The reward is the opportunity to pursue wary game

When winter winds bring drifting snow and the full moon lights up the landscape like lights in the parking lot of a mall, that’s when coyote hunters take to Michigan’s great outdoors toting gun and call. This brand of hunting requires patience, persistence and gallons of steaming hot coffee to keep you awake. Working the graveyard shift for predators is tough on your body; some midnight coyote hunters hunt all night and sleep during the day.

But the reward is the opportunity to pursue wary game under the mysterious light of the full moon. This style of hunting is fun-filled and you get the feeling that the entire world is fast asleep as you glide from one calling location to a new spot on a blanket of powdery snow. There are times when I’m all alone on a still night hunting coyotes at midnight and I’m overcome by a strange creepy feeling. A cloud passing in front of the full moon sends a shadow across the landscape that resembles a living creature. When rabbits and deer run through the blanket of snow there is no sound and they seem like critters from a midnight nightmare. Let the lonely feeling overtake your soul and soon you get spooked and head back to the comfort of your vehicle or cabin.

Some nights every time you call coyotes come running. The shooting action is fast-paced and the adrenaline rush from the hunt keeps you pumped until dawn. Other nights it seems coyotes have disappeared, they are impossible to see, will not respond to any calls and you get the feeling you are all alone in a large expansive land with no living animals. I prefer midnight treks when the moon is glowing bright and fresh snow illuminates the landscape, helping me to see coyote as they slink along the terrain. On some full moon nights animals act like you cannot see them, giving you the feeling that you are invisible. You see, wild animals assume humans can’t see after dark and years of conditioning have taught them to not fear humans at night.

Of course, it is wise to use white camouflage to conceal your human form in the snow. You can purchase a relatively cheap white pullover that will cover your regular deer hunting outfit through Mack’s Prairie Wings or Knutson’s in Brooklyn, MI. Camo can be the key to success because predators have excellent eyesight, even after dark and you must conceal your human outline and gun if you want close encounters in the snow. This was certainly the case on a hunt in December 2007.

I snuck along the fence row when the moon was high and I could see my shadow on the blanket of fresh snow. I heard a lone’yote call. He sounded far away, but I knew he was close. I took stand near a brush pile, overlooking two small fields with fingers of brush leading to the woods. I started with a long low howl just as a cloud moved in front of the full moon. In no time the coyote called back. I waited and gave him some puppy whines, lowering the tone and volume to sound like the struggle was ending.

The coyote had already slipped onto the scene. I picked up his light gray and brown outline moving along the finger, headed toward me. Through the scope he looked unconcerned, as if he had not a care in the world, as he pranced my direction, head up, pointed ears sticking out. I settled the .22 magnum on a shooting stick and clicked the Ruger safety off. The coyote moved slightly downwind and just as he was about to reach my scent I gave him the squeal of a crippled mouse. He stopped, stood tip-toed as the cross hair settled on his big chest and I squeezed off a shot. The coyote hit the snow like a ton of bricks, in an instant the hunt had ended. He had no idea I was in the area.

To hunt coyotes under the glow of the full moon you need a competent rifle. I prefer a.22 magnum caliber equipped with a quality scope. Sighted in at 75 yards this caliber is pretty much a point and shoot weapon from 0-100 yards. While larger center fire rifles like the .22-250 or .223 are preferred by hunters during daylight, the .22 magnum will get the job done when coyote come running close to investigate. Don’t make the mistake of shooting solid bullets, instead stick with hollow points in order to get more knockdown power and anchor a coyote for good. My choice is the Winchester Supreme varmint load 34 grain high velocity hollow point. Some hunters prefer shotguns and they often wait until the coyote is kissin’ close before they fill the air with lead and the fur flies. Avid shotgunners like #4 buckshot, which is legal during day, come night they switch to F steel shot or T’s, which has 68 BB’s in a single 3″ shell. Check the Hunting and Trapping guide regarding season dates, use of lights and guns that are legal.

I’ve dusted my share of midnight coyotes with scattergun but prefer the accuracy and challenge of hunting with a single shot, scoped rifle. The trick is to get Mr. Coyote to stand still for a clean shot. Coyotes are always on the move but when they get close give them a high pitch squeal or smack your lips and the sharp sound will get their attention and they will stop to take notice. Some animals just never stop prancing, so when they are in range lead them a couple inches or wait until they are coming directly at you and put the cross hair on their chest.

Michigan law allows you to hunt with .22 caliber or .17 caliber at night. Only a .22 or smaller caliber rimfire rifle or handgun can be used or a shotgun with loads other than buckshot or bow and arrow. In order to hunt you must possess a game or predator call and the firearm may be loaded or arrow nocked only when using a call. You can use lights, only those similar to the type ordinarily held in the hand or on the person. Flashlights, portable battery powered lights spotlights and headlamps are legal. The use of natural light, including night vision optics and scopes is also legal. An artificial light, including laser lights, may be mounted on a person’s clothing or firearm. Spotlights, headlights, floodlights or artificial lights not hand held are illegal.

I carry only a small pin light and rely on the illumination of the moon to set the horizon aglow and make coyote stand out large as a German Shepherd dog. Most night hunters use electronic calls and red filter lights to attract and spot critters when the moon is dim.

While most coyote hunters work country roads far from civilization, I’ve got another game plan. During winter when snow is falling and the clouds are low, lights from the city illuminate the snow and make the surroundings easy to see. When the moon is dim, I’ll pray for fresh snow and hunt near the city where the bright lights bounce off the low hanging clouds and I can easily see.

You would be amazed at how many coyotes live inside the city limits of most Michigan cities. They survive by mousing and attacking small dogs and cats during the darkness of night. Some prance through subdivisions on garbage night, picking scraps of meat from bags set out for morning pick up. Others slip under the cover of darkness to waiting bowls of cat food or dog food set outside for pets by residents. Coyotes are very crafty and they will travel anywhere for a free meal. Check city or township hunting regulations in your area.

Hunting under the glow of the moon can be very exciting with friends. Usually I’ll do the calling and set my friend closer to the direction where animals will come. When the coyote responds to the call and moves toward me, he runs directly into the shooter, which makes for some heart pounding action. Few thrills in hunting are more fun than a coyote at super close range, slinking past a stand hunter at only a few yards. This makes for a difficult moving target and shouldering the rifle without being detected can be hard if the coyote gets in too tight. I’ve seen many coyotes prance kissin’ close to my set hunter, then run like crazy as the shooter lifts the rifle and fills the air with bullets. Heck, once a coyote picks up on you, turns and drops into overdrive, you might as well save the shells because they are extremely difficult to hit with a .22 rifle. I’ve emptied many clips without results.

Coyote hunting can get the adrenaline flowing and can make you extremely frustrated if you miss more than a couple critters that are inside 20 yards. The true challenge of hunting under a full moon is fooling a crafty predator, getting him in close and the excitement in his eyes when you drop the hammer. Fact is, when a coyote puts it into high gear he is flying. I’m talking super fast. He can outrun any deer, zip past a wild turkey and once the bullets start flying he can hit overdrive in one jump. Shooting at running coyote is a humiliating experience, but piles of fun; especially if you get to rib your hunting partner. This was the case last winter.

I was introducing a young hunter to coyote hunting under the full moon. The first animal I called walked five yards past the kid, he froze up at first, couldn’t get off a shot and by the time he drew down on the yodeler the animal was 150 yards away going like crazy. I ribbed him to beat the band. On the third spot he shouldered the rifle and dumped a dandy song dog with a perfect head shot. We started toward the downed animal when out of the corner of my eye I caught movement. As I turned there was the snapping of twigs and I saw a second coyote spring for safety. My shooter popped off a couple shots and I was grinning as I watched the brown form zoom across the open snow-covered field like a supersonic jet. “Sorry Pal”, I remarked, “you don’t get them all.”

Want to put some spice in your life?

Try predator hunting with call and rimfire rifle when the moon is bright. The trick is to plan trips when there is little or no cloud cover. Four days preceding and following the full moon can offer enough light to provide excellent predator hunting. Most landowners will grant hunting permission for coyote and fox chasers, but keep night activity and noise to a minimum. After all, somebody needs to get sleep.

Ideal conditions are when we have a winter storm, highlighted by fresh snow and followed by a warming trend with little wind, clearing skies and a bright full moon. Predators like to prance when the wind subsides and they can locate mice by hearing them rustling under the snow and pounce on them like a cat. Sometimes, you will see predators so busy mousing they pay little attention to hunters setting up on a fence row nearby. Still nights help animals to hear your calls at longer distances. The more coyote hear you the better your chances that one will come running.

This year the full moon falls on January 22, February 21 and March 21. Some of the best hunting of the year arrives in mid-February when coyote females come into heat. This is when young males are relentlessly roaming to find a mate and paired couples can be seen roaming the landscape. Much like deer in rut, coyote and foxes are much easier to fool when their attention is preoccupied with the scent of a lovesick mate. Hunting under the spell of a full moon can be addictive during this time period.