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Sandhill Coyotes
After a bit of yakking for the camera, we quickly drove to another ridge overlooking another shallow lake. This time Les put me in front of a yucca to his right, and Luke to the left. After calling for five minutes another coyote popped over the low ridge 60 yards in from of Luke, who made another fine shot. This time we joked for the camera about the coyotes always coming to Luke, no matter which side he sat on.

Sandhill Coyotes
The spiky yuccas scattered among the grass of the Sandhills provides good cover for camouflaged coyote hunters.

It happened again at the next spot. This time, however, I could also see the coyote come trotting over the last little rise. Unfortunately, I’d have had to turn 90 degrees to take the shot, with the coyote already very close. Luke sat just about where the coyote was headed, so I only moved my eyeballs – until his shot.

After that Luke’s luck ran out, though mine didn’t improve. At the next two stands single coyotes trotted within 200 yards of Les, which proved to be their last decision in life. By the time we headed back to headquarters for lunch, five coyotes lay in a pile in the back of Les’s pickup. Not a bad morning!

Even more impressive was the fact that the hunt took place during a warm spell in the extra-warm winter of 2012. The sun shone almost all the time, and though the mornings were chilly, on every afternoon of the three-day hunt the thermometer ended up near 60 degrees. A few spots on the north slopes of the dunes held a little crusty snow from a storm a few weeks earlier, but mostly we sat on dry sand.

I’d hoped to shoot a coyote the first day, then put aside the rifle and take photographs the second day. One basic rule of hunting photography is the camera must be in your hands; otherwise you’re taking photos around the hunt, instead of while the hunting takes place. But there appeared to be enough coyotes to risk some time without a rifle, so the next day I started out with a pair of Canon cameras rather than a 223, plus new hunting partners, my old friend Kevin Howard, a veteran public relations man for a bunch of shooting and hunting companies, and Matt Rice of Thompson/Center.

The action wasn’t quite so fast and furious as the day before, but some coyotes still appeared. The first came loping in from several hundred yards across a series of low dunes. We could see it top each ridge, then hesitate to take a quick look around, then run into the next draw, ever closer. It eventually ended up just below the top of the last low ridge, about 100 yards from Kevin, who made a fine heart shot.

Of course, some coyotes were missed. I was sitting on a hillside a few yards from Matt Rice when a coyote came charging over a tall knob 200 yards away. This particular coyote must have been really hungry, because even when “woofed” it refused to stop until almost directly below us. Matt had to scrunch into a very weird shooting position to aim almost straight downhill – and then the coyote moved just as he pulled the trigger. I did get a few photos, however, of dust flying behind the coyote as it ran, really fast, back the way it had come. Later in the morning Matt made a fine 200-yard shot on a less eager coyote.
On the third morning we all decided to make a short morning hunt, then gather back at the lodge to take a big group photo. The 19 coyotes taken to that point made an impressive layout on a dune behind the lodge. After a quick lunch we headed out again in the middle of a tropical February day.

Sandhill Coyotes
A hunter can see coyotes coming for a long way from near the top of a Sandhills dune.

The action was really slow until the last hour of light. My final day’s hunting partner was Steve Carpenteri, a freelance writer from Maine. Our guide was Judd Lee, another successful competitive caller who works for Cabela’s. I was sitting about 20 yards to Judd’s left on a steep hillside, facing a few degrees away from the setting sun, when suddenly a coyote trotted over a ridge 200 yards away, heading toward us. When it disappeared behind the last ridge in front of me, I squirmed quickly to reposition my shooting sticks and rifle.

The coyote popped over the ridge during the last second of my movement and started to turn away, but Judd called and it stopped, staring toward the sound. I put the crosshairs on the juncture of neck and shoulder, and at the shot the coyote dropped and rolled down the hill a few feet before stopping in the short grass, absolutely still.

I started to stand, but Judd hissed loudly and pointed to my left. I sat again and looked downhill to where the dunes ended in a flat extending several hundred yards to a distant pond. A coyote was loping straight toward us, still at least 300 yards out. At 200 yards it started up the base of our hill, then disappeared behind the curve.

If the coyote kept coming it would just about run over me, so I scrunched even lower behind my yucca and turned the scope all the way down to 4.5x, sitting with my elbows on my knees, looking over the scope at the ridge where the coyote should appear.

Sandhill Coyotes
John’s coyote came on the last evening, thanks to the calling of Judd Lee.

In a few seconds the coyote came running over the ridgetop, right through a nearby yucca thicket. As it cleared the last yucca I put the scope right on its shoulder – an out-of-focus shoulder, since the range was only a few feet. The coyote passed slightly to my left and I swung and pulled the trigger, at the last instant seeing a blur of green through the scope.
The green turned out to be another yucca, and the bullet blew a bunch of leaves into the air. The fragments flew over the coyote as it ran by untouched. Steve got off a quick shot as the coyote ran over the top of the hill behind me, but I suspect he was laughing too hard to aim precisely.

Some of the other hunters had been successful as well. In the morning we all got up early and headed in separate directions out of the Sandhills, seeing mule deer and Merriam’s turkeys and one last coyote, which stood in a flat cow pasture, looking at us for a short moment, before heading for the dunes beyond, where two dozen of his former companions no longer roamed.

The VARMINT HUNTER Magazine, a 208-page publication put together for shooters by shooters. The Varmint Hunters Association, Inc. hosts several 600-yard IBS matches, a coyote calling contest, and an annual Jamboree in Fort Pierre, SD. The Jamboree is a week-long shooting event known as "a summer camp for shooters".

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