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Lovestruck Coyotes: Advantage Hunter!

Winter may be cold, dark and dank, but to a coyote, it's the breeding season.

Lovestruck Coyotes: Advantage Hunter!

Breeding season can be an excellent time to fool love-struck coyotes, like this pair that came to the author’s e-caller. (Author photo)

While much of the West’s big-game species are hunkered down during winter, coyotes are focused on something more important than comfort. They are now engaged in a territorial battle for the right to breed.

When the breeding season arrives, behavioral changes occur. Coyotes become more aggressive and offensive, protective and defensive, territorial and hungry. All this can give the savvy predator caller an added advantage when attempting to lure song dogs into shooting range.

BASIC BIOLOGY

Did you know that female coyotes experience estrus once per year, and are in heat for less than a week? And that male coyotes only produce sperm during the time females are receptive? When a male tries to breed a female that is not yet ready, she’ll threaten and reject him until the time is right. She’ll growl, bark, yip and even whimper, all the while bearing her dagger-like teeth to make her point to her suitor: Leave me the heck alone!

Even though coyotes are (mostly)monogamous, at times an alpha male will become so frustrated with the teasing of a not-quite ready female that he’ll go in search of a receptive female either within or outside his own pack. In doing so, he is simply following a basic biological need to spread his genes. He’ll return to his mate when she’s ready, but when he is on the prowl, he becomes very vulnerable to a savvy predator hunter.

Pups are born 63 days after conception. The average birth rate is three or four pups per litter, though it can vary up and down. Pup survival rate can be as low as 20 percent, though it is generally higher in urban and suburban areas, so it averages out to about 50 percent. Both parents rear the pups. Lactation lasts until June. Weaning puppies are fed regurgitated food by their parents, which is gradually replaced by more solid food, such as dead and live rodents. This is done until the pups can forage for themselves.

CALLING STRATEGIES

If you’re hunting areas where coyotes have been hunted and called to a lot, those that have survived the assault have already heard all the dying rabbit sounds callers can mimic. Instead, try calling sequences based around the nuances of the breeding season. Use estrus whimpers, chirps and yips instead of prey sounds. These sounds will pique the curiosity of both an alpha male and a receptive female.

The male’s first instinct is to find out who’s trying to horn in on his breeding territory, with the intent of running off the interloper. The female might aggressively respond with the intent to chase off any female that could be trying to mate with her pack’s alpha dog.

Try adding a few growls, yips and even barks to the estrus whimpers. This just might provoke a response from the whole pack. When the female is ready, she will call the male back to her with an invitation howl. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know why this sound is so effective on males during this timeframe.

Don’t forget about a challenge howl either. During the coyote’s nesting period, a pregnant female’s maternal instincts are in high gear, and she will be prepping a den site for her soon-to-arrive pups. Like any expectant mother, she will aggressively protect that territory from all intruders. Because males and females share pup rearing responsibilities equally, males do their part to protect this denning site, too. That’s why a challenge howl can be very effective. Use this sound sparingly and with patience to avoid scaring local coyotes off, but it can be a deal closer when conditions are right.




While coyote vocalizations are your primary tool during mating season, breeding makes coyotes hungry, so don’t totally abandon prey distress sounds. Both the breeding process and being pregnant takes energy, and together with the bitter weather of winter, adult coyotes need lots of calories. Coyotes perform what is termed “food caching” during the breeding phase. They’ll gather all the food they can, hungry or not, and bury it to be unearthed later for themselves and their young. This is why prey distress calls still have a place in your battle plan.

While the classic dying rabbit call can work now, try beginning your sequence with something different—especially if other hunters have called hard in the area over the previous months. Start off using the sounds of local songbirds like nuthatches or woodpeckers, or local gamebirds like pheasants and quail. Hunting close to suburbia? Don’t forget about sounds like cat distress or even chickens. Use your imagination and try mimicking prevalent local wildlife. Your e-caller should be loaded with options.

PATIENCE KILLS

Park your vehicle out of sight and both downwind and far enough away from your calling area that you won’t be putting the resident coyotes on red alert right off the bat. Quietly sneak into a stand location that’s elevated so you can see as much country as possible. Once you’re set up, give the world a few moments to settle down. Once things are still, start with a single young pup howl, then wait a bit. No response? Throw in a female yodel howl and male coyote howl. If you can mimic that lone female coyote looking for companionship, you’ve made the number-one most effective coyote sound for this time period.

Recommended


Remember that from January through March, the main reason they’re coming out of hiding is to defend their territory and/or to breed, so that should be your primary focus. They still need lots of calories, so using prey distress sounds as my number-two calling sequence makes sense, but this takes a backseat to focusing on their need to breed and defend territory. After starting the sequence with a lone howl, wait for maybe five minutes. No response? At first light, try some morning yips and whimpers. Work those sounds for maybe a minute, then shut up and wait 5 to 10 minutes. Still no action? Try pup screams and distress sounds, and even gray fox distress, then wait some more. Nothing still? Quietly slip out, relocate and start over. On early-morning sets, I usually don’t leave for at least 30 minutes, and often wait twice that long.

It’s so important to be patient. Many years ago, I heard Al Morris, the well-known coyote caller and expert predator hunter, talk about this. I took his advice to heart, and it has paid big dividends for me. He emphasized something that’s easy to forget when you’re excited as all get-out on a fresh calling stand.

“Mimicking a lone female looking for a companion, announcing to the world, ‘I am a lonely coyote looking for a partner,’ with a single howl is the number-one way to get other coyotes to come to you,” Morris says. “You can’t make any better sound to call in a coyote during this period. I purposefully space these sounds out because silence kills as much as sound. The space between sounds is very, very important and can change from stand to stand. Use your experience and judgement and make the call. But patience—and silence—will kill more coyotes than constant calling.”

UPS AND DOWNS

Calling coyotes during the breeding season can be a rollercoaster ride. Some days you’ll get lots of action; other days nothing. But the adrenaline rush when it comes together and that big alpha dog comes to fight is hard to replicate. Sometimes you’ll be surrounded by a pack that’s calling among itself, and you—and the hair on the back of your neck—will come to immediate attention. Always remember, though, that even during tough times, when you call from multiple setups and there’s no response, patience, persistence and knowledge of the coyote’s biological needs during the breeding season are the keys to bringing thick-furred winter dogs into range.

Best Times to Call?

Several years ago, wildlife biologist Brian R. Mitchell conducted a two-year coyote vocalization study at the Dye Creek Preserve in northern California, and his findings can help guide when we break out the calls and what sounds we use.

“Coyotes could respond by vocalizing or by approaching a playback,” he wrote. “Vocal responses were most likely to coyote group vocalizations when there was low wind. Vocal responses were also more common just before dawn and during periods when the moon was up and bright. The vocally responding animals were almost exclusively territorial alphas and betas; transients rarely vocalized. Approach responses were most likely to playbacks of group vocalizations (although human imitations of coyotes generated similar levels of approach responses). Approaches were most common when playbacks were within the responding animal’s home range, during the first half of the year and at or before sunrise. Territorial coyotes were twice as likely to respond as transients.”

Though Mitchell’s study did not include nighttime calling, what it tells me is that winter hunting during daylight hours is best from first light until about 10 a.m. Also, Mitchell included human imitations of coyotes in his study, which can be found online. When compared to recordings of real coyotes, these human calls “generated similar levels of approach responses,” he wrote.

Top E-Callers

For beginners and advanced hunters alike, nothing beats a modern electronic caller. They’re available in a wide range of prices, from several hundred dollars to less than a Franklin. Here are three good ones, each in a different price category.

Bob Robb, FOXPRO Shockwave
FOXPRO Shockwave

FOXPRO SHOCKWAVE: This deluxe call features a four-speaker system with two horn speakers and two tweeters for excellent sound quality and volume control, plus an auxiliary jack so you can attach the brand’s moving FoxJack predator decoy. The Shockwave comes with 100 different pre-recorded sounds, can store up to 1,000 sounds and can be operated either manually or with a remote control. Two of the coolest features are FOXMOTION, which allows you to mimic moving prey by fading sound from the left speaker to the right one, and FOXFUSION, which allows you to mix and match any two sounds of your choice. ($549.95; gofoxpro.com)

Bob Robb, Johnny Stewart Executioner
Johnny Stewart Executioner

JOHNNY STEWART EXECUTIONER: Super compact (about 5 inches long, wide and high), this call comes with 100 Johnny Stewart premium calls and has access to the entire Johnny Stewart call list. The sequential call feature allows you to set calls to play in order. It has 300-yard radio frequency range and a carabiner so you can hang it off the ground and get the sound out there. Power comes from 8 AA batteries. It’s a great call for run-and-gun hunting that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. ($149.99; hunterspec.com)

Bob Robb, Primos Dogg Catcher 2
Primos Dogg Catcher 2

PRIMOS DOGG CATCHER 2: Compact and simple to use, this call is lightweight, easy to carry and quick to set up. It comes with 12 proven Randy Anderson sounds, an integrated 100-yard remote and adjustable legs, and it can play two sounds simultaneously. It runs on four AA batteries. Best of all, it it gets the job done without breaking the bank. ($89.99; primos.com)

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