Some hunters make mistakes before they even hit the field, errors that cost coyotes they could have bagged had they made better pre-hunt decisions. That’s according to Clay Belding, host of Federal Premium-sponsored “Dead Dog Walkin’” The accomplished coyote killer identifies these three common missteps—and how to fix them.

Strike 1: Choosing The Wrong Gun

Coyote hunters need a caliber big enough to cleanly kill, but not so big as to damage the fur, says Belding, who has been hunting coyotes since 1994 – and accompanying his father and uncles on traplines since he was five.

To maintain the knockdown power of larger calibers but without the fur damage, Belding relies on light, fast-handling rifles like the Savage Model 10 chambered in 223 Rem., 22-250 Rem. or 243 Win., and loaded with the right bullet.

“I want one that goes in, expends all its energy and stays inside them,” he says. “And that’s where bullet technology comes in.”

Belding’s favorite loads are Federal Premium 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips in 22-250 Rem. “That will knock them dead, stone cold, every time,” he says.

Another mistake, Belding says, is hunting with only a rifle. He always plans his stands to have at least one hunter with a rifle and another with a shotgun. This is especially important during the early season when young coyotes are particularly susceptible to calling.

“They can come barreling in so fast you’ll never be able get your rifle on them at 20 yards,” he says. “They are just moving too fast to get off a shot.”

Belding stokes his coyote shotgun with Vital-Shok High Density 00 buckshot—a load his team recently used to take a coyote at 83 yards. 

Strike 2: Not Practicing

Belding finds it hard to believe that hunters who might go to a range and shoot hundreds of rounds practicing for deer season don’t do the same for coyote hunting.

“I don’t know if it’s lack of respect for coyotes, but I give them the same ethical hunting practices as any other animal,” he says.

Belding says that should include diligent practice—and not just at the range, he says. Set up targets in a field, sit down and shoot off shooting sticks at various distances and angles.

Coyotes don’t always come in where you think, he says, so practice taking shots while pivoting on your shooting sticks to perfect hard right and left angle shots. And practice quick follow-up shots, so you know how to react and get back on target after a miss or when more than one coyote comes in. And pattern your shotgun, he says. 

You have to be a proficient gunner to kill coyotes consistently, Belding says. “Their kill zone is so much smaller than a lot of big game animals. Absolutely tiny,” he says. “Once you skin a coyote, you realize how small they are. Their kill zone is maybe five inches in diameter and they’re only about eight inches wide.”

Strike 3: Underestimating Dogs

Don’t underestimate the toughness of coyotes. Coyotes are one of the toughest animals to kill, and Belding has seen the proof, saying he’s filmed coyotes that have survived with three legs and, though rarer, even with only two legs. 

The old saying goes, at the end of the world there will be only cockroaches and coyotes left. That’s a testament to how tough they are,” he says.