Coyotes are the kings of survival in the wild. You need to be a step ahead.
By Gary Lewis
Many hunters treat coyote hunting as an afterthought. It’s something they do when deer and elk seasons are closed, when the lakes are iced-up, and there’s nothing else to do. I don’t look at it that way.
There is no end to the challenge in the pursuit of this fascinating animal. For example, if you learn to hunt coyotes when the time is right, almost any call will prick up his ears and bring a hungry dog like he’s on a string.
If I had to pick one best time of year to hunt coyotes, it would be late July to mid August. Sure their pelts are better in December, but they’re also well-educated by then.
In late summer they run in packs and the young of the year don’t know what it’s like to have a bullet part their guard hairs. September is almost as good, and by October, there has been a lot of movement in the coyote population as the young dogs move around and establish their own territory.
By November, they know what it means to be hunted, and a caller or spot-and-stalker has to earn every one.
It’s easy for a coyote to make a living in the summer. Rabbits might be plentiful, antelope and deer fawns, elk and beef calves are on the menu. Mice, ground squirrels and voles can be dug out of dens.
Coyotes are apt to be spread out at such times, but there is an abundance of food around farms and ranches. A smart hunter can find the public ground surrounding such places and call along the edges. If there are calves or lambs on the ground, there are coyotes watching from the nearby hilltops. And if there is an abundance of rabbits, there will be dead rabbits on the highway. Any place where rabbit numbers are up, the coyotes will be focused on that food source.
In ranch country, cows die and nature’s clean-up crew is quick to show up. First the birds — crows, ravens and magpies — spot the downed animal. When they gather in the treetops, the coyotes have already taken note. When the scent of the dead critter starts to drift with the wind, the dogs will come from miles around.
Some days are better to hunt than others. Looking back, my best days have been when the skies were overcast and the barometer steady. If the day dawns foggy and still, it’s even better. Winds and rain reduce the chances of success, especially when the weather is severe. If the forecast calls for winds in excess of 10 miles per hour, I’d rather stay home.
Regardless of the food source, the best place for a coyote hunter is between the coyote and its dinner.
Coyotes CAN differentiate between seven separate smells at once, say researchers. Give them several scents to draw them in and make them focus on anything but you. Add elk, rabbit and fox scents to your setup. In ranch country, dead cattle make a great draw. Put the call upwind from your set, like above, and watch the downwind side.
Biologists tell us a dog can differentiate between seven different smells at once. That’s why it makes sense to watch the downwind side, even when calling to cover in the other direction. They like to pinpoint the sound then cut wide of it to catch the scent.
If something is making that rabbit cry, chances are there’s going to be a fight when the second predator shows up. Part of their survival strategy is sorting out the scent of their competition on the way in.
Where mule deer are common, deploy a little of that scent at each call set. But that’s not enough. Red fox, raccoon, elk, rabbit — whatever it takes to put a little more scent in the air, to confuse the predator, can keep the coyote coming in. Remember, if they can sort out seven different types of smells then it makes sense to give them more of it.
One of the best ways to keep scent usable for a long time is to use an empty pill bottle filled with cotton balls soaked in your favorite scents. Label the bottles, keep them in the call bag and simply open the lids around the stand location. Close them up after a 20-minute call set and open up again a mile down the line.
The days we bag the most coyotes are the ones when we commit to 8 or 10 sets in a single day. That takes a good stretch of road through cattle country. Start at dawn and make a 20-minute call set. Then pack up, drive down the road a mile and set up again. After six call sets, it’s time to relax a little, grab something to eat and let the sun slide down the other side. Plan to hunt the late afternoon and save the best spot for the last set, a half-hour before dark.