Hunting Coyotes at Night: My guide to consistent success

The ultimate hide and seek, nighttime coyote hunting is a game like no other. As something I recently got into myself, I will share with you what I’ve learned along the way.

Nighttime coyote hunting is done with either spotlight, thermal scopes, or night vision scopes. You’ll need to know your shooting distance in the field because the darkness makes estimation tough. Keep the wind to your face, and identify where coyotes are most likely to approach from.

The thrill of playing the ultimate stealth game is second to few things. With the right equipment and a little know-how, hunting coyotes after sundown is both more productive and more fun than daytime hunting.

Two Main Teqhniques of Nighttime Coyote Hunting

Coyotes are called to a shootable distance where they are identified with either a spotlight or electronic riflescope. Camouflage is not very important, but you must be quiet and still. Coyotes are nocturnal hunters so it’s not too hard to be successful on a nighttime coyote hunt.

Nighttime coyote hunting is split into two primary methods: with lights and without lights. Hunting coyotes with lights is considered old-school, but it still brings in dogs for those who use it. Lights are used to illuminate the eyes of a coyote, and that’s where you put the bullet, right between the eyes.

About hunting with lights, some light hunters use a regular spotlight or powerful headlamp. Others use a low-visibility red light sold specially for predator hunting. Both seem to work if you use them well. However, many hunters don’t use their lights well.

The Key to Shining, or using lights, for coyotes is to always have them on and constantly scan. I knew a man who would wait to turn on his lights until he thought a coyote was near. Then it was lights on and take aim. The trouble was that he hadn’t shot a coyote in 10 years of hunting that way.

If you only turn n the lights now and then, you will miss a lot of coyotes who came in, realized it was fake, then left. You will also likely scare the coyotes when the lights come on. If you let them get close, then turn a light on, they tend to run.

The shiners (no, not a guy making homemade liquor in the woods) who are repeatedly successful always have their lights on and are always scanning the area for glowing eyes. If you catch a coyote early and keep the light on it, the animal will suffer a massive loss of visual sense and tends to keep walking in.

A bright light focused directly at the coyote blocks out their vision and tends to keep them from being spooked as easily. Personally, I think it just confuses them and they lose their senses.

If a target is fully illuminated, iron sights can be used at night. If partially lit, a scope or red dot can be used effectively. If you are using a low-power light to look for glowing eyes at a distance, you should be using a high-quality red dot or scope with an illuminated reticle.

Spotlights can work great in some areas, but in more heavily populated places, like here in lower Michigan, they aren’t productive. Around here, coyotes seem to associate lights with humans, and they shy away from them. Lights work much better in a far removed, rural setting.

Do not use night vision scopes with spotlights or flashlights. Neither the scopes nor your eyes will handle it well.

The no-light method is hunting with night vision or thermal scopes. It’s pretty simple. You call and constantly scan, but this time you are scanning with your rifle scope. This one is much easier and generally much more productive.

A simple call and basic night vision scope and you are about ready to go. Without having to deal with switching from a light to a rifle, it’s much easier to get a shot at a wary coyote. And, in many areas, coyotes are completely scared off by lights.

The only real downside to this is that it requires you to spend at least $500 on a scope. With night vision, you scan a lot. Remember, riflescopes have a restricted field of view so you need to learn to work with that.

Some hunters use night vision binoculars to scan because they have a wider field of view, but once you find a coyote with binos, it’s hard to find him again in your scope at night. Of course, you need to be cautious when scanning with your riflescope.

Keep the rifle pointed in a safe shooting direction, the safety should be on, and remember; finger off the darned trigger! In fact, don’t even rest your finger against the trigger guard when scanning with your rifle.

Coyote looks at the camera as photographed by Jim Harmer.

Complete Silence (except for calling) is Key

The number one tip to nighttime coyote hunting is to keep quiet. The only noise made should be from your call. Avoid sitting on dry leaves, wearing noisy clothing, and opening plastic snack wrappers. Remember, sound travels much farther at night and there’s less ambient noise in the air.

The number one reason why a coyote spooks, or goes on the alert at night is because it heard you. On a still night, all it takes is one poorly timed tink of your watch against a rifle barrel and you’ve alerted a coyote to your presence.

Pro tip: Before you buy new hunting clothes, check them for noise. Rub the sleeves of a jacket against the body, rub the legs together. Try to listen as well as you can and see how noisy it is. Remember, everything sounds much louder during a cool, silent night.

Most of the noise of hunting is made when walking to and from your hunting spot. Even if you are being cautious, you can’t completely silence your footsteps, your painting will rub against each other, and you’ll probably step on a few noisy twigs.

Noisy snack wrappers can be replaced with ziplock sandwich bags pre-hunt. They are quiet to open. There’s no need to completely avoid a tasty little snack during a slow night. I’ve been known to bring a peanut butter sandwich myself.

Another pro tip: The hunt begins as soon as you park your car. From the first second, act like a hunter. Be quiet, cautious, and alert. Many coyotes have been run off by a hunter who didn’t think the hunt had started yet. This was just a discussion in my local coyote hunting club.

Camoflauge is Not Needed

You don’t always need camo at night. The darkness is your camo. For the most part, everything looks the same at night. Avoid light or bright colors. opt for dull, drab, or dark shades of earth tones. Many hunters simply wear a black hoodie.

If you are hunting in a very light area, such as in desert terrain, you may want because the light background appears to magnify up the light of the moon. If you are hunting during a bright moon phase, my favorite time, you’ll want some sort of camo.

Movement can definitely give you away at night. Even when everything looks dark, movement can be detected. And, movement tends to make noise. keep unneeded fidgeting to a minimum. That’s hunting 101.

Coyotes can Come out of Nowhere

Coyotes are small and quick. They can cover a lot of ground in ten seconds. When responding to a call, they usually trot or run in bursts towards you. They also disappear in grass or low-growing brush very easily.

Sometimes, they seem to come out of nowhere and just show up right in front of you. When scanning, always keep an eye on travel lines and concealment areas like fencerows, wood lines, or cop changes.

A coyote will often use all available cover to approach you. Identify those areas. locate and monitor all the concealment points as a first priority. They use tall grass, treelines, or ditches to hide before they are forced to step out into the open for you. Scan and scan often. Where to

How to Ambush a Coyote

A coyote will generally approach from one of two areas; downwind or the closest cover. If you set up so the closest area of cover is downwind, you can be fairly certain that’s where they will come from.

Coyotes (usually) always try to swing downwind of you. It’s their natural hunting instinct. they come from downwind so they can small out the area and see what’s up. This is most important!

Here’s an example of a spot that’s not worth hunting.

Do not walk to your spot from downwind! Save that approach for the coyotes. Get to your hunting spot from as upwind as possible so you don’t leave a physical scent trail. The most warry coyotes will stay downwind. Don’t give them any hint you were there.

Problems with Night vision and Thermal Scopes

Electronic riflescopes may be damaged by extreme temperatures, and by rain. They often have issues in freezing weather. many models are fine in the rain, but cheap models are not waterproof. Batteries can let you down, and the display often isn’t incredibly clear.

Those aren’t actually common issues. I mean, batteries wear out, but it’s a cinch to just carry an extra set and replace them in the field. The real issue is Night vision doesn’t always show grass or brush all that well. Thermal scopes may not shot it much at all.

You just need to take an extra split second to be sure the bullet actually has a clear path to the coyote. I can usually identify the experienced night hunters by the tall tripod they use. It allows them to stand up, putting the bullet path above most weeds or small brush that may have been in the way.

Calling Sequences for Nighttime Coyotes

There is some debate, okay, a lot more than some, about the best way to call in a coyote. I’ve been asking around a lot lately. Most hunters have 3 different calling techniques and use them regardless of the time of day.

One thing is unanimous among coyote hunters: canines are more prepared to come in at night and more forgiving of mistakes or sloppy calling, so don’t sweat it too hard just yet.

Here’s what I do. once I get into position and I’ve already scanned the area for a minute, allowing nature to calm back down, I’ll work quietly, usually with a mouse squeaker, and only for a minute or two. I want to see if there’s anything fairly close to my position.

If nothing happens after four or five minutes, I’ll let off a loud cry with my cottontail-in-distress call. I’ll go for fifteen seconds or so, starting high and working my way down in volume and energy like a dying rabbit. Get to the end, wait a few seconds, and start it again.

I like to keep up my own energy while calling and focus on staying alert. You have to have breaks in your calling, assuming you are using a mouth call, to let you bring your focus back on scanning.

I like to do pair of calling sequences that take up maybe thirty seconds, then take a good minute to scan and watch. Rinse and repeat. You can call too much, in fact, it’s a common mistake. Take breaks here and there. No dying animal will scream nonstop for half an hour.

Try and make it sound believable. Most often, a rabbit will only scream for five seconds or so because something just caught it and ate it. A lot of the coyotes coming to a distress call are thinking they may be able to swipe another predator’s fresh meal, or perhaps pick up the scraps.

Don’t use a Decoy!

At night, coyotes often do not see a decoy until well after they have come into shooting range. Decoys are often destroyed at night by owls who were called in and thought they spotted a quick meal. Decoys are not worth the extra weight for nighttime coyotes.

Not much more to say there. I won’t hunt at night with one of those dust bunny-looking fuzzball decoys. I don’t want to lose a decoy or damage my caller, and I don’t think it matters at all for nighttime hunting.

A sightmark wraith night vision infrared scope on an AR-10 rifle
This is Jim Harmer’s Sightmark Wraith on an AR-10 set up for hunting hogs at night.

Best Nightvision Scope for Beginners (and others)

The best Night Vision scope for the money is the Sightmark Wraith. It’s fairly cheap, works day and night, and works clearly at night to 100 yards. By upgrading the stock infrared flashlight, it is fully functional to 300 yards.

The Wraith is pretty nice. It’s simple and dependable. Most hunters out there at night have one on their rifle. I’ve played with a few cheaper things out there, and I just never was impressed with them compared to the wraith. It sets the standard for entry-level night vision scopes.

Best Time of Night to Hunt Coyotes

The best time of night to hunt coyotes is when you are there. Coyotes move more in the first half of the night. Later in the night, hungry coyotes are getting desperate for a meal and respond more aggressively to a call. The best advice is just to go hunting and stay as long as you can.

Tips for Hunting Coyotes at Night

Let’s recap all this quickly. You can use spotlights, but a $500 night vision scope is much more effective. Always be on the lookout. Stay quiet. Camo is niced, but not needed. Coyotes usually come from downwind but can come from anywhere.

Get your rifle as high off the ground as you can, and use a shooting support if possible. Keep your calling realistic, and take occasional breaks. Decoys aren’t needed. Get a Sightmark Wraith, and upgrade the Infrared flashlight.