By Predator Hunting Editor Judd Cooney
Three days before the opening of Iowa’s first firearm deer season, I was comfortably ensconced in a trailer-mounted Darkwoods blind, looking over a 3-acre soybean and brassica food plot on one of my Iowa leases. A humongous 10-point buck sauntered out of the darkening woods and joined four does casually munching leafy greens, all within 50 yards of the blind. I managed to control the adrenaline shakes enough to steady a tripod-mounted camera and get a number of dramatic photos of the big buck in evening light.
I counted another 23 whitetails scattered throughout the vast plot, including a couple of more “shooters.” But by far most impressive was the 10-point right in front of me. Sure wished it was open season and I had a client sitting beside me.
The big buck fed nonchalantly through the brassica, checking out the does before fading back into the timber. A few minutes later, all of the deer in front of the blind bolted for the woods, flags flying. The deer at the far end of the plot bunched up at the edge of the woods, obviously on high alert. That’s when the mangy old dog coyote stepped out of the woods 40 yards to the leftside of me in the blind.
It locked eyes with those distant deer, standing maybe 180 yards away.
Every year, coyotes ruin a number of hunts for myself and my clients when they start hanging around the food plots in hopes of catching an unsuspecting deer. Early in the fall, I do a lot of coyote calling on the leases to try to remove these problem coyotes or at least educate them to the dangers of hanging around such areas.
But once deer seasons are underway, I cut back on the calling and keep all human encroachment on the leases to an absolute minimum, to create a sanctuary where deer don’t feel pressured.
I would like nothing better than for my hunters, my guides and myself to shoot every coyote they see while hunting. But the last thing I want is everyone blasting away with firearms, putting the deer on alert.
However, when this mangy coyote appeared, I had a surprise waiting. I carefully eased my crossbow into shooting position. The coyote had moved across the food plot and was 60 yards out when I lip squeaked a couple of times. He was leery of the blind, but the sight and hot scent of the deer had lulled his survival instincts enough to let him come 20 yards closer—well within range. When the coyote turned broadside, I pressured the crisp trigger the last bit. The short arrow (known as a bolt) smacked the coyote in the shoulder, knocking it flat.
More than a dozen deer remained at the far end of the field, alert but not panicked. They settled back down and had started to feed again by the time my guide drove into the field to pick me up and also deliberately spook the deer with the truck (a standard tactic in our hunting operation).
Three days later, a client shot the big buck, which scored a whopping 166 inches. It was standing within a few yards of where I had arrowed the coyote. Just another example of the benefits of using a crossbow for coyote control on the deer hunting grounds.
Over the years, my guides, clients and I had taken a number of coyotes with regular compound and recurve bows, and I had never felt the need to use a crossbow. However, things change with time (and age). A few years back, I underwent rotator cuff surgery and could not shoot a bow until the muscles healed. I’d just gotten to the point I could shoot again when I slipped on an icy slope and jammed my other arm up over my head, damaging the “good” shoulder severely and tearing the biceps muscle loose. That pretty much ended my recurve and compound bow shooting for the foreseeable future.
But not wanting to give up any aspect of my hunting ventures, it didn’t take me long to research crossbows and acquire a top-of-the-line Ten Point Phantom Xtra. This superbly crafted crossbow with well-designed laminate stock produces a draw weight of 185 pounds that launches a 20-inch bolt at between 300 and 365 feet a second.
The 3X scope that came mounted on the bow has three optionally lighted reticule dots. The upper and lower dots hit center at 20 and 40 yards when the middle dot is sighted in for 30 yards.
Shooting this superb crossbow was a real eye opener. The more I shot it, the more I enjoyed shooting it and the more confident I became. Shooting off of a bench, I could consistently keep bolts in a 2-inch circle out to 50 yards.
I got the crossbow mainly for deer, but during my first hunt with it, on the Omaha Indian Reservation in Nebraska, I found it deadly for coyotes, too. I was situated in a pit blind overlooking a spring in the bottom of a canyon on a late October afternoon. I’d been in position a half-hour when I caught movement on the hillside above the waterhole. At first, I thought it was a deer. But closer scrutiny with binoculars revealed a big dog coyote moving along the adjacent ridge. I unlimbered a Circe triple-voice predator call, dialed in the cottontail voice, and sent a series of muffled but plaintive screams out the back side of the blind to misdirect the exact source of the sound.
I was still calling when the coyote started down the slope at a trot. A minute later, he was standing in the bottom of the draw 25 yards away, and I had the 30-yard dot centered on the bottom of his chest and both safeties in the “fire” position. The crossbow was rock steady on the attached monopod, and a final bit of pressure on the crisp trigger sent a bolt zipping through the coyote’s chest. It made 50 yards before piling up for keeps.
Half-hour later, a young 8-point buck moved off the ridge and watered at point-blank 20-yard range, totally unconcerned and obviously unaware of the coyote carcass down the draw. The buck was barely out of sight when four does settled in for their own drinks.
I carefully centered the top dot behind the largest doe’s shoulder and sent a 125-grain broadhead-tipped bolt on its way. Watching the doe pile up within a few yards of the coyote, I had no problem realizing the crossbow’s effectiveness for calling coyotes and also for selectively culling does without disturbing an area.
When I drew an Illinois muzzleloader license to hunt a friend’s farm, I brought the Ten Point with me in hopes of having a chance to unobtrusively shoot a doe if the situation presented itself.
The third day of the hunt, through constant rain and wind, I was ensconced in a Double Bull blind when a trophy buck and several does appeared 300 yards away at the far end of an alfalfa field.
The deer were a bit far for the muzzleloader, but shortly after picking them up, I watched a coyote come down the fenceline my blind was situated on. By the time I got the crossbow up and ready, the coyote was 50 yards out and closing. A couple lip squeaks stopped him, and the bolt zipped through without pause. This coyote made it 30 yards before sliding into the mud. The buck and does at the far end of the field continued feeding.
My first fall with the Ten Point, I was hunting deer along the Missouri River when I heard coyotes howling upriver from my tree stand. When the deer stopped circulating later in the morning, I eased out of the stand and hiked a quarter-mile upriver through dense cottonwoods then set up with my back against the root wad of a fallen cottonwood. I propped the crossbow on the monopod that’s attached to the forearm.
While waiting for things to settle down in the river bottom, I used a range finder to check several likely approach routes. A stump in the center of a weedy opening ranged at 30 yards to provide a perfect reference point.
I started with a couple of interrogation howls from a Thompson howler. After a few minutes of silence, I switched to raspy jackrabbit squalls that could also pass as fawn distress sounds. I still had the caller in my mouth when I spotted the coyote headed my way.
As I settled behind the scope, I picked up two more coyotes 50 yards or so behind the first. A crossbow is pretty much a one-shot deal, so I ignored the trailing coyotes and concentrated on the leader. He bounced nervously around the stump, in typical coyote fashion sensing danger. But then he paused just long enough for me to trip the trigger. The bolt caught him in the center of the chest and exited through the rear quarters. The coyote whirled and then went down for keeps.
That’s when the other two coyotes bounded into the clearing and lit into him. Since a crossbow isn’t something you cock readily from a sitting position, the only thing I could do was watch the pair maul their former leader for a short time before figuring something was amiss and starting to edge away. Before leaving the clearing, one curious canine went over to the bloody bolt and scent checked it. I thought for a minute the coyote was going to pick it up and take it with him.
Right then, I would have gladly traded the crossbow for a rifle, as I really hate to see called-up coyotes walk away unscathed. Of course, I doubt the pair would have hung around had I shot the lead coyote with a rifle.
The major advantage of a crossbow for coyote control is the relatively silent deadliness, not as quiet as a regular recurve or compound, but a whole lot easier to master. There is an audibly sharp “slap” on release. However, on numerous occasions I’ve watched deer within 50 yards show little panic at the sound.
The past few years, I’ve been leaving the Ten Point in blinds with willing firearm-toting deer clients, and several have killed coyotes with it, coyotes that otherwise would have continued preying on and spooking the deer.
Because it is easier to be proficient with crossbows, hunting with them during archery seasons remains a controversial subject, with archery purists objecting but hunters who just want to enjoy more time in the field embracing crossbows. That has resulted in a wide variety of regulations across the country.
Some states allow virtually unlimited crossbow use for big and small game during all seasons while others treat crossbows the same as firearms, allowing them but not during archery-only hunts. Still other states limit crossbows to those who cannot physically handle a regular bow, requiring a physician’s report of specific disability before issuing the permit.
The only state to not allow crossbows for any type of hunting is Oregon. Other states restrict crossbow use for big game but allow it for predators and small game. Fortunately, Iowa where I outfit for whitetails is one of those states.
The point is each state has its own crossbow regulations, some quirky and nonsensical, others straightforward and sensible. Before you invest in a crossbow, check the legality where you plan to hunt with it.
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