Wild Horses and Coyotes

Written by Gary Robertson

Last week, Steve Roberson, Brian Hawkins and I traveled to the Navajo Reservation to do a little calling and complete a couple of episodes for CARNIVORE with Calvin Redhouse.  I had been on the Rez a couple of months ago on a bear hunt and water levels in lakes and ponds that water most of the wildlife and wild horses was very low.  No precipitation had fallen since I was there and many of the pools were dry or simply mud holes.  We found dead horses and a few cattle in and around these water sources.  Talking to the locals, I found that approximately 200 horses had died in one lake on the western side of the reservation.  There is no end in sight and I am sure that many more wild horses and livestock will perish before the drought is over.
In my opinion, something should have been done about the overpopulation of wild horses many years ago as they have almost completely destroyed the range in many areas of the reservation.  While watching them die in this fashion is almost more than I can stand, I realize that the reservation and native wildlife will be much better off in the years to come if the population is reduced.
Being one to take advantage of a bad situation, my plan was to concentrate my calling efforts in the areas where the wild horses were dying as the coyotes were feeding on them.  Over the years, I have learned that coyotes will concentrate around dead cattle, horses or other livestock.  Though the coyotes might have full bellies around these carcasses, I have found that they will readily respond to a call as they are looking for something a little tastier than decaying flesh.
There are over 17.5 million acres in the Navajo Nation and there are quite a few hunters who call this vast rugged country.  Since coyotes prefer the rolling sagebrush country of the lower elevations, it seems that is where most coyote hunting is done.  My plan was to hunt in the higher elevations in bigger timber where some of the horses were dying and hunting pressure is lower.
Years ago, I was hunting on a large ranch is northeastern New Mexico when I found the carcass of a very large bull.  Over the next three days, I killed a dozen coyotes within a mile of the bull and only a couple that were so far away that I knew were not feeding on him.  I knew that there were several dead horses on the Rez about a half mile from where I decided to make my first call.
As I walked in to make the call, the calling of ravens confirmed that there most likely coyotes on the carcasses.  A raven that is feeding makes little noise but a raven that is spooked by the coyotes and flying overhead will talk.
Ironically as I began calling, five wild horses fed between me and the electronic caller, ignoring the cottontail distress cries.  Twelve minutes into the call, one of the horses picked up its head and pricked his ears in the direction of the ravens.  I scanned the sagebrush but I could not see anything resembling a “song dog”.  After the horses passed, a motion to my left confirmed what the horse had seen…a coyote trotting in my direction.
The coyote stopped and stared as I attempted to swivel my body to the left, making it easier for a southpaw to execute the shot.  I froze and waited for the coyote to advance when I decided that I must take the shot right-handed rather than risk spooking him.  At a distance of thirty steps, the coyote rolled to a stop giving me a quartering wide open shot that I made good.  Over the next day, we called more coyotes from daylight until about 10:00 AM and temperatures became warm.
I was shooting my favorite calling rig on this hunt, the Ruger American Rifle in .22-.250 caliber topped with a Trijicon 3-9×40 Accupoint scope with Hornady 55 grain V-Max ammunition. The Swagger Bipods mounted on the American Rifle made the transition from left-hand to righty much easier and steadied every shot that I attempted.