January 23, 2006
Your canine hunting partner could be the ticket to shooting more yodel dogs. That and more experts tips can help increase your coyote-hunting success.
You may have given coyote-hunting a try, but discovered that the hunting was far better than the killing. Don't fret, and whatever you do, don't give up. This is fun sport and besides, you might save some cattle or sheep ranchers a bundle of money. At the least, you might meet a rancher who takes a liking to your coyote-hunting prowess and invites you back for deer hunting next fall.
While song dogs can be frustrating as quarry, you can employ some tactics and techniques that will tip the odds of success in your favor, ranging from simple concepts for novice callers, to advanced tactics proven under some of the most challenging conditions.
Much of your success at hunting coyotes will stem from the preparations you make, and the equipment you use. Without going into massive amounts of details (spelled B-O-R-I-N-G) concerning firearms, loads, optics, etc., most weekend varmint-hunters choose light big-game calibers with a history for flat trajectories. The sporting qualities of this pastime suggest that it's not much of a challenge to shoot coyotes at obscene distances. Most shots are taken within about 100 yards, muzzle to target. A simple riflescope with good light-collecting qualities will suffice. If you insist on spending big bucks on optics for coyote hunting, purchase a quality set of binoculars in the 10x50 range, and mount them to a solid tripod. Now you can spy coyotes at long distances and use your riflescope for a relatively close shot.
Camouflage or concealment is, in my eyes, even more important than the type of rifle you shoot. Coyotes depend on their eyes and noses for hunting as well as survival. Go unprepared to fool both, and you'll be one frustrated hunter. Therefore, your preparations must go well beyond the selection of a workable camouflage pattern.
I never set foot on a ranch with coyotes in mind unless I've paid due diligence to that day's weather report. A prevailing wind from 5 to 12 miles per hour provides me with the type of conditions that not only make calling possible, but also allow me a chance to stay downwind of intended targets. The worst forecast I can hear is one for variable winds. Check local television stations, newspapers, or go online to such sites as weather.com or your local forestry commission's fire danger page, all of which will carry up-to-date information on wind directions and expected changes to those conditions.
I wasn't being flippant when I suggested that you might befriend a rancher by offering to shoot coyotes on his ranch. In fact, you'll find a far more positive acceptance to such a proposal than you will any other type of hunting.
How you approach a rancher makes all the difference. You can identify ranch owners by checking with the county tax assessor's office. The wrong tactic is to show up early one Saturday morning in camouflage, knock on a rancher's door and expect to gain immediate access. Instead, call ahead about two weeks or so before you would like to hunt. Introduce yourself in a professional manner, explaining your interest in safe, legal hunting methods, and ask whether he would consider allowing you and an associate an opportunity to hunt coyotes on a given date. Emphasize that you'll be sure to close gates and keep your vehicles on roads and trails the rancher designates. You'll get more positive responses than rejections.
Once on a ranch or open public land, you'll want to find an elevated calling location that provides a sweeping view of the surrounding area. Take particular care that the upwind side provides access for approaching coyotes. Look for brush, weeds, downed logs or trees that can help you hide while at the same time providing a solid shooting spot. The object here is to have your scent blow away from where you expect the coyotes to approach, and the cover will help hide movements you make in calling and preparing to shoot.
For many would-be coyote hunters, calling is a trouble spot. But it needn't be. Let me assure you, there's nothing fancy about it. A 6-year-old can call in a coyote.
Tactics differ greatly among expert coyote hunters. Some prefer to crank up their electric boxes (where legal) and let pre-recorded cassette tapes do the work for them, broadcasting the sounds of everything from howling or dueling coyotes to bleating fawns to rabbits screeching in distress. Most coyote hunters do things the old-fashioned way, blowing mouth calls that imitate many of those same sounds.
If you've got such an electronic caller and it's legal to use, the only other limitation is the weight of the equipment. Some come with battery packs so that you can carry them to a calling location. Others are so big that they're best used from a vehicle. These are typically high-tech approaches that cost lots of money.
Mouth-blown calls, from howlers to animal distress signals, are relatively inexpensive, and hunters can easily carry a variety of them on a single hunt. Calls can be such personal items that it would be presumptuous of me to suggest specific brands or models. The best way to find the right calls for you is to hang around with other coyote hunters and see what they use and how they use them. You'll quickly figure out what you're comfortable with, and ordering online is easy. (Do a Google search for the type of call you're looking for.)
A good howler is used much like a locator turkey call. A "greet" howl -- two or three short barks followed by a howl up to three seconds in duration -- tells coyotes in the area where you are and invites them to come check you out. Once a coyote responds, I like to sit still for a few minutes, and then start hitting some type of distress call or challenge howling.
The challenge howl has a lot more growling than yips mixed in with aggressive howling. The downside to this type of calling is that it may intimidate young coyotes, which will then shut up and shy away. Get your challenge to sound like a young male, and you're likely to attract the interest of a mature male dog. Give the impression that they'll be competing for a small animal in distress, and you could call in two, three, or even four coyotes at once!
The distress call is just that: an imitation of an injured small animal. This should be your bread-and-butter call; how it sounds to an approaching coyote makes all the difference in your success.
A rabbit caught in a fence or wounded from the talons of a hawk makes lots of high-pitched and ear-piercing noise. But the important thing to remember is, your lungs are much larger than a rabbit's. It doesn't make sense to give long, wailing appeals. More realistic are loud, short blasts. Instead of making a noise like "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa," try making it sound more like this: "Waaaaaaa, waaaaaaaa, waaaaaaa."
And, finally, I like to employ what I affectionately call the kiss of death. Put your lips together and make a prolonged kissing sound. Congratula-tions! You've just imitated the sound of a startled or distressed field mouse. It's killer when you're well concealed and can see a coyote working his way in that last 100 yards to your shooting position.
DOG VS. DOG
One of the most recent trends in coyote hunting is using domestic dogs to hunt wild dogs. Ranchers have learned that their ranch dogs develop a knack for attracting coyotes and getting the wild dogs to follow them back to a hunter.
It's true! There's even a set of videos offered by ELK Inc., a Gardiner, Mont., company. Featuring Merv Griswold and Murphy Love, the first of that line is called "Dogging Coyotes." Order one online for $19.95 at www.elkinc.com, or by calling toll-free 800-272-4355.
Love gets the best results by using two dogs simultaneously, since they seem to complement one another when working a coyote. The dogs are especially useful when a coyote comes only so close with traditional calling, then turns to leave the area without committing. Love turns his dogs loose, and in just a few minutes, they've grabbed the coyote's attention and it's chasing them. The dogs then turn back toward the hunter.