Cold weather coyote hunting holds memories

Nick Lowrey

It was an extremely cold February afternoon, I was 10 years old and fascinated by all things hunting. I wasn’t quite old enough to actually shoot anything yet and still I was enamored. Cold as it was, I was determined to drink in all the sights and sounds of an entirely new experience. Having accompanied my father on pheasant hunting trips all over the state, I was no novice in the field. But this, this was my first time hunting in the middle of winter.

Dan Houg, an SDSU alumnus and avid outdoorsman, had been working with my dad for several years at this point and had just convinced him to participate in what he assured both of us was a favored pass time of the SDSU student body. I didn’t find out until years later why he was laughing as he said it. We were going coyote hunting and no, we weren’t anywhere near Vermillion.

In fact, we were fairly close to Brookings as I recall. Given the high winds and blowing snow, we relied very heavily on the truck’s heater and a good pair of binoculars to find the wily predators. Not the manliest form of hunting to be sure, but then again, it was really freaking cold.

These were the days before the widespread use of electronic calls, before predator hunting had even begun to regain its popularity following the demise of state-sponsored bounties and the fall of fur prices.

Coyotes, despite being South Dakota’s state animal, are listed as varmints. This means they’re considered troublesome animals and in this case they’ve been known to eat livestock.

Because of their varmint status, anyone who holds a South Dakota resident hunting license can shoot as many coyotes as they want, year round. The S.D. Game Fish and Parks Department has even set up an online registry for hunters to post their contact information so that farmers and ranchers can find people to help control the predators on their land.

Coyotes in S.D. have spent the last few years recovering from a widespread outbreak of mange, a parasitic disease that causes coyotes to scratch off their fur. This tends to kill them fairly quickly during the cold winter months. West River has seen an especially large increase in coyote numbers and East River has a fairly sizeable population as well.

Ever since North American wolf populations were decimated, coyote numbers have been steadily increasing. They are one of the most adaptable predators in North America and can be found wandering as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. They’re so adaptable that in some cities, like Los Angeles, Calif., for instance, they’re found in large numbers and make a habit of eating house cats.

Coyote hunting is usually better during the winter; the snow and low temperatures combine to get them moving around and looking for food. This makes them easier to call in and has the added bonus of giving them a thicker more luxurious coat, which can translate into some extra adult-beverage money for those who are of age.

A 10-year-old is very impressionable and I’ll never forget the first coyote I ever had the chance to hunt. It was making its way across a pasture on top of something like 24 in. of snow. My dad placed a remarkable 200-yard, open-sight shot into that coyote’s pump station and it dropped on the spot. Naturally, I took off running toward the dead dog before my ears stopped ringing. I dragged that thing all the way back to the truck myself.