Centerfire at Night

What do you get when you mix two army veterans, a marine veteran, and night time rimfire only coyote hunting? The answer may surprise you.

This article appears in the Winter 2017 edition of Michigan Out-of-Doors magazine. Subscribe by becoming a member of Michigan United Conservation Clubs at www.mucc.org/join_mucc!

We took a long walk in the woods, asked neighbors for permission to locate a wounded coyote, and came back empty handed. This happened this past winter after 12 hours of nonstop hunting. This wasn't the first time I have lost a coyote but I promised myself to make it the last.

I was not the one who took the shot on the coyote - that would be my friend Ronnie - who was hunting coyotes for his first time. During the hour long drive home we discussed the events of the hunt in detail, things we learned and things we would do differently next time. Sounds like an After Action Report, doesn’t it? His first concern was if and where he hit it. I told him he shot the large male coyote above the elbow joint where the heart would be. Unfortunately, I was unable to see the placement of this second shot.

Now, if you have not seen or shot a coyote yourself, typically when shot they will try to bite the location of the bullet that helps with identifying where the shot was placed. This particular coyote did just that. Ronnie and I have been to the range many times with each other and I have seen him shoot beyond 300 yards with ease. A 120-yard shot with a magnified optic was a chip shot for him. With the reaction of the coyote, Ronnie’s ability, and the evidence of a blood trail, I ruled out shot placement. That left me with one other variable: type of shot.

In Michigan it is currently illegal to hunt coyotes at night with a centerfire rifle. Centerfire rifles have a longer range and more kinetic energy than a rimfire cartridge. In my opinion, decision-makers have not fully grasped the benefits of using a centerfire cartridge at night. Like most mammals in Michigan’s woods, the coyote is more active at dusk and dawn. Combining their keen senses with the cover of darkness has allowed the coyote to become a more effective hunter. The coyote in Michigan is only surpassed by wolves in the north and humans as apex predators. Coyotes are found in all 50 continental states in all types of habitat, even the urban areas of big cities. With urbanization ever-encroaching on natural habitat, animal and human conflict rises. In many areas around the state, we have reports of coyotes attacking pets in suburban backyards. One of the tools used to help keep balance is hunting.

Many experienced coyote hunters, with the aid of technology, prefer the cover of darkness. Technology has increased exponentially with better optics, lights, and equipment used by hunters. Today’s optics allow hunters to see further with more clarity in lower light situations than before. Night time hunting is nearly impossible without a red or green lens light. There are many red and green predator lights that allow hunters to identify animals several hundred yards away, surpassing the range of any rimfire cartridge as well. Using an electronic call and decoys is very popular with predator hunters. Setting an electronic decoy or call next to the hunter increases the chances of being spotted by an incoming coyote. To counter that, hunters often set their decoy or call 50 yards or more downwind of their set. Doing so may increase the distance between the hunter and coyote. Increasing the distance between hunter and coyote with a rimfire cartridge is counterproductive. With ever increasing technology, night time coyote hunting is becoming safer, more effective, and ethical than before.

With the explosion of interest with coyote hunting in the state over the past several years, I have noticed the quickest growing demographic are veterans. I believe there are multiple reasons why veterans are attracted to coyote or predator hunting. The first one that sticks out in my mind is using a similar rifle for hunting that we were issued in the service. We like not having to relearn a new weapon and it is very easy for us to manipulate the firearm safely and effectively. The second reason is how fast-paced a hunt can be and we can go out in partners. While in the service we are trained with centerfire .22 caliber ammunition. We repeatedly trained at ranges over three, four, five hundred yards. Our fifth weapon safety rule is “know your target and what lies beyond and in between.” Veterans are trained to be accountable for every round they fire just like new hunters taking hunter safety classes.

Now, as I write this, the NRC is considering allowing night time hunting with centerfire rifles. There is a compromise that can benefit everyone. If my friend Ronnie had a .22 caliber centerfire rifle he would have been successful on that cold February morning. A .22 caliber centerfire allows hunters extended range and more kinetic energy for a quick ethical harvest. The smaller caliber bullet has less range and power than its larger .30 caliber cousins. With the aid of new technology, increasing hunter training, and the ability to use a .22 caliber centerfire at night, we can together help manage the local predator population and find more success afield.

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