Varmint hunting 101

For the most part hunting is over. Yeah, there may be a couple of late season depredation hunts around the country, but still it’s pretty much done for the winter. But back away from the edge. Before you jump, read on.

If you put your guns away for the winter now, you’re missing one of the most fun hunting seasons the outdoors has to offer — varmint hunting. It can provide for some high-speed shooting. And no two hunts are ever the same. One time a coyote will come within 200 yards and set down and allow a shot. The next set-up you turn around and one is coming in at Mach I at 20 yards.

To be successful, you’ll need some specific gear. Let’s cover that.


When a coyote comes in, he’s heard a lot of noise and is expecting to see something. It makes him a lot more comfortable if you offer a visual. Due to their light weight and portability I use Montana Decoys. I like to set up their coyote decoy and a rabbit or an antelope fawn or a deer fawn. Motion decoys are also great. Most of them are just a white rag on the end of a wire that twirls around.


I’ve gone the route with cheap calls. Break down and buy a FoxPro. They’re the best. In the old days we used hand calls. Electronic calls are a 100 times better. You can set them out 30-40 yards away from you so the varmint is focusing on the source of the sound and doesn’t see you. Also, if he’s coming in and you’re using a hand call you have to keep calling right up until you take the shot. That takes a lot of juggling.

Electronic calls will have remote controls so you can change sounds, raise/lower the noise level, etc. from afar.


Match your camo with the terrain that you’re hunting in. I don’t have a particular manufacturer that I favor. I just buy what matches the terrain where I’m hunting. Usually, for varmint hunting here in Idaho you’ll want a sagebrush pattern.


Now for the big one. The AR platform has taken over the varmint hunting scene and for good reason. A semi-auto allows for fast follow up shots when multiple coyotes come in. With a bolt action the follow up noise of racking the bolt allows them to pinpoint your location. But if all you have is an old bolt action, don’t despair. Last year my brother-in-law dropped three coyotes in rapid succession.

What caliber to use? There are 20 different good calibers but the most popular is the .223/5.56. Use a good expanding varmint round unless you’re saving the hides. For scopes, I’d recommend a 4-12x or a 4-16x.

Shotguns? Yep, I counted two years ago and 40 percent of my shots were within shotgun range. How many times do you look around and here comes a coyote at Mach I with his tail feathers on fire at 20 yards? If I have two or more shooters with me I always have someone carry a shotgun.

I use a semi-auto. In fact, right now I’m waiting on a Savage Renegade to arrive. You’ll also want something more than a plain old bead. I just received a Vortex SPARC Solar Red Dot to put on the Renegade. With the modern coyote loads their pattern is so tight that you’ll need to aim at a body part plus, beads aren’t accurate.

For shells the best that I have found is the HEVI-Shot Dead Coyote loads. The HEVI-Shot crew member told me that she had rolled a coyote at 70 yards. DOA. Unbelievable.

So as we close, don’t waste your Saturdays in a mall. Pick up your rifle and go varmint hunting.

Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop.

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