Coyotes and Departed Cows
Our rancher neighbor, Ken Pratt, was hopping mad - a pair of coyotes had just dragged down one of his healthiest late-winter calves. He had spotted them a hundred yards from the road standing over the still-warm carcass, but with his rifle at home he could do nothing but curse. He had driven up to our place to ask me to stalk and waylay the calf killers. With 4000 acres of dry Idaho foothills to work, Ken was too busy to do the job himself.
by Lewis Watson
The calf was lying in an open field with no brush or rock cover for three hundred yards in any direction. I had to get closer somehow. I decided to try a stalk around the back side and then over the top of a long, sloping hill.
When I topped out, there was the calf three hundred yards downhill with one coyote still on it. First on hands and knees, then on belly and elbows, I wriggled downhill through the early spring mud and scrubby sagebrush, freezing every time the coyote looked up from his feeding. At 150 yards I squeezed off a shot from a solid prone position, and that calf-killing coyote's book was closed permanently.
(SEE: Coyote Hunting by Phil Simonsky
and The Coyote Hunter by Laubach, Henckel, and Griswold)
It was a big dog whose fur a couple of months earlier would have been prime but which was now worthless. Still, I was glad to help a neighbor in his frustration and anger, even though Ken, and most ranchers in these parts, understand and mostly accept the balance of nature.
Next fall and winter when predator fur was again prime, I knew Ken would call on me whenever he had coyote problems. What are neighbors for?
Working closely with farmers and ranchers in cattle country can pay off in coyote pelts. In fact their cooperation is vital in one of the most effective techniques I know for bagging open-range coyotes. That is the repeated and carefully planned stalking of known cow carcasses and calving or ailing range cows.
Half a dozen coyotes may actively feed off a dead cow for weeks. Even months later when there are only bones and hide tatters left, I've seen coyotes repeatedly return to the spot to sniff about.
In stalking carcass-feeding coyotes, most of the advantages, for once, are on the hunter's side. When the exact location of a cow carcass is known, careful stalks can be planned in advance, executed, and repeated whenever you wish. Every time you approach the spot, there is a high chance that one or more coyotes will be there. Since they're usually busy feeding and bickering, they're also less apt to notice you maneuvering into firing position.
With a stalk planned to put you in a concealed position at a known range from your target, you know exactly where to place the crosshairs without shaky "guesstimating." You generally have a standing target for the first shot. If you shoot from far enough away, a second or even third standing shot is possible as coyotes try to figure where those distant reports are coming from.
Even after several coyotes are taken off a cow carcass, others will move into the vacated territory and quickly discover the smelly smorgasbord. If after dropping a few coyotes you draw a blank or two, wait a week and try again. The action tends to continue off and on until only the cow's bleached bones are left.
While an actual "departed" cow is best for repeatedly taking feeding coyotes, a sick cow or a calving herd are also good bets. Ranchers are especially eager for you to nail skulking coyotes near ailing or birthing cows. They know coyotes rarely tackle a healthy cow and calf. But when a cow is sick or down in labor, coyotes will move in and torment the animal, sometimes even finishing off a cow that might have recovered or, more commonly, killing and eating a still-emerging calf. Most ranchers have experienced this gross form of predation, which is why they tend to spit and curse a lot when coyotes are mentioned. It's those ambivalent feelings about nature.
I've found dusk is best for taking coyotes near ailing or birthing cows. Since the coyotes aren't actually feeding, they're on guard and difficult to stalk. It's therefore better to take a downwind and fairly distant stand over the ailing cow just before sundown and wait for coyotes to move in. Often coyotes will still be hanging around a sick cow at daybreak. Here again, they're already moving around the scene and with super-keen senses are difficult to stalk in poor dawn light.
In setting up your first stalk or watch over dead or sick cows, it's good to involve the rancher himself if possible. Not only does he know the exact location of the cow itself, but he's also familiar with the lay of the land, stalking cover, best shooting points, and any special aspects of his ranch operation you must watch out for. An occasional rancher will even use his tractor to drag a newly defunct cow into a better shooting position.
Once you know the exact location of a cow being worked by coyotes, plan stalks for dawn or dusk as these are the best daylight periods to catch coyotes feeding. Use mid-day for studying the area and planning your stalk, maybe even rigging a shooting blind which you can later approach from the rear. For repeated success on carcass-feeding coyotes, it's better to use a quiet, small-caliber, flat-shooting rifle, say a .222 or .22-250 with a 6X-or better scope, and pop the coyotes from longer ranges. With all the stalking and shooting advantages on your side, 150 - 200 yards is a comfortable distance.
As you approach your shooting spot, watch for magpies or ravens sitting in trees near the dead cow and squawking in frustration - a strong sign of a coyote's presence. If there is no coyote there, wait a while during those prime dusk and dawn periods. Keep watching the birds. If they all suddenly flare away from the carcass - get ready!
Once you've dropped one or two coyotes, stay put for five or ten minutes. That lets escaping survivors, if any, move away without actually seeing or smelling you, so they're more likely to return. You may also get some long extra shots at coyotes you hadn't seen as they slink away through the brush.
Two valuable items of equipment for this kind of shooting are binoculars and some sort of portable shooting rest. With binocs you can scan the area both before and after opening fire and maybe identify additional targets not otherwise visible. A simple "X" hinged-stick gun rest or even a sturdy forked stick, allows you an adjustable and stable rifle base to make longer shots count.
I've tried a few times to call coyotes in the general area of a hard-to-approach cow cadaver. I've mostly given it up. Why should a coyote leave a huge and certain meal to chase down a squealing little rabbit? Also, all that hysterical squalling tells coyotes something fishy may be going on and reawakens their habitual suspicion. Once the feast is all gone, a little experimental calling in the area might pick up a few hungry stragglers.
Hunting coyotes over departed cows produces a lot of pure hunting fun no matter how you go about it. You're also helping ranchers trim down the local coyote population which may be developing a dangerous and specific taste for beef.
Not incidentally, that's a great way to win hunting privileges on the rancher's land when bird and big game seasons roll around.
Copyright 2000, Spring Creek Communications