I didn’t think it could get any colder.
I was wrong.
When the sun dipped behind the horizon, the single-digit temperature plummeted to below zero. I had already been on this coyote stand for more than 20 minutes with nothing to show but possible frostbite. Instead of pulling the plug, I decided to finish my shivering fun with one more lonesome howl. Maybe a lonely coyote was looking for someone to cuddle with for warmth.
A few minutes later, adrenaline shot through my veins with the sight of a coyote loping, not walking, my way. The coyote was on a mission to find the creator of the howl, and I adjusted appropriately for the shot. When the coyote stopped at 100 yards to scan the snow-covered landscape for a canine companion, I ended the courtship early with a Black Hills Ammunition load from my .223.
Why did that final howl seal the deal? Throughout most of the setup I had used a prey-in-distress call like most predator hunters. I had deducted that with the cold evening ahead any coyote would be more than happy to put a distressed rodent out of its misery. Maybe, just maybe, this coyote had heard the distress call before and was questioning its authenticity.
The coyote howl may have bolstered the coyote’s confidence and provided the final tease to lure the coyote into shooting range. Or maybe I just got lucky.
If you want to get lucky more often, you need to re-formulate your coyote calling strategies to fool call-shy coyotes. Fortunately, that’s easier than ever before with the wide variety of mouth-blown and digital callers on the market today. If you want to call in more coyotes, different is better.
GIVE THEM TIME TO DINE
Flip open any predator hunting manual or book and you’ll undoubtedly see the phrase, “Call for 15 minutes and if nothing responds, move to a new site.”
In the early years of predator calling, that may have been the case. It might still be the case today if you have the key to expansive land holdings where nobody else has permission to call or if you get out early before prime-time winter calling.
It’s not the case if you have to compete with everyone else on limited public land or decide to go coyote hunting during the flurry of weekend warriors and calling contests. More often than not you’ll be dealing with educated, paranoid coyotes.
They take longer to come to a call, and they approach a calling site with more caution.
Gerald Stewart, son of the late Johnny Stewart, a pioneer in the world of animal calling, has spent hours perfecting game calls with his father and on his own. Today, Johnny Stewart Wildlife Calls is a respected leader in the game-calling market with an emphasis on predators.
Stewart knows that the popularity of the sport has skyrocketed, and with popularity comes pressure. Stewart’s advice to find success in pressured areas is to extend your time spent on stand.
“More and more dogs are becoming call-shy or call-educated,” said Stewart. “Call for maybe eight to 15 minutes, and then sit another 15 minutes.”
Stewart recalled an incident where he met a hunter from the East who walked abandoned railroad lines and would make two or three stands before returning to his truck. It finally dawned on the hunter that about 30 to 40 percent of the time he was cutting fresh coyote tracks on the way out. The coyotes were arriving after he had left. He stayed longer on his stands and his success increased.
I had a similar experience while calling coyotes in South Dakota. I had the good fortune to call with several seasoned veterans who promoted the 15-minute call setup. They had access to abundant property, whereas I was limited to a couple of small tracts. If they didn’t get a coyote to come in, they just simply moved to a morecoyote-rich site.
I, on the other hand, was married to my little piece of ground. One evening in frustration, I decided to stay until I couldn’t see any longer. I quit calling approximately 25 minutes into the setup, and at 45 minutes with barely minutes of shooting light left, a coyote arrived. I shot that coyote moments later. From then on, I extended how long I sat on any setup, in good country or not.
Why is the dying rabbit call an American favorite for coyote calling? The main reason is that coyotes thrive on small game like rabbits and mice. That doesn’t mean it should be your only call. In fact, if you had to list everything on a coyote’s dinner plate you’d be still writing when I contacted you 24 hours later.
Coyotes are walking garbage disposals and eat anything and everything. If there were a watermelon call you’d want to incorporate it into your setup as well. Since carrion doesn’t make a peep, you’d be best served to focus on living, breathing critters.
That’s the great aspect of digital callers, such as the Johnny Stewart Preymaster Digital Caller. You can rotate through a large selection of prey-in-distress calls and switch from sound to sound by pushing a button.
Al Morris, a Hunter’s Specialties pro staffer and a 30-year coyote-hunting veteran, understands the pressures of successful coyote calling.
Morris, along with his partner, Garvin Young, has captured the respected title of World Coyote Calling Champions twice — the only duo to have accomplished this goal in the history of the competition.
Morris often uses the dying jackrabbit on his Preymaster caller, but he isn’t afraid to switch to another species if the hare isn’t doing the trick. And he isn’t afraid to try a noise that isn’t commonly found in a region either.
“A wild pig in distress works everywhere,” said Mor
ris. “It really doesn’t matter what distress you use, but it does pay to switch up your calls if one isn’t working.”
Morris said he’s used a whitetail fawn in distress with equal luck in New Mexico, Arizona and even Nevada.
“Remember, coyotes are opportunists,” said Morris. “Even though they may not know exactly what they are hearing, they know enough not to pass up an opportunity to eat.”
Morris uses jackrabbit distress calls as his mainstay, but if he has a coyote turn away from that sound or no response after several setups, he switches to another call. His routine is to switch to another small prey species, such as a bird, and then work up from there.
He moves on to the wild piglet in distress and eventually something bigger like deer. His end result is to find something coyotes will respond to and a sound the public isn’t using in the area.
With 12 sounds, wireless flexibility and the option to play two sounds at once, Morris is relying on the Preymaster for his next chance at the World Coyote Calling Championship.
Having a large library is also beneficial. One morning while hunting with Gerald Stewart, he swapped among at least four different prey sounds on a setup before finally landing on a gray fox distress call that turned on the switch for a Colorado coyote.
Companies like Primos and Extreme Dimensions also are in the game of providing hunters with a variety of sounds in their digital callers. The Extreme Dimensions Phantom Pro-Series has 12 sounds available for predator hunting. Primos’ Power Dogg Electronic Call also has 12 digitally mastered sounds to rotate between, and its remote control option gives you flexibility to set the caller away from you.
COYOTE CONFIDENCE CALLS
Confidence is everything. It’s the same for a prowling coyote.
If they feel confident, they feel successful. If they don’t have confidence, they ignore everything and place safety at the forefront. If you want to instill confidence while at your setups, you need to incorporate calls that coyotes find not only non-threatening but also intriguing.
The easiest confidence call to master is the lonesome howl, like I used on that cold winter afternoon. It’s a long, non-threatening howl that proclaims that a coyote is in the area but not looking for a fight.
Throughout the year, that call brings coyotes in for curiosity’s sake. And in February, it draws them for breeding.
Why non-threatening? Most of the coyotes you will be calling in the fall are young-of-the-year pups. A softer, long howl without aggressive barks tells young coyotes they are welcome to visit, unlike the sound of a deep, gruff howl followed by barks.
That simple howl alone is often all that is needed to bolster a coyote’s inquisitive nature. But if you really want to bring the wild world alive, there are more than enough new calls to add to your setup. Companies with libraries of digital calls and various mouth-blown call manufacturers make about any call you need to sucker a coyote into range.
A call nearly every coyote is familiar with is the crow. In fact, crows often give away the presence of an incoming coyote since they occasionally follow coyotes around hoping to nab an easy meal after a coyote is finished dining.
While hunting in New Mexico one year, I watched a crow make its way to my stand location, and in the back of mind I thought there might be a coyote in the gully below the black scavenger.
My hunch was right at the sight of a coyote that bit the bullet too early to provide the crow an easy snack.
Magpies are other birds that follow coyotes and vice versa. Their raucous chatter is common around carcasses left by coyotes or sought by coyotes.
In the West, magpies are a common sight as they cruise a region looking for anything to peck and scavenge.
If you do use confidence calls like these, expect these birds to show up. Whenever I incorporate crow or magpie calls with my other calls, I usually have feathered visitors. The commotion isn’t a negative because coyotes trust the eyesight of their airborne competitors.
ROMANCE YOUR COYOTE
When February rolls around, a lonesome howl can pique a single coyote’s romantic side. But if you really want to send a love song out, you need to incorporate friendly and fun sounds, not unlike what you’d hear from a rambunctious puppy.
Outfitter Dave Tatum spent years as a state trapper getting rid of ranchers’ problem coyotes. During the coyote breeding season, he knows to incorporate a more inviting call that mimics a female coyote playfully inviting males to breed.
“I caught on to this sound during the breeding season as I watched a pair of coyotes one day,” said Tatum.
He saw a young female and an older male interacting in a pasture. The young female was doing lots of whimpering and associated sounds. After seeing how it lured the male coyote, he started mimicking the sound, and it’s worked great in the breeding season.
Tatum describes the call as a high-pitched squeal that includes whines and whimpers. He said that it sounds similar to your dog whining and whimpering when it really wants something, like the steak sitting on your dinner plate.
This call has been so successful for Tatum that he rarely uses a distress call in the February breeding season and instead relies on lonesome howls and female breeding calls to lure pad-weary male coyotes to the call.
IT AIN’T OVER . . .
If you think you’re done calling when a coyote gets into shooting range, you’re gravely mistaken.
First, be on the lookout for one or more coyotes approaching your stand. Early in the season, pups may travel together in packs. It’s not uncommon to see two or more pups charging a calling site in September and October. Later in the season, as breeding picks up, your chances also increase that a pair of coyotes may arrive in tandem.
This is great, but also frustrating because you can only shoot one coyote at a time. If you’re hunting with a partner, someone is undoubtedly going to get the first shot off. To increase your chances of tagging one or more of the incoming coyotes, keep a diaphragm in your mouth.
“One of the most important things I can do before calling is to put a diaphragm call in my mouth,” said Morris of Hunter’s Specialties. “This gives me the option of doing the ‘yipe’-distress call of a pup, and that’s a great call to stop a coyote if you miss a shot or if more than one coyote comes to the call.”
This “yipe, yipe, yipe
” call mimics the hurt sound of a coyote or coyote pup and causes other coyotes to stop to see what is happening. It’s often the seconds you need to get a shot off to recoup a miss or to take a double.
On a hunt several seasons back, I had a wary coyote show himself on a rise. Just as I settled the reticle on his shoulder, the mature dog turned and disappeared behind the hill. I knew he had to show himself on the next ridge, and when he popped out trotting in retreat, I began the yipping sound of a wounded comrade.
The coyote paused for a quick look over this shoulder, and this time I was ready for the shot. The long hike back to my truck was tiring while dragging the big male, but I didn’t mind the winter warm-up.