coyote hunting

Coyote Hunting California: Beginners Guide to Success

Anyone that has seen a coyote in the wild surely was mesmerized by their thick fur and daunting eyes. Years ago, Mark Twain’s ‘Roughing It’ and Cartoon Network’s ‘Wiley E. Coyote’ painted the picture of this canine as a hungry, needy animal with very little respect. Without hesitation, the finger was pointed at coyotes when livestock or large game animals were found dead.

Even though these two things are rarely on the menu for coyotes, Folks began seeing coyotes as an invasive pests instead of the intelligent, sly dog that they are. Years before Europeans arrived in the Americas, native tribes worshiped Coyotes as gods, offering food and sacrifices. Today, like everything else in the country, we all have a different perspective of Canis Latrans. But regardless of our thoughts on this half-dog, half-wolf creature, they are here to stay.

Coyotes have always called the southwestern portion of America home. So, it is safe to say that California can proudly refer to them as a native species. This can’t be said for the rest of the country. While coyote populations all over the country have boomed, California has especially had a problem with stabilizing its numbers. Luckily, that is where hunters come in.

California Coyote Population

Ever since the US government declared war on coyotes in the early 1900s, the millions of dollars and countless tactics to exterminate them simply didn’t work. Their numbers kept growing. California hosts a steady population of around 500,000 coyotes even though tens of thousands die from diseases, hunting, and automobile encounters.

While wildlife activists will disagree, hunting and trapping coyotes will help their population more than just letting them run rampant. When their numbers are too concentrated in Los Angeles, there will be more human encounters.

Every year there is a child that is mistaken for food and is attacked in the city limits. Many small house dogs have fallen to predation under the hands of coyotes. Hunters and wildlife activists can both agree that this is not the coyote’s fault. It is simply the result of poor animal management. California state wildlife agencies have done the best job they can to limit these interactions.

Still, the governor’s rules and regulations have made this overpopulation hurdle even bigger. At this point, hunter interest, paired with private and public land access, is the front line of taking out coyotes. That is why hunters need to keep populations at stable numbers.

coyote walking across road

Is It Legal to Hunt Coyotes in California?

According to California Code and Regulations yes, hunting coyotes in CA is legal. The following is an excerpt of said code.

(a) The following nongame birds and mammals may be taken at any time of the year and in any number except as prohibited in Chapter 6: English sparrow, starling, domestic pigeon (Columba livia) except as prohibited in Fish and Game Code section 3680, coyote, weasels, skunks, opossum, moles, and rodents (excluding tree and flying squirrels, and those listed as furbearers, endangered or threatened species).

Where to Hunt Coyotes

Coyotes have always been found in the southern portion of California. After Europeans migrated west and began cattle and sheep farming, coyotes quickly took advantage of accessible food sources. Today, Coyotes are found in nearly every corner of North America, aside from the arctic.

So, if you are looking for a place in California to hunt or trap them, you’re in luck. While there are good opportunities to hunt or trap coyotes on public land, your best bet is to ask a farmer if you can pursue them on their land. He will undoubtedly let you if you are respectful. You are essentially doing that farmer a favor by taking stress off the cattle and other wild game such as deer.

All of California has a good population of coyotes, but the best option would be to focus on southern California. There is a slightly denser population, but most importantly is the larger farms. So, when looking for somewhere to coyote hunt in California, concentrate your efforts in southern California on a large cattle farm. You will not be disappointed.

When hunting coyotes in Northern California, focus on the greater Sacramento area and the rural farmlands near the major river systems. These areas have large agricultural areas and will have the most significant populations of coyotes.

Legal Coyote Hunting Methods

There are two main methods of taking for coyotes in California: day hunting and night hunting. Each defined hunting zone in California has different regulations and seasons. It is essential to know precisely what zone, county, public, or private land you will be hunting so you can adhere to these rules.

When hunting coyotes, however, you intend to do so, make sure to do your best to produce a clean, ethical shot that will dispatch the animal quickly. These animals are very tough and will figure out a way to escape if your shot isn’t perfect. A small-caliber rifle shot to the lungs will give you the best chance at a quick kill.

Day hunting Coyotes

The most common way to hunt coyotes in California is by calling for them during daytime hours. A remote-control call will be placed within the gun range of the hunters. This call can produce an extensive range of sounds like a dying rabbit or a fresh newborn fawn. A piece of fur will be attached to the call on a stick with a thin piece of line.

Calling is done to stimulate the coyote’s sense of sight and draw them nearer. Some coyote hunters will place a bit of lure around the call to entice the coyote further to come closer. When the coyote is within range, a smaller rifle such as a .223 is used to dispatch the animal. Other calibers such as 6.5 Creedmoor or an HMR .17 may also be used. It is better to use a smaller caliber, so you don’t damage the hide.

Night Hunting Coyotes

Hunting coyotes at night is done very similarly to daytime hunting. One difference in tactics is placing scraps of a deer or cow carcass in a field instead of a call. This method is a great tactic to use if you are trying to draw in multiple canines at once. Other additional gear for night hunting, such as spotlights, night vision scopes, and tracer bullets.

Spotlights help by spotting the coyote. It is imperative to have a light that throws a good beam and holds the battery well. However, be sure to check requirements because certain zones have limits on what voltage of light you can use.

Night vision or thermal scopes are allowed for use in some areas of California. This can be much less invasive for other species since you can see animals are out there without using a bright light. These are more desirable since they are stealthier and more effective.

Tracer bullets are not necessarily needed to hunt coyotes at night, but they do enhance the experience. A tracer bullet will leave a bright trail behind your shot and allow you to see exactly where it went. Again, make sure the ammunition complies with state and federal regulations.

Hunting coyotes day or night will surely provide a lot of action and help hunter recruitment.  

Coyote Trapping

Since 2019, trapping in California for coyotes and other fur-bearing animals has been prohibited. This law is a problem because of the growing number of coyotes. Trapping is the most effective way to keep their population in check since the success rate is so high. Not only is trapping prohibited, but the buying or selling of any kind of raw fur is also illegal. 

Best Time to Hunt California Coyotes

California, like most states, has an open season on coyotes, meaning you can hunt them any day of the year. However, depending on the purpose behind why you are pursuing them can dictate what time of the year is the best time to hunt coyotes.

If you are hunting them strictly for population control, the best time to go after them would be in March or April. This is when they are raising pups. As harsh as that may sound, it is most effective for controlling the population in your area. The survival rate for motherless coyote pups falls close to zero.

If you are hunting them out of sport and recreation, summertime is your best option. Not only is the weather more favorable, but you will also have considerably more daylight hours to hunt if you don’t have the means to hunt at night. Also, night hunting will prove more action since this is the time of year that they are most active at night.

When hunting coyotes for their pelts, it is important to target them during the winter. December through February is when their fur is the most prime. Not only is their fur in the best condition, but this is also the time of year that they are mating. You will have a better chance of bagging bigger males during this time. Colder weather also enhances the coyote’s ability to locate scent.

hunter with coyote and gun

Hunting Coyote in California – Final Thoughts

Whatever your reason is behind hunting coyotes in California, make sure to do the animal justice by utilizing their meat for other baiting purposes or tanning their pelts. While there is still a stigma around coyotes being just some mangy dogs, this couldn’t be less true. Do your part to change the perception of the roles that coyotes play in our ecosystem today. Their resilience to human predation, paired with their boldness to live among us, is what makes coyote hunting in California something that you should try.