I grew up on the East Coast, never having traveled further west than the Mississippi River. I grew up with fall colors, rain, snow, and my mom taking me to hockey practice. As the youngest of five children who attended a suburban New Jersey high school just outside of New York City, I didn’t have many opportunities to hunt. I fished quite a bit, and once in a while I was able to shoot a bow with my neighbor. I was always curious about hunting, but it just wasn’t an option where I lived. At times I felt lost.
Many years later, and soon after meeting my future wife’s father, I realized that everything was about to change. My wife grew up in central Pennsylvania and was raised around guns and hunting, but had little interest in the subject. In me, her dad seemed to find the curious little boy he always wanted. As I got more into guns and hunting, I’m not sure my mom was happy with the changes in me, as she didn’t understand either. But she slowly accepted it, knowing I had long searched for an identity outside of my brothers. Hunting was fun, and the camaraderie was different than in the other sports I played. Fifteen years later, I still get the same butterflies as when I first stepped onto a skeet range.
Over the years I have participated in Virginia whitetail and East Coast upland bird hunting. But I was recently invited on a Utah coyote hunt. Me—a Web developer from Jersey! I knew this experience was going to be different than any other hunting I had enjoyed. Hell, I had never even been on a long airplane ride.
First, let me tell you about the company I keep at work. I would be representing a department of editors at NRA Publications who have hunted the world. Even though I never hunted coyote, I figured with the experience around me, I could get some pretty sound advice on what to expect. So I asked around, tested different guns and decided on an AR-style rifle. Several American Rifleman and American Hunter editors gave me some pointers, and Editorial Director John Zent took me to the range.
The AR I ultimately chose was a DPMS Panther chambered in .243, topped with a Weaver Super Slam scope. I tested Federal Premium’s ammo at distances of 50 to 200 yards and was pretty comfortable with the results, and felt ready to use the firearm. Most of the gear I would need was to be provided when I got out there, so I didn’t have to pack too much. With just my video gear and rifle in tow, I was ready to go.
I arrived early in Salt Lake City via Minneapolis and met up with my party. The gang consisted of three professional writers, two industry reps, two guides and me. I am not usually one to be intimidated, however, not only were the members of this group extremely good at their professions, they were all extremely seasoned hunters.
The view of Utah as we left the airport was absolutely breathtaking. I have never seen so much open space. I think the air was even cleaner. Once we arrived at the guide’s home, we packed up the trucks and headed out again—this time for a location about three hours southwest of Salt Lake City where we set up camp.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m from Jersey, but I have camped my whole life. But not like this. At night it was zero degrees with some serious wind, and by 9 a.m., it felt like it was about 90 degrees. Camp was primitive, but comfortable. We had cots, pads, and sleeping bags provided by Cabelas. Despite the cold, we decided to sleep under the stars, without tents. I don’t know if it was the air in Utah, the billions of stars that I could see, or if I just was so tired from all the travel, but in my 37 years, I do not ever remember sleeping that soundly.
Day one began at about 4 a.m. We packed up camp, split into two groups and went on our way. No matter the time of day, Utah is amazing. I loved it and cannot wait to go back. Everywhere you look there are pronghorn antelope running in herds, huge cattle stations and snow-covered mountains.
Once we arrived at our destination, our guide Kendall Johnson of CODA Depredation Services, placed the hunters in a triangle formation. A shotgun hunter was positioned at the top point, facing out, with the caller about 30 yards behind him. A rifle hunter was positioned to the right (facing right) and I was placed on the left facing left. There was little cover, so the King's camo we used for the hunt worked great.
After we were all in position, the caller began calling coyotes. If you have ever seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds, you’ll be able to imagine what it sounded like—an insanely loud whine. My heart pounded like crazy. From the coyote-hunting videos I had watched and the stories I had heard, I knew the coyotes would soon be bearing down.
Well, not quite. We called. We packed up. We moved. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. You get the picture. Even though the scenery kept changing, the result was the same: no coyotes. After many hours it became a bit frustrating, so we called it a day and headed back to camp. There we chose new groups and discussed the next day’s strategy. And I enjoyed another night under the amazing Utah skies.
Day two quickly settled into the same routine as day one. This was my first guided hunt, so I had to get used to it. The others seemed much more patient, and I learned a lot about relaxing and going with the flow. Our guides were absolutely incredible. Kendall and Cory are Utah natives and were born hunting these parts. They knew pretty much every part of this section of the West and they would find us coyotes. By the end of day two, I believe Kendall would have dressed as a coyote in order for me to get one.
But this is hunting. And one thing I have learned is that the animals are not out there to cooperate with you or a caller, regardless of your experience level. Kendall had tried everything (and I mean everything) to call in coyotes. He finally succeeded in calling in one—which we missed. No matter the frustrations, a hot dog by the grill and some laughs over the day’s events made it all worth it.
Day Three. New group. New attitude. New plan. We were hitting the low country and you could smell it in the air. The coyotes were out there on the cattle farms and flats. And just a few minutes into it, they complied. With my heart pounding, one snuck in…and, yes, I missed it. I shot over his back. Coyotes come in fast and low toward the call. In theory, I already knew that, but I lost that knowledge when I saw the animal. But I had shot my gun, and it was still early in the day.
Throughout the day we had some other opportunities. And, yes, I missed the shot again. However, all of my frustration and nerves were gone. It took a while, but I got bit by the predator-hunting bug. If you have the opportunity to try it, take it. And if you need more insight into it, I can’t think of two better guys than Kendall and Cory to point you in the right direction.
That final night, I lay down on the cot and thought about the trip and the opportunity I had been given to see the country. I got to hunt with industry guys who treated me great, including two guys from Federal that handled every need and answered all my questions.
I am lucky to have gone on this trip. Shortly before this trip, my mom passed away. I felt then, more than ever, that she would have been proud of me. As I gazed up at the stars, this Jersey boy whispered to her, “now I’m found."
Check out the photo gallery here.