By Rob Harrell
It’s early February in Southern Michigan and instead of lying in my warm cozy bed, I find myself sitting on the edge of a frozen soybean field as the sun rises into view. Snow blankets the tundra and the remains of soybean stalks poke through the surface.
My electronic game call sits about 50 yards away from my new Mossberg Predator .223 Rifle equipped with a Nikon ProStaff 5 3-9×40 scope. My numb fingers hit the distress cottontail call and I settle into a sapling that doubles as my backrest. Behind all of this equipment, sits an experienced hunter who, to this point, has focused on turkeys, whitetails, and waterfowl for the past 20 years. But on this particular morning, I’m overwhelmed with anticipation and excitement, as if I was stepping into the woods for the first time.
I scan the horizon for any sort of movement as the chilled air cuts through my facemask. As I sit motionless with my .223 tucked at the ready and supported by a pivoting bipod, I glance to my left and finally see the animal that I have been preparing for. He kicks up the white powder as he trots in a half moon pattern around my game call at roughly 200 hundred yards. Curiosity, mixed with hunger, has led him this far, but instinct cautions him to come any closer. As I center him through my Nikon, I realize he has shifted his focus from the game call to me. His ears pointed to the heavens and his razor sharp eyes cut through me like a knife. I slowly slide my trembling hand down my rifle and position my index finger over the trigger. I exhale one last time as my 200 reticle centers on his chest. I squeeze.
As if hitting the rewind button on an old VCR, let’s take a step back and discuss what led me to this moment. All my life, January 1st in Michigan meant two things; the end of the Whitetail Deer Season and the start of the countdown until Spring Turkey Season. What was once the worst time of the year, quickly became one of my most anticipated. I did not start pursing coyotes based on boredom, however, I did literally stumble across this newly found passion of mine.
As I was setting up stands and clearing out shooting lanes during the previous summer months, I explored the property and was sickened by the destruction that was taking place. The remains of whitetails, both big and small, littered the woods and field edges. Carcasses that were picked clean to the bone from head to hoof became evidence that we were losing Whitetails. My fellow hunters and I that spend hours and hours during the offseason hanging “No Trespassing” signs, installing gates, and kicking out wandering locals off of our property came to the realization that we were focusing our efforts on just a small part of the activities necessary for protecting our deer herd.
Sure we all complained about the coyote who would occasionally come through and ruin an afternoon sit in a deer stand. Yes, we all share trail cam pictures of a coyote sniffing around our bait piles, but it wasn’t until we saw the gruesome remains of yearling fawns scattered across our 1500+ acres of hunt-able habitat that we realized we needed to do more.
Recent studies have shown that during the summer months, whitetail fawns make up 70% of a coyotes diet. Let’s stop and think about that for a minute. That means 7 out of 10 meals a coyote consumes during this period is a whitetail fawn! Coyotes are often thought of as scavenger carnivores eating the rotting waste of animals that have died of natural causes or we think of them as nocturnal hunters that chase small game such as squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons. However in our case, the reality was that coyotes were not being managed on our property and they were having a much larger impact on our deer that none of us could have ever imagined.
A study in South Carolina conducted by the U.S Forest Service placed radio collars on 60 fawns for observation. Within 6 weeks, 44 (73%) of the fawns died. Out of these 44 fawns, 35 (85%) of them were killed by coyotes, 6 (13%) were killed by bobcats, and the remaining 3 (7%) were killed by unknown causes.
After stumbling across yet another fawn carcass that August evening, I went home to fire up the computer and started to educate myself on coyote’s impact on deer populations. As you can see, the results are staggering. A good friend once told me that if you are seeing them routinely, whether it be on trail camera, up in your stand during the season, or when you are out scouting, then you probably have too many.
The good news is that in 2016, the State of Michigan and Michigan Department of Natural Resources expanded the coyote hunting season. In the past, coyotes were off limits during their birthing season between the months of April and July. After much consideration, the data and the research supported Michigan legislation to open hunting on coyotes year-round.
The State of Michigan also allows for the trapping and snaring of coyotes 365 days per year and again, without bag limitations. Residents may hunt coyotes with just a base license, however, a furbearer’s license is required for trapping. The Michigan Trappers and Predator Callers Association have been supporting the management of coyotes and other predators for almost 60 years. Besides aiding the Department of Natural Resources in wildlife management, the MTPCA also provides education, as well as, landowner assistance to those interested in predator control. Organizations such as these are littered throughout the state and can be a great resource for those unfamiliar with predator hunting and trapping.
After educating myself on all of the laws and regulations of coyote hunting, trapping, and snaring, I knew the next step was to learn more about their behavior and patterns. Just like hunting whitetails, turkeys, and waterfowl, in order to be a successful hunter you need to study the game you’re pursuing. Hunters of old would have to hunt decades in order to obtain the field knowledge that I was looking for. But with today’s technology, video capabilities, social media and the internet, I was able to watch and learn key hunting tactics right from my computer.
I became an avid fan of predator hunting television shows, learned how to properly use game calls from YouTube demonstrations, and engaged fellow predator hunters in Coyote Hunting Facebook Groups to discuss their favorite setups, seating positions, etc. Again, these are luxuries that I took advantage of that our fathers and grandfathers never had access to. Within a few months of research I was ready to attempt my first coyote hunt.
I have to admit, watching predator hunting television shows gave me a false confidence as I drove down to the property for that first evening hunt. Watching half a dozen coyotes get shot in a 30 minute episode makes hunting these critters look way too easy. I learned that lesson quickly as the “Wiley Coyote” made short work of humbling this rookie predator hunter. None-the-less, my initial experience was filled with excitement and anticipation.
Fast-forwarding back to my encounter…. I’ve got him in my crosshairs and I slowly squeeze the trigger. As the concussion from my rifle echoed through the calm fields and the cluster of birds scattered out of the wood-line, I loaded another shell and slowly stood up. As my boots crunched through the frozen beans and snow I approached with caution and my rifle remained focused on the animal that dropped right where he once stood. The feeling and emotion that went through me as I knelt down next to him is a feeling that I have never experienced before as a hunter. His winter coat mixed with grays and browns was full and soft to the touch. However, there was no 10 point rack to lift up and hold. There wasn’t an immediate need to eyeball the length of his beard and spurs, nor was there any band above his foot. I learned that the reward of taking a large healthy male coyote is not the life of the animal that you have just taken, but rather its lives of other animals that are being saved that provides the reward. One less obstacle for whitetail fawns to navigate around. One less hungry mouth that the turkeys need to shelter themselves from. And one less mature male to breed the females and further increase the local population.