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Old September 19, 2019, 10:51 PM   #1
CD1
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Predator hunt

I've updated this to just post the story here.


As the sun began its descent over the mountains to the west of Malad City, Idaho I stood on the rim of a canyon shooting skeet with friends in the cool evening air.

IMG_20190913_193723 by s s, on Flickr


We had stopped about half a mile up a road leading into the mountains south of town. The spot serves as a makeshift shooting range for locals. As we pulled off on the shoulder I noticed that the steep hillside to the left of the road was dotted with “shoot and see” targets that someone had used on a previous trip. The hill rose hundreds of feet in steep fashion, serving as a wonderful backstop for a rifle. We walked off to the right, and set up our skeet thrower on the edge of a small canyon, whose rim was dotted with sagebrush, and had a draw choked with tall trees and thick vegetation perhaps 100 feet below us.

It was a leisurely evening of busting clay pigeons. A few trucks passed us, rolling deeper into the mountains as we speculated whether they were camping, hunting, or just going for a drive. Everyone threw us a friendly wave as they went by. Not long after we started, a truck pulled up across the road from us and a guy was setting up with a rifle and spotting scope to pound the mountain side behind us.

As the setting sun lit the sky on fire, our shotguns boomed across the sagebrush canyon, and the other shooters rifle thumped the stony slope behind us. It was as relaxing and peaceful a way to end a day as I’ve spent in a long time.

After a while the rifle shooter put his gear away and walked over to us with his young son. As it turns out (as it always turns out here) my buddy Tony knew the guy. His name is Jeremy and he came over, said hello to everyone, shot a few skeet, then bid us farewell.


Later that night, Tony got a text and asked me with great anticipation “Do you want to go hunt coyotes in the morning?” His buddy Jeremy who we’d seen earlier on the mountain texted to see if I wanted to go chase some predators while I was in town. Tony had obligations with church on Sunday and couldn’t go, but he very graciously said he could get me all the required gear, and just needed to know if I wanted to go.

A word about Jeremy is in order here. He is one of the coolest dudes you’re going to meet. He’s an oil rig driller by trade, and when he’s not at work he’s probably in the woods or on the water with his family.

The first time I went to his house was with Tony when he had to drop off a skull. Tony runs a business called Beetles and Bones that does European mounts, and I've seen no one that comes close to his level of work. When we arrived the first thing you noticed was that the entire house was adorned with trophies, to the point where you’d think this guy must be a world class taxidermist. If my memory is correct there was a full body mountain lion on a limb above the fireplace. At first I’d thought he was a taxidermist, but instead he’s just a very dedicated, and very capable hunter.

One of his favorite pursuits is coyotes. He’s hunted them all over Idaho and has competed in State and World class coyote hunting competitions. Deer hunters in the south kill coyotes as a byproduct of deer hunting. If we see one, we kill it. I think I've killed maybe four or five in my life. Jeremy killed more coyotes last year than every southern hunter I know put together has killed in their life times. The guy is like the Grim Reaper of predators. I jumped at the opportunity to go with him. Even if we killed nothing, I’d be getting a world class education on how to hunt predators. There are probably tens of thousands of rabbits out there that have lived a lot longer than they would have if Jeremy hadn't bee on the job, killing their main tormentor.

The final decision was cemented when the text came in saying he’d pick me up at 0515. I laid out my gear and tried to sleep. When the alarm rang the next morning, I was dressed and ready in under 5 minutes. Soon after, headlights were in the driveway. I grabbed my rifle and pack, then headed out into the cool, pre-dawn darkness of a southeastern Idaho morning.

The Drive

That morning the plan was to drive about an hour and a half from Malad, to one of Jeremy’s favorite places. We were the only car on the road as we slipped out of town to the south. As we drove I asked as many questions as I could about coyote hunting, their behavior, and tactics used to take them. Despite only having met him twice and having spent a grand total of maybe 5 minutes around him, he’s just one of those people who you feel like you’ve known since high school once you start talking with him.

Even in the pre-dawn darkness you could make out the ridge tops that surrounded you. The truck rumbled and bounced through the mountains on a dirt road that would take us through a valley to the other side of the range. Along the way my host would point out places he’s hunted in the past, along with the challenges and successes that surrounded them. We passed an area he’d considered hunting this morning, but he knew it was bow season and didn’t want to crowd anyone trying to tag a deer. It gives you a window to his mindset when he says things like “I thought about hunting there, but if I were a deer hunter I certainly wouldn’t like it if someone were up there calling and shooting all morning, and just messing up the area.” That’s the kind of thoughtful attitude that can make public land hunting a much better thing.

Onward we rolled with ranches and homes, and even giant ghost-like windmills slipping past us in the dark. As the sun began to rise we were pulling into the general area of the hunt. Thankfully this was a relatively flat part of Idaho. I live 338 feet above sea level, and the elevation there was 4,500 feet. I am in good shape, but at that elevation I get a little winded. Heck, just opening a farm gate can get my heart rate up at that elevation. It’s not all fun and games for me there.

The plan for our first set was to set up on this relatively flat plateau in an area where the flat-top gave way to a rocky, sage-choked draw that led to the agricultural fields 100 feet or so below us.

Tony had set me up with a very nice Savage AR platform chambered in 6.5 Creedmore, topped with a Burris scope. Jeremy had an extra pack for me that converts into a seat cushion with a supported backrest, and it was a wonderful piece of gear. I was properly equipped for a long morning of comfortable shooting.

The sightlines were a little deceptive. A non-hunter might say the place was wide open, where the only places a coyote could hide were behind a mountain. However, the rolling ground, sage brush, and deep draws offed a dog a lot of ways to approach with stealth, or to conceal his retreat. In fact, the ground rolled just enough that sometimes you could literally hide a pickup truck just 50 or 60 yards away.

It’s true that you could see the entire country for many miles. The horizon was really the only limit to how far you could see…unless you wanted to see detail. Details could be hidden. Like a plane can fly below the radar, a coyote can "fly below the sage" and be almost completely hidden. In some of these areas, if a coyote really wanted to, he could sneak to within 10 yards or so to the front of us before being seen. In fact, Jeremy is the only person I know who has been bitten by a coyote. He’s actually been bitten by TWO coyotes. In both instances they got so close before he saw them, that they mistook him for something to eat, and got teeth into him. One bit his boot and started to thrash. The other approached from behind and was so close he couldn’t get a shot off. Before he could get a gun up, that dog ran at him, bit his shoulder and ran away.

The hunt

As we reached our first stand of the day, Jeremy sat his FoxPro call in the top of a sage bush, and we got set up. I sat with my back to a sage bush, Jeremy 10 yards to my right. We were sitting on the rim of a rocky draw that dropped off the plateau 40 yards to our left, and opened into a vast, yawning gap as it descended to the edge of a green cornfield 100 feet below, and 300 yards to our right. The area below and to the front of us was a jumble of grass, densely dotted with sagebrush, until the short ridge that formed the far side of the draw jutted straight up out of the ground. It was about 150 yards to the ridge straight across from me, and 250 to where the far ridge extended closest to the corn field. I could see just about everything in the draw, and a lot of ground on top of the opposite ridge. It was a great vantage point.

The sun was rising beyond the mountains to my right, and as it did, it silhouetted the mountains with intense bands of yellow, orange, and gold. I sat comfortably with the support of the backpack seat as the FoxPro call emitted its howls, cry’s, and yelps. The Savage AR rested on a bipod with the rifle butt firmly in my shoulder, and my hand holding the grip. The only movement require for a shot was to get my cheek on the stock and release the safety. We were now two shadowy figures, tucked into the landscape with semi-automatic rifles, and getting to work. We were officially hunting.

IMG_20190915_071513-2 by s s, on Flickr


Maybe 10 minutes into the first set I heard Jeremy whisper “There’s one!”

“Where?”

“Right in front of us.” Came the response.

Even if you say “right in front of us” it still doesn’t narrow things down enough because I can see about 7 miles to our front.

“How far?” I inquired, trying to narrow down my search grid.

“Thirty yards!”

My only thought was “OMG. This dog is almost on top of us.” I looked down into the draw and I saw fur, darting and bounding up the draw toward our call. There was plenty of light to see with, but even with the critter this close I couldn’t see anything I could put a bullet in, it was all ears and tail. On he came, running, bouncing, and weaving his way through the sage and toward the easy meal he knew awaited him when he got to the source of the crying birds that flowed through our speakers. The hunter was becoming the hunted. Every step brought him deeper into a trap he could never understand.

He got so close that he was able to hide below us at the base of the hill. I had to stand up, bipod dangling from the rifle, searching through the scope to find his vitals. He stopped maybe 50 yards from me, I could see his ears sticking above the sage but there was no sight of his body. I had no shot.
It might have seen me stand up, because it wasn’t long before he’d turned 180 degrees and was executing a bounding, running, retreat.

“Take him if you can” I said, “I have no shot.”

I could see Jeremy tracking with his rifle out of the corner of my eye. BOOM! The report shattered the morning silence as dust kicked up just above and behind the running critter as he dashed through the draw. BOOM! Another shot came, also missing high, and causing the critter to dart and dash even more as he executed every evasive maneuver he had in his tactical inventory.

As the predator exited the draw we stood on the rim, rifles in hand, shaking our heads at the experience. We immediately agreed that that was the smallest coyote ever. As the heat of the moment passed, Jeremy began to wonder if it had actually been a fox. We’d never have full knowledge of it, but in the end that’s kind of where the facts led us; that had to have been a fox. After that, we packed up and moved to our next stand.

As we bounced and eased our way along the very rough trails that criss-crossed this sage-brush plateau, the cab was filled with the alternating scent of sage and Marlboro reds. Another lesson from a master predator hunter was that you are not going to fool a dog’s nose. “If a dog can smell drugs that are concealed inside a gas tank, they can smell you no matter what type of de-scent product you try.” It was a solid insight, we’d use the wind, and nothing else to keep our scent away from our prey.

Our second setup was similar to the first. It was almost identical except this time there wasn’t an ag field at the bottom of the draw. This time the draw just emptied out into a large sage flat. Again, Jeremy was to my right, working the FoxPro remote as we scanned for targets. I alternated between scanning with binoculars and looking with my eyes. As happens so often, when I have binoculars available to me I tend to look far past the opportunity that’s right at my feet. The last stand had me searching the far reaches of our zone with bino’s, only to have a critter almost crawl into our lap. There’s so much ground to track that there’s absolutely no way to cover everything.

After perhaps 15 minutes, about the time we had planned to pack up and move, I heard Jeremy whisper “There’s one!”

“Where?”

“On the ridge, coming in from the right.”

I glanced at the ridge and saw fur darting in and out of view as the coyote flew around the bushes on his way toward breakfast. It was a glorious sight to see this dog running along that rocky ridge, bouncing around sage brush above the draw. I had him in the scope but couldn’t really ‘track’ him because there was so much going on. I just tried to keep the flashes of fur in the center of the scope until the running stopped; hopefully with the dog coming to a halt in a gap between the obstacles. I was hoping he’d stop on top of the ridge to look around before committing to dropping into the draw and closing on us. If I could get just two seconds, that would be enough time to get on him and pull the trigger.

I watched through the scope as his running came to an abrupt halt to the right of a large sage, just at the edge of the rocky ledge. Safety off, get the crosshairs on his…whoosh! Just as abruptly as he had stopped, he was gone again. He stopped just long enough to look for movement in the direction of the sound, then hit the gas again. He was hell bent on coming in.
“He’s moving again” I whispered as I pushed the safety back to the "on" position.

As the dog ran around the back of the bush Jeremy let out a loud “whoop!”
The coyote slammed on the brakes, screeching to a halt right on the very edge of the rocky rim of the draw. If you hadn’t been watching him come in, you’d have never picked him out against the brush around him. I can still picture him as if it just happened; black rocks under his feet, green sage to his right, tall khaki grass to his left, and my crosshairs on his chest. “Click, squeeze, BOOM!” The safety came off, the trigger was pulled, and the gun sent him one.

Tony’s Savage is a fairly heavy rifle. As it’s equipped, I’d guess it weighs around 12 or 15 pounds. It’s heavy enough that the recoil doesn’t disrupt your sight picture. When the round left the gun, I heard a muted “thump” from the report, and I watched as the round impacted his chest. He dropped to the ground like the gods of gravity were trying to suck him into the very earth upon which he stood. It was over. 143 yards away, on the rocky rim of a sage covered plateau, surrounded by the mountains of Idaho, was our first kill of the day.

Jeremy and I had never hunted together before that morning. We’d not talked at all about what we’d do when the coyotes showed up, but both of us had hunted enough that in the heat of that moment, we knew what the other would do, and why. As dangerous a predator as coyotes are, they have nothing on mankind. Nothing.

IMG_20190915_071439 by s s, on Flickr

I got a quick fist-bump congrats from Jeremy, then he handed me a piece of rope I could use to drag the varmint back to the truck. We took a leisurely walk off our ridge, crossed the draw and retrieved the coyote. All the way to the truck we discussed various aspects of coyote hunting. It was an awesome break from life’s normal routines. Here there was no stress. Here you could get completely focused on the one thing you want to be doing. There were no distractions, there was only focus on the task. We were fully immersed in the hunt.

The morning progressed using that same pattern of setting up, calling, then moving on after 15 minutes or so. Perhaps three sets later, with the sun getting higher in the perfectly blue morning sky, we found our next action. As we bounced slowly along this trail that looked more like a wagon trail than a truck trail we passed an official sign that said we were on the Oregon Trail. This particular spot was actually part of the Oregon Trail. It was a fascinating interruption of our train of thought. We joked about the Oregon Trail game everyone played as a kid, and concluded that he would have died crossing the river, and I would’ve fallen to cholera. After discussing the many difficulties those early settlers must have faced, the talk turned back to the hunt.

Our next set up was a little different than the draws we had hunted earlier in the morning. The topography here was just rolling grassy plains, interspersed with sage brush. The sage appeared in “clumps” with small openings of khaki colored grass between them. We had a fair amount of open space in front of us, and if anything came closer than 75 yards it would have to do so across very open ground.

IMG_20190915_110506 by s s, on Flickr


It was a picturesque place to sit. The weather was perfect, and a gentle breeze kept the long grass swaying. As I looked across the expanse before me I noted a pair of large grain silo’s far off in the distance. This giant piece of state owned ground was surrounded by dairy farms and ag fields. The land was brown for miles, then it was interrupted by a ring of bright green where irrigated ag fields were planted. Then the land turned brown again before climbing up into the equally brown mountains. In this mostly “brown” world, those tall red and white grain silos really stood out.

Maybe two minutes into the set I heard Jeremy whisper those familiar words “There’s one”. I looked to the left and saw Jeremy kneeling behind his rifle, looking through his scope, as the long legs of the bipod stabilized the gun. He looked exactly like the cover of one of those books about American snipers during the Vietnam war. I used his rifle as my directional clue and got on mine as well. I looked just in time to see a piece of a coyote dart through an opening and into the last patch of sagebrush between him and open ground. I lost my view when the dog entered that brush. Jeremy was to my left when we’d gotten set up, but the dog came in from our left, so we swiveled; which now put him to my left-FRONT. He was clearly waiting for me to shoot, but I didn’t want to take a shot with someone 15 feet in front of me, even if they were to my left. I told him to take it if he had the shot.

BOOM! There was no hesitation. He’d had the scope on the critter, and let the shot off the leash the moment I told him to take it. I saw a flash of movement after the shot, but it crashed in a heap right where it stood.

The second coyote of the morning was in the bag. As fate would have it, that would be the last dog of the day. The sun got high, and it became uncomfortably warm to be wearing dark hunting clothes. When we got back in the truck we each grabbed a cold Dr. Pepper and began the long, slow, crawl over the Oregon Trail that led us back to the gate. I bet those early settlers, choking on dust, and toiling in the heat in an inhospitable environment would’ve killed for a cold Dr. Pepper, and all I had to do was reach into the cooler and grab one. Modern life is full of convenience, and it’s not all bad.

IMG_20190915_113939 by s s, on Flickr

Eventually the trail led us back to the gate and we picked up speed over blacktop roads, under blue skies, and past an endless supply of tall mountains that we knew were each covered in stealthy coyotes. The next two hours were a blur of hunting stories and discussions on coyote behavior. It was a great education on predator calling, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity. So, to Tony I say “Thanks for setting me up on that hunt” and to Jeremy I say “Thanks for taking a stranger along and showing me how it’s done.”

Last edited by CD1; September 20, 2019 at 04:29 PM.
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Old September 20, 2019, 09:59 AM   #2
Tallest
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Quite a picture, Sir! And some beautiful landscape, wherever it is!
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Old September 20, 2019, 10:20 AM   #3
CD1
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We hunted in southeastern Idaho, along the Snake River. This particular spot was a rolling section of sage covered plains surrounded by agricultural fields and mountains.

There's a link above the pic to the full story, and more pics from the hunt.

I got a great lesson in predator calling that day from one of the best. Beautiful country, can't wait to go back.
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Old September 20, 2019, 10:33 AM   #4
T. O'Heir
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2,048px × 1,536px is WAAAAAAY too big.
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Old September 20, 2019, 10:41 AM   #5
CD1
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Originally Posted by T. O'Heir View Post
2,048px × 1,536px is WAAAAAAY too big.
How about the updated size?
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Old September 20, 2019, 11:39 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CD1 View Post
We hunted in southeastern Idaho, along the Snake River. This particular spot was a rolling section of sage covered plains surrounded by agricultural fields and mountains.

There's a link above the pic to the full story, and more pics from the hunt.

I got a great lesson in predator calling that day from one of the best. Beautiful country, can't wait to go back.
Is that an 5.56/.223 platform AR? Or something a little bigger? I assume you were calling coyotes?
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Old September 20, 2019, 11:51 AM   #7
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It's a Savage chambered in 6.5 Creedmore, and yes, coyotes were the target.
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Old September 20, 2019, 02:23 PM   #8
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Great story, well written! Nice pics too. Now do it in the winter when those pelts are worth some money!
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Old September 20, 2019, 03:13 PM   #9
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Great story, well written! Nice pics too. Now do it in the winter when those pelts are worth some money!
Thanks! The guys were telling me how much harder it is to get around there in the winter. Just walking gets to be a chore, and dragging a dog or two while doing it, very strenuous. I had a hard enough time because of the altitude, can't imagine trying to do that with the additional barrier of two feet of snow.
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Old September 20, 2019, 04:18 PM   #10
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Good read, thanks for sharing your trip.
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