In winter, coyotes are always hungry, always looking for their next meal. A well-choreographed sequence of calls presented from a secluded vantage point is all it takes to fool them. All that sounds simple enough — until you go out there and try it.
The most costly weakness in any sort of competition is underestimating one’s adversary. Coyotes make their living, live and die, under harsh conditions year-round. Winter is tough on them because cold temperatures and wind steal their valuable calories and food sources are invariably at an annual low. Prey is scarce and hard to find, making it tough for any coyote to survive. Though they are near starving in winter, coyotes never lose their suspicious edge. They’ll investigate even the worst of calls but they’ll close the distance on high alert, eyes and ears focused, looking for anything that’s out of the ordinary. Know that going in because if you move, make noise, or otherwise give yourself away, the coyote will leave you in the dust every time.
The Littlest Mistakes Cost the Most
The best way to succeed at winter coyote calling is always to assume there are coyotes in the area, that they are close, and that they will come in immediately. That’s not always the case, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. There could be a coyote just over the next hill, or there may be no coyotes anywhere nearby, but the last thing you want to do is guess wrong.
Generally, if a coyote can hear your call he will come to investigate. It may take him 30 seconds to show up or it may take him 30 minutes to get there, but few coyotes can resist the sound of a dying rabbit, squirrel or mouse. The glitch is what happens between when he hears your call and when you lock eyes with him. Make a mistake and he’s gone, whether you’ve seen him or not.
For that reason it’s imperative that winter coyote hunters move into position quietly and quickly. Some hunters like to set up and call into wide-open spaces while others prefer rolling, broken country. In either case, the standard approach never varies. Get there as fast as you can and then set up facing downwind or with the wind quartering to the left or right. Sit down with some cover behind you, have your gun or bow up and ready to shoot, relax and get comfortable before you utter the first call.
Be sure to wear gloves and a facemask, and make all the necessary personal adjustments before you start calling. Remember, we’re assuming that a coyote is bedded just over that first knoll. When you call he’ll come running and can show up in seconds. You want to be ready for him. That will happen just often enough to remind you to be ready from the first squeak. You won’t need to be told a second time!
Sound & Smell is Faster Than a Bullet When It Comes to Coyotes
Incoming coyotes invariably will use the wind to approach and find your position. Cover scents can be useful in brushy country but are of little value when shots may be at 300 yards. By the time a distant coyote smells you the bullet should already be on its way.
Coyote callers tend to be much more vocal than necessary, just as some turkey callers will cluck and yelp and putt constantly all day, though real turkeys never do so. In the real world a dying cottontail or bird will utter a few piteous screeches, a squall or two and maybe a few dying squeaks, but that’s it. No dying animal or bird keeps wailing and crying all day; their anguish is generally short-lived. Coyotes know that and expect it, so avoid long, drawn-out periods of calling. It’s neither necessary nor productive.
Begin with one long, loud wail lasting three or four seconds and then sit tight for at least 15 minutes. Any coyote within hearing will have heard the call, pinpointed your position and will be moving in for the kill. Coyotes know that if an owl, fox or even a bobcat has caught something the coyote can steal it from him. They’ll come in looking for a free meal and an encounter with some other predator, but they are also bold and confident, knowing that whatever is making that noise is going to be their next entrée.
The Language is Short & Sweet
While most other small predators come in furtively, sneaking from tree to tree, coyotes usually run in until they close the distance. That might be 200 yards in open country or 100 yards in brushy cover, but when they are “danger close” they slow down and start looking things over. They often appear suddenly and without a sound, which is why it’s important to be set up and ready to shoot before that first call is uttered.
If nothing shows up within 15 minutes, wait another 10 minutes and then call again — short and sweet, emulating a dying animal or bird. Again, it’s not necessary to call constantly, loudly and repeatedly. Incoming coyotes know exactly where you are from the first squeal. The rest is just predator-on-prey, and coyotes are masters of the dance.
If, after 30 to 45 minutes, no coyote shows up, wait another 15 minutes and then get up, slowly, gun at the ready. Every so often a coyote will come in and stop 50 to 100 yards out and stand there for some time, completely out of sight.
When you stand up to leave your field of view will change, and for a few seconds that coyote will be wide open, broadside and just as surprised as you are. If your rifle or shotgun is up and ready to shoot you’ll have the drop on him. But, if you stand up, unprepared, the coyote wins, and you won’t be able to fool him again for a very long time.
Don’t expect to kill a coyote at every calling site. None other than the famous call maker Murray Burnham told me that in brushy country it’s best to move one-half mile or more between calling sites, while in more open country it may be better to move a mile or more before setting up to call again. Consider how far the sound of your calls may carry and factor that into subsequent setups.
A coyote can hear a mouse under two feet of fresh snow, an indication of how sharp their auditory senses are. Err on the side of caution and give your quarry all the credit it is due. Wait longer, move farther and always assume a coyote is nearby.
In winter, coyotes will respond to calls throughout the day and night. The best times to call are as early and late in the day as the law allows. If night hunting is allowed, plan to continue calling for at least a couple of hours before sunrise and past sunset. The periods before and after winter storms are good times to call, as are the few days up to and beyond the full moon.
Coyotes seem especially active at sunset during the full moon period, often howling enthusiastically well before moonrise. Calling can be very productive when coyotes howl, especially at sunset during that moon phase. Pinpoint the location of the pack, howl back at them as if another coyote is nearby, and then close the distance to them as quickly and quietly as possible.
Coyotes will investigate what they perceive to be an intruder in their territory and will show up quickly to rout the invader, offering some easy shots at close range.
Love ’em or hate ’em, coyotes are among the most challenging of animals to hunt, especially in winter. You won’t kill one on every setup but when you do succeed, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve earned it!
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