Dropping Coyotes in Their Tracks! The targets and techniques to help you in the field this season

November 14, 2022

Drop Coyotes in Their Tracks!

If reading ain't your thing you can check out the video version of this article here!

Coyotes have a knack for getting up and running off after what appeared to be a solid impact.  Practice on the trigger is the best remedy for this issue, but using the right target goes a long way to extend the value of your time at the range and ammo expended. 

That’s why I collaborated with South Dakota’s veteran coyote killer, Ken Nordstrom, when we created our new .  These reactive, full-size coyote silhouette targets show you exactly what you’re doing right at the range, and more importantly, what you may be doing wrong.  Because they’re anatomically correct, these new targets not only help you increase your accuracy through practice, but they quickly show you whether or not your aiming method works at various ranges.  I am thoroughly convinced that they’re the best steel coyote targets on the market. 

Ken Nordstrom and Brad Norton discussing how Ken zeros his rifle for hunting coyotes

Before the introduction of these new targets, our coyote targets measure 12x24 inches, simply because that’s what fit in a Postal Service Flat Rate Box.  Ken, quick to see the value in a life size target, offered us a great deal of information he’s gathered over his 40 years spent hunting coyotes.   

“My brother Steve and I started coyote hunting in the 80s, and eventually got into tournament hunting,” said Nordstrom.  “We’ve placed 7th in the Midwest Coyote Calling Tournament and 12th in the National Coyote Calling Tournament.  Over the years, we realized that if we failed to retrieve a coyote that we’d shot, it was because we weren’t taking into account just how small their vital zone is.”

Nordstrom explains that because of the small size, speed, tenacity and color of a coyote, if they’re not stone dead upon impact, they’re generally never recovered, so it’s extremely critical to hit them in the vitals.  Beyond that, there’s a great deal more fur on winter coyotes than most hunters are aware of.  For those simply looking to control predators, a gut shot or a neck shot is likely to take the animal out of the gene pool, but for hunters looking to harvest hides or compete, coyotes need to fall in their tracks.

Let’s get lethal

“As soon as we wised up to this issue, Steve and I started measuring every coyote we killed,” explained Nordstrom.  “We measured them with fur on and fur off.  Taking the dimensions we collected over the years - literally thousands of dogs - we determined the average size of an adult coyote.  We even went one step beyond that.  We recorded where the instantly fatal impact occurred on the body of the coyote.”

The numbers told an interesting story.  18 inches seemed to be a magical number.  Coyotes, on average, measure 18 inches from the point of the shoulder to the back of the rump.  From the bottom of the chest to the top of the ears when the dog is looking at you is also 18 inches.  Do you want to take a guess what the height of an average coyote is from the ground to the shoulder?  If you guessed 18 inches, you’d be correct.   Sometimes 20 inches, if it’s a mature male in full winter plume, but close enough.

So there are three ways to measure a coyote, all of which yields about 18 inches.  Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, before the fancy laser rangefinders we have today, that was extremely important.  It’s still important today, especially in situations when a dog is coming into a call quickly, or if you have coyotes at different ranges and you don’t have time to use a rangefinder. It’s also great if you’re hunting with a thermal without an integrated range finder.  Knowing the size of a coyote allows you to use your riflescope’s reticle to range the animal, or at the very least, helps you estimate distances simply by becoming acquainted with how big a coyote looks in your scope at a given range.

But here’s the catch; when looking at a broadside coyote, a good winter coyote is going to have about 11 inches of fur and non-vital impact zone, split between the top of his back and hanging down below his ribcage.   When you skin out the coyote, you’ll find that you really only have about 7 inches of vertical kill zone behind his shoulder.  The width, or horizontal measurement of that kill zone is roughly the same, 7 inches.  These animals look big with their fur on, but once you skin them and see how small the margin of error is on an adult coyote, it’s easy to see how so many hunters lose coyotes every year. 

With Ken’s help, I  these numbers to steel.  The new coyote targets, and the reactive steel flappers, are extremely true to the shape and size of an adult coyote.  You’ll notice that, when looking at the broadside target, the flapper is not located center-of-mass.  That’s because, on a live coyote, there’s more fur below the kill zone than above it. 

front facing and side profile coyote targets shown side by side

The same holds true with a coyote facing the hunter; there’s more fur and non-vital area facing you than there is kill zone.  The kill zone on a front-facing coyote is between 3 and 3.5 inches.   A dog that takes a bullet in the shoulder can run off on three legs.   The neck, even though it looks like a good target, measures only 2 to 2.5 inches in width, and even less of that is spine.   Ken has even seen coyotes take a round through the windpipe, only to jump up and run off a few seconds later.   The arteries or the backbone are the only vital components in the neck.  As a result, our front-facing coyote target features a realistic vital zone-sized flapper and discounts the neck. 

 

 

Setting up the rifle

There are a lot of different approaches to setting up a coyote rifle, but Ken prefers a method he’s used for many years.  Knowing the drop on his 22 Creedmoor, he zeroes his rifle an inch and a half high at 100 yards. 

“I do this because if a coyote comes in quickly, head on, and I know that the center of the vital zone is about three inches above the ‘armpit,’ I can put the crosshair right on his armpit, the bullet will impact inside the vital zone at 100 yards.  At the same time, if I have a broadside coyote at roughly 300 yards, I can just put the crosshair on the center of fur behind the shoulder and I’ll make a good vital zone shot.”

Simply put, Ken finds that a 1.5 inch high zero at 100 yards is the most practical scope setting for the coyote hunting he does most often.

Target testing

Ken’s first experience shooting at the newly designed targets quickly showed the value of the anatomically correct silhouettes and vital zone flappers.  His first shot, at 140 yards, impacted the vital zone flapper of the broadside coyote target, though just a touch high.  Dead coyote.

His second shot at the same range was on the forward-facing coyote target.  Impact landed on the vital zone flapper.  Dead coyote.

His third shot, at 214 yards, was on a broadside coyote target.   His impact was on steel but below the vital zone.  It became clear that the bullet likely would have touched nothing but fur.  Ken thinks he pulled the shot.  Live coyote, and one that won’t come back to the call for a very long time.

His fourth shot, on a broadside coyote standing at 300, was a dead center impact of the vital zone flapper.  Dead coyote. 

two life sized steel reactive coyote targets one with the vital being hit and one with a previous bullet impact

Field application

Ken had an opportunity to try his zero and aiming method on an anatomically correct, reactive target that showed how accurate his entire setup was.  The beauty of the new is that A) you can practice on life size targets to become better acquainted with how a real coyote looks in your scope at a given range and B) no matter your zero and aiming method, the target doesn’t lie.  Whether your round impacts the vital zone or not is blatantly obvious.

 

Atlas Target Works manufactures these full-size, reactive vital zone coyote targets in the USA, out of CNC laser cut  AR500 steel.  The reactive flapper mechanism is also completely AR500 steel, and like the targets, is built to withstand the test of time on the range.