my eyes! What we had been hunting for, up close and personal. An elusive coyote!
Grandpa, tracking the progress of the coyote, took his shot and I watched as the coyote was swept completely off of his feet and seemingly plowed a trench through the snow until coming to a stop. “Coyote down!” echoed across the radio as Grandpa walked towards the coyote and waved his arm, signaling me that it was safe to come join him. Despite the boredom and questioning from me, we had indeed picked just the right spot to be in. It probably wasn’t the first time a coyote had tried to use the same escape route out of that section and Grandpa knew it.
That day was close to thirty years ago but I learned just how effective a shotgun can be on a coyote right then and there. I’ve been using them myself ever since I began hunting. Hunt coyotes long enough with a rifle and you’ll soon have plenty of occurrences that leave you wishing you would have had a shotgun instead. It’s hard to beat the flexibility of a shotgun when trying to get the shot on a coyote in close proximity, especially if that coyote is moving fast.
I tend to pack the rifle more often than the shotgun into a lot of my spots when calling for coyotes, but in certain places with certain terrain features, I’ll two gun it. If the possibility exists of a coyote getting quickly to my position undetected in an area I plan on hunting, I’ll want the shotgun at the ready as a first choice. Trying to get moved to acquire a sight picture through the scope on a close quarters coyote with a rifle can be a daunting task. Often times, all it leads too is a glimpse of the tuft of his tail beyond the crosshairs as he’s disappearing into the safety of cover. Swinging a shotgun on that same coyote makes for a quicker, cleaner target acquisition that doesn’t let your prey get away.
When using a shotgun for calling coyotes, selecting the right spots to call from is key. You want to choose locations that give you the best chance of drawing a coyote in close. Little open spots that provide some visibility of fifty or a hundred yards within areas of heavy cover such as hardwood timbers, heavy grass, or mature tree growth are ideal for a shotgun.
Having a hunting partner sitting back to back with you in dense hardwoods is a great way to expand your kill zone in an area. If you’ve sat down on a hilltop to try and squeak up a coyote and you can’t see down the hillside that the coyote will come up to approach you, you’ll want a shotgun for when he crests the top of the hill you are on. I’ve lost several coyotes over the years because I didn’t know where they would crest the hill at and couldn’t get them in the scope in time before they were headed back down the hill to escape. If you set up in an area with mixed views such as this where a coyote could be visible approaching from a distance as well as be able to get in close to you without being spotted first, a two-gun set up is helpful.
I like to place the rifle resting on it’s bipod near my shooting shoulder side at the ready and have the shotgun resting across my lap. Any coyote that you spot from a great distance might allow you to move the rifle into position for a long range shot, but you’ll still be ready with the short gun for those super sneaky dogs that like to surprise you up close.
There are a few tricks to help call coyotes into shotgun range besides simply setting up in denser cover. One is caller placement. As with any set up, make sure you can see the downwind area of the caller. Sometimes when you know you can’t shoot as far, putting yourself downwind of the caller itself can help shorten the shooting range of a coyote trying to get downwind of you. Hiding the caller in some brush and taking extra precaution to hide yourself will entice a coyote to come a little closer for a look. Placing the caller a little closer to you is generally a better idea when trying to bring a coyote into shotgun range. I’ll sometimes start out softly with calls and increase the volume as I go and then bring down the volume of the calling as time goes by. Quiet coaxing sounds can work well after a bit. This aids in directing a coyote to get closer to be able to hear the sound and pinpoint the location. Even some periods of more continuous calling works well at keeping a coyote headed for the sound without him checking up to survey the scene. Darkness and hunting under a full moon is notorious for making coyotes bolder. The security they feel at night emboldens them to investigate the sounds of prey at closer proximity which makes the shotgun all that more of a valuable tool at night.
Finding a load that can reach out to the maximum distance your shotgun is capable of and still be effective is imperative. A lot of variables come in to play when considering not only the gun, but also the shell. The choke tube, the barrel length, shell size, and properties of that shell. Try out some different loads at varying ranges while alternating choke tubes. 20 gauges all the way up to 10 gauge shotguns will kill coyotes although the 12 gauge rules the field. You’ll want something that keeps a tight pattern as long as possible all while maintaining good velocity for penetration down range.
For the hand loader, it’s hard to beat copper plated lead BB’s. It packs a punch and usually holds together for uniform patterns. When I slide shells down the tube of my shotgun, it’s usually Hevi-Shot “Dead Coyote” T-shot or good old number 4 buckshot. Both offer good pellet size and seem to reach out there a good distance. Remember that the larger the shell you choose, the more pellets you’ll be sending towards your target. For instance, with Number 4 buckshot, a 2-¾ inch shell will have 27 pellets versus a 3-inch shell containing 41 pellets. Dead Coyote T-shot is a little smaller diameter pellet than 4 buck, which allows more pellets to fit into the shell. I’ve found that with each of these loads, even coyotes within 75 yards of a 3-inch shell are in serious trouble.
I’ve patterned loads using everything from a modified choke all the way up to a more constrictive .665 diameter extended turkey choke tube. Your mileage will vary from one choke tube to the next as far as pattern density. I found that the difference was minimal from the extended turkey choke to my regular full choke on my BPS shotgun at long range. The patterns were close enough to each other that by the time the pellets had traveled that far, they had already lost the velocity needed to make a humane kill anyway. Thus, I use the full choke in my gun, but your shotgun may pattern differently. 00 buck is another choice that some hunters rely on and have for years. While they don’t contain as many pellets, the large size of buckshot they do contain hit hard and retain their accuracy fairly well at longer ranges.
Dropping a coyote with your first shot is sometimes a temporary deal, especially the further you are away from them. Shotgun loads are good at breaking bones and causing internal damage but sometimes those lethal consequences aren’t observed right away. Coyotes have a nasty reputation for being able to take a pounding and keep on keeping on. So even after you’ve saw that coyote fall, keep that muzzle right on him at the ready to deliver a second shot, should he recover from the truck that just ran him over and stumble to his feet once more. More than one coyote hunter has made the mistake of thinking he’s flattened fur, only to see it hop up and stumble away.
Shot gunning is one of the best ways to drop multiple yotes in one situation. If you’re lucky enough to pull in a pair of hard charging coyotes or are on post while a pair comes by at close proximity, having a shotgun in your hands makes for a much quicker swing and target acquisition on the second coyote after you’ve already dropped the first one. In the right scenario it can lead to putting more fur over the tailgate!
If you don’t own a rifle, don’t let that keep you from coyote hunting. Even long time fur hunters still pack the shotgun along because when you get a coyote in so close that you can see his haunting, yellow eyes looking back at you …… Well, you’ll want to be looking at him down the barrel of your scattergun!