Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Friends First Coyote Hunt

This short article was recently published in the Sportsman Alliance of Maine (SAM) January/February 2015 Newsletter . . . enjoy! 

I remember fondly one particular evening a few years ago when I had the distinct pleasure of taking a friend out coyote hunting. This particular outing, it was an impossibly frigid January evening but my friend as excited and I aimed to please. Heading out the door, I noted that the thermometer on the deck read -17 degrees F, cold enough where we needed to use extreme caution exposing any flesh to the elements for fear of frostbite. A brilliantly bright full moon cast eerie shadows throughout the woodlands making my eyes swear they could see movement even when there was none. The short walk to our set-up location did precious little to warm us in the brutal cold but that meant little as I looks at my friend and he was grinning.

After 15 minutes of sitting on a high granite shelf overlooking the edge of an expansive frozen swamp with the sounds of wounded snowshoe rabbit blasting on the electronic call, a chorus of several excited song dogs started howling LOUDLY west of our position. Immediately after this auditory barrage a very concerned friend, his adrenaline pumping and nerves slightly frayed, slowly turned his head in my direction and whispered "WE are going to DIE!" This comment was soon followed by a remark inquiring about how many rounds of ammunition I had decided to bring and how fast I could work the bolt action on my rifle.

As my friend was only along to watch and was not carrying a firearm as a true “friend”, to further frazzle his already frayed nerves, I cranked the electronic call to its highest volume and hit "lone coyote howl". My poor, poor friend immediately flinched violently in his seat, his eyes expanded to the size of dinner plates and I am fairly certain he released something from his lower intestine in an uncontrolled fashion. I had all I could do not to burst out in hysterical laughter. Repeating the call several more times I could tell the old boy was at the end of his proverbial rope and I whispered, "that was me" lest he attempt to run for it. Thankfully, my friend has an incredible sense of humor and all I received as a through description of where I could stick my electronic call instead of the physical beating I probably deserved.

In my friend’s defense, if you have never hunted predators like coyote, bobcat and bear you are likely unaware of how vulnerable it can make you feel, when a coyote howls or a bobcat or black bear silently stalks past you by only a few feet. The hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and goose bumps spring forth from your body as the primitive mind regresses to a time when man was the hunted and not the hunter of these beasts. The feeling is similar to what it is like to watch a horror movie; there is something unique inside each of us that simply enjoys a good scare. When you combine this adrenaline packed punch with the challenge of calling and the added struggle against the winter season, you begin to see the attraction of hunting these predators. The winter season is a playground for predator hunters high on the excitement of being able to hunt bobcat, fox, coyote and even raccoon.

While it is enjoyable to target each of these animals with game calling, another popular method is the placing of bait. Bait piles containing road killed deer carcasses frequently draw all four of these furbearers, making morning and evening sits especially exciting as the hunter is never sure what critter might suddenly appear. December marks the beginning of the coyote night hunting season and dedicated sportsmen not afraid to subject themselves to the fury of the Maine winter are typically richly rewarded. Constructing warm shelters, for sitting in on cold winter nights, is mandatory for hunters to be able to hide movement and remain comfortable for long hours when the mercury plummets. These shelters range from drafty old retired ice shacks to well insulated, propane heated condos with lazy-boy recliners and bunks. With the trick to killing more coyotes, directly tied to spending as much time as possible on a bait site, comfort certainly pays huge dividends.

After investing over a hundred hours last winter sitting on bait sites, I can tell you that the most important consideration is having a comfortable chair. On a calm still evening, were even the smallest sound is amplified, a chair that allows you to sit practically motionless for 6-8 hours in absolutely critical. Maintaining “baited sites” is a labor-intensive process and hunters employ a variety of methods to attempt to keep sites refreshed with bait and active. Hungry critters can wipe out an active bait site fairly quickly, leaving hunters with nothing more to hunt over than skeletons. To battle this problem, many employ filling five gallon buckets with meat and water, freezing them solid. This allows critters to smell and dig at the bait, only extracting small morsels at each visit. This keeps predators hungry and coming back often to check on the site. Another method, I employed this previous hunting season is taking 4 large logs, nail them together in a square shape and cover the top with chicken wire, bait is then place under this chicken wire frame. Predators are able to see, smell and dig at the bait through he chicken wire but it is extremely difficult for them to eat more then a tiny amount at each visit.

Several laws exist dictating the placement of bait. These include proximity rules related to distance from dwellings, campgrounds and roads. Bait sites must also be labeled with a clearly visible 2 by 4 inch tag with the name and address of the baiter. Bait sites are subject to Maine’s litter laws and must be cleaned up when requested to do so by the landowner or within 20 days from the last day the site was hunted over. It is illegal to place bait on ice of waters that serve as municipal water supplies, or their tributaries. Before determining where to place a bait site, hunters should become thoroughly familiar with these laws and limitations. Individuals without direct access to public land will find that many opportunities exist where hunters can place bait on the edging of frozen lakes and ponds.

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