Coyotes After Dark
Last year’s Coyote Cull winner has the right recipe for killing yotes when the sun falls down over south Georgia ag fields.
The pasture sheens blue under an anemic moon, melding several hundred yards away into sky salted with straggly clouds. Stars wink here and there, chiding reminders, perhaps, that we should partake of this disparate panorama more often. There’s not a whisper of wind; the only sound is the breathing of our group of four following a 100-yard hike across a terraced field. It’s full middle of the night as we stand as if suspended in space for 15 minutes, hoping the night creatures will pardon our muted intrusion and resume their routines.
In the obscurity of the Worth County night, surrounded by hundreds of acres of farmland in all directions, it is so, so, very peaceful.
That, however, is about to change.
Farmers here in this rural south Georgia region near Sumner use every available minute of daylight preparing fields, looking closely after cows with their newly dropped calves and other livestock and countless other items to check off a never-ending list. Then, as soon as the sun goes down, here come the coyotes and feral hogs to kill and destroy, wreaking havoc throughout the night. It’s a vicious cycle—but one that can be seriously interrupted thanks to folks like Jerry Cooper and Jason Davis.
Jerry Cooper was the winner of a Thompson-Center Compass 6.5 Creedmor bolt-action rifle in GON’s 7th annual Coyote Cull last year. Friend and hunting partner Jason Davis also took part knocking out yotes in the 2020 competition. Together on a dark night, they’re bad news for Georgia’s coyote population.
I hooked up with Jerry and Jason, along with Jerry’s brother Justin, the afternoon and night of April 19, in the midst of the cool spring we’re experiencing. That weather has a definite effect on coyote hunting. As we slip into a warmer May, tactics and approaches will change. Eyeing first-hand the knowledge that years of experience has brought these guys was a fascinating experience.
When Jerry is not in his office or on a plane on behalf of his business, CooperCraft Communications, hunting is the place he’d rather be. As I discovered, he’s a superb host and takes many of his clients out at night into a world they never knew existed. Those clients are a diverse group, including a Kentucky sheriff, game wardens from several states and a Navy SEAL who killed a massive hog and took the resulting European mount of the skull back to his digs overseas.
We’re going hunting here in a few, but be advised that this is a specialized form, so let’s take a look at the equipment involved. The weapons package itself has evolved over the 10 years that Jerry has been chasing predators. He’s gone from a .300 AAC Blackout to a 6.5 Creedmor, on to a .223, then a .308… before settling on a wicked little package known as the Valkyrie .224. He and Jason built their rifles together, and we all were to use them before the night’s hunt was over. (Did I mention “wicked?”)
The rifle scopes, as well as the hand-held, wide-view spotting scope like the one Justin would be wielding, are thermal-imaging components, as you’ve probably figured out. The simple explanation is that thermal imaging equipment translates heat—from a coyote’s body, for instance—into visible light. If there’s an animal—any animal —in that pasture or field, you’re going to see a glowing white image of it.
The calling system is the compact Lucky Duck electronic call, including a handy remote control programmed with a variety of different teases at the touch of a button.
Too, Jason, as Jerry says, “Always walks around with a coyote call in his mouth!” It’s made by MFK.
Finally, the rifles mount on, and are securely attached to, one Rekon and one Predator Tactics tripod, which are invaluable. It may sound and look bulky, but the tripod folds immediately and one simply loops the rifle, still attached, over his shoulder and walks easily with the balanced combo. Unless, of course, you’re trying to sneak up on a bunch of hogs across a terraced, rutted field in the dark…
The first pasture we pulled into, Jerry told me of a recent night trip during which his and Jason’s initial call elicited responses from four different packs of coyotes from each point on the compass. By 9:30 p.m., it was finally black enough to set out.
“I like to keep a lot of the field in front of me, not going too deep into it, because coyotes can pop up from any direction at any second,” said Jerry. “You can only see a small section of the field at any time through the scope, so it’s best to minimize what’s behind you and keep most of the open view out in front. You’ll be scanning the tree lines mostly, waiting for that movement. It happens quick.”
So it does. Our first setup came with our backs to a fence row heavy with trees. A few minutes in, something came galloping right in—but on the other side of the trees! We all agreed that was one lucky coyote.
Second field, set up in an island of trees. Three rifles on three tripods abreast, electronic caller roughly 50 yards out front. Then we do nothing, as described in our opening. The night is settling back in. And working off info coyotes have unwittingly provided over the years, Jason has developed a ruthlessly efficient system.
“I like to start with a cottontail in distress call, keeping the volume low for two to three minutes,” said Jason. “Then go quiet; no calling for three or four minutes; then start back with the cottontail louder for shorter time periods, maybe 30 seconds two or three different times, with two-minute intervals.
“Ten to 15 minutes in, if nothing has shown itself, I like to use a juvenile (coyote) male call one time.”
With your eyes away from the scope, you can see little but shapes, and don’t have a clue what’s going on around you as the rabbit wails through the night. A coyote could be standing between your legs—and, indeed, Jerry once had a pair run between him and his tripod, racing toward the call—and you’d never know it.
But that thermal imaging unit lights up the world, in more ways than one. I’m still a big kid, and gazing through that outfit in the dead of night was more fun than a boxcar full of bubblegum. On the other hand, vision is limited solely to what one sees through the lens. I’m at the left end of the line, then Jerry, finally Jason; Justin is wielding the spotting scope, beside Jason. We’ve had a yote respond once to the juvenile male call, then go quiet for what seems five minutes.
Swiveling the rifle from side to side, fully focused on what’s out front and frantically attempting to MAKE something appear, I hear whispering seconds before Jason’s suppressed Valkyrie lights up the night. That’ll get your attention! And that split-second episode is the abrupt essence of this type of hunt. Yotes never stand still for very long, as if posing through the crosshairs. Pick one up in the scope and, if possible, wait for a quick stop broadside. When that happens, do it now. If you see a front leg cock, he’s ready to ramble again. We had one shot, one large male coyote. Very dead, and as it turned out, our only one of the night. But we were far from finished. Remember the call sequence as Jason explains his reasoning, fully cognizant that coyotes don’t reason but instead survive solely on instinct.
“Maybe that male heard the rabbit but wasn’t really hungry,” he says. “They’re extremely curious animals, so it’s possible he was moving in slowly to check things out and we never knew he was there. But pack males oust their sons as juveniles, so he could have thought that one that had been pushed out had come back and was enjoying HIS meal when he heard that juvenile call. He wasn’t about to let that happen, coming in to whip him again.”
When you can think like a coyote, you become a supreme predator.
Couple more thoughts on calling…
“After about 25 minutes, if nothing is showing up, I like to finish with a pup in distress call. This early in the year, though, we’re still not sure if pups are on the ground yet.”
Later, Jerry explained further.
“Yotes were on lockdown the night we went,” he said. “This cool spring still has pups in the den; a couple more weeks, the pup distress call will be a game changer.”
So as you read this in May, it’s time to get out there…
Immediately following a kill, Jason can take that mouth call and make it sound like a coyote hoedown.
“Besides being curious, coyotes are extremely social animals,” he said. “Sometimes you can use pup distress after a shot to call in coyotes that are possibly running with the one you just shot. I really like using the mouth call when multiple yotes are around; many times it will give you a second chance to shoot another one.”
Even when coyotes aren’t running through the crosshairs, the night is never boring.
It’s one in the morning now, and we’re set up in a long, narrow pasture beside a dirt road when something pops out of the ditch beside that road. Through the scope—and you’d never know he was in the world without it—pops the shimmering white image of a fox. With a dead mouse in his maw. Halfway between him and us, a live one races through the grass. As we stand motionless, he can’t quite figure us out, but is obviously not concerned. That curiosity thing again, and darkness is his security blanket. Eventually, he closes all the way in to the caller but hangs around for at least 20 minutes even with it in coyote mode before melting away. The popular conception is that coyotes, as competing predators, will wipe out the fox population, but Jerry says he’s seen the alleged deadly foes moving side by side and hanging out like old pals, and on more than one occasion.
Any time we switched fields or pastures, the first order of business was to sweep it with the spotting scope upon entrance. At the last field, Jason let out a hissing, “WHOA! Something just moved over that little ridge. Several somethings, in fact.”
There’s all kinds of plug-uglies running around out there in the gloom! And it is indeed gloomy now. There’s a special kind of dark at 2:30 a.m., like a bear down a well. But if you’re out there, giving off heat, you’re positively glowing!
“Looked like about eight hogs,” Jason says. “Couple of really big ones from the glimpse I got.”
We shift into hunt mode, as silent as possible, to track them down. It’s a matter of but a few seconds to mount rifle to tripod, twisting a top lock-down knob, then a swivel knob on the left side. But it’s hard to be silent when you’re toting a rifle/tripod in the blackness, staggering through a freshly plowed and rutted field. (The cut cotton field had been the worst…) We want to get within 40 or 50 yards, but it’s so open that we’re forced to settle for a hundred or so before setting up. There’s not a hint of breeze, and if they know we’re there, they don’t appear overly concerned about it, going about the business of doing what they do. Which is rooting up great gouts of pasture grass the size of a couple Subarus before skipping a hundred feet in a pattern known only to their dim-witted selves, then doing it again.
There are, however, remedies for that type of destructive behavior.
Justin, spotting scope in hand, sidles over to whisper, “Start shooting from the left and move toward the center; Jason will start from the right and move in from there; when the stampede starts, Jerry will mop up wherever he can. I’m going to count down: three, two, one…”
The biggest hog in the bunch happens to be on my side, at the far left. I know that the Valkyrie rounds are 60 grains each—but there’s a heap of them available! Hogs tend to gobble up lead; that’s what it’s going to take if they plan to root up any more pastures.
The big, shimmering shape has, by dumb luck, turned broadside and the scope’s red dot is perfectly placed as Jason finishes the count. At one, three .224s are cut loose. Even with suppressors, the chattering rounds split the hushed night. Even above that, however, one can hear the muffled “whock” of pork being pounded.
It’s an aged axiom that the first shot will always be one’s best chance for a kill, and I don’t even have to watch that first hog after squeezing off. We had sighted the rifles in earlier in the day, and anything within 200 yards was precisely in harm’s way.
The pack exploded in panic since the pigs had no idea from which direction retribution had suddenly descended. But there was to be no mercy until, equally as sudden, there was nothing upright within sight. We weren’t in the mood to traverse a couple hundred acres to count coup on every pig; that’s a job for daylight and a front-end loader. But I’d hazard there’s a half-ton of pork chops scattered around…
And these situations will only get worse now, in May.
Calves are dropping, as are fawns, turkey poults and anything else a cunning coyote can sink his teeth into. Farmers, already fighting a seemingly losing battle against feral hogs, are putting peanuts into the ground. The hogs can hardly wait.
Those farmers around Sumner are very appreciative of folks like the Cooper brothers and Jason Davis, who have turned their passion for hunting into cutting down hugely on a pair of predatory plagues.
Jerry was gracious enough to invite me back any time. As he said, “Once those peanuts go in the ground, you can kill hogs all night every night.”
If you doubt that, I know of another hunter, this one in Georgia’s southwest corner, who along with a single partner has averaged 1,000 hogs a year for each of the last three years with this thermal imaging setup. Now that you have the basics down, check with your neighboring farmers to see if they just might need a hand.
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