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Wanna-be Coyote Hunter

By Ray Gauthier

Dave, you want to go coyote hunting with me next weekend? "I'd sure like to, but, I don't have a varmint rifle or the other stuff. You know, the camo clothes, varmint call, and all the little thing I need for that type of hunting. And besides, I don't even know how to start calling coyotes. I have that old "ought six" dad gave me, but, that is no good for varmint hunting".

I suppose every varmint hunter has heard a lament something like this before and maybe even cried a similar tune at one time. If you are looking for excuses, then read some other article. Varmint hunting doesn't have to cost you the equivalent of the National Debt. I won't say it is a free ride, but, getting started can be relatively inexpensive with a little effort on your part.

The perfect varmint gun does not exist and I don't care what you may have read in the past, it just doesn't exist. Every situation is different in the field. On nearly every trip I end up wishing I had brought along one of my other rifles or a shotgun. As for clothing, this is a commercial jackpot and the multitude of varmint getting gimmicks are endless. In the 1800's farmers and cowboys were popping coyotes and other vermin out of necessity and they used whatever they had.

If you do not have a mentor, read all you can, but, do try to locate a partner to learn with. Varmint hunting is more fun with a partner, and can be safer too. While learning, keep an open mind about what you are told and what you observe. Every hunting situation is different and there are different things to learn. I read everything I get my hands on concerning varmint hunting. I have read claims that counter other claims and experts that are more expert than the next guy. In the field I have seen coyotes do things that they are not supposed to do and found them in places they are not supposed to be. I don't think the other guy is wrong, because, where, how and when he hunts has taught him different characteristics of the coyote. Additionally, coyotes in different areas do things differently. My intent is to show you things do not have to be perfectly orchestrated for you to become a good predator hunter.

If you feel comfortable hunting deer or other big game with the rifle you now have, then you have what it takes to start coyote hunting. Upgrade later when you are able to do so. It is often stated in print that any fast stepping .22 center fire is the starting point from the small end. Once in a while you may read something about the itty-bitty .17 caliber, but, I leave those to the real pro's when it comes to taking predators. For a large caliber, I suppose you can carry what ever you wish. Personally I think anything much larger than a .30 caliber may be getting into the area of over kill (for the shoulder), but not necessarily out of bounds for coyotes if you are comfortable hunting with it.

In this case, Dave's old 30-06 turned out to be a Winchester M-70 in excellent mechanical condition. It did look a little rough. His dad used in for many years on the ranch and hunting plains whitetails. I can only guess, but, I'll bet it has been fired at many a song dog in Kansas. We got lucky when we tried some of my 125 gr. varmint loads and they printed inside 1 1/2" at a 100 yards in his rifle. That is plenty good for coyote hunting.

I shot my first and all subsequent coyotes with one rifle, an old Remington M-700 BDL chambered for the tried and true .243 Win. This is not a "varmint" rifle. I bought it new in 1973 as a compromise, deer and varmint rifle with a standard barrel. Over the years I have had a variety of scopes on it and now it supports a 3.5x10 Leopold 50mm, Vari-XIII. But, it worked quite well with the original Bushnell 3x9 that I retired just because something else came along. It also now sports a Bell & Carlson fiberglass stock, because, I did a dumb thing and broke the original. It is not a tack driving piece. It will keep ten 85 gr. Sierra Spitzers in 1" circle all day long. I often carry a 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser (customized) with a 20" barrel as a back-up. To date , it has not been christened it with the blood of a Yote. This one has a 2.5x8 Leopold Vari-XII and with Nosler Ballistic Tips, the accuracy is a about the same as the .243.

I hunt coyotes with a group that use a variety of caliber's that include the .270, a few 25-06's, a 30-06, a couple 22-250's and .243's and a few .223's. If there is a most popular among this crowd it is the .243, but, not by much. If you read other writings about varmint rifles you may notice a pattern. For coyotes, the majority of writers have a favorite caliber, but, discount few others. Is any one gun better than another? I don't really know. I suppose it would depend on the ammunition choice coupled with hunting and shooting skills. If your budget can't carry the expense of a new rifle, wait a while. In the mean time get some of the little things put together.

Whatever you use by choice or necessity, make sure it is sighted in correctly and use a rifle/bullet combination adequate to the task. It is not fair to the animal to punch a hole through him with a bullet designed for taking a grizzly. The other extent is to use a bullet designed for tiny critters like prairie dogs that turn them in to red mist. These will expand too quickly, especially so if they contact a bone going in. Ideally the rifle bullet you select should be determined by field experience, and what better way to get that experience than to go out and call in some coyotes. Since pelts are generally poor quality in mid summer, that is a good time to experiment with different bullets. You may find a particular bullet punches a clean hole all the way through, it may come apart and disintegrate inside without exiting, or, something in between. My experience with my 85 gr. spitzer's broadside at about 3200 fps is that it will regularly rip out the back side. No too good for pelts.

In many situations a rifle of any caliber may be incorrect and only a shotgun will fill the need. In this case, I personally recommend a good hot load of No.4's or larger. Stay clear of the slugs. Shotguns are almost a necessity in heavy brush or when you expect close in, fast action.

Now for the other stuff needed for coyote hunting. How about a call of some sort. When I got into this sport I used a reed type mouth call. My son now has a diaphragm turkey call he imitates elk and can make the most pitiful distressed rabbit sounds you or any coyote could ever dream of. One acquaintance quit duck hunting when he moved West from Virginia. He has since modified some of his duck calls to produce a higher frequency tone. These he considers perfect for imitating a rabbit caught in the jaws of death. Apparently there is nothing inside a call that limits the vocabulary to Quack, Quack. If you happen to live near a flyway, maybe a distressed duck could be the perfect enticement for old wiley. Be creative on a budget. There are innumerable reed calls on the market, some good and most better. The sound you get may be different than what you think it should sound like, but try it anyway. I suggest you get a squealing rabbit tape from one of the call manufacturers and follow the examples they give. You won't go wrong. Remember that dying rabbits and other creatures in distress are just like humans, we all sound different. No two jack rabbits will react or sound the same when in distress. Go out and give it a try and try until it produces.

Another instrument coming into vogue is the howler. A look in some of the hunting magazines will reveal several ads for the latest and greatest howler on the prairie. Howlers are quite effective if used properly. I am not sure what "properly" might be as I do not speak coyote. If you use a howler and it evokes a response that allows you to locate an animal or a group, then it worked as a locator. Some claim they howl to challenge for territory, to claim a kill and to call the family to dinner. If the response is equal to the message sent out then it obviously works for that also. But, what is the language and is it repeatable? The answers are "I don't know" and YES! If you become familiar with the sounds coyotes make and why they make them. There are many hunters and writers out there quite qualified in this area. You can be certain each one spent years perfecting those talents. I have not perfected the howler, thus, I do not feel qualified to guide you in this matter. Howlers are not terribly expensive, so if you can afford it, take a chance and give it a try.

I usually use a recorded call with a wide selections of sounds. Electronic callers have their advantages and disadvantages. They can be placed away from your position so the focus of the predator's search is elsewhere as you wait in ambush. Remote controlled unit offer volume control from a distance without exposing yourself by unnecessary movement. Decoys like a plastic or stuffed rabbit (where legal), can be placed near the speaker for a little added visual effect. Without remote control the volume is preset which sometimes spooks animals as they get closer to the call. I recommend setting the volume near the middle, loud enough to let them know where you are. You don't want the approaching coyote think he is about to encounter a six foot cottontail. Commercial units are expensive by my standards and I have made a few that work just as well. The basics are a 12 v. cassette player, (car type), a speaker (PA type) and a jel cell 12 v. battery (from you local hobby shop) all packed into a plastic tool or tackle box. Most remote callers I have seen are quite heavy and must be carried to and from your setup. Mine for example is about the weight of a rifle. Other negatives are that batteries go dead, the tape runs out or something mechanical fails at the most inopportune time. If you use electronics, you will also learn to carry some mouth calls for backup. I carry one in case of such emergencies and to stop an animal that is coming in too fast. With a different distress sound coming from another direction, usually the animal will stop momentarily to take a quick look. Boom! He's dead!

Clothing? What have you got in the closet? If you are lucky you may have some form of camo clothing. Hey, those duck coveralls may be perfect! Maybe you have the materials to make your own. What says you have to look like a proper tree or bush to hide from old wiley? Granted he may have the best pair of eyes on four legs, but, they are color blind eyes. All you need to do is break up your outline. This can be done with most neutral or earth color pants, shirts and coats. Cut some contrasting fabric in unusual patterns and glue them or sew them to the clothes. Be creative here too! Have you ever seen two bushes that look identical? A head net or face paint, a pair of gloves and a hat that shades the face will be needed. Of course after you have gone to the trouble of clothing yourself properly, don't sit up on top of the hill profiled in the evening sun. Hide on the shady side of a bush, a rock or some other natural feature that will enhance your camouflage not defeat it.

There are so many patterns of camouflage commercially available now that it boggles my mind. The patterns exceed the varieties of .30 caliber rifle bullets. All are intended to break up your silhouette and more or less hide you in your surroundings. Like most people, turkeys and other birds see color, thus, the emphasis on camo that blends with the natural background, in living color. This emphasis leads many to misinterpret what other animals may or may not see.

It is known that color blind people and animals see only shades of black, gray and white. They can differentiate between a shiny and dull material surfaces. In a natural outdoor environment shiny objects are rare than the dull earth tones are the norm. Most predators see only shades of colors with differing light reflective intensities. Whatever color or pattern of camo you use, is should be a shade or pattern that closely blends with the environment you typically hunt in. That leaves the playing field wide open. I have not found a commercial pattern or color scheme that I feel fits all possibilities. The manufacturers must also feel this is true because each company has several patterns and most are available in more than one color scheme.

Solid colors, no matter what color, will limit your success. I am not saying you can't take coyotes in such clothing, but, you are handicapping yourself. Blue jeans, especially relatively new ones, are beacons to be noticed.

Possibly more important than your camo scheme is movement. Any predator will pick out movement much farther away than they will be able to smell you. All the best camo clothing and other gear is useless if you can't sit still. Look with your eyes and when you move your head, do is very slowly. Move your rifle or shotgun into position when the animal is behind cover or looking away. I have blown more stands because I got too excited and made rapid movements when I should have been waiting for a better opportunity. It will happen to you also, at least once.

Location! Location! Location! I'll bet you have heard that a few times. Well, it is quite the idea when coyote hunting. It is useless to call where critters are not. Locating an area that is likely to have your favorite canine requires a bit of research. You can get prime spots from other hunters, ranchers, farmers, game and fish officers, the county sheriff and maybe the mail man. You can also do your own scouting, and you should do some of this before you decide to make a setup. Check the area for tracks, scat and other tell tale signs of their habits. Check out the terrain and wind conditions, then setup and call. There are other references to guide you on how to set up in a variety of circumstances, but, your imagination will see it in it's own way. Go for it. If it doesn't work, do it differently next time.

Wind direction is one of the most critical features of a setup and it can make or break the best planned efforts. Sometimes, you will be stuck with bad wind direction and everything works perfectly. You can never tell! I have them come in up wind and hesitate for what seemed like an eternity. The general idea is to keep your scent away from the approach corridor you are expecting the coyote to use. Surprises are part of the fun of this game. As often as not, your prey will come from somewhere else and may or may not catch your scent. I once had a coyote walk within 20 feet down wind and ignore me. I normally use remote callers and try to place them upwind or cross wind about 60-100 yards. Another general idea is that they will circle and come in from the down wind side. Yea, that happens a lot, but, when you have one charge in from upwind and not slow down as he passes the call or you... Surprise! To be continued............


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