Varmint hunting

January 30, 2019
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This coyote is not just playing tag with this fawn. Poor little guy is milliseconds away from having his jugular ripped out.

Whoa, not so fast! I’m talking about not putting away your hunting rifle for the winter. No quite yet. One of the most fun and high-speed shooting seasons is about to kick-off. Varmint hunting! Varmints need to be managed because most of them have few natural predators. If you don’t manage them, then the antelope, deer and elk herds will suffer big time.

There’s a myth espoused out there in the world between science fiction and flat-out lies of the uninformed that wolves, coyotes and predators in general only kill the sick, lame and lazy. That’s simply not true. They kill and eat whatever is the easiest to catch.

I remember a few years back, a study in one zone found that 80 percent of the wolves’ diets were elk calves. Of course, that makes sense — they’re the easiest to catch. And what about pregnant does/cows right before or during calving?

This one may surprise you: A big prey for cougars are big bucks right after the rut. They are worn down after chasing does constantly for days on end.

So with the above said, you can see why predators need to be managed if we want to have healthy, abundant herds of wildlife.

So other than occasionally stumbling across a coyote loping across the prairies, how do you purposely hunt them? The most popular method is to call them. As a kid, all we had were hand calls. Then Johnny Stewart came out with cassette tapes to electronically call them. We’d plug a tape in the truck and crank it up.

Fast forward a few decades. Now there are a million different brands of electronic calls available — all the way from small handheld sized ones on up to what may look like a boombox to you. I’ve got some with rotating speakers so you can turn them to face whichever way you’d like for the sound to travel.

And I failed to mention, most of them will have a remote control, which is great so when they run in focused on the location of the call they’re not as likely to spot you 30 yards away.

It’s a given that no matter which way they come in from, when they get close, they’re going to circle downwind of you. So you want to have an open spot downwind of you so you’ll see them. You’ll want to be concealed. Pop-up blinds are nice but if you’re running-gunning they’re a pain to lug around. I did find one cool little one by Ameristep called the Throwdown blind. It’s about 2 feet tall and sets up in a C shape.

But don’t feel like you have to have a blind. Ninety percent of the time I just hide behind brush or a fence line. Look in the January issue of Fur-Fish-Game to read a short article I wrote on how to construct a brush blind in less than five minutes. Or you can take a piece of burlap camo’d cloth and lay over a fence or two sage bushes.

Decoys also greatly enhance your setup. I use two kinds. I like the Montana Decoys offerings. I’ll set up their coyote and then a rabbit, deer fawn or antelope fawn, according to what prey is available where I’m hunting. Another popular and for good reason decoy are the attractant decoys. They’re an electronic decoy that is basically a wire with a piece of white cloth on the end that spins around. Predators are more comfortable coming in when they see movement to go along with the noise. Or you can tie a turkey feather on the end of a wire and let it dangle.

What guns should you use? .223 ARs are the most popular because you can get fast follow-up shots with them. Many times you’ll have two, three or more coyotes come in at once. And if there are two or more shooters, I always make of us carry a shotgun. One year, 40 percent of my coyotes came in within shotgun range. Use Hevi-Shot Dead Coyote loads. They can reach out to 70 yards.

Last year, Bill Olson, the editor of Texas Outdoors Journal, and I were varmint hunting for a week. I told him one of us had to have a shotgun. He advised against it saying we’ll be hunting in West Texas in the wide open country. What do you think we rolled the first coyote with?

Spot lighting at night is the ultimate. That’s when they’re really active. But in Idaho it’s more restricted than a lot of other states, so check the rules since we are running out of space.

So don’t get fat and lazy this winter. Crawl out of your man cave and go try your hand at varmint hunting.


It seems like 90 percent of the coyotes will come in the first five minutes.Bobcats will call but are usually a lot slower coming in. We called three in one day during the above Texas hunt.I just ordered a book titled “Master Coyote Hunting” by Mike Huff. (Haven’t read it yet).

Tom Claycomb lives in Meridian, Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

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