Category Archives: varmint hunting

Nothing Dainty About It

There wasn’t much that was keeping the moon from being full on the drive up to my cousin Luke’s house with my wife and two kids (one of which decided an appropriate course of action would be to scream for two straight hours from the backseat).  I kept thinking that on that moonlit Friday night in late January plenty of coyotes would be up rambling around straight through the wee hours of the morning.  The plan was to head out early on Saturday and cut some tracks.  Then we’d put the dogs on the coyote’s trail and hope for some shooting.
Mother Nature (if that even is her real name) had other plans.
Sometime in the very early morning, while I was snug abed and dreaming of making a Hail Mary hero shot on a running coyote, it started to snow.  And not those fluffy, pastoral flakes from the Coca Cola commercials you see at Christmas.  No, this was the blinding, wind-driven variety of snow that makes you question your sanity at getting up and heading out hunting in it.  And the wind-chill factors were in the negative teens, so that made it all the better.
On the plus side, most of our coyote hunting is done from nice warm trucks, and for the first two hours that is precisely where my cousin and I staked ourselves out.  Eventually the wind let down and the white-out became nothing more than a snowy morning.  Luke and I hopped out and went to find a couple of likely spots in a block of woods that often held coyotes, and as sure as it was wintertime, the dogs got on one pretty quickly.  In some ways our coyote hunting operation (of which I am but a minor, very occasional participant) is a pretty sophisticated group.  The dogs are GPS tracked, and we are in constant communication via private-channel radios.  When the radio chatter and progress of the dogs made it clear that the coyote had gotten past the blockers and was in an adjacent block we made our way back to the truck.  On the walk (or more accurately the slog through over a foot of snow) back to the truck the sound of gunfire and the radio banter indicated that the coyote had been cornered by the dogs and then killed, we made out for another hunt.  The weather and the sign remained sketchy though so eventually the morning hunt was shut down.  We bought some groceries for a veritable evening feast, and did one last cruise of some likely spots.  Finding nothing we headed home.
After a hearty breakfast and a little family time with our wives and kids, Luke and I saddled up for an afternoon of coyote calling.  If the morning hunt was a bit of a bust, our afternoon foray held promise.  The wind had slackened, and the sun shone through a high ceiling of wispy clouds, and with a FoxPro e-caller we headed first to some old fields in the mixed hardwoods behind Luke’s house.  After a half-hour of intermittent cottontail distress (and anyone who has heard that sound for extended periods knows how my brain was feeling by then) we opted to move on to another spot that had produced previously.  Coyote and fox tracks peppered the fresh snow as we walked our way into the old corral, and as I settled into the leeward side of an old hay bale I was hopeful that this stand was once again going to draw an old coyote out for what he thought was going to be an easy meal.  Minutes in and the wind both picked up the pace and changed direction to make our positions untenable, but we still hung in there, stinging wind and blown snow be damned.  Frustrated, we talked about family and life in general on the walk back to the vehicle before sitting down to commiserate on the next course of action.
We opted for one long drive around a series of concession roads in Dyers Bay, and as we made one of our last runs down a back road we saw three distinct and fresh (we estimated no more than an hour or so old) sets of coyote tracks crossing the road from south to north.  We parked up ahead and walked into a cedar thicket that provided cover from the wind, a natural background to break up our outlines and half dozen good openings to shoot through.  It was our last stand for the afternoon and as good a chance as we’d been presented with all day.  Just under an hour later we walked out cold and frost-nipped (not quite bitten, but not quite comfortable either) with a warm shower, some cold beer and some hot eats on our minds.  Luke hosts a good shin-dig and when a bunch of other friends showed up, the party of chicken wings, French fries, cold beer and good stories lasted deep into the evening.  It almost didn’t matter that all the men (and my three year old son) were relegated to the garage; we ran the deep fryer out of there and leaned against walls, old freezers, and each other as we told shameless lies to one another as our wives likely told unflattering truths about us to themselves.
Luke, his brother Dane, and I all felt no ill effects come the morning alarm, although some others that didn’t go hunting weren’t as lucky, and whereas Saturday had broken with a blizzard, Sunday broke deeply cold but with a high ceiling of thin clouds that exposed the thinnest ribbon of blindingly pink sunrise.  When a person wakes up way too early on a Sunday to chase twenty-five pounds of clever canine, sunrises like that are their reward.
As we cruised the flats, my uncle came on the radio to call in a set of tracks in a likely spot, and just moments later I spotted the coyote trotting along a fence line to the south of our position.  Getting out of the truck I walked into the property and slid a couple of shells into my .243WIN.  The coyote popped out just about 200yards, and the call came over the radio not to shoot; at that point I had the crosshairs on his shoulder and I had to made a very tough decision not to take a crack at the old dog.  Moments later Luke had put the hounds on him, and when he made his way across the road into another block, he eventually met his end at the rifle of another hunter staked out there.  Not long after we had the hounds on a coyote in a cedar filled few acres that sat like a postage stamp on the snowy envelope of snow that had fallen between the local cemetery and a gravel pit.  My cousin and I sat down in the snow next to a mound to the east of the cedar swamp and waited.
For nearly a half hour the wind driven snow needled our faces and did everything it could to break through our coats.  One thing I’ve learned over the years of hunting with dogs (and this is generally true whether you are running coyotes or rabbits) is that when you think the dogs are close, the game is closer.  So it was on that Sunday morning.  As Luke and I stood, we could hear the dogs turn and the melodious cacophony of baying began to circle our way.  Instinctively we both had turned to the sound, and I don’t know about Luke, but I found that without even thinking about it, both hands were on my rifle in anticipation of action.
And action is what we got.
We saw the coyote at over 200 yards and immediately understood that he was heading for the gravel pit just south of our position.  On a sprint, or as much of a sprint as you can put on in deep, boot-sucking snow, Luke and I made to outflank the coyote; either seeing this or thinking better of his gravel-pit escape plan, the coyote began to run broadside to us at a distance that I estimated was initially just under 200 yards from our position.  Luke and I turned and I assumed the position for a kneeling shot.
This is where those who have never tried to shoot a running coyote (that, incidentally, has the added incentive of a few dogs in his slipstream) will chortle at our perceived ineptitude, but Luke and I each put three rounds downrange at the coyote, and he found another gear with every report.  Turning away from us and making tracks for the relative safety of the cedars, the coyote dodged Luke’s third shot as the bullet kicked a puff of snow up behind the now sprinting animal.  I sent my third round out hoping that the hero shot in my dreams was a premonition of glory.  It wasn’t.  The dogs barely paused, and lustily howled and barked as they plunged headlong back into the cedar stand after their prey.
My spent brass was laying in one of earlier footprints, and I took off a glove to retrieve them and reload my rifle.  Luke and I then dissected our failings and told palliative consolations to each other.  Twenty minutes later the dogs had the coyote cornered.  One blast from Tack’s weapon and all was quiet.  The dogs stopped baying, and all there was to hear was the vicious January wind and a crackle over the radio confirming to us that that particular hunt was over.
We helped a fellow hunter pick up a piece of equipment that had fallen from his truck and with a glance at our watches and it became clear that our family duties, and a three hour drive home for me would have to lay low any further chases for us for the day.  I dropped off my radio, and said my goodbyes and obligatory wife jokes to my friends.  It had been a good weekend, and even though I only had a handful of spent brass to show for it, I felt successful.
There is a certain stealthy calm to deer hunting, and a distinct spring rejuvenation to be found in turkey hunting.  Waterfowl hunting can be filled with decrepit weather, but also with the close quarters camaraderie of the blind.  Each has a certain folkloric place in the hunting pantheon, and all are sometimes mythologized in a way that elevates the re-telling of the hunter’s exploits.  But coyote hunting is different.  There is spectacle and brash attitude in chasing the tricksters through the haunts that they know more intimately than a hunter ever could.  There is a brawling, adversarial machismo in the way a dog runs down a coyote and a war-cry fierceness to the frantic baying of a team of dogs as they each try to get to their goal first.  Even calling coyotes is loud, brutal, and impatient.  The screaming and squalls meant to portray the death throes of a rabbit, the yips and chilling howls of challenge, even the simulated struggle of pups is all noise and urgency designed to bring in the reluctant, grey ghosts.  If deer hunting is high church, and if spring turkey hunting is nature shaking off the long winter, chasing a coyote in the snow is a drawn out bar-fight in a freezing cold, snowy parking lot.
The people who do it well are utterly shameless about why they do it, and why they love it.  There’s no rich duck-club snobbery, and no hushed whispers of awe.  If you can follow directions, and are willing to get dirty, cold, and worn out (or all of the above) then you can do it too.  And then you might see why hunters will spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on fuel, guns, calls, and clothes just to chase after a sometimes mangy, but always challenging wild dog.
And if you don’t get it, then at least you can say you tried.

If Coyote Hunting is for Supermen, Consider me to be Kryptonite

It had been a long time since I had made the run up to the Bruce Peninsula.  At least four months; I don’t usually like to go that long between seeing my friends, having some laughs, and stalking whatever game happens to be in season, but nothing I could do about it in this respect.  The plan was just to leave work on Friday afternoon, get up there, and enjoy it.

Early on the Friday morning I had encountered a lone coyote as I drove past a field in Halton Region on my way to work, but since the Halton Region landowners, at least the ones whose doors I have knocked on, have not been keen on providing coyote hunting permission, I had no option but to drive on past.  That and the fact that all the artillery was locked and safely stowed in the trunk of my car.  My workday was filled with thoughts of that morning encounter and the hopes that it was to be a good omen for the weekend to come.
By 7pm, a blustery headwind from the north had been conspiring to wreck my fuel mileage for pretty much the whole trip, and just north of Wiarton the same wind offered up some sleet as a side dish.  A couple of years ago on a particularly wet turkey trip, a friend of mine had chided me for ‘bringing the bad weather’ and his absent-minded cliché rang in my head as I drove through the increasingly deteriorating precipitation.  I stopped for an oil-change and a haircut at a friend’s on the way up (he provides oil changes, his accommodating and lovely wife handling the mane-taming duties) and had a nice little visit with them.  By the time I again made the road, ankle-deep slush made the going slow.  I pulled into my cousin Luke’s house for about 10:30pm and over a drink we discussed the weather, the coyote hunting to date, the prospects for turkey season (a mere eight weeks away!) as well as the various and sundry other things that men talk about after the spouses go to bed.  By that time big, wet, aggregated snowflakes had begun to fall, and the wind had reached a new level of ferocity.  A morning hunt was not looking promising.
Just on the dark side of 6am, Luke opened the door and said it had stopped snowing.  I could still hear the wind blowing a gale and Luke let me know that it had swung around and was blowing straight from the west.  Still, I was there to hunt and so long as the worst of the precipitation had passed I was fit to get going.  The plan, as always, was to hit the road early and look to cut a fresh track or spot a coyote out foraging in the fields and then put the dogs on the trail.  That exercise usually took the better part of a morning, and then I intended to while away my afternoon raising hell with my rabbit distress calls in the hopes of luring a cagey old coyote into the range of my .243WIN.
No sooner had our derrieres hit the seats in Luke’s truck that the snow and sleet began to fall.  Or more accurately, the snow came at a wind-driven angle that was more or less parallel with the horizon.  Visibility was, ahem, minimal and as such we spotted no coyotes or fresh tracks that morning.  The only beasts foolish enough to be out in that wind storm were us.  Bacon, eggs, sausages, and toast accompanied coffee as we re-thought the day’s plans.  It was a short discussion: if the wind and snow wouldn’t co-operate we’d have no choice but to lay low for the day.  So we did…all day.  But at least we got to have a good meal or two.
Sunday morning broke snowy but slightly less breezy, and I was chomping at the bit to get out and get the dogs running.  Within fifteen minutes we had the hounds on a track, and I was stationed with my pal Rory near a copse of balsams and cedars while the dogs howled away in a block of trees.  The barking got closer and then the hounds broke from the woods…but no coyote was in front of them.  Either they’d lost the track or the coyote had gotten out from them and past Rory and I before we had been in position.  We broke for the road to get ahead of the pack, and hopped out again and hit the woods.  One more time the dogs came near and once they came so close that I could hear them crashing through the underbrush.  Still, the coyote remained elusive.
Just about that time, the wind picked up, but the sun came out.  They coyote eventually headed south and we travelled en masse to get ahead of it once more.  While we waited in position, Rory and I were able to creep to within eight feet of an Eastern Screech Owl that was just lounging on a fencepost next to cedar thicket.  While we watched the little owl and tried to determine its species, the crafty Canis Latrans got by the blockers and snuck across the road into a block we could not hunt.  Defeated but not discouraged, some other hunters of our group gathered the dogs and we set out once more looking for fresh tracks or a coyote out loitering in the open.  Just north of where we’d been last stationed Rory spotted a very crisp and fresh track crossing the road from east to west into a good block of mixed forest and fields.  We put three dogs on the track and we were off again, heading down the road to get ahead of the hounds and deploy blockers on the field edges.  I was set up leaning on a fence post facing north into about as bitter an early March wind as one could come up against.  As my cheeks and nose took on the characteristics of wind-beaten leather, and as my eyes watered in the wind I waited for the trusty hounds to push the coyote out in front of me.  Once more the dogs were duped by North America’s shrewd answer to the jackal and as we approached the breakfast hour we decided to call it a morning.
One Mom’s Restaurant famous Farmer’s Breakfast later, I returned to my cousin Luke’s place and as he blew snow out of the driveway, I packed my gear up.  A call from my wife bearing news of a family emergency precluded an afternoon calling session, and I had to hit the highway south.  As I left I was told that the coyote hunting had “been better last week” and that the weather was going to change up and that I ought to return “next weekend” for more coyote hunting and the annual local hockey tournament…which is always a fun time, or so I’ve been told.
None of this surprised me.  I’ve always had good success with waterfowl and have had plenty of sightings, close encounters, and opportunities when turkey hunting.  Heck, even my recent form in deer hunting seems to be on the upswing, with a deer down in 2009 and two close encounters this past season.  Yet the coyote, in its well-adapted resourcefulness, continues to elude my best efforts to take one in front of hounds or solo with the call.  It seems I’m always a week behind the good hunting, or I depart just before it picks up again.  Like most game animals, I’m absolutely certain that the coyote is better at avoiding being prey than I am at attempting to be a predator, but that only makes sense; coyotes benefit from centuries of adaptations to both environmental and mankind’s pressures…I’ve been only been out hunting for about 20 years, so I’m still learning.
And that challenge is the reason it’s fun, even if I continue to fail.

News: Finally Getting Out Again, NWTF Events, and We’re on Twitter

After a month or so of a cripplingly hectic family and work schedule, I’m hitting the woods this upcoming weekend in pursuit of some coyotes.  I’ve been itching to do it for a while and have finally found the time.  Hopefully the weather co-operates and we can get some coyotes running in front of the dogs and/or coming hard to the call.  Exciting stuff, and it will eventually be serialized here.

In other news, for the past couple of weeks a few of you subscribers suggested a Twitter feed.  So now I have one.

You can follow the blog here:!/getoutandgohunt

I’m still going through the (admittedly shallow) learning curve of Twitter, but feel free to join up and see where we’re hunting, what we’re thinking while we do it, and more of the zaniness, analysis, and opinion that you’ve come to expect from this blog…all within a 140 character limit no less!

And lastly, it is NWTF Banquet season here in Ontario and I’ve got a few invites to attend banquets.  The one I’ll definitely be hitting up is my hometown banquet in Barrie, Ontario.  For details on pricing and attendance you can email for details.  For info on the auction packages click