Daylight was fading and I was settling down for my third set of the day. The previous two had proven uneventful: The only response to a series of distress calls had been a single wren that sat in the bushes and scolded me for invading its afternoon privacy. As I settled into the last set of the day and started to call, there was barely time to get comfortable before I saw a gray streak of fur through oak trees 200 yards ahead. In fact, I had forgotten to turn my scope down, and the male coyote was standing in the clear on the edge of a line of overgrown fence 70 yards away before I had time to get set. He gave a moment’s pause, which was just enough time to get the crosshairs set and squeeze the trigger.
What made the third set of the day more productive than those first two setups? It’s difficult to say, and I believe many hunters have shared the same experience. Areas that seemed like sure bets turn up nothing; then, suddenly, you’re in the midst of hard-charging dogs a few hundred yards later. But there are some tactics you can employ that will increase the odds of a shot.
STUDY COYOTE BEHAVIOR
As with any game animal, you’ll have a distinct advantage when hunting coyotes if you understand their behavior and how feeding, patrolling territory, mating and raising pups affect how these wild canids respond at different times of the year. You don’t need a graduate degree in wildlife behavior, but understanding the factors that affect coyote behavior during certain seasons is a crucial first step.
The coyote’s year begins in December or January, as females become receptive and males battle for breeding rights. Coyotes are considered monogamous by biologists, which means that males and females typically remain pair-bonded for life. But this doesn’t stop transient or nomadic males from seeking out females in heat. After the pups are born in a burrow, the parents and, sometimes, other pack members work to feed and protect the young. Once the pups are old enough to travel, the animals spend the remainder of the year — roughly late summer through the beginning of breeding season — seeking out food sources.
Primos Predator Calls at SHOT 2019
What does this mean for hunters? The best bet for success is to key on coyote social behavior when setting up and calling. In October, coyotes are primarily focused on finding food, so it is best to mimic the sounds of prey.
Coyotes are opportunists that eat mice, rabbits, voles, game birds, turkeys and deer, as well as domestic animals. Focus attention on the areas where these animals are found. Some setups that work well are habitat edges, the confluence of hardwoods or dense brush and open hay or agricultural fields. As the season progresses into late winter, coyotes are entering the breeding season and will respond more readily to calls of other coyotes. Howls work, but that shouldn’t be the only vocalization used. Yips, barks and whines are often enough to draw the attention of coyotes in the area, specifically young males who have been ousted from their pack and are seeking new territories.
Scouting coyotes can be a challenge because outside of denning season, dogs spend a great deal of time on the move; but the more intel you have regarding coyote habits, the better prepared you’ll be for the fall.
Begin by finding the obvious signs, such as tracks, kill sites and droppings. Coyote droppings often act as territorial markers that indicate boundary and travel routes, and it’s not uncommon to find piles of scat along creeks, roads, logging trails and other natural boundaries. This gives an indication of preferred routes and primary hunting areas. In the fall,these travel corridors are a great place to set up and produce distress calls. Since the coyotes frequent the area, they’ll be more comfortable, and the odds of intercepting an animal increase. Also, transient coyotes tend to stay at the fringe of established areas, opting not to get caught in the heart of a pack territory.
Aside from tracks and droppings, you can take advantage of high-tech scouting, as well. Trail cameras offer insight into when and where the coyotes are moving, but I believe one of the most underrated and effective scouting methods is a thermal imaging camera. FLIR and other thermal imaging brands offer handheld cameras that allow you to see in complete darkness for hundreds of yards. Using them, I’ve learned coyotes frequently patrol areas near buildings, especially just after sunset.
USE VISUAL CUES
Coyotes are visual hunters, trusting what they see. If you’ve got a great calling setup, there’s a really good chance the coyotes will investigate, but a visual cue might be the crucial element required to draw the dogs out of cover. Battery-powered motion decoys, even small ones, will increase odds of success, but you can even use small stuffed animals. In fact, many hunters prefer stuffed animals as decoys because they don’t produce any sound that could alert coyotes on a still day.
The key to a successful visual attractant is that they are, well, visible. You want the decoy to be visible but it’s best if you can avoid walking into a wide-open field. Instead, place the decoy at the edge of a grassy field, somewhere that doesn’t require you walking in the open. Coyotes have very good eyesight, so they’ll eventually pick up on the target, even from a distance.
CAREFUL APPROACH TO THE SET
I believe many good coyote sets are blown by a bad approach. In many cases, coyotes will be moving and hunting as you’re setting up for the shot, and the dogs are always on the alert — listening, testing the wind and looking for food and threats. Don’t let a bad approach to your set mess up an otherwise successful hunt.
The first step to success is to find an area in which to call that offers key elements to be successful. Next, you’ll need to think about positioning yourself with the wind in your face and the sun at your back. No matter how promising the location, if you’re staring directly into the sun you’re stacking the odds in the coyote’s favor. Wind is a key factor, and most hunters know that you want to hunt with the prevailing wind in your face. There’s a good chance coyotes will already be up and moving when you set up; so, consider the wind direction as it relates to an animal’s path of travel. I have a particularly promising setup location that, generally speaking, I can only hunt in the mornings because the prevailing wind and the sun’s location are only ideal at that time of day.
CHANGE UP YOUR CALLS
Every coyote has heard the high-volume squeal of an electronic rabbit-in-distress call. Local dogs have learned the gig. That’s not to say that they won’t respond to those calls, but there’s a good chance they’ve already been educated.
If you’re in a good location and your approach went unnoticed, there’s a fair chance a coyote is within range of your setup before you even call. For that reason, I like to take it easy. Start with a mouse squeaker or a turkey call, which seems to be particularly attractive to coyotes in many areas of the country. The bulk of many coyote diets is rodents, so that’s where I usually start, and it has proven effective. But don’t overlook other calls, such as woodpecker and other birds in distress and red fox calls. You’ll need to tailor your call repertoire to the area you are hunting, and some hunters swear by sounds that imitate the yips of small domestic dogs or the yowls of stray cats.
Try different calls and log what works and how long the coyote took to respond. That will provide you with a growing database of which calls work and which ones don’t. After all, your electronic caller probably came with dozens, or even hundreds, of sounds.
Haydel’s MINI-18 Predator Call
Electronic calls are wonderful, but sometimes it’s hard to beat a mouth call. One of the best new calls to arrive on the market in years is Haydel’s Game Calls (haydels.com) MINI-18 Predator, which features a two-way voice system.
Traditional reed calls only operate when you exhale, but the MINI-18 gives distress calls when you inhale as well and the results are dramatic. The “hyperventilating” sound attracts even call-shy predators. By controlling mouth position and biting down on the call it’s possible to adjust pitch and volume to effectively recreate a wide range of distress sounds, from rabbits to many different birds. Regardless of whether you own an electronic caller, consider tucking one in your pocket. When you’re in a productive set and the batteries fail on your e-caller, the MINI-18 provides instant backup. But this mouth call could also serve quite effectively as a primary call.