Nanton, Alberta, was a mess. Fierce Chinook winds had sneaked into town during the dead of night and pillaged the sleeping community. We’d arisen early for the third and final day of our coyote hunt expecting the worst. The quaint bed and breakfast where we were staying had been rocked on its foundation.
“Beauty day, eh?” I greeted my guide and outfitter, Andre van Hilten, at the door and got a wry smile. I could tell by his demeanor that we were in for another tough day in the field. A coyote hunter’s worst nemesis is the wind, and even though the storm had moved on, it was blustery outside.
Streetlamps were out and it was uncommonly dark as we passed through town, but the extent of the wind damage was palpable—broken branches, downed trees and scattered debris covered the streets. We rode in silence, paying homage to the citizens who had a long day of cleanup ahead of them.
I subscribe to the mantra: Hunt when you can, weather be damned. But I couldn’t help but think that every Nantonite coyote had been blown clear into neighboring Saskatchewan and it would take them days, if not weeks, to walk back home. As we pulled out of town, heading south along a winding reservoir, Andre explained that high winds were common in the Nanton area and affect hunting strategy.
“Chinook winds blow in from the Rocky Mountains through Alberta from a southwesterly direction,” he said. “They can be as little as a slight breeze or blow up to 100 mph. When these winds become extreme, animals—predators and prey alike—seek cover in sheltered areas, east-facing slopes or tight covered drainages. Wind is our No.1 enemy when it comes to calling coyotes.” Great, I thought. I could feel the 30-mph-plus wind buffet the truck as we pulled onto a gravel side road and headed to our first stand of the day.
Weather conditions during the first day of our hunt, while windy, had been manageable, and the first stand verified why Alberta is a coyote hunter’s dream destination.
Hunting partner Bryce Towsley and I followed Andre down a sharp ridgeline a quarter-mile from where we parked his truck and set up overlooking several shallow draws that fingered down to a frozen stock pond. It was that magical time of the morning that all coyote hunters cherish—the breeze was cool and wispy, as the sun crept up over the horizon. Andre laid into the rabbit distress call with the guttural growl of a chain-smoking blues singer, causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand and applaud. I literally watched the hills come to life as coyotes began crawling out of the woodwork—nine in all! Most were milling around several hundred yards out, finishing up the night shift and paying us very little attention. Whoa! Two were coming hard, one down the fenceline, the other circling the stock pond.
I’d like to say that we cleaned house, but circumstances conspired to produce a big fat zero! Don’t ask. No worries, though. Apparently there was no shortage of coyotes and we’d get a chance at redemption.
And redemption came quickly. Our next setup was tucked into a rock outcropping in an overgrown pasture. A couple of minutes into the stand, a lone coyote showed up about 200 yards out along a fenceline but inline with several farm buildings. I slid around into position but held my fire as Andre finessed the coyote closer. It circled to my right and closed ground. At 100 yards it cleared the buildings and my Model 700—chambered in the new .17 Rem. Fireball—barked, sending a puny but deadly 20-grain payload coyote-bound. A millisecond later I saw bullet meet fur.
Back in the truck, Andre explained why Alberta has such a thriving coyote population and why that’s good news for outfitters. “Ground squirrel, field mice and gopher populations are out of control and make an easy meal for coyotes,” he said. “And flourishing populations of big game increase the chances of finding weak animals that a pack of coyotes can easily take down. Hunting pressure on coyotes is very low, mostly due to the low fur prices.” Andre says that coyotes are becoming a cash crop for opportunistic Alberta outfitters, allowing them to extend their seasons, by offering exciting hunts during the winter months when most big game seasons are closed.
High winds plagued the remainder of the hunt, culminating with the 60-mph squall that ransacked Nanton and the surrounding area. Blind calling became futile, and we had to change our approach if we expected to put up any more fur. While it’s possible to call coyotes during windy conditions, it’s crucial to get as close as possible to receptive ears. For that reason, we spent considerable time in the truck, driving around looking and glassing for marauding coyotes. Once we spotted coyotes we’d devise a plan to get close enough for the shot, or at least close enough to attempt to call them in.
Fortunately, coyotes are plentiful in Alberta and seem to have no aversion to working the dayshift. The rolling landscape provides adequate cover for sneaking and peeking. During February and March, find cattle and you’ll likely find coyotes nearby. Cows are calving, and opportunistic coyotes camp out on the herds to drag off still-born calves or feed on (yuck!) manure and afterbirth. You might also find them mousing in CRP fields and along fencelines, or hunting brush piles and shelterbelts for rabbits. Swamps and heavy stands of timber also offer shelter from the elements and are productive to hunt.
Andre eased the truck to the side of the road and we scrambled for our binos. A pair of coyotes were cruising a distant fenceline a half-section away. When they disappeared from sight, we bailed out of the pickup and, using a rise in the landscape for cover, sneaked out into the field. Andre and I crawled to the crest of the hill and set up prone, while Bryce tucked into the fenceline, made like a post and watched the backdoor.
Andre had been calling for a few minutes when he tapped me on the shoulder. A lone coyote was charging our flank across a stubble field headed straight for Bryce. The coyote didn’t know it yet, but it was in trouble. Bryce’s patience ran out when the coyote was 100 yards out and he dropped it with a well-placed frontal shot to the chest. We hunted the rest of the day, and although we saw several more coyotes—even flung some long-distance lead at some of them—we came up short. It wasn’t a great day by Alberta standards, but we’d each shot a coyote and had 2 more days to hunt.
By day No. 2, hunting coyotes had become a spot-and-stalk affair. I was hunting with Andre again, but paired up for the day with Remington’s Linda Powell. Once again we were seeing a lot of coyotes, but calling had become ineffective so all we could do was drive around and try to sneak close when we spotted a coyote. Luck seemed to be conspiring against us—the coyotes we were encountering were either on land that we didn’t have permission to hunt, or they spooked before we could put a stalk on them.
Finally, we spotted a pair of coyotes out on the ice, cruising the edge of the reservoir. We parked the truck and circled wide on foot, trying to get ahead and above them. Linda stayed back a few steps, while Andre and I eased up to the skyline to take a look down on the reservoir. Busted! I’d no sooner poked my head up over the rise, when I caught a flash of fur making a quick exit into the cattails along the shoreline.
Lucky for me, a second coyote, the male, wasn’t quite as quick. I dropped to the prone position and quickly acquired him in the scope, angling away at a dog-trot. I wasn’t exactly sure of the yardage, but figured it to be in the neighborhood of 200 yards, so I tucked the crosshairs in behind the near shoulder, held down a tad to compensate for the sharp downward angle, pulled left to allow for trot-speed and windage and turned the bullet loose. The shot turned out to be 170 yards, and I was impressed by how the little 20-grain poly tipped bullet dumped the coyote on the ice.
Andre stood up and motioned for Linda to join us for the retrieve. It had been a good stalk and we felt good about the well-earned coyote. It was also one of only two coyotes killed that day. We added one more coyote on our final day in Alberta despite the deteriorating conditions and finally conceded that our hunt was over.
There’s no doubt I’ll go back to Alberta for coyotes, and Chinook winds or not, I feel rest assured that I’ll be able to pick up where I left off: hunting one of the most coyote-rich environments I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.