Photo by Mark Kayser.
As coyote densities expand across the nation, so does interest in hunting the cagey critters. Driven to a considerable extent by the appearance on the market of a rash of targeted predator hunting publications and a big expansion in the shelf space devoted to predator pursuit in sporting goods stores, that interest has positively exploded in the Midwest and in states to the east. Heck, even firearm manufacturers are designing new calibers and rifles to cater to the coyote-hunting enthusiast.
With competition for attracting the attention of the coyotes in your back yard on the rise, you’ll want to set yourself apart from the crowd if you’re to get on the high road to coyote success. These five strategies will help both to distinguish you from the rest of the songdog shooters and to put more kills in the pickup’s bed.
VARIED DISTRESS CALLS
Coyote hunters live and die by prey-in-distress calls. The sport was built around the use of the dying-rabbit call, and more coyotes still fall to that tactic than all others combined. But coyotes soon get wise to predator calling, especially if they’ve escaped a poorly executed setup or caught the scent of a human near a squalling rabbit.
To outwit coyotes that have heard the tunes of most retail coyote calls, vary your distress sounds. After all, other woodland critters squeal when in pain, and coyotes will respond to the distress sounds of a variety of animals. Some of the more popular distress calls include rodent, woodpecker, fawn and canine. I’ve even used the raucous call of crows to attract the attention of coyotes that had displayed no interest to my previous calls. It’s no secret that opportunistic crows follow coyotes in hopes of garnering some scraps.
If you can imitate the distress call of an animal in your area that a coyote might consider as a meal, do it. And when choosing a predator call, don’t get hung up on brand names; focus instead on the dining preferences of your coyote targets. To a coyote, eating a fawn is like scoring on a super-sized Big Mac combo meal, yet rarely do I hear of other callers using the bawling fawn, one of my favorite prey-in-distress calls.
LEARN COYOTE TALK
Ever yearned to be bilingual? Well, try mastering the wide range of howls, barks, yips and whines that is the language of the coyote, thus furnishing your setup with another dimension of realism. Steer clear of barks, which represent a warning, and focus instead on nonaggressive, welcoming howls. If you can master a nonaggressive howl, that’s all you’ll ever have to know. A drawn-out howl tells other coyotes “I’m here!” and irks them into showing themselves as they look for the urine-marking territorial invader.
Don’t get me wrong: Yips and whines indicate feeding activity and can lure a coyote into range, as will growls. But with the howl you don’t risk the chance of scaring away young coyotes, or those recently whipped in a fight.
You can begin and end your setup with howls while mixing prey-in-distress calls in the middle. Or you can use howls by themselves to attract coyotes. If you use prey-in-distress calls, you’ll send a message of a coyote invader raiding another coyote’s refrigerator, and action can take place almost immediately.
On the other hand, if you use howls by themselves, be prepared for anything. I’ve had coyotes run me over within seconds of finishing a howl, but more often than not I’ve shot most coyotes that I’ve howled in at the end of at least a 30-minute wait; I routinely sit 45 minutes or longer. How long I stay at a particular setup is based on experience.
Here’s a call routine guaranteed to garner results: Howl several times; then, wait five minutes before commencing a series of distress calls. I’ll often forsake the distress calls in favor of another howl later in the setup. Wait at least 20 to 30 minutes, and keep your eyes peeled: Coyotes often show up unannounced and on the lookout for the noisy intruder.
GO THE EXTRA MILE
To take coyotes successfully — particularly those educated by less-than-savvy hunters — go the extra mile. Using topographical maps and your knowledge of an area, look for roadless sections into which predators may have retire to escape the pressure of callers too lazy to put any distance between themselves and their vehicle. The Internet also provides an easy way to scout while at home. Visit Web sites like www.googleearth.com and www.terraserver.com to zoom in on your hunting locations with satellite imagery. You’ll be able to locate areas of habitat with little or no development or road access.
Next, pack a lunch and don a daypack and circle through a remote area for the chance to call from three to five stands. Typically, you’ll need to separate stands by at least a half-mile to direct your calls to new animals.
Coyotes are some of God’s most adaptable creatures, but even so, they prefer to bed in areas in which they won’t be disturbed by human intrusions. They’ll hunt cottontails and cats in the suburbs, but they still find hideyholes away from the swing-set activity to bed in relative peace.
Once you do find a likely section of remote land, pinpoint setups that won’t allow coyotes to bust you from behind. Set up with the wind in your face, but be aware that any coyote will try and circle downwind to get a whiff of what’s going on before committing to confrontation. To counter this move, set up with a barrier that blocks a coyote from circling downwind. If you put a creek, cliff or bluff at your back, predators can’t circle and catch your scent. Old barns, farm machinery and metal windbreaks also can give you protection from circling predators, especially if you set up in an open pasture where predators will have to expose themselves to get the free lunch.
DON’T MAKE AN ENTRANCE
Getting to your hunting location invisibly is crucial for success. The best coyote hunters I know enter their calling sites by using land features to hide their form. Hills, gullies, creeks and trees provide concealment. Morning setups are best accessed under the cover of darkness. Even though coyotes have night-vision capability, darkness combined with an entrance using terrain features to advantage will ensure an invisible-man approach.
When hunting from elevated sites, be extra-careful to prevent prolonged exposure on an open skyline. If the hill’s small enough, circle around the sides to keep your form from tripping a coyote
‘s alarm system. I’ve also stayed late on setups to use darkness as cover when leaving a stand site. More than once I’ve watched distant coyotes that wouldn’t come into rifle range yet kept an eye on the area, hoping to see what was really going on.
Invisibility requires silence. I’m still amazed at how much noise many so-called expert hunters make, beginning at the truck. I routinely have to remind my hunting partners not to slam car doors or tailgates. Noises like that put any coyote within hearing on guard. To separate vehicle noise from the calling setup, put some distance between you and your vehicle before calling. I often walk a half-mile or farther before starting a setup. A properly cloaked entrance requires a conscientious approach to hiding your form, scent and noise. Control those variables and you’ll be a step ahead of a tough coyote.
Finally, don’t believe everything you read or see on television. Most experts and books religiously stress that a coyote setup should last no more than 15 minutes. Regardless if I’m howling or using prey-in-distress calls, I always stay on stand for at least 30 minutes. In fact, I’ve killed as many coyotes at the 30-minute mark as at the five-minute mark. One coyote-hunting buddy of mine started following my advice and is himself an evangelist for the tactic now, bragging about how many more coyotes he’s shooting simply by staying put longer. You’ll kill more coyotes if you do the same.
Take your time. A coyote doesn’t live its life by checking schedules in its BlackBerry. If you ever get a chance to watch coyotes in open country, you’ll discover they often come from a half-mile or farther away. Seldom do they run in; most walk or trot, and they’ll often stop and just stare, scrutinizing the landscape for signs of the normal and markers of the dangerous. I learned this lesson the hard way after getting up to leave and repeatedly bumping coyotes that were still on their way to my calls.
Remember: Older, call-shy coyotes don’t hurry to approach a calling site. Use your binoculars to scan edges, and to watch for coyotes to appear during the last minutes of light. Be patient and follow the rules set out here, and you’ll be rewarded with more fur at season’s end.