With the conclusion of fall hunting season, I decided to take on a new winter challenge: predator hunting. This past weekend my team and I entered the 2018 Great Lakes Predator Challenge, a coyote hunting tournament consisting of 150 teams and a 40-hour hunt window. Many of the best coyote hunting teams from the state of Michigan participate in this annual event in addition to several amateur groups, like my own. The competition was evident the day of the check in. Teams had matching gear, painted in sponsor logos and I was fortunate enough to at least blend in the crowd with a camo sweatshirt.
Above the team competitiveness comes the reality of how difficult coyote hunting actually is. We set out to the woods at the start of the tournament, racing to our first spot, anticipating a night of howling and barking echoing through the darkness. The weather brought us just the opposite. Overcast skies and high winds plagued the woods, leaving nothing but blowing leaves and silence to carry through the night. After 14 hours of patience testing and no sleep, it was time for a daytime break to recharge and strategize for the second half of the tournament.
A clear, sunny afternoon opened the second evening to bright moonlight and a concert of dog howling. We started calling back to draw out movement. With each call more and more packs became interested in responding. A symphony of shrilling sounds continued for over an hour. With my heart pounding and eyes scanning the fields, no sign of coyotes…yet. Ninety minutes post sunset, we moved closer to the larger fields and our team of three set up along a trail crossing to try to cover any direction the packs could take as they moved with us. Minutes after stillness set in, we sounded a single howl. This erupted the chatter once again but this time they were much closer. Chills raced down my back knowing I must be sitting right between packs. As I gazed over the trail ridge, a small black shadow bolted across the tall grass 40 yards in front of me. Without hesitation, I rose to my knees and flipped on my red hunting light. A pair of petrifying red eyes stopped and reflected at me through my scope. In that instant, I pulled the trigger to take our first dog of the tournament. Still shaking, I walked over to find my first coyote down.
With the moon just rising and dogs still howling, we had high spirits that a few more yotes could put us in the top ten group. We spent the remainder of the tournament calling and responding to packs as we moved from set to set but couldn’t seem to draw any more out from cover. Predator hunting is definitely a difficult sport that takes the right combination of patience and skill to excel at. Seeing the other teams turn in up to a record-setting 8 was very impressive. At the conclusion of the tournament, our team had only one dog to show, finishing 31st overall. Most importantly, I had a blast spending an entire weekend with my brothers in the woods. We exceeded our goal of one and are already looking forward to next year. In the meantime, a good night’s sleep is up next for all of us.