Finding dead bucks during rifle deer season is getting to be a habit with me.
This season past I found a nice 8-point buck dead on the first day of season. It had been dead I estimated, since either the youth hunt or perhaps archery season in October. After having found a buck with $100 reward tags in its ears three years ago, I always examine close-up any dead deer I find. No luck this time, however.
While groundhog hunting last summer, a friend had a strange experience. As he sat on the edge of a field, a large coyote came running down on the other side of a fence. It kept circling and at one point it growled quite loudly. After a few moments of silence, my friend heard the growling again, this time closer. It was a weird sound, one that made my friend's neck hairs stiffen.
He wasn't sure what he should do just then because he couldn't see the animal, just heard it growling. He kept a sharp eye out, rifle at the ready, but the next time he saw it again, it was quite far away, not a safe shot and mincing along, obviously trying to get a scent. When he finally did hit my friend's scent trail, he threw up his head and hightailed it out of there.
Now, my friend is accustomed to sighting coyotes in the woods; there is no shortage of the animals in Blair County, or in all of Pennsylvania for that matter. What he isn't used to hearing them growling and having the inkling that he may have suddenly turned into the prey instead of the predator.
As hunters seek answers to the deer shortage, many have decided that an over-population of coyotes is to blame. Well, that's an iffy conclusion; one absolute about the prey/predator relationship is that when prey is abundant so are the predators who keep their numbers in balance. When prey species are scarce, the predator species also diminishes since without enough food, they too disappear.
Nevertheless, it may be time for more hunters to take up coyote hunting. I've done a bit of it but certainly not enough to be considered an expert, but I know a few outdoorsmen who are experts.
My outdoor writer friend, Bill Bynum, offered one of the first seminars in Pennsylvania on coyote hunting. He is now a recognized expert on the subject, and a staff writer for PREDATOR magazine and writes often about coyote. So I offer to you what he says.
"Coyotes are tough, a survivor and an opportunist, " Bynum said. "It takes advantage of road kills, gut piles, and wounded deer that die. Coyotes have six or eight pups in the spring. During the summer their diet includes insects, berries, fruit, grasses and occasional rabbit and fawn, not to mention farmer's poultry," Bynum said.
"As fall approaches, the pups will weigh 35 pounds or so. During the fall, the parents will take the young out for a stroll and then just leave them. This is how they become dispensed all over the country. The coyote is more vocal in the fall than at any other time. Most of the howling you'll hear then will be pups of the year trying to locate their parents.
"Besides getting you out of the house and offering an alternative to ice fishing, coyote hunting will put you in good with farmers. They don't like coyotes, of course and they will be happy to let you hunt them on their land," Bynum said.
"Coyote hunting is done mainly by calling. Coyotes are wary, smart and cautious. The eastern coyote is superior to the western coyote in all survival skills. A coyote is a true predator and it's his nature to investigate any sounds of distress. I'd strongly advise anyone to get a cassette or CD with instructions for coyote calling. Don't just take a fox call or something like that out and start tooting it.
"Sit against a tree to break up you silhouette, just as you do when turkey hunting, " Bynum advises. "A coyote will travel the easiest path to his destination he can find. He likes old trails and roads.
"There are basically three types of calls: the open reed call, a small all operated by a rubber band and the electronic call. These days, however, most every manufacturer of game calls offers predator calls complete with videos and cassettes to help you learn. Calling correctly is about 90 percent of the game. If you can see 300 yards or more then you need to call loudly.
This is the perfect time to investigate coyote calls. There will be several manufacturers offering calls, tapes, videos and even seminars on the art of coyote hunting at any outdoor show you attend. Coyote hunting requires as much calling and stalking and hiding skills as the most accomplished turkey hunter.
"The coyote's scenting ability is almost 100 times better than man's. Fox lure scent will aggravate a coyote because he will think a fox has gotten to the prey he hears squealing. Be careful not to overcall. Don't call more than a rabbit would really be able to do. Start loudly and taper off," Bynum said. "You'll need to be patient, waiting for a coyote to respond. He'll come in quietly and circle your location to check things out.
"The howl of a coyote is a very effective call if used in the proper way at the proper time. In the fall and spring, the howl may well be the most effective call. I do very little yelping. We have learned through our trapping efforts that yelping is what a coyote does when he is trapped.
"In the spring mating season using coyote vocalizations rather than predator squeals is deadly. Females don't respond, but by imitating the sound of the female, the male will come," Bynum said.
I've called in many coyotes while using turkey calls in the spring. If I were going to hunt coyotes, shrill turkey yelps are the first thing I would try.