South Dakota’s Public Land CoyotesBy Mark Hicks
©Copyright The Varmint Hunters Association, Inc.
South Dakotan Josh Cluff is no longer content to hunt coyotes with his trusty H-S Precision SPL sporter chambered in 243 Winchester. Fitted with a Leupold VX-3 4.5-14x40 scope and loaded with 55-gr. Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet, the rifle is a coyote grim reaper out to 400 yards. Cluff’s problem with the 243 is call-shy prairie coyotes that hang up out of gun range.
Josh Cluff sets his remote caller and a decoy about 30 yards upwind from where he will be hiding.
The 243 would still do the job in early autumn through October. South Dakota coyotes venture closer to game calls then because these predators aren’t hunted much during the hot summer months. Their guard is down.
However, the coyotes get wise fast when the weather cools enough for comfortable hunting. Coyote fanatics fill the air with distress calls, and deer hunters get into the mix, too.
“Deer hunters usually shoot at any coyote they see,” Cluff said. “And, many of them will do some coyote calling in the middle of the day when the deer hunting is slow.”
By the end of December, South Dakota’s coyotes are no longer eager dupes that lope into easy gun range. They approach with caution, hang up at 400 yards or more, and often tease you by sitting on their duff and yapping for several minutes. Then they do an about face and leave.
After being rejected in this fashion countless times, Cluff’s frustration was nearing the boiling point. The steam finally whistled out of his ears the winter day that a bobcat responded to his distress calls. It stopped on a hilltop 520 yards away and refused to come closer. Cluff wasn’t comfortable taking the shot with his 243, especially with the 15 to 20 mph crosswind.
South Dakota’s Department of Game, Fish and Parks leases more than 900,000 acres of private land called Walk-In Areas. You may walk in and hunt Walk-In Areas, but you are not allowed to drive on them.
IT WAS TIME FOR ACTION:
THE WIND CHEATER
To reach out and touch coyotes beyond 400 yards, Cluff needed a heavier bullet with a higher ballistic coefficient than the 243 can deliver. He settled on the 6.5x284 Norma, an extremely accurate long-range round that’s used extensively in bench rest competition.
A 140-grain Berger VLD (very low drag) bullet is the business end of Cluff’s coyote round. He calls it a “wind cheater.”
“That long, narrow bullet really bucks the wind,” Cluff said. “It's also deadly on deer and antelope.”
Cluff went to H-S Precision in Rapid City, South Dakota, to have a rifle built that would take full advantage of the 6.5x284. He didn’t have to go out of his way because he is H-S Precision’s director of sales and marketing.
H-S Precision is among the leading producers of synthetic stocks. The company also builds high-end custom rifles. They guarantee that their rifles of 30 caliber and under will shoot 1/2-inch MOA at 100 yards. A target and load data are provided with each rifle.
Cluff had a heavy 26-inch fluted barrel fitted to an H-S action with an adjustable trigger, which he set at 2.5 pounds. A 2-inch muzzle brake at the end of the barrel reduces recoil by 65 percent. The action is anchored to an aluminum block, an integral part of the H-S Precision synthetic stock. The barrel is free floating.
Josh Cluff relies mainly on a remote FOXPRO FX3 Digital Game Call. However, he also has rabbit distress calls on a lanyard around his neck so he can “mix things up.”
Talley bases and rings fix a Leupold VX-3 8.5-25x50 scope firmly atop the rifle. The scope features a Leupold custom-built turret that has been calibrated to Cluff's specific 6.5x284 load. The turret allows Cluff to dial in the exact yardage for the shot. The windage still must be doped. A Harris bipod ensures a solid rest.
An essential part of Cluff’s shooting gear is a 10x45 Zeiss Victory Rangefinder binocular. Cluff now feels confident taking 600-yard shots at coyotes.
An essential part of Cluff's shooting gear is a 10x45 Zeiss Victory Range-finder binocular.
His longest kill with this rifle happened on a calm, early-morning hunt in South Dakota's Custer National Forest. Soon after Cluff began calling, a coyote showed itself on a high, distant bluff. It wasn’t convinced and took a seat to look things over.
At that distance, the coyote felt safe. It was in no hurry to leave. Cluff also was taking his time, because he hoped another coyote would show up and venture closer. Or, that he could lure in the wary coyote he had spotted. After 20 minutes of trying different calls with no results, Cluff ranged the dog at 625 yards and dialed the scope’s turret to that distance. He squeezed the trigger and watched with enormous satisfaction as the coyote crumpled.
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