4 expert tips for hunting late winter coyotes

Well-known white tail expert Don Higgins felt he had too many coyotes on his Illinois property this winter. So he invited the predator hunting experts from Team Radical Outdoors to see if they could help. The three-man crew downed 14 coyotes in a single night, proving both that Higgins’ property is indeed home to plenty of singing dogs and that these guys clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to predator hunting. F&S reached out to TRO’s Justin Roepke for his top tips for putting more coyotes down at the end of winter.

1. Expect coyotes to turn downwind

According to Roepke, most aspiring coyote hunters completely underestimate the finesse of a coyote’s nose. “Those of us who hunt mature whitetail deer all appreciate how good a buck’s nose is. Well, a coyote’s sense of smell is exponentially better. If you’re not set up on the lee side of the cover you’re calling towards, you literally don’t stand a chance. I don’t care what kind of odor control measures you use, a downwind coyote is going to smell you every time. Many hunters will be masked in one spot and think it’s because there are no coyotes there, Roepke says. “But it’s more likely that a coyote started responding to their calls, smelled them and escaped from there. The hunt was probably over before it started.

Roepke positions himself with a good view of the field between his setup and the cover he’s calling, with the wind blowing in, or at least through, his face. “I usually use an electronic decoy, and I’ll set it up between me and the wood. We always assume that a coyote will try to get downwind of that decoy, and so we plan our shots accordingly.

2. Keep your calls simple and start low

There are many different calls that can cause a coyote to run, but Roepke urges hunters not to think too much about them. “Any distressed prey call works this time of year because the coyotes are pretty much hungry all the time,” he says. “It’s also breeding season, so coyote sounds are also effective.” What’s more important to Roepke is matching the call to the conditions. “Where a lot of guys go wrong is that they start out too loud. If you creep up to a small block of wood and put out a prey distress call at full volume on a calm night, you’ll panic more more coyotes than you’ll call in. It’s always easier to turn the volume up than to turn it back, if you started out too loud.

Roepke generally allows 15-20 minutes for each setup if conditions are good. “In most cases, if they haven’t come during that time, they’re either not there or they’re not coming,” he says. “That said, on a warmer night or if your setup allows you to cover a lot of ground, staying there for an extra 5 or 10 minutes gives a coyote coming from afar some time to get there.”

3. See and shoot more coyotes while hunting at night

Roepke and another member of Team Radical Outdoors with their night shooting devices. Justin Roepke

While Roepke kills a lot of coyotes during the day, he recommends waiting until after dark if you have the right equipment and if it’s legal to do so in your area. “If we have a 12-hour hunt during the day, five coyotes is a really good day,” he says. “If you’re hunting at night, it’s not uncommon to kill 15 coyotes if you’re on good ground. Coyotes actively hunt throughout the night, so calling one in an open field is much easier than during the day when they are used to lying down and sleeping.

Night hunting requires specialized equipment. Roepke and his TRO team are equipped with night vision and thermal imaging goggles and scanners that allow them to spot and target incoming dogs undetected. “We use Pulsar equipment, and that allows us to be completely invisible,” he says. “But it takes experience to get used to”

While most guys aren’t ready to invest in such high-end gear, Roepke says infrared goggles and lights (as well as conventional lights) can also work, provided hunters understand that coyotes can see the “red” in infrared lights, and so they should only turn on a coyote when they can hear or see it approaching. Hunting under the full moon can work just as well; if the conditions are good (snowy bottom and light wind), you may not need any light at all on a bright night.

4. Get an accurate Coyote rifle and practice a lot

One of Roepke’s main rules is to avoid training coyotes, and the best way to do this is to shoot when a dog answers a call. “It’s not enough to know your rifle and how to shoot it,” he says. “If putting a crosshair on a coyote and pulling the trigger was all there was to it, hardly anyone would miss.” You need to know your ball drop precisely at different distances, practice when it’s windy and always use a good tripod, he points out. “If you’re using a cheap tripod, it negates any investment you’ve made in a big-ticket rifle, the best e-caller on the market, or just about anything else.”

Roepke typically fires a bolt-action .243 Ruger sniper rifle and hand loads all of its ammo (70 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip). As someone who competes in coyote tournaments every weekend with his team and travels a lot to hunt for fun, Roepke takes accuracy very seriously. “My rifle shoots ¼ MOA at 100 yards. Most factory ammo shoots 1 MOA at that distance, which is good enough for most people who only hunt occasionally. But more accurate ultimately translates to more coyotes .

Equally important, says Roepke, is communication when hunting in groups. “We almost always have two or three guys, just because it’s more fun to hunt with buddies,” he says. “But everyone has to understand who is shooting what and where. If you have three guys in a line and a pair of dogs come running, the guy on the left will shoot the dog on the left and the guy and the right will shoot the one on the right. Sounds like common sense, right? Well, you can’t believe how this simple system can fail if the guys don’t discuss it and agree to it first, especially on a cold winter night hunt when the coyotes are coming in force.