This past month, Team HorizonFirearms and ZEROlight got the opportunity to enter the Gillette, Wyoming, coyote contest which is an annual contest in which 25-50 teams of 2 hunters compete over a 23 hour period to see who can harvest the most coyotes. Four coyotes per team are weighed to determine the winner for the heaviest set. This year, I decided to fly up to hunt with my business partner, Hazer Bulkley. After flying into Gillette a day early, we made sure our rifles were sighted in and practiced shooting off of round hay bales on 3.5” targets out to 400 yards.
The contest started at 7PM sharp with a mad dash out the door to the truck to get to our night location. After a short 20 minute drive, we arrived and right away heard coyotes responding to our location howls. Our hopes were high, but the reality was that several hours and multiple call spots later, we just were not seeing the coyotes.
Using spotlights at about 10:45PM, we spotted our first coyote through our binoculars at about 900 yards. Scanning with light while simultaneously using binos was a new experience for me as night hunting in South Texas is typically up close and personal and doesn’t require binoculars to make the spot. We left the scanning lights on the coyote and immediately started to call him in with a pup in distress call, and he began working his way in moving towards the downwind side of us as they always do. At 344 yards, he sat down facing us trying to pick up our scent. At that point, I could not get settled shooting out of the open truck door so I folded out my bipods and layed down on the ground for what should have been a steady shot. Not trying to make excuses, but the competiveness of the competition and the adrenaline I had coursing through me made me pull slightly to the right as the rifle fired, and the coyote took off unscathed. Normally, I would not have been overly bummed at missing a coyote at 350ish yards, but I we knew we really needed to have 4 coyotes to even have a chance to weigh in so I was pretty sick about that first one.
Our next opportunity came around 1:30AM as we were glassing a coyote at around 500 yards. He would not come in to the call so we decided to throw him some challenge howls. All of a sudden, a coyote came rushing in straight ahead of us challenge howling back and barking at us. He stopped at about 225 yards and started to swing down wind. At 353 yards, he sat down on a hillside and continued to howl at us. Hazer flipped on his ZEROlight, made his turret adjustments, leveled his 22 Creedmoor, and the 75 grain A-MAX at 3,450 FPS dropped the coyote right there. Finally at 1:43 am, we were on the board.
We moved locations and tried the locator call again. We heard about 3 coyotes, and we generally knew their location but had to take the long way around to get to them. We pulled up to where we thought they might be and scanned again with our binos and the light. Sure enough, we spotted a lone coyote in the large hay field mousing around the cows. We got out of the truck and snuck through the fence to a vantage point were we thought we could call the coyote. I turned on my ZEROlight and got ready to make a quick scope adjustment as we played a pup in distress on the FoxPro. I turned on a white LED Coyote Light that I was testing and picked up eyes as Hazer gave me the range of 288 yards. I made a couple clicks on my Leupold Mark 8, leveled up my ZEROlight, and our second coyote was in the bag.
The rest of the night was really slow going, and we knew we were were going to have to go hard at it the next day in order to make the weigh-in, so we decided to grab a bite to eat and a quick nap at Hazer’s parents house. Hazer’s dad and some great pancakes greeted us at about 4:15am.
By 6:00am, we were back at it on top of a big hill that overlooked a huge chunk of property. As it got daylight we gave it the old locator howl and got a couple responses but the wind was picking up and blowing 10-15 MPH so it was pretty hard to hear. Throughout the morning and afternoon we tried spot after spot, call after call, and experienced very mixed results. I was able to call in 2 coyotes to 400 yards with my Burnham Brothers’ fawn distress call, but the shifty wind busted us before we could get dialed on them. As it got later in the afternoon, the winds picked up and were ripping at 20+MPH. We were pretty discouraged but kept at it until we realized that there was just no way that they could hear us calling. We went back to the truck and got out of the wind and cold for an hour or so as the wind was supposed to lay.
As the wind calmed down, we made a calling set and were moving to another location when we noticed 2 coyotes trying to get out of the country. I was having a difficult time describing where they were moving and Hazer was having a hard time picking them up. Finally we were able to get on the same page and I stopped the coyote at 412 yards and the Horizon Firearms 22 Creedmoor stone cold dropped another one. Unfortunately, we were not able to connect on the 2nd coyote in the pair so we were sitting at 3 coyotes as we were nearing the end of the competition. We knew 3 coyotes would not put us in the money so we decided to hunt down to the wire, risking the weigh in deadline.
We were getting into that weird time of day when the spotlights weren’t yet helping but it was really too dark to see, but we continued to hunt to no avail. We were about to throw in the towel as we knew we only had 10 min before we had to leave to make the 25 min drive for the 6PM weigh in. We made one more stand, and there was our coyote at 500 yards. We continued to call to the coyote and left our lights on him as we both got ready to shoot. He sat at 500 yards. We were in the process of our “one, two, three, shoot” countdown when the coyote started working down hill towards us. He went into a draw and we knew he would be at 310 when he came out so we prepared accordingly. We waited as the seconds ticked away…the clock went up minute by minute. He never came out of the draw. Discouraged, we ended up driving to the top of the draw hoping to spot him. We expected him to be downwind from us but instead he was running away upwind. I ranged him, hollered at him, he stopped, and Hazer dropped him at 393 yards….at 5:42PM. I sprinted across the pasture as Hazer got the truck back on the road, I threw the coyote on my shoulders and ran back to the truck, we hauled tail and got on the highway headed back to town. On our way, we called in knowing we’d be about 10 minutes late and the contest directors stated they would not allow a late weigh in. So…we were done.
We ended up weighing our 4 coyotes on our own at Hazer’s house and later determined based on the results of the contest that we would have gotten 3rd place. We were bummed that we didn’t end up with a place or prize money; however, we had an amazing time in God’s country bonding with other hunters, each other as business partners, and I learned a whole lot.
The culture of predator hunters and long range hunters never ceases to amaze me…so much knowledge, expertise, and passion about accurately and effectively shooting long distances. You have to in Wyoming…its not like Texas where people do it just for fun – its much more necessary.
We got a chance to test out our 22 Creedmoors in the field which was a perfect trial run. Sure enough, they performed like we had hoped they would.
Lastly, it was awesome to see so many of the competitors using our ZEROlight very effectively (including the winners). A quick flip of a button, and the entire level and turret system is illuminated for quick adjustments in low light situations. Works beautifully.
More coyote competitions are in our future…and hopefully the inches and minutes will work in our favor next time around.
Derrick Ratliff, Owner/CEO