THREE RIVERS AREA — In the Arkansas outdoors, there are many wildlife symphonies to warm the heart - the melodious calling of geese winging their way across the Delta, the primitive hooting of owls in black forests, the staccato chattering of squirrels playing tag
in the treetops. For me, though, there’s no more charming wilderness melody than the
howling chorus of coyotes. Though I’ve heard their sonorous music on dozens of dark
nights, it still never fails to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up as I
listen in wide-mouthed awe.
Though coyotes are now found in every county in Arkansas, they’ve been here only a relatively short time. There were few, if any, coyotes here when the earliest settlers arrived, and before 1950, these grand masters of adaptation were found only in the most western portions of the state. As agricultural practices changed and more open lands were created, coyotes extended their range. They had reached the central part of the state by the early 1950s and had reached the Mississippi River by 1964. Today, coyotes thrive alongside human habitation and can actually be found right in urban neighborhoods.
Coyotes are good news, bad news critters. The good news is coyotes play an important role in balancing populations of mice, rats and other pesky wildlife. And as scavengers on dead animals, they help clean up the woods and fields. Bad news is that coyotes cause serious damage to livestock and melon crops in some areas. Poultry, hogs, sheep, goats and young calves are common domestic prey, and at times, coyotes take fawns, young turkeys and other wild game.
Some people think all coyotes should be killed on sight; others think they should be totally protected. The best management probably lies somewhere in between. Coyotes, like deer and rabbits, are a renewable wildlife resource, and surplus animals can, and should, be taken by hunters and trappers under set seasonsand regulations.
As coyote populations have grown in Arkansas, there seems to be increasing interest in their pursuit. And this heightened interest means coyotes have also changed. Coyotes are more cunning and secretive in their ways than only 10 or 20 years ago. Therefore the hunter has had to improve his skills and hone his efforts in order to be successful. Let’s look at some of the how-tos and where-tos employed by today’s successful coyote hunters.
The first step in coyote hunting is locating an area likely to harbor coyotes.
According to a publication on the coyote’s life history published by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, “Coyotes favor brushy fields with persimmon trees, blackberry thickets and tall weeds. They are abundant along forest edges near pastures and crop lands and are often found around clearings where trees have been harvested.” The publication goes on to say, “A concentration of one coyote per 2-4 square miles is typical density for most of Arkansas; highest concentrations around poultry dumps or other sources of food may number 2-3 per square mile.”
This tells the coyote hunter two things. Good coyote hunting is likely to be found around brushy fields, forest edges and commercial clearcuts. And except around poultry dumps and other high concentration areas, success will come only by moving from one likely hunting area to another to compensate for the coyote’s low population density.
The most effective lures for coyotes are sounds of their natural prey in distress. Calls that produce the squalling sounds of a dying rabbit are most popular, and these are available in basically two types - the newer battery-powered models and the traditional mouth-blown hand calls. A staggering variety of these two basic call types are available, with new models being introduced each year.But the type of call you select is not as important as what you do with it. Any type of predator call will work in practiced hands.
Though battery-powered calls offer several advantages, many hunters still prefer the satisfaction and enjoyment gained from outwitting a coyote using a mouth-blown call. Proper style and technique can be easily learned by listening to one of the many excellent CDs or DVDs available on the market today.
Begin calling with loud volume, but not for long. From then on, call sporadically at low volume as this makes the coyote less wary and more intrigued. If you don’t get a quick response - say in 20 minutes or less - move to a different location and try again.
When you arrive at a hunting site, exit your vehicle in total silence and move some distance away. Position yourself below the skyline when in hilly country. Coyotes have keen eyesight and quickly notice obvious changes in the landscape. Never call with the sky silhouetting you.
When you commence calling, remain as motionless as possible, as movement is immediately noticed by most predators, even from the corner of their eyes. Consistent results dictate wearing camouflage clothing - jacket, pants, hat, head net and gloves. It doesn’t hurt to wear camo boots, too, and to wrap your gun in camo tape or a camo gun sock. All clothing should be made of soft, quiet material. And to combat the coyote’s extraordinary sense of smell, it’s wise to use some type of hunting scent to mask your human odor.
In more open terrain where it’s difficult to conceal yourself, you can use camouflage netting to build makeshift blinds at each location you hunt. Drape the cloth over a bush either in front of you or behind if your background is partially open. A netting backdrop breaks your outline, and your camouflage costume blends in to disguise the dreaded human silhouette.
A coyote hunter in the Razorback State has a wide choice of places to hunt. The Game and Fish Commission’s network of 60 or so wildlife management areas (WMAs) contain hundreds of thousands of acres, much of which is prime coyote territory. In addition, several national wildlife refuges permit coyote hunting by permit, and excellent hunting is also available on Arkansas’ three national forests, especially around the edges of clearcuts and woodlands. The state’s innumerable small private holdings also provide good hunting for landowners and others who have permission to hunt.
According to the Game and Fish Commission, most of the state’s coyotes are harvested in the Ozark Mountains and the Arkansas River Valley. Good prospects for coyote hunting in these regions include Hobbs State Management Area near Beaver Lake, Madison County WMA north of Huntsville, Sylamore WMA north of Mountain View and Galla Creek WMA south of Atkins.
The agricultural delta area of eastern Arkansas also has a large population of coyotes. Several major and minor stream bottoms wind through the croplands in this flat region, and these are good coyote areas. Public lands open to predator hunters include St. Francis National Forest WMA in Lee and Phillips counties and Wattensaw and Dagmar WMAs in Prairie and Monroe counties.
In central Arkansas, Camp Robinson WMA is a good bet, and in the west, Fort Chaffee WMA has an abundance of old farms and fields that make ideal coyote habitat. Good possibilities for the Ouachita Mountain region include Winona WMA near Paron and Lake Greeson WMA near Daisy, and in south Arkansas, try Poison Springs WMA northwest of Camden and Hope WMA near Hope.
The coyote is thriving throughout Arkansas. But abundance does not necessarily equate with hunting success. The coyote is nobody’s fool, and successfully hunting this adaptable predator is an extreme challenge.
Nevertheless, that’s part of the thrill, and no one said it would be easy. When you call a coyote and savor the excitement, you’ll want to go calling every chance you get.
COYOTE SEASONS & REGULATIONS The following information on coyotes seasons and regulations is taken from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission’s Web site, www.agfc.com.
-Statewide: sunrise, July 1, 2009-sunset, February 28, 2010.
Dogs allowed to hunt coyotes during the day. Coyotes may not be hunted at night.
-Statewide: first day of spring turkey season through June 13. Day hunting only - No dogs allowed.
-No bag limit on coyotes. Dogs are not allowed in deer zones where a firearms deer season is in progress that prohibits the use of dogs. During youth turkey hunts, only youths may take coyotes.
-Coyotes may also be taken during daylight hours with archery equipment, firearms no larger than .30 caliber or shotguns with shot no larger than T shot. Coyotes may be taken during daylight hours of any open deer, bear, spring turkey or spring squirrel season with hunting equipment legal for that season.
Three Rivers, Pages 136 on 11/22/2009