Downwind Dogs: Tactics for Defeating A Coyote's Nose

The coyotes got Rex's goat. Literally.

My friend Rex keeps a small herd of goats and sheep and a dozen chickens on his 10-acre slice of the American Dream. He called one winter afternoon.

We set up at the top of a rim, with a view into the junipers. I placed my AR-15 on its bipod. Rex and eight-year-old Ethan took up position on my left.

I had the FoxPro caller next to me. I didn't want to risk my scent in the area by setting the call in the open. We had an hour before dark and time to think. Something Gary Madison said came to mind.

Madison, of Burns, Ore., has hunted coyotes for 60 years and won a number of calling contests. "People tend to focus on calling and they underestimate the craftiness of the coyote. The actual calling is only 10 percent of making a successful hunt," Madison said.

A good olfactory sense is a coyote's best defense. When a coyote inhales, it draws in airborne molecules that help it sort a complex array of odors that include food signals and threats.

Our challenge is to beat a coyote's defenses. We succeed when we go beyond the 10 percent that is the calling and work to dispel human scents in every setup we make.

By managing our scent, we were able to call a coyote out of the canyon. After 52 minutes, the coyote showed on my left. He moved at a trot through the sagebrush, visible in the gloom.

He stopped. The tip of the Trijicon's fiber-optic triangle found the dog's head. I felt the trigger move through its first stage then tighten into the second stage. Orange bloomed in the scope.

There are still coyotes in the canyon, but there is one less whose howls will wake the barnyard in the night.


Scent can be covered to some degree, confusing a coyote's ability to sort through odors and detect human threat, but a better start is to control scent prior to the application of covers. By eliminating degrees of odor, we diminish the scent spread on swirling breezes.

Human scent is carried on clothing and gear. It emanates from gun oils and fabrics; it manifests on hats and the soles of our feet. Every step we take to eliminate scent is a small victory.

The battle begins with the body. A daily shower or a sponge bath with unscented soap makes a big difference.

Jeff Lerwill owns Rocky Mountain Elk Ranch, a hunting preserve in the Idaho Rockies. As hunting season progresses, coyotes become a problem.

To prepare for a hunt, Lerwill employs Scent Killer and checks the wind with a puff bottle.

Lerwill has noticed that many hunters smell like their colognes, coffee, chewing tobacco and cigarettes. "People with beards and mustaches have to really be careful," he said.

Lerwill washes his clothes without soap and hangs them outside to dry and pick up the smells of the pine and sage. "You just don't know what will tip off those animals. Their senses are so incredibly keen, any and all the precautions you can take the better."

Odors can cling to clothing. Some recently engineered fabrics block odors or stop them from forming. Clothing companies have introduced treatment elements, such as silver, to fight odor. And they are able to embed the element at the primary level.

Various scent-control products like Invisible Hunter, Dead Down Wind and Scent Killer by Wildlife Research Center, attack human odor in three categories: laundry products, body products and products for use in the field.

By removing a high percentage of human smell, the hunter makes cover scents, attractants and calls more effective.


Cover scents distract the predator from the scent of the hunter. Fox urine covers the human scent with the strong odor of a small varmint. A coyote's nose may be further confused with fresh earth fumes or the scent of a food source.

Author and predator expert Lee Van Tassell likes to place the electronic caller at a lower elevation. From up above, he can watch more country and keep his scent high in the air stream.

One of Van Tassell's favorite tricks is to disguise his entry trail with the scent of a jackrabbit, dragging it behind him on a rope tied to his belt. "That's my best cover scent."

"If I can't get a rabbit, I like to splash coyote or mule deer urine on my feet before I walk down to set up my call. Usually the coyotes come straight in, then circle downwind. If they circle and come to the downwind side, I like to bark or make a ki-yi to stop them. And that's the time to make the shot."

A high degree of confidence comes with the knowledge of how to beat a coyote's nose. And a thorough approach to scent control can pay off with more well-furred dogs that charge in, circle downwind and keep on coming.

Editor's Note: To order a signed copy of the new Hunting Oregon, visit

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