The first time I read Mike Eastman’s book Hunting High Country Mule Deer I was 19 years old and just starting to learn how to hunt big game. Eleven years later I believe that book changed the outcome of many of my hunts.
The chapter that really left its mark was called “Coyoting Out.” This chapter taught me how to hunt from a backpack with as low of an impact as possible on the animal that I am hunting. This method of backpack hunting is so effective that he has a section dedicated to it in many of his books on hunting the West.
This picture of Mike’s shows exactly what coyoting out is, living in a big buck or bull’s kitchen just like a coyote! It changed the way I camped, where I put my tent, and what I looked for in a hunting camp.
This excerpt from the book Elk Hunting the West Revisited really helps to understand exactly what this method of hunting is:[box_light]
Coyoting out is a term that I came up with back in the early ‘80s to describe a style of hunting trophy elk. It’s more than just a strategy; it’s a way of living in the outdoors that causes minimal human impact on the country and game. It can be adapted to any terrain throughout the West. I have used this technique to successfully hunt trophy elk for over 50 years, during both archery and rifle seasons.
If you watch a pair of coyotes hunting in the high country, they will do the same thing. Lying on a ridge under a scrub pine, they watch the surrounding area and wait patiently for a perfect opportunity. You to have to be like a coyote when hunting that super-bull. Slip into a creek drainage or basin undetected and find a patch of scrub timber where you can sit in the shade with a panoramic view of the country without having to move around. Finding just the right spot will probably require a scouting trip into the area.
A hideout like this enables you to be in elk country and remain totally unnoticed as you pattern them. This is where I set up a coyote camp using only lightweight backpacking equipment, including a gas stove for cooking. Only in severe weather do I start a smoking fire. Remember, an elk’s strongest sense is smell. He will not tolerate the smell of a campfire or the rattle of metal cooking equipment in his backyard. The herd will be immediately alerted to your presence. However, from a coyote camp where you make minimal disturbance, you can stay undercover and undetected while you patiently glass and wait.
The key to coyoting out is to set up on the edge of a patch of timber in a basin, slide or pocket and glass. If you locate a branch-antlered bull you will have the freedom to move along with him until an appropriate stalk presents itself or set up camp, well after dark if need be. By far the biggest advantage to slipping into a hole with only a backpack is you can hang out close to the elk all weekend. As the elk move around, you’ll be right there moving with them, waiting for an opportunity at the herd bull.
What do I look for in a coyote camp? In the high country, I find a patch of scrub pine for my shelter. In the more open country I look for a low-profile position, such as a bench right below my lookout ridge. It needs to be away from the wind and within a few yards of my lookout points.
Bull elk are not difficult to pattern, so sitting tight and observing their comings and goings is 100 percent productive. Sometimes it takes several days before a bull gets into a position where he can be stalked. For every mature bull you spot, in your GPS or journal record the location of his bedding areas, where he feeds and the time of day he moves from one area to the other.
Having your camp set up next to where you’re glassing is a slick hunting style. You can remain in the elk’s backyard, watching and waiting for him to come out. Make sure you glass until it’s too dark to make out the outline of an elk as they often do not come out until the very last minute of daylight. The next morning you’ll still be there, quietly glassing during that precious 20 minutes before sunlight, when so many bulls slip off to escape the average hunter.
Now this is important! When it comes to glassing from your coyote camp, make sure the sun is either to the left, to the right, or behind your back. This ensures that you’re not glassing directly into the sun, which is counterproductive and simply not much fun. The light on the horizon backlights the country, causing deep shadows that are hard to overcome when glassing from miles away. In general, don’t glass toward the west in the evening or the east during the morning in order to avoid this situation.
If possible, always keep concealed in the scrub pines of your coyote camp as well. Never wander around on the tops of the ridges, showing your silhouette against the skyline. Because ridges are the paths of least resistance, most hunters move along them like highways. Elk have learned to bed down in timber patches where they can scan several surrounding ridges for hunter traffic. Moving along just below the ridgeline will make it much harder for bulls to spot your movement. To stay undetected, you need to carefully plot your movements in order to minimize exposure. When coyoting out, only silhouette yourself when bushwhacking to a new area.
Having a bull elk get away because of sloppy hunting habits is a hard lesson to learn for anybody. Now, I am very careful about skylining myself, because it’s almost always a dead giveaway of your presence. Remember, you’re hunting a bull in his home range. Elk seem to have a sixth sense and know when humans have invaded their territory. They will move off to the next creek drainage in a matter of minutes if they figure you out. We are the same way in our own home; it doesn’t take long for us to sense if someone else is there. A herd cow or an old bull will pick up on any unusual activity or noise and slip off into a new basin, creek, or heavily timbered north slope.
It takes time to learn an area well enough to know where to put your coyote camp. However, after a few trips into the country, it will become quite apparent. In order to find a mature public land bull, you must be disciplined and have total commitment, even when faced with adverse terrain and weather conditions.
Mike addresses this in more detail in his books, and I would tell any hunter to read them, whether you are a veteran of many western hunting camps or heading out for the first time to chase a mule deer buck or a bull elk.
All of Mike’s books can be found HERE
Good luck in the draws, scouting, and the upcoming hunting season!