If you want to get good at something, talk to the experts" -- Lefty Kreh

Thanks for visiting 52 Week Season!

52 Week Season is a project to explore a hunting or fishing opportunity each week of the year in the mid-Atlantic. When I started, my intention was to interview various hunting and fishing guides on their approaches throughout the seasons, but I increasingly became more interested in the seasonal patterns of the species themselves and the yearly rituals we build around them. 

Some of these traditions are based on seasonal cues such as migrations or reproduction, while others are purely institutionalized by the DNR. 

For example, we don’t know exactly when the conditions will be perfect for the green drake hatch, whitetail rut, or canvasback migrations, but we have a pretty good idea from years of trial and error and perhaps some data (Memorial Day, mid-November, and “Canuary,” respectively). We itch for a warming trend for yellow perch in the spring and a northwest cold front for Canada geese at the fall but are at the mercy of mother nature. 

Yet we do know that the best opportunity for dove is high noon on September 1, that White Marlin Open is the first full week of August, and that schools are closed the Monday after Thanksgiving for whitetail opener in Pennsylvania. 

Many of these yearly traditions revolve around food -- springtime means shad plankings and fall means oyster roasts -- while others are strictly for sport. Some rituals aren’t based on science or calendar at all but just feel right. Mid-summer is the not the best time for largemouth bass, but there’s something about throwing poppers on a glassy lake before a July thunderstorm.

 Could you possibly hit each of these experiences in 52 weeks? Of course not. It’s absurd to you think you would have the time, but it’s also crazy to assume that a shark fisherman cares to throw flies at brook trout or that a duck hunter has any interest in coyotes. Plus, a jack of all trades is usually a master of none. 

But if you’re lucky, you can start to make connections. A hunter of diving ducks will know to return to the “hard bottom” during rockfish season, and a pheasant hunter can always use those tail feathers for a steelhead fly. And what is more satisfying than a cast-and-blast day targeting speckled trout and blue-wing teal in a September marsh? 

Some of the critters on this list are native and some are non-native, and many times it’s not clear. Largemouth bass are a familiar non-native species while snakehead are a non-native monster in many people’s eyes. Brown trout are non-native but long-established; sika deer are imported but at the same time unique to Maryland; and elk are native but reestablished. Tarpon and coyotes seem way out of place but are adapting to changing environments. 

So what is the "Mid-Atlantic"?  

One of my favorite descriptions is the boundaries of the Chesapeake Bay watershed featured in William Warner's Beautiful Swimmers

"The Bay’s entire watershed extends north through Pennsylvania to the Finger Lakes and Mohawk Valley country of New York, by virtue of the Susquehanna, the mother river that created the Bay. To the west it traces far back into the furrowed heartland of Appalachia, but one mountain ridge short of the Ohio-Mississippi drainage, by agency of the Potomac. To the east the flatland rivers of the Eastern Shore rise from gum and oak thickets almost within hearing distance of the pounding surf of the Atlantic barrier islands. To the south, Bay waters seep through wooded swamps to the North Carolina sounds, where palmettos, alligators and great stands of bald cypress first appear." 

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-- Patrick Ottenhoff, Washington, DC

 

Week 36. Pete Aheron: Virginia Coyotes

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.    

Calling in game is like a chess match, and pound for pound, nothing is tougher game than 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?  

Nice gobblers

Nice gobblers

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.

coyote_range.jpg

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.

Pete with a couple dogs

Pete with a couple dogs

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!

 

Week 37. Chris Karwacki: Chesapeake on the Fly

Week 37. Chris Karwacki: Chesapeake on the Fly

Week 35. Matt Miles: Virginia Musky Hunter

Week 35. Matt Miles: Virginia Musky Hunter