The eastern coyote has been a top predator in our area for a long time, and they’re a big challenge to hunt. Although I’ve taken a few “song dogs,” I’m not an accomplished coyote hunter. That’s why I attended a seminar at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg on February 7. The seminars there are worth the price of admission. The seminar presenter was Joe Zaffuto of Night Eyes Hunting Lights, a central Pennsylvania company.
All the coyotes I’ve taken were in the daytime, so I was particularly interested in learning more about hunting at night. My experience hunting at night is mostly gained from a Jamestown, NY friend, Rick DiDomenico. DiDomenico’s strategies line up perfectly with Zaffuto’s advice.
Zaffuto advocates using two red lights for coyote hunting—a red scan light worn as a headlamp, and a red gun light mounted above the riflescope. The gun light comes on only when it’s time for a shot. The scan light accomplishes three purposes as you turn your head to scan the area in front and to the sides.
- It locates the eyes of a coyote coming to investigate your call. The coyote’s eyes show up well beyond 200 yards.
- It conditions the coyote to your presence. He can see it, but not well enough to alarm him.
- It functions as concealment. Zaffuto calls it his “blind” because it’s effective at preventing the coyote from seeing anything behind the red light. Once you catch the eyes of a coyote, keep him in the red light.
Zaffuto sets up in the most open area possible. That’s a big advantage, even though it seems counter intuitive. As long as you’re careful not to allow the red light to light up you, your firearm, any other equipment, or any terrain features, the “blind” remains effective. Avoid casting shadows. A shadow tells the coyote something is there besides the sound he’s hearing.
Part of conditioning the coyote to your red light is to keep the light at a modest brightness. That’s why Zaffuto uses his light at only 30% of its top brightness. It’s enough to reflect his eyes, but the brighter the light, the more suspicious the coyote becomes.
Although many coyotes are shot at distances greater than 200 yards, they will come much closer. At 80 yards or so, they will begin to circle downwind to pick up scent.
As the time for a shot approaches, get the coyote in the crosshairs, then turn on the light attached to your rifle before turning off the scan light. That sequence is important because you’ve already conditioned the coyote’s eyes to your dimmer scan light. To lessen the shock of the brighter light on the rifle or to stop him from moving, let out a bark. It will give you four or five extra seconds before he decides what is about to happen might not be good for his health.
Zaffuto offers a few extra tips that will shorten your learning curve.
Coyotes judge distance by sound rather than by sight, so call softly at first. A soft call will bring a close one in. If you start your calling at high volume, it might scare him off.
- Use periods of quiet. An approaching coyote might think the silence means something else got his dinner, and he’ll want to investigate. By that same reasoning, don’t leave your calling site before you’ve been silent for about ten minutes.
- The best time is the first three hours after full darkness falls. That’s when coyotes are getting started on their night’s mission to find food.
- When calling at night, keep your electronic caller close. The coyote judges distance by sound, not sight, and he can’t see into your “blind.” When calling in daylight put the caller 40 or 50 yards away. You want him to focus on where the sound is coming from.
This winter’s lack of snow cover makes it very easy for coyotes to find food. Since they’re not as hungry, it’s more difficult to interest them in your calling. The best time is when a foot of snow is covering up all the rodents and frigid temperatures force coyotes to move. For that reason, success rates are down this winter, but you can still score on these dominant predators.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He is a field contributor to Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.