What Do Coyotes Eat: How to Hunt Hungry Hounds

What do coyotes eat? Knowing the answer to that question will shorten the time you spend scouting, help you select the perfect calls to use, and significantly increase the number of coyotes you call in at every stand.

But never forget, coyotes with empty bellies are opportunists.

What do coyotes eat in the wild?

Coyote hunters interested in the feeding habits of their prey should focus their research strictly on wild coyotes. Wild coyotes are not persued anywhere near backyards, within cityscapes, or where humans are frequently found.

This means the predator hunter will have to be careful using most of the information found on the internet. For instance, the diet of the urban coyote, while thoroughly and professionally studied, is worthless. Sure, urban coyotes will eat candy wrappers and dog food, but dumping a bag of puppy chow and a couple of Snickers bars in the woods is simply a waste of money.

The “consistent and easy” diet of the urban coyote is nothing like that of the wild coyote you will hunting.

What about captive animal research? Does knowing what a Bengal tiger eats at the Bronx zoo help a tiger hunter on the Indian subcontinent?

What do coyotes eat where you hunt?

The most important question any coyote hunter can ask themselves is, “What do coyotes eat here?”

Unfortunately, too many new coyote hunters think they already know the answer to this question and reply with, “deer and rabbits.”

Oh, they aren’t wrong; they are just ill-informed. As a result, new predator hunter harshly limit their scouting efforts, and their reliance on calls is akin to an amateur boxer who only goes for a knockout punch.

If only they knew what was currently in the bellies of the coyotes around them, then they would know where to hunt, what calls to use, and, more importantly, when to do both.

What do coyotes eat and when?

What do coyotes eat
Coyote hunting mice in the snow. Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Jedwardsphotography.

Most of us hunt coyotes when their fur is in its prime, late fall and winter. The coyotes we hunt will indeed be surviving on a diet of rabbit and deer. But how many rabbits, and how many deer? And what other prey animals make up the coyote’s colder season diet?

This study, Food Habits Of The Eastern Coyote, found snowshoe hare in just over 50% of the bellies of coyotes taken. Deer, on the other hand, was found in 31% of coyote bellies.

Related: Hunting Eastern Coyotes: How to become a giant killer.

Even more interesting? Nearly 2/3rds (61%) had recently consumed a vole. In fact, in winter, except when snow hinders deer movement, voles are an essential part of a hunting coyote’s diet.

If the winter snow isn’t too deep, maybe try sound # 065 Vole Squeaks on your FoxPro Hammerjack? The sound is just as attractive to red fox and bobcats as well as coyotes.

Please note: I get a small commission, at no extra charge to you, if you use a link I provide to make a purchase. Thank you for your support!

What do coyotes eat when the snow is deep?

I mean, really deep. Like when moving means pushing through more than a foot of snow and the top crust is too soft to support any of the predator’s weight.

The answer is carrion. Whether found while traveling plowed roads or snowmobile trails, more deer end up in the bellies of coyotes as carrion rather than as the result of a successful chase.

Coyote bait pile
Photo Credit: Shutterstock/G Allen Penton

Luckily for you, if you know where the carrion is, you can almost guess the moment they will show up to the feast.

Related: The best time for unsurpassed coyote hunting success.

If you live in areas where heavy snow often means days of animal inactivity, you can prepare emergency rations for predators with an adequately constructed bait pile. Located correctly, you won’t have to break a trail yourself, and the coyotes will think no one can see them while eating.

Related: Secrets of the perfect coyote bait pile.

What do coyotes eat in Texas?

Texas coyote hunters, brace yourselves. According to research on coyotes living in the Texas Rolling Plains region, fruit made up 46% of coyote scat in the early 1970s. While rodents topped the five most common menu items in that area (with rabbit at # 3), mesquite pods, juniper berries, and opuntia fruits came in at numbers 2, 4, and 5, respectively.

Now I’m not even interested in watching a Texan call a coyote, but hell, I’d watch one use a berry-in-distress call any day.

Now, allow me to explain before I end up with a driveway full of pistol-packing, cowboy hat-wearing law enforcement officers with strange accents. All coyotes are omnivores; they eat both animals and fruit. They’ll even eat those horrible little green apples your grandma always had in the kitchen.

Other than fruit and rodents, Texan coyotes also enjoy carrion, grasshoppers, and leporids (rabbits).

What do coyotes eat in California?

Well, it isn’t whitetail deer, okay? There hasn’t been a whitetail deer in California since the 1940’s.

What they do eat, however, is confusing to a New Yorker. Eastern rabbits (?), something called a thirteen-lined ground squirrel, and white-footed mice.

Besides all the weird hyphenation that one usually associates with the West Coast, there’s this: California notes the top speed of a coyote as 65 km/hr. I googled that, and it’s what we in New York call 40.3891 mph. Seriously, don’t they speak the King’s English in that state anymore?

California coyotes eat deer (mule and Columbian black-tail), but much of their diet includes fruits like watermelon, permission, and loquat.

What do coyotes eat in Florida?

Florida has seen a tremendous increase in its coyote population within the last 20 years. Sadly, for the coyotes anyway, they are accused of eating everything in sight and considered a potential threat to humans.

The population explosion and year-round open season have helped create many new predator hunters in the sunshine state. However, those who hunt Floridian coyotes don’t have as much stomach content data to identify what coyotes in Florida eat.

That said, the best information available showed 31% of a Floridian coyote’s diet consisted of small mammals and 22% fruit and plants. You can also bet they eat their share of fawns, but it doesn’t look like they spend a lot of energy chasing mature deer based on this video.

What do coyotes eat in Kansas?

Kansas coyotes eat many mammals, with nearly 98% of the coyote scat studied containing mammals during the winter months (dropping to 72% in summer). 

Of those mammals, the eastern cottontail was the most common (found in 63% of the winter scat samples and 46% of the summer samples). Voles, rats, and mice were also found, but the exciting discovery was in the amount of coyote scat containing whitetail deer. Only 1% of summer coyote dung had any deer, and only 15% of winter coyote scat.

During the summer, 33% of the scat had some fruit (wild plums in particular), and 60% contained insects (with grasshoppers again being the most common).

Now that you know what your coyote eats, what’s next?

If you’ve ever skinned a coyote, you will appreciate it when I give the researchers who cut open coyote stomachs and poked around in coyote poop a nod of respect and thanks. Salute!

Now that you have some idea of what’s in your local coyote’s belly, it’s time to sharpen your game.

Change up your scouting technique.

First, locate the seasonal fruit coyotes eat and places abundant with insects (preferably grasshoppers). You’ll likely find these two everyday supplemental dietary items in the same area. In the autumn, a coyote’s idea of paradise is an area with fallen fruit on the ground and grasshoppers at their largest size and in their most active phase.

Next, try scanning these areas just before dark. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to spot coyotes as they attempt to fatten up before the onset of winter.

Related: How to find guaranteed killer predator hunting stands.

Try some new calls.

Sure, fawn in distress and rabbit squalls work wonders at the right time of the year. But now you know why all those other sounds come with your electronic caller.

Spend a few stands trying out some vole squeaks, turkey gobbles, or even a bit of field mouse. Even if you don’t bring a coyote in, these smaller mammal sounds might just lure a nice bobcat in close enough for a shot.

What does a coyote eat when it’s really hungry?

One last thing to keep in mind, your local coyote may be traveling on an empty stomach.

In tough times, a coyote’s belly deflates like a balloon. A coyote in that condition will need to answer any prey calls. If you know what he expects to find and can replicate that sound, it will come charging in.

Interested in night hunting eastern coyotes or red and gray foxes? Then have I got two books for you!

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr. is a former Marine Sergeant and the author of several books, including two on night hunting coyotes and red and gray fox. He has written several hundred articles on predator hunting for ThePredatorHunter.com.

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