Two Mississippi hunters slipped into the moonlit field with quiet footfalls and talking only in whispers. One leaned a .270 against a corner fence post, and the other strung out wire to a remote speaker that was part of an electronic calling system.

The first hunter connected a powerful hand-held spotlight to a small 12-volt battery, and readied a sending unit with several coyote calls recorded inside.

With shooting sticks in place, one hunter pressed a button on the caller, and the screams of an injured rabbit pierced the blackness. After a couple of series of the hair-raising calls, one hunter switched on the powerful light, and swept the field edge where a coyote stood at attention. The shooter quickly fired, and the wild dog tumbled.

Illegal you say? Call the warden? Nope. Not any more.

Due to some brand-new regulations, night hunting with a light and big-caliber rifles for coyotes and several other animals is now legal. Many dedicated predator hunters are saying it is about time.

With a few sensible stipulations, predator hunters can now practice their skills year round, night and day and with the weapons of their choice. Mississippi hunters are now able to keep pace with those across the nation in taking coyotes as a sport.

Predator hunting, especially for coyotes, is a fast-growing sport among shooters who want to go afield year round and not put away their guns when deer season closes.

"We are anxious to provide the Mississippi sportsman with more opportunities to get into the outdoors," Jerry Munro, Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks commissioner said of the new regulations put into effect Oct. 9. "We were especially interested in addressing the wild hog problems by offering the new regulations."

But coyote hunters benefited too.

 

Nuisance animals

The regulations, published by the MDWFP address "nuisance" animals and ways to control them. For legal purposes, nuisance animals under the Mississippi rules are beaver, coyote, fox, nutria, skunk and wild hogs.

"The commission decided to have the regulations apply to all six of the animals in this classification," said Munro.

Although the commission was concerned most about the wild hog populations in Mississippi, their action opened the doors for Mississippi to become a significant location for coyote hunting.

National interest is indicated by editors choosing cover photos of coyotes for the May 2009 issue of Petersen's Hunting magazine and the January 2008 issue of American Hunter magazine, both carrying coyote articles.

Here is what the new rules say in brief: From March 1 to the day prior to the opening of deer archery season, nuisance animals may be taken on private lands at any time with no weapon restriction. However, they may not be hunted with dogs during spring turkey season. From the opening of deer archery season to the last day of February, a MDWFP-issued permit allows landowners, leaseholders or their designated agents to hunt nuisance animals without weapon restriction during daylight or nighttime hours.

So with a landowner permit in your pocket and an All-Game or Sportsman License, you can hunt coyotes 12 months of the year day or night, and use a varmint rifle and electronic caller.

Hound hunting coyotes or spotting them from stands are common ways coyotes are taken. Here, because of space limitation and the widespread interest of predator callers, we will address the calling aspect only.

 

Equipment

Excitement set in for this writer as I got out my long-neglected .22-250, and tuned it up. An electronic game caller, complete with several calls for attracting coyotes and a big remote speaker, came from the mail-order folks. I added a coyote howler and a rabbit squealer, mouth-operated callers and a couple of giant, hand-held spotlights.

I had heard that tinted light would spook fewer animals, and the catalogs show red-tinted lenses on some hunting spotlights. My inexpensive lights had no such lenses, and this led me to an important discovery. I obtained some light red cellophane from a local florist, and covered my light with a sheet cut to fit and held on by a rubber band.

I called a coyote one night that came in to about 130 yards, and stayed more than 15 minutes in view with the reddish light without running away as I continued the electronic rabbit squealing. I was amazed, given the usual shyness of coyotes we all have known. The cellophane is only a light red, perhaps lighter tinted than the red lens that comes with some lights.

Rechargeable lights travel lighter as a rule, but the less-expensive ones may not be quite as powerful. One light is rated at 3 million candlepower, and its 12 volts can come from a lawnmower battery carried in a small bag with handles. Battery clips can replace the cigarette lighter plug that comes on most lights. If two or three persons are along on the hunt, a little extra weight isn't a problem.

Besides lights and callers, shooting sticks are a big help in accurate aiming. Scoped rifles work well with the bright lights necessary for long shots. In warm weather, carry some insect repellent and watch out for snakes.

 

Who's excited?

Predator hunters, especially callers, were handicapped and frustrated by Mississippi's regulations prior to October 2008. Ricky Flynt, wildlife biologist with MDWFP who is the Alligator/Furbearer Program coordinator, is responsible for the nuisance-animal program.

"Before, anyone hunting coyotes had to use a .22 rifle or smaller or No. 6 shot or smaller day or night throughout the summer," he said. "Coyotes could be taken on private land by landowners or their agents during a hunting season with the weapons legal for that game only."

Of course, there was reasoning behind those rules that sound so restrictive to predator hunters. They were helpful in enforcing laws that protect deer.

"But we needed to address the wild-hog problem," said Flynt.

And many believe the commission wisely added coyote to the list in the simple-to-understand regulation.

Where in Mississippi will one find good coyote hunting?

"Coyotes are everywhere," Flynt said.

Populations fluctuate in cycles, but there are more across the state than most people realize. I counted a dozen separate droppings in 100 yards along a road bed in turkey woods recently. A close look at woods openings reveals that coyote tracks are second in number only to deer tracks in many areas.

New cutovers offer good visibility, and a large one can force a called coyote to reveal himself if your setup is in the center of the logged area. In one fresh cutover I hunted, coyotes were feeding on dislodged mice.

If you have trouble finding a place to hunt, mention coyotes in a discussion. Someone will likely speak ill of them, and an invitation to hunt will often follow.

There should be a lot of these predators out there that haven't yet heard a caller. You might want to give them their first (last?) experience.