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High Desert Critters


For many years my partner Bob and I have been hunting coyotes out here in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. Not until January of 1996 did we figure out how to do it better. Not necessarily the right way; however our success rate improved, which equaled more furs on the stretcher. The following is what we did to bag up more high-desert critters. 

THE GUNS 

It starts off with a good rifle, practice at the range, and time at the reloading bench. Accuracy is paramount in this hobby so some attention to detail up front pays bigger dividends later on. The rifles used are Remington 700 VSSF in .22-250 caliber and a Remington 700 VS Carbine in .223. Surprised? No custom guns? Well, the fact is we are both working types who have family demands just like the majority of you who are reading this. The lure of a custom gun just isn’t a reality at this point. The triggers have been adjusted to 2 pounds. The remainder is factory issue. All of the rifles were broken in following the Sinclair method. They are topped with Leopold scopes with 50 mm objectives set in Leopold QR rings and bases. The scope rings are lapped to 80 percent contact. Harris bipods are used in the field. 

THE AMMO 

Case preparation is another factor that pays off. After inspection the cases are full length sized, flash holes deburred, and primer pockets uniformed. The cases are trimmed to length and necks are turned using Gracey machines. I will tell you that after using the Gracey powder trimmer and neck turner every other method is in the Stone Age! With some practice the case length can be easily held to 0.001” of each other. Five hundred cases can be trimmed in just over an hour. The machines are pricey, though. In our situation I bought the case trimmer and Bob purchased the neck shaver. Cases are then fire-formed and neck-sized. 

I use 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips on top of Hodgdon Varget in my .22-250. Mr. Oehler says they are cruising at 3,700 feet per second (fps). Bob uses a 55-grain Hornady V-Max with Hodgdon H-380 in his .22-250. The load Bob uses chronographs at 3,470 fps. As for the .223, the load is a 50-grain V-Max on top of Hodgdon H-335. Speed over the chronograph is 3,048 fps. Good results can be had with Winchester 748, but the speed suffers some in my rifle. The results are dimes in all the rifles. By that I mean you can easily cover five-round groups with a US dime. I also have used some 55-grain Berger MEFs. The bullets shot excellently in my .22-250 and performed well on coyotes. However, the furs had softball sized exit holes in them. 

Good record keeping of your loads also is a must. I can tell you from the day I brought home the rifle what has been through the barrel. Another advantage to keeping reloading records is you don’t repeat any lousy experiments again. We both reload in single stage presses and RCBS reloading dies. Bullets are seated 0.012” off the lands. 

THE CALLS 

You can never have enough coyote calls on hand. We have a good assortment of mouth blown calls on hand most of the time. We use the open and closed reed types. Some of them include Olt, Circe, Bill Austin, and Tally Ho, just to name a few. An electronic call has been used occasionally with very good success. We like using traditional mouth calls more than the electronic calls. Two mouth calls that are successful are the Circe and Tally Ho. The Circe is a closed reed three-tone model. Pick the tone you want; i.e. close, medium, or far and start your calling sequence. At first I’m sure we scared more coyotes into the next area code than we called in. Some of the basic rules we followed but not all of them. We soon learned to start off with the close or mouse squeaker first. If nothing came in then we would change tone on the call and try again. The Tally Ho is an open reed type call. It is a little harder to master than the closed reed models. Lots of practice was needed to get the correct tone. I think the Tally Ho is better used as a long-range call. 

MISCELLANEOUS EQUIPMENT 

Binoculars – get the best your budget or better half will allow. You use them more than the rifle scope. My budget currently allows for a Minolta 10x50. When my budget is bigger I am going to purchase a Leica 10x42. 

Bob also has a Lytespeed 400 in his bag of tricks. The thing about having a rangefinder is this. It puts you in reality very quickly. I for one am terrible at judging distance. You are constantly asking yourself is that coyote 275 yards away or 350. After checking some of the landmarks in the areas we hunt I was quite surprised. 

We some of our hunting at night so a good spotlight is a necessity. We use Brinkman 400,000 candlepower lights with red filter lenses. Experience has taught us to bring along two of them. Why two? Bob and I can cover both sides of the Jeep with ease and should one light break down you have a spare. 

A good camera is a must. Being able to get a trophy picture in the field is a great option, especially since we are really wound up after killing a coyote or bobcat. After years of hunting I still have that rush for a half hour and it shows up in the photographs. 

TACTICS 

As I mentioned earlier, we do some of our hunting at night. It is legal in our area. We cruise out to a few known hot spots, stop, and let things settle down some. Give the area a once-over with the light. Then start your calling sequence. Start with a mouse squeaker first. A tell-tale sign that you have the right tone on the call is the sudden appearance of owls flying overhead. No owls does not necessarily mean no coyotes. Give the area another good look with the spotlight. What you are looking for is a set of neon eyeballs running in for the free groceries you have offered up. Keep the light aimed high on the horizon – you don’t want the brightest part of the beam in his eyes. Once you have them picked out, turn off the light and have your partner get ready. A top on the shoulder is all that is needed to let your partner know something is coming in. 

Keeping quiet is a must. Don’t dilly dally around either. Mr. Coyote can cover more real estate that you thought possible in a real short time. When your partner is ready, turn the spotlight on, keeping the beam high over the horizon and find the target’s eyeballs. Give the call one more hit to lock up the dog. When the shooter is ready, light up the coyote with the main beam of the light. The next thing should be the crack of a rifle shot as your partner lets fly the missile of his choice. You hope that a thud is heard and the target drops over dead. The distances we shoot at night vary from 60 to 200 yards. 

Last season e called up a double during a night hunt. The first dog ran up to the 80-yard marker before stopping for a better look. He hid behind a knoll just enough that a shot was not yet possible. The second of the pair was a couple hundred yards behind and closing the distance real fast. Fearing the loss of a free dinner, the first dog stepped in the clear – then his funeral arrived at 3,700 fps. I cycled the rifle action for a shot at the second one but we could not lock him up for a good shot. On another trip, again with the mouse call, we pulled one from 350 out. He zigzagged his way through the sagebrush to 67 yards. Bob ended his career shortly after that. 

For the daytime hunts our tactics change. We park the Jeep out of sight and move into position on foot. Quietly! Full camouflage is the dress for the day. Location for a daylight hunt is much more critical than at night. Pick a pot that gives you lots of visibility, meaning you have a wide field of view and little or no exposure. In our case, looking over a dry river bottom from the higher banks or a large alfalfa field would be a good spot. A small mound with a few weeds that overlooks the river bed is ideal. The taller weeds or tree lines bordering a hay field are other excellent spots to call from. When moving on foot, take a route that vies you the least exposure. Avoid being a silhouette on the horizon. Once in position, we do a lot of looking through the binoculars prior to the start of any calling. Any depressions in wheel tracks in a hayfield my hide your quarry very easily. The alfalfa fields we hunt are watered via a pivot. The trenches the wheels leave in the field will swallow up the whole tire of your Buick. For whatever reason the wheel tracks in a field equal a super highway for both coyotes and bobcats. On more than one hunting trip we have seen them jump out of the wheel track right after we sounded the dinner bell. In cases like this, you need to be ready for action, maybe as close as the 60-yard line. On several occasions we have spotted lounging coyotes out to 400 to 500 yards. It’s nice to see your customer before you start your calling sequence. 

The reaction of the animal after the calling starts will teach you a few things. One is if we have the right tone or not. If the animal takes an interest every time the call sounds but just sits there, don’t get discouraged. We have watched a dog jump out of his bed every time we called. He would take a look around then just lie back down. Another call can be tried or more emphasis on the dying part of that rabbit. The coyote may be call wise or, as Bob calls them, educated. He may also have an interest in his immediate area. There are some options available to you if the coyote is not interested at all. You can try to close the distance on the target. Our success at this is not great, but it has worked once or twice. Another hunting partner likes to call this choking up, but then again he shoots a .22 Hornet. The last option is the 500 yard shot! Bob and I have bagged up some long-range critters, but none at 500 yet. 

AFTER THE SHOT 

On the trips that we have a prize, it’s off to the poor man’s fur shed (AKA the garage). A permanent rope hanging from the rafters holds each back leg. Then out comes the skinning knife and ceramic rod for sharpening. A Victorinox paring knife with a plastic handle and 2-inch blade is the tool of choice. Rubber gloves help with the grip as a sharp knife in Bob’s hands equals many weeks for he wound to heal up. The first cut is around the back feet, then across the leg, around the vent, and up the other side. Peel down the tail. Work the tail out carefully. Patience is a must here. Continue to peel downward to the front legs. 

A cut around the front feet, and a push gets the front legs out. For our own practice we skin every animal all the way down to the face including the eyes, gums, and nose. We also turn the ears inside out to prevent fur slippage. Practice on a non-critical animal may pay bigger dividends in the future. 

In a big game situation, (deer, elk, etc.) you will not have the luxury of practicing on your own trophy animal. After skinning, the garden hose is used for washing the hides. The hides are washed of all blood, and then put on the stretcher fur side out to dry. When the fur is dry they get turned fur side in, and salted using non-iodine salt, making sure to get all of the nooks and crannies. When dry the furs are shipped to Moyle Mink in Heyburn, Idaho, where we have had excellent service provided at reasonable cost. The fur season is fairly short because of the mild southern California winters. With that in mind all of our pelt hunting is from about mid-November to the end of February, when it starts to warm up. We use the outside pet dogs to judge how the fur will be. When they start to shed it’s all over and the coyotes are safe for another year. 

Trophy mounts are sent to Bill’s Taxidermy in Huntington Beach, California. He has completed a coyote head and a black bear rug for Bob. He is currently working on two bobcats, two badgers, and some chukar. 

To sum it up, attention to detail, being with friends, and having a good time are all part of the adventure. You can go out and do it or sit back and pout about the whole thing.

 

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