This professional predator hunter shares tips for making the long shot.
Steve DeMers is a wildlife specialist for the United States Department of Agriculture. While ultra long-range shots or ultra high-powered rifles are usually not necessary for calling coyotes, DeMers uses these tactics because his job is to control nuisance coyotes to help lessen human/wildlife conflicts and the spread of disease.
What is required to be the best shot possible?
It’s a question Steve DeMers, of Whitehall, Mont., constantly asks himself. The wildlife specialist for the USDA has painstakingly evaluated equipment, tactics and styles of shooting for years to develop a system for taking coyotes at far-reaching distances that few can match.
The long-range specialist sharpens his technique by modifying tactics, upgrading to better equipment and using strategies he picks up through meticulously studying other predator hunters and the equipment they use.
“I have learned from some of the best predator hunters, long-range shooters and sportsmen in the nation. And I’m still trying to learn more to be better,” DeMers said.
Coyotes at Long Ranges
Nationally known hunter Chad Schearer, of Great Falls, Mont., has witnessed DeMers’ lon-range aptitude.
“I heard the report of the rifle, and after what seemed like an eternity, the coyote fell over dead,” he said, recalling a 1,102-yard shot made by DeMers. “It was one of the most incredible shots I’d ever seen.”
DeMers prefers to take coyotes at 300 yards or more because he has more time to aim, and if he misses, he often gets a second shot. But DeMers rarely misses. He feeds his family by harvesting coyotes and other predators and he’s taken more than 1,000 coyotes in his work.
The secret to consistently taking coyotes at long ranges is having the best equipment you can afford and knowing how to accurately range the animal, according to DeMers. And to accurately range coyotes at those distances, hunters should aim the rangefinder at the animal’s foot, he said.
“If you range the animal at its shoulder and/or at the center of its body, you’ll shoot over the coyote, because it’s not standing where the center of its body is located,” DeMers said. “Only the animal’s feet are at the precise distance you need to shoot.”
Finding a Caliber
DeMers started with a .50-caliber rifle like one a friend of his had.
“The one I wanted could take a shot at 2,000 yards,” he said.
To shoot at 2,000 yards, DeMers knew he needed a rangefinder that could range targets at that distance. He visited a military-supply store and purchased a battleship rangefinder.
“Once I started shooting off the bench, I could hit a 2-foot target at 2,000 yards, but my .50-caliber rifle, with a scope mounted on it, weighed 45 pounds,” DeMers said. “One day, while I was hunting, I spotted a coyote laying down at 500 yards and thought, ‘I’ll use this coyote to test my new equipment.’”
However, to get the battleship rangefinder, the 45-pound .50-caliber rifle and all his gear, DeMers had to make three trips to his truck. Then he shot twice at the coyote and missed.
“The coyote started running toward me, and I hardly could move that 45-pound rifle to get a shot at the coyote when he came within 50 yards of my stand,” DeMers remembers. “So, from that experience, I knew I had too much gun and rangefinder to effectively hunt coyotes.”
DeMers decided to scrap his oversized equipment. He began shooting a .300 Magnum with much more success than he’d had with his .50 caliber rifle. But this rifle still didn’t seem to accomplish exactly what he needed. He continued to experiment with rifles and calibers until he settled on the 6.5x284mm.
“The 6.5×284 is a much more accurate gun in the field than the .300 Magnum,” DeMers said. “Too, the 6.5×284 only has a slight recoil. So through my scope, I can see where the bullet hits after the first shot. Often, if the coyote doesn’t know where the shot has come from, he’ll run a few yards. Then he’ll sit down and look for you, giving you the chance to take a second shot.
“The recoil of the larger-caliber rifles never really bothered me. But I couldn’t see through the scope where the bullet hit after I fired it. But I knew if I missed a shot with the 6.5×284 because I’d estimated the windage incorrectly, I still could make adjustments to my scope with the windage and the elevation and shoot more accurately on the second shot by seeing where the bullet hit in relation to my target.”
Originally, DeMers shot a 9-twist barrel, but most manufacturers recommended an 8-twist barrel for this caliber. DeMers considered a Krieger barrel, an outstanding barrel for this caliber, however, Krieger only made an 8-1/2-twist barrel. After shooting the 8-1/2-twist 30-inch barrel, DeMers decided it performed much better for him than a 9-twist in another brand.
DeMers uses a fully-adjustable Master Class stock designed for shooting prone. He’s modified the stock to fit him and his hunting style. He uses a Nightforce 8-32×56 NXS riflescope, a modified Sinclair F-class bipod and 142-grain Sierra MatchKing moly-coated hollow-point boat-tail design bullets with 49 grains of Hodgdon 4350 powder that delivers a 3,000-feet-per-second muzzle velocity.
After DeMers settled on the type of riflescope and bullet he felt would work best for taking coyotes, he realized he had two more chinks in his armor – his binoculars and his rangefinder. He knew that to shoot accurately at long distances, he had to see the target clearly and range the target accurately. He realized he needed the best binocular/rangefinder available at the time.
“Being serious about taking coyotes, I had to purchase quality equipment,” DeMers said. “These Leica Locator rangefinder binoculars sold for $5,700 when I bought it. These binoculars compensate for slope, whether shooting uphill or downhill. With most rangefinders, I exhaust much of my laser range-finding ability when hunting in bright light or snowy conditions. But regardless of the conditions, I can range accurately out to 1,400 yards, even on a flat, snowy surface, with the Leica Locator.”
When a fellow pays almost $6,000 for a binocular rangefinder, you know he’s a serious predator hunter. Unlike most of us, DeMers doesn’t take the shot as soon as he sees the coyote. He first takes 15 to 20 seconds to get his tripod in position, mount his scope, range the animal and adjust the windage and the elevation. DeMers wants his rifle position to remain as consistent as possible to make long-range shots. He places a bubble-level on his rifle to make sure he’s not canting the rifle either to the right or the left. Tilting his rifle even slightly when shooting at 600 to 1,000 yards might throw his shot off.
Shooting accurately at long distances requires a solid, consistent platform every time DeMers shoots. To avoid spooking the animal, DeMers has modified his Sinclair bipod by adding skids that enable him to slide it along the ground. Then he can get into a position where he can shoot, even if he has to crawl with the bipod.
Making the Shot
To perform his job well, DeMers has spent years experimenting to determine the type of equipment that best suits his mission in the terrain where he operates. With the equipment he has settled on, he’s proven that he’s as efficient as possible at long-range shooting and hunting coyotes.
John E. Phillips is a predator hunter from Birmingham, Ala.