Week 36. Pete Aheron: Virginia Coyotes
When Lewis and Clark journeyed across the continent, they saw an unfamiliar tan-colored canine that they called the prairie wolf. It wasn’t until settlers ventured into the southwest deserts that they learned the local name of the wily four-legged critter, the coyote.
The coyote thrived on the western high plains but were alien to the eastern woodlands where mountain lions and wolves reined as the apex predators. Fast-forward a couple of hundred years, and coyotes have filled the vacuum left behind by the killing off of wolves and retreat of lions in the East.
Coyotes followed two routes east: Across the Mississippi River and through the rural South, and through the Canadian woodlands and around the Great Lakes. The Mid-Atlantic was actually the last place in the continental United States that they populated.
As they moved east through Canada, coyotes interbred with gray wolves, and today the eastern coyote is distinctly bigger than its western cousin, often reaching 60 pounds. But the easterner – or coywolf as they’re sometime called – retained the coyote’s cleverness and tendency to produce bigger litters when under pressure.
It’s because of this resiliency and difficulty to hunt that coyotes have year-round, no-limit seasons in many states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.
“Pound for pound, nothing is tougher game than coyote,” says Pete Aheron, who grew up hunting turkey and whitetail but wanted more of a challenge.
I caught up with Pete recently who gave me a little bit more background about coyotes, their cleverness, calling strategies, and similarities and differences from turkey.
How did you get into coyote hunting?
It started with turkey hunting. When I was seven years old, my Dad saw me looking at a turkey call and bought it for me. I brought it home, and my Mom gave me one bullet and said be back in 45 minutes for dinner, and I took it out and killed my first jake. When I was 25, I started guiding professionally and I got to the point where I could successfully call in a turkey when I wanted to, so I wanted to try something new and call in a coyote.
I like to call in game. Turkey and coyote act the same way in that you call them in. It's like a chess match to me. Instead of sitting around and getting lucky -- don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for those guys that tag out three big bucks each year -- but calling in game is like a chess match, and pound for pound, nothing is tougher game than coyote.
Was there a pretty steep learning curve with coyotes?
The first few years, it kicked my butt!
I may have gotten one every two to three weeks, but it was one of those things where you get your tailed kicked and you just want to get good at it.
The biggest things I can say is, get with someone that has done it for a while and use night thermal. I learned a lot of folks like Alex Poole and Kyle Crickenberger, and probably the biggest game-changer was when I started using night-time thermals from fields. Your chances go up 1000% when you have night vision.
I've gotten to the point where I can get a minimum of one per night, and up to five easy. Now, I basically coyote hunt every day that is not spring turkey or deer hunting.
What are some of the most important techniques you've learned about hunting coyotes?
First, you have to have coyotes. This sounds obvious, but you need to look in the right places.
Second, you have to call them successfully. They're very receptive to calling, and half the time it's out of curiosity, but otherwise, you won't see or hear from them.
Three, you have to be able to see them. You need to get them out in the open.
Lastly -- and this is the most important -- if you don't have a good setup, you're just wasting your time. If you don’t have the right kind of gear, you're greatly diminishing your chances because the window is so small.
How do you call them in?
I'm hit a call when the coyote is about 300-400 yards away, and then I won't make another sound for five minutes minimum -- no more sound at all. Sometimes I'll call one, and then shut up for another 10 minutes. Because if they locate you, and then they'll just shut right down.
I might use a distress call, but I would probably do a howl or a pack. If they haven't been fooled already, they'll come out on top of you then.
When I see it on the fringe of the field, I might call it one more time to let him know where I am, but that's it. They're gonna want to know, where is that other coyote? They'll run out and start looking into the fields. That's generally when you shoot them. Curiosity kills more coyotes than any kinds of call.
What is the best habitat for hunting them?
We hunt mostly fields -- the bigger, the better -- with enough range to spot him. Normally, coyotes like deep open hardwoods with a creek on it. That's where the den's gonna be.
But curiosity kills the coyote, and they’re moving 99% of the time. Very rarely does he run in the field and let you blast him, but he'll come out of the timber.
What's the best time of year to hunt?
Other than the summer time, really any time. Starting around December, they start pairing up, and usually around January and February, they get territorial and are breeding. In February, it's denning season and hunting gets hot.
The most opportunities you're going to have are when the puppies come out around April to June, but I don't really bother with the pups. Females can trend their breeding patterns based on pressure.
Between 30 and 31.5 on the barometer is good for coyotes and gobblers. It's the same thing as us -- they see and feel better.
It sounds like coyotes are as wily as they say!
Coyotes are one of the easiest species to educate. The more they get hunted, the smarter they get. Farmers will often tell you they want them gone, but -- I don’t mean to sound like a snob about it -- but I'll tell them that is someone else has hunted it, I'm not going to hunt it. Because once that farm has been pressured, that coyote is going to be a ghost.
There were coyotes long before us, and they'll be here long after us!