In today's world, all too often wildlife populations are negatively impacted by human expansion. Too many times, urban sprawl and human progression mean the loss of habitat and a decrease in wildlife numbers.

But there is at least one animal that has taken the human lemon and pressed it into lemonade.

There are 19 recognized subspecies of this mammal, and they can be found from Panama to Alaska. Scientists think it is entirely North American in origin, unlike its cousin the grey wolf, which has European ancestry. Even the common name is derived from the Aztec word coyoti. Its scientific name, Canis latrans, means barking dog in Latin.

Stories of this animal can be found in folklore of the Crow, Zuni, Wasco, Flathead, Nez Percé, Sioux, Kalapuya, Apache, Pima, Tewa, Karok, Alsea, Cheyenne and Caddo people of North America. In most accounts, he is listed as crafty, cunning and a trickster. You and I know him as the coyote.

 

A well-traveled trickster

The coyote can be found in nearly every state in the U.S. Originally found in the western states, it has expanded its range eastward with the removal of the wolf from most areas.

In places like Yellowstone Park, reintroduction of the grey wolf has caused a decrease in coyote numbers. While interactions between the wolf and coyote usually result in the wolf being victorious, competitions between coyotes and foxes usually end in the coyote's favor. This is thought to be the reason that red fox populations in eastern states have declined in areas of heavy coyote habitation.

Coyotes are just as at home in suburban and some urban environments as they are in the wilds of America. Researchers have estimated that as many as 2,000 coyotes live in the Chicago area.

In 2006, a coyote was observed and captured in New York's Central Park, and another was spotted in 2010. Being omnivorous in nature, the coyote will prey on livestock, large and small game animals, rodents, birds and pets, garden crops like watermelons and human garbage.

History aside, the coyote is here to stay in Mississippi. It can be found from the Tennessee line to the Gulf Coast in every habitat. One step outside on a calm night will probably be greeted with the sounds of the coyote just about anywhere in the state. And if your small town has an air-raid siren that goes off at 9 p.m. like mine does, you are guaranteed a serenade by the song dogs each and every night.

In Mississippi, the coyote is listed as a "nuisance" species. This classification allows for relaxed restrictions in the hunting and trapping of the coyote, to provide opportunity for homeowners and landowners to protect their property against nuisance animals and the damage they cause.

What this means for the hunter is that the coyote can be pursued most any day of the year with very few restrictions.

Terry Bell from Lucedale began hunting coyotes nearly 20 years ago. At that time, very few people were into coyote hunting, according to Bell.

"Not many people predator hunted in South Mississippi because of the terrain," he said. "I started out with a rabbit distress mouth call and a .22 rifle. Before I knew it, I had coyotes coming to me. I invested in a couple of electronic calls later on. I use the Fox Pro and the Primos call.

"As I experimented and got better at it, I started traveling to West Texas and New Mexico. The country out there is more open than South Mississippi. And they hunt them at night in trucks equipped with specially designed towers with swivel seats, lights and electronic calls. You can call in four or five times as many animals at night as you can in the daytime."

 

Walk the walk

As far as hunting conditions in Mississippi, there are certain times and weather situations that are better than others.

"The best conditions to call in are cool, calm days in early morning or late afternoon," he said. "Sound carries farther in cool conditions and calm wind.

"I like to set up on side hills in South Mississippi with a cross wind. With a cross wind, I can usually catch the animal before he circles around downwind. It's easier for me to work a crosswind than it is with the wind in my face. It's not the only way to do it, but it's how I like to do it.

"I try to setup where I have a little cover because coyotes and cats try to stick to cover instead of wide-open areas. Early in the year I like to call early in the morning and during the last hour of daylight. It's so hot early in the fall so I try to go early and late.

"During the winter, I will try calling early in the morning, then I'll go back to the woods when the deer hunters have come out and try calling around 10:30 or 11:00. Coyotes respond better in winter to mid-day calling than other times of the year."

While Bell is restricted mainly to woodland areas with little open terrain, Delta hunter Mike McMillian prefers to hunt more open areas he is accustomed to around Morgan City.

With the ever-increasing acreage of CRP in the Delta, it won't be difficult to find good calling locations where big ag fields meet thick cover. And since the coyote is an edge-man, he favors traveling these transition zones between thick cover and food sources - places where his meals are likely to be hanging out feeding.

 

Talk the talk

"Try to hunt large fields, grass fields or pastures so you can see them before they see you," said McMillian. "I start by using rabbit distress calls; crank down on it hard for about 30 seconds to a minute straight.

"Try that every 10 minutes, and if you haven't seen any coyotes in 30 minutes to an hour, try howling and throw in a few pup distress cries. Coyotes think that a pup is getting whooped and that they are missing the meal."

"I start out with rabbit distress or woodpecker distress calls," said Bell. "The woodpecker call is often overlooked but is very effective.

"I begin with a couple of sequences from two to five minutes, then give it a break for several minutes, then call again for a few minutes followed by a 10- to 15-minute break.

"Constant calling is not productive for me. I try to change the calls up. I use a rabbit distress then change to bird or coyote pup distress. Changing up the sequence will make a coyote change his mind sometimes.

"In a couple of weeks if not already, the females will be cleaning out dens and getting ready to mate. Locator calls like howls will work well at this time of year. Females tend to be somewhat monogamous and breed with the same male year after year. When they start that locator call it will encourage the male to get up and move to find her. Imitating that call is a good way to get big males to come in to the hunter."

Bell said that when coyote hunting, be prepared to make a shot as soon as you start calling.

"Coyotes will generally work within a few seconds to a few minutes," he said. "If you call coyotes for 20-30 minutes, you are usually wasting your time. They're either educated or not present if you have to call that long.

"Cats, on the other hand, they can take as long as 20 minutes to show up. I have called for 45 minutes to an hour before a bobcat shows up. They are just not as quick to respond as coyotes are."

When a coyote does show up, a little patience can usually be rewarded. Oftentimes, the first dog you see is not alone. If you will let him work as close as you can comfortably get him, do it.

"I usually let the first coyote that I see come in as close as possible because most of the time there'll be a few behind him, and then I try to kill as many as possible," said McMillian. "The first day I ever went coyote hunting, we killed five coyotes on two setups."

As far as what types of calls to use, Bell says that no particular style or manufacturer is the cure-all for everyone.

"I prefer a couple of calls," he said. "The Randy Anderson calls from Primos, particularly the Ki-Yi and cottontail distress.

"I also like the Ruffy Dog call by Les Johnson, but it seems to work better for me in more open terrain. The most important thing is to find the call or calls that work best for you."

 

Weapons and loads

What kind of gun does a coyote hunter have to have? Bell said most any weapon would do. Having already mentioned he'd hunted coyotes early in his career with a .22, he said that a beginner need not go out and buy a specialty weapon.

"You can hunt them with your .300 mag deer rifle if you want to, and I have a friend who does just that," he said. "You don't need a special gun.

"Thicker areas with a lot of brush and close shots are good times for a shotgun. You can work within the law restrictions and learn to hunt them with whatever weapon is legal. The .223 is what I usually take. I have an AR platform and a 700 Remington bolt action.

"A .243 is good for long-range shots in higher winds that we encounter out west. It's also good to take if you are coyote hunting during deer season and a deer happens to step out. I feel much more comfortable shooting a deer with a .243 than a .223.

"I hand load my ammunition. I use 52-grain Sierra hollow point bullets and 25.5 grains of Varga powder. I get 3,100 fps muzzle velocity with that load. I also use a 55-grain V-max bullet. The 52- to 55-grain bullets are good for 50- to 150-yard shots. I like 75- to 85-grain .243 bullets for the 200- to 300-yard shots. The .204 Ruger is a razor, but on a big coyote out past 200 yards, it might not put them down immediately. It is super flat shooting and deadly accurate, but I just won't take a chance on a long shot with it."

Both Bell and McMillian recommend total concealment and limiting your movement when on the stand. Have your face and hands covered, and try to blend into the exact terrain you are hunting. Avoid silhouetting yourself against the skyline, putting terrain to your back when possible, and use the terrain to conceal your movements when moving from stand to stand.

"Decoys can be extremely effective," said Bell. "The Mojo decoy with the wobbly, shaking tail is very effective.

"I had never hunted with one until I tried one a few years ago in Texas. That coyote came in, and as soon as he saw that decoy, he put his nose to the ground and came running straight to it. It takes the animal's attention from where the hunter is and puts it on the decoy. This allows a hunter to sometimes get into position for the shot without spooking the coyote.

"The full-body coyote decoy is also good but seems to be more effective in open areas like powerlines, pipelines, pastures and fields."

The main thing that hunters need to remember is that safety comes first. Know your target and what is beyond it. Never take a shot into the brush just because you hear something. Know the laws and what weapons you can use at different times of the year on public and private land. And know which animals can be hunted legally with electronic calls and at night with lights.

And most importantly be an ethical hunter. Although the coyote is considered a nuisance animal in Mississippi, it is still to be respected. No animal should suffer at the hands of a hunter. You owe it to the animal to make clean, quick kills. And you owe it to fellow outdoorsmen to dispose of the remains properly.