Hunting cactus country

Looking back on his trip to hunt coyotes in Arizona, Scott Mackenzie tells Sporting Rifle about his incredible experience and what he learned

My story begins in 2010, when I started trawling through YouTube to find good hunting videos and avoid the bad weather. I came across coyote hunting, and found a few titled “Bucking the Odds”. The series had been put together professionally by a couple of guys called Lance Benson and Uriah Wurst, from Colorado. At the end of each video, a web address would pop up giving people the Bucking the Odds hunting forum details, which could be joined for free.

I was the first European to join the site, and within a few days I was chatting to hunters from all over America and Canada, swapping tips on predator hunting. Within a few months, I was made a moderator and asked to help keep the website clean. This was a G-rated site with a lot of youngsters taking part in threads. I can’t tell you how good it felt to be a part of the forum. No bitching, no bullying and no ‘clique.’ This is something that British hunting forums seem to have fallen fowl of over the years.

Some guys began talking about the “White Mountain coyote contest” in Arizona. In the USA, coyote contests are held all over the country and open to anyone who can fork out the entry fee. Some may last a day, some a few days, but the aim is the same: bag as many coyotes as possible from the time you sign in to the stated cut-off time. Once the cut-off time is passed, any hunters yet to return their kills will be disqualified. All coyotes shot are tallied for each team. The rules vary from contest to contest, but the end goal is the same.

Intrigued, I began to ask some questions. After a number of discussions on the forum, one of the Arizona members dropped a bombshell: “Scott, I am gonna try and raise the funds to get you over here to hunt next year’s contest.” I was gobsmacked. True to his word, he and many others on the site raised the funds for me to hunt for a fortnight at various locations in Arizona, as well as take part in the 2012 WMC contest.

When the time came, I flew out and Tony, the man who started it all, greeted me. The next day we were up at 5.30am, ready to start our fortnight-long hunting expedition. The plan was to head north, hunting a number of areas en route and tying up with other Bucking the Odds members as we went. The journey began through stereotypical old western cactus country, as our first hunting destination was in the deserts north of Phoenix.

The common style of predator hunting in the US involves making a stand. Decoys are permitted, often resembling some sort of prey, with e-callers also forming part of the standard set-up. These are typically set out 20-25 metres away from the stand, but many predator hunters also use hand calls.

Passing through a desert region, we spotted a likely spot off a dirt road. I looked down into a dry creek bed surrounded by scrub, sweeping back up into some big hills on the other side. The only issue with this location was a small ridge, running across us 50 meters away, which caused a blind spot. Hopefully, we would spot the coyotes out in the creek bed, so this wouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Tony started with a group coyote howl on the e-caller, and within seconds the hills on the other side of the creek bed howled back. My heart began to pound out of my chest. A big, alpha male was running along the blind spot of the ridge, with only his head visible, in our direction. I signalled Tony with a lip squeak, but it was too late. As Tony turned his head, only the arse end of the magnificent beast was visible. He had busted us and was now making haste into some cover. As we watched, the rest of the group traced the same path. It was magnificent.

Although we didn’t get any coyotes from the stand, it gave me a rush to see these animals. Much of the hunting trip was like that, with packs of coyotes calling back to us, and some coming in and then thinking better of it. We did bag a handful though. A few days later I brought down a beautiful female coyote in some stunning mountain pine forest country. Heeding the e-caller, she was the only one from the pack that committed to coming in.

I will never forget the adrenaline and deep booming thuds of my heart as I heard the coyote pack howl back to us. Carefully scanning the snow-covered clearing in the forest, I looked for movement and colour. There she was, standing 80 metres away and looking at me. I couldn’t move for fear of her bolting. I felt a sharp prod in my back. It was Tony.

“Do you see her?” he whispered in muted tones. Tony instantly knew why I could not reply. Carefully, he pressed the remote controller to his Coyote Prairie Blaster, setting off the stuffed decoy that sat on top of it. The female coyote swung her head around to see what the movement was. This was the distraction I needed to bury my head into the butt of the Howa .22-250 Ackley improved rifle I had been loaned. Lining up the crosshairs on her chest, I dropped her where she stood. The rest of the pack headed back into the forest, gifting us one final group howl before falling silent and disappearing once more.

It was much the same for the day of the contest, with lots of coyotes calling back to us but very few coming in close enough for us to shoot. It didn’t matter though. It had been about the experience and friends I had gained across the common bond of hunting. Tony did pull off a nice shot, covering 300 metres down into a canyon to bring down one of two dog coyotes. There were 40 two-man teams and 43 coyotes shot. There is no doubt the trip will stay with me for the rest of my life.

My introduction to coyote hunting got me hooked. I will return to Arizona – that is guaranteed. I urge anybody looking to hunt some fantastic and vast country with great people to take a look at Arizona. Coyotes are plentiful and you can do it on a budget. I have made some lifelong friends and they have been the key to my coyote hunting success.

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