Hunting seasons come and go in Kentucky. Right now we’re ramping up for spring turkeys. Soon small game will be back, and in the fall it’s on for the turkey and whitetail. But there is one animal in Kentucky that can be hunted just about anytime you want, that is coyote. It is somewhat cool to be a coyote hunter nowadays. Everyone thinks they can do it. It makes people feel like they’re doing a service to other hunters or cattle farmers. But the truth is, not very many of us are good at it. That is certainly not the case for predator hunter Jon Collins.
Collins is just a good ole boy from Central Kentucky who started hunting coyotes long before it was trendy. One day in the late-90’s, when Collins was in high school, he walked into Curtsinger’s Outfitters in Danville and saw a coyote hunting package that came with a call. He said he had heard of people calling coyotes and decided to give it a try out of curiosity. Once Collins got the hang of calling coyotes, he’s been doing it ever since.
“I guess it’s a trendy thing to hunt coyotes now, but I’ve been hunting them since the late-90’s. I was the only idiot who was doing it back then,” said Collins. “I started doing that in high school. I didn’t know the first person who was calling coyotes in Kentucky. I thought I was the only one.”
If you’re like me, a coyote is on your list of animals you’d like to add to your list of kills this year. Coyotes aren’t running rampant for nothing. According to Collins, they are the smartest animal he has ever pursued. They know how to evade and stay away from hunters. Collins compares a spooked coyote to a scolded dog that knows better than to disobey again. That’s why many of us may never get one – it’s not easy!
“They are the smartest animal that we have to hunt. I’ve hunted everything you can think of, all over the country. It’s one of those things that you have to respect, or you’re not going to have any success calling coyotes,” said Collins. “Most guys that hunt with dogs know how smart they are. If a dog is doing something wrong, you scold it, it immediately cowers and is standoffish. That’s exactly what a coyote is going to do. If he winds you and you shoot and miss, when he hears that call again, he is going to act like a scolded dog and tuck his tail and run. It may be months before he comes back.”
While Collins has been predator hunting all over the United States, calling coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and the like, a lot of us are still looking to enter the world of pursuing predators. Collins is here to give us the crash course on coyote hunting.
Where to hunt?
In the second episode of season five of Tooth and Claw TV, Collins ventures out to a Central Kentucky farm to call a coyote that he puts down with ease. Over the years, Collins has spent time building relationships with farmers who want coyotes eradicated from their properties. More times than not, you will see Collins with his call set out in an open area, while he tucks in behind a tree line, away from the coyotes sight and smell. Some of us have access to these types of hunting grounds, but there are many of us who don’t. Collins said it can be as simple as knocking on some doors and asking local farmers if they have a coyote problem they’d like addressed.
“The first step in coyote calling is to acquire some land. You just got to get out and start knocking on doors,” said Collins. “Sometimes you may have family members who own places. Or, you’ll have to go out and find landowners. If you tell them what you’re wanting to do, tell them how you’re there to help them, a lot of times they’ll agree to it.”
If you are not able to acquire some private land to call coyotes, Collins said that is no problem. Kentucky has hundreds of thousands of acres of public land, and coyotes are roaming on all of them. While it may be more difficult to call coyotes in a wooded area, Collins said those who are trying to enter the sport should give it a try.
“You can definitely hunt wooded areas. Kentucky has a ton of public land. Daniel Boone has over 700-thousand acres alone. Get out there and do some scouting, get a good set up and figure out what you need to do to hunt that area,” said Collins. “I like to hunt openings, cattle farms, pasture fields, things like that. The downfall is 95-percent of Kentucky is wooded. The coyotes are there. You just have to find them.”
Finding the Coyotes
Living in Central Kentucky myself, I am surrounded by cattle farms. At night, I can step out on my porch, and if I sit there long enough, there is a good chance I hear a coyote. But as many times as my family and I have taken hikes through some of our local public land, we have never seen or heard a coyote. They simply stay away. Scouting coyotes can be challenging, but Collins says it is imperative for anyone who wants to get into coyote hunting.
“I take more of a scouting approach. I try to locate coyotes, rather than just going out and setting up to call them. I want to know they are there first,’ said Collins. “If I’m hunting public land, I’m going to go out right before dark and I’ll start howling. I’ll do that in a few different locations. If I can hear them, then I know I have coyotes to hunt. I’ll have a good idea of where they are and I can better pinpoint them. I’ll come in the next day and start calling them.”
What calls do I need?
Calling is the key to taking out coyotes. And there are many ways this can be done. If you are just beginning, and your budget is light, you may prefer to go with a cheap hand call or a diaphragm call. These calls can range from a few bucks to $20-$30. If you are a more experienced predator hunter, you may want to go with an electronic call. These calls usually start around $100 and can go upwards of $700. Any way you go, everyone can afford to get into the coyote calling game.
“You have all kinds of options when you’re looking for calls. You got hand calls, diaphragms, electronic calls – all kinds. Hand calls are a pretty cheap way to get into it for beginners. They’re just a few dollars,” said Collins. “I use electronic calls. You can get a basic one for right around a hundred dollars. They are limited in sound, volume, and options, but they’re good for someone just starting out. You can go up to around $700 on calls and you’ll have all the options available and better sound and volume. It really comes down to how comfortable you feel about how much money you can spend to get into the game.”
How should I set up?
It doesn’t matter what kind of call you buy, if you don’t set up correctly. One whiff of you and the coyote is gone and you’re walking back to your truck. It’s important to take all factors into consideration when calling coyotes. Like we’ve mentioned, they are the smartest animal we have to hunt here in Kentucky. Collins usually sets his call about 30-50 yards from where he is going to set up to help stay out of the coyote’s wind direction.They know how to make a hunter look foolish and they do it often.
Collins said that because Kentucky is such a heavy whitetail state, we could be a good predator hunting state, as well. The basics of hunting for whitetail is about the same for coyote hunting, but you have to pay a little more attention to the details.
“I think one thing new hunters take for granted is wind direction. We have so many whitetail hunters in our state and they know how to respect the wind, but it’s even more important with coyotes,” Collins said. “Their nose dictates every move they make. It doesn’t matter what you do – bathe, scent control, nothing is going to work. As soon as they hear that call, they throw that nose up in the air and sniff. If they smell you, they are gone.”
Being able to use the wind to your advantage is a big part of the success of a coyote hunter. Collins emphasizes that it is important to be ready to take the shot at any moment, but the shot must be accurate or you’ve blown your chance. It is a complicated be quick, but don’t rush approach.
“You really have to read their body language. I’ve seen coyotes come in hard and charge the call and stick their nose in it. I’ve seen the bite it and run away with it,” said Collins. “You have to approach this with a mentality to take your first really good shot opportunity, but you have to be careful too. A lot of time they come in very cautiously, stopping and sniffing. You cannot let them get a whiff of you and cannot take a questionable shot. Both of those things will end your hunt quickly.”
What caliber should I use?
When you go get that first really good shot opportunity, you need to have the right caliber in your hands. Collins admitted that there are several calibers out there that can take a coyote down, but he doesn’t go for all of them, Actually, he pretty much sticks to the basics when calling coyotes. According to Collins, there are three main firearms used when predator hunting – bolt action rifle, automatic rifle, and shotguns. Collins uses a bolt action rifle, and says the three most popular calibers are a .223, .22-250, and a .243.
“For new people getting into predator hunting, you can go with a lot of options. You got a 30-06, 7mm, .270 – there are a lot of options,” said Collins. “I think the three most popular are .223, .22-250, and the .243. Those are great calibers that will take out any coyote just as fast as it would a deer. When you’re shooting a predator, you could make a shot at 100 yards, or I’ve even shot one as close as six steps from my call. You never know and all of them will do the trick.”
Is coyote hunting for you?
Humans have hunted for thousands of years, but in the past couple of decades, hunters have gotten some slack for their practices. Some folks don’t like us shooting animals, even if we are putting the meat in our freezers. When it comes to predators, there are some that think they should be able to roam free and do as they like. If you’re reading this, you probably think a little like I do. That means, you’d like to get rid of some of these coyotes that are running wild in our state.
Collins said that predator hunting is not for everyone. He gets what one would probably refer to as “hate mail” each week about the type of hunting he does. While coyotes can be consumed – if you dare – most people just want to help lower the numbers of the predator. If you can’t kill an animal and not eat it, then you probably should stick to turkeys and deer.
“It can be a taboo topic for sure. I’m a known hunter and I get a lot of messages. The number one question I get is how can I kill an animal and not eat it. I’ve had coyote and it’s not very good. I tag out on bobcats every year and they are a very fine animal for table fare. Coyotes, not so much,” said Collins. “We’re hunters. It is legal to shoot a coyote and not eat it. It’s not against the law. If you can shoot an animal and not eat it, then this is probably not for you.” But if you are okay with that, then coyote hunting can be something that you can really get into and enjoy. It’s open 365 days a year and it’s something to hunt when the other seasons aren’t in. I think every hunter should try it.”