The yipping heard throughout Minnesota at night — a chorus of high-pitched screeching and howling as common nowadays in suburbs as in farm yards — suggests unsavory things happening somewhere in the distant dark.
Or the not-so-distant dark.
Welcome to Minnesota’s wild side, where coyotes prowl night and day, mostly unseen.
Mice. Rabbits. Sheep. Calves. Fido the neighborhood spaniel.
Each is considered fair prey by this wily, often mangy predator whose population has significantly expanded in Minnesota, and whose numbers seem more likely to rise still further in coming years.
That’s despite the best efforts of people like Steve Carney, a west metro fishing guide who passes many winter mornings dressed in white camouflage and trying to fool an animal that is not easily fooled.
“Years ago in Minnesota, in the early ’80s, we had a lot more red fox and a lot fewer coyotes,” Carney said. “Now just the opposite is true. Coyotes are everywhere, and fox are not. And because I’m always looking for coyotes, I see them perhaps where others don’t, lying in the brush in the Twin Cities along I-494, for instance.”
His most productive hunts, Carney said, occur following winter storms severe enough to prompt coyotes to hole up for a day or two, surviving the maelstrom rather than hunting for dinner.
“A good, cold morning when it’s 20 below zero, with a blue sky, following a heavy snow, that’s when I like to be out,” Carney said. “Coyotes are hungry then, and in the right circumstances, if they hear your call, they’ll come running.”
Though legal in Minnesota to hunt coyotes with dogs or to drive back roads in search of an animal exposed on windswept, harvested croplands, Carney prefers a stealthier approach.
With binoculars in hand, snowshoes on his feet (except so far this winter) and a diaphragm turkey call in his mouth, Carney sneaks light-footed into likely haunts, preferably just before dawn or in the 45 minutes before dark.
“Some hunters use their calls to imitate a rabbit in distress, which is the typical way coyotes have been called,” Carney said. “Well, there aren’t any rabbits anymore; coyotes have killed them all. So I prefer the turkey call, which I use to make an excruciating, screaming sound. It’s a generalized distress call. It could be a rabbit being killed by a predator. Or it could be another animal in trouble.
“If everything is right, and a hungry coyote hears the call, he’ll come running, thinking he’s going to get an easy meal. And I mean running. Pretty much everything that’s going to happen after a successful call will happen in the next 60 seconds.”
Coyote hunters often take shots of 100 yards or longer. But if Carney can get closer, he will.
Years ago, he shouldered a bolt-action rifle chambered in .22-250 Remington, a flat-shooting and ultrafast varmint caliber.
He has since swapped loyalties, and now carries a .223 AR-15, the rifle of preference nowadays for most coyote hunters for its accuracy and high-capacity magazines.
No matter the firearm of choice, coyotes have always prevailed, Carney said, and always will.
“I have a lot of respect for their survivability,” he said. “They can get from point A to point B a hundred different ways. I once tracked one to its hiding place in a farmer’s combine.
“They’re not called ‘Gray Ghosts’ for nothing.”