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Set-Up and Calling Strategies for Winter Coyotes

Drop more song dogs by focusing on the habitat they love.

Set-Up and Calling Strategies for Winter Coyotes

A backdrop to break up your silhouette is vital. This can range from a thick screen of vegetation on valley floors to a large stump or lone boulder at higher elevations. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

Nestled on the edge of a Douglas fir forest, I was confident the intersection where I was positioned screamed success. A logged unit surrounded by 30-year-old timber stretched 400 yards below me.

To my right, an old logging road, abandoned for decades, bisected the crest of the ridge where I sat. To my left, a game trail emerged from a timbered ravine thick with brush.

Coyote Snow
Coyote populations continue to grow across much of the West, as does the number of hunters pursuing them. To succeed where others fail, target key areas these predators frequent. (Shutterstock image)

My electronic call and decoy were set up 50 yards in front of me, visible from all angles. However, before hitting the button, I gave a few puffs on my open-reed mouth call. A subtle "eeeeeeee-eeeeeeeee" slipped out of the call. A minute later I repeated the crippled-bird series, a bit louder and longer this time.

As I reached for the electronic remote, movement to the left suddenly caught my eye. I paused, and so did the coyote that had materialized on the game trail. Soon, another coyote showed behind the first, followed by a third.

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They pranced around, looked my way and even scanned the trees and bushes overhead for the source of the sounds. At 40 yards, the shot was simple, but in the thick cover, I only had time to get off one round.

A song dog was down, and the other two coyotes would be a project for another day.

SCOUT SMARTLY

I didn’t find that particular spot by chance. Coyote numbers have skyrocketed in those mountains, and I run trail cameras on that ridge in the Cascades year-round to track the movements of predators, as well as deer and elk. That day, I wanted to set up where I knew coyotes were present, and I leaned on trail cams for that intel.

While cameras help reveal what’s happening in the coyote woods, scouting efforts pay off, too. In open terrain you can spot coyotes from a distance to determine exactly where to set up. Search for fresh tracks and droppings on trails and along secluded roads, too, as these are other indications that ’yotes are using an area.

You can also listen for coyotes to pinpoint their whereabouts. February marks the height of the coyote breeding season throughout the West, and they’re often very vocal in the early morning and evening hours, as well as after dark.

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FENCE-LINE FUNNELS

There are many habitats in which you can hunt western coyotes. Figuring out where to set up among all these options is challenging but essential. On a recent hunt with famed coyote guru Cory Lundberg (codahunts.com), we confirmed something I’d always believed: Fence lines often serve as travel corridors for coyotes.

We were hunting a huge ranch in the mountains of Idaho, and when we popped out of a ponderosa pine forest, we saw an expansive stretch of fenced meadows before us. I grew up trapping, but Lundberg is a far better coyote hunter, so I looked to him for direction and inquired where we should set up on the plateau.

Instead of answering, he asked me where I would set coyote traps if I were trapping here. Without hesitation, I told him I’d put one where two fences met, another at the end of one of the fences, one more on a different fence and a fourth where a gate was open. Lundberg asked why I’d set so many traps within a 200-yard area. I suggested that a coyote could come from any direction, and because they use fence lines and farm roads to travel on, you might catch multiple coyotes here in one night.

He told me that was exactly right, and then answered my original question. We were setting up to call in this area on a slightly elevated position with a hill backdrop behind us. That way, if any coyotes came out of the surrounding brush, they’d hit the fence line intersections and funnel right to us.

Lundberg set out a Bird Topper decoy and his FoxPro e-caller 15 yards in front of us and to the side. He then turned on the caller, and in less than 10 minutes, a coyote came running out of a gully, turned up the fence and sped right to the decoy. Then another ’yote appeared. Lundberg dropped the first. I missed the second.

Coyote Tracks
Scouting and searching for sign are always important when coyote hunting. This is particularly true in vast, mountainous terrain in order to avoid wasting time on unproductive areas. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

MOUNTAINOUS TERRAIN

Some of the most challenging coyote habitat I’ve hunted is where their populations are thickest on the fringes of the vast Cascades and sprawling Rockies. When evaluating where to set up in mountainous terrain, I first ensure that coyotes are even in the area so I’m not wasting time. Again, I do that through trail cameras, scouting and looking for tracks and droppings.

Wherever I set up, I want the wind in my face or moving across me, ideally, with the sun at my back. I look for an elevated position that optimizes the amount of land I’m able to see, and I also want a solid backdrop, be it a tree, stump, log or thick brush, to break up my outline. Should a coyote approach from below, I don’t want it to see my silhouette.

With the steep hills and undulating terrain, getting an elevated vantage point is easy. However, finding one where you can see all the land in front of you can sometimes be nearly impossible. Often, benches, rises and ravines limit visibility, but these are also travel corridors coyotes routinely use. These passageways are the shooting lanes where you want to focus your efforts. Coyotes stick to trails and travel routes rather than approach through tall brush, briar thickets, Scotch broom patches, salal or other dense vegetation.

When hunting big timber country this time of year, I mix up calls. Because it’s mating season, try offering howls. Not many hunters use howls in mountain country. If you hear a response, wait and watch for 10 minutes or more. If nothing happens, try a pup distress sound. Cottontail and bird distress sounds also pull curious coyotes out of the woods, even in late winter.

Coyote Gun
Close encounters can be common in thick habitat like river bottoms. In these instances, a shotgun topped with a red-dot sight and stoked with an appropriate coyote load is just the ticket. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

VALLEY FLOORS

If you have the luxury of hunting sage flats or farmland, you can often watch approaching coyotes and alter your calling based on how they’re reacting. If they come charging in, get ready. If they stop, paw the ground, urinate and lose interest, make pleading calls to get them back.

However, just because valley floors are flat, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re open. Some flatlands offer a mile or more of visibility while other clearings may be measured in yards. Given the varied terrain, some coyote hunters in these habitats may carry a shotgun and a rifle, as shot opportunities can range anywhere from 10 to 500 yards. Just be sure that regulations in your state and in the area you’re hunting allow this.

You might also consider mounting two optics on your gun for maximum flexibility. A high-powered scope serves as the main optic, and an offset single-power reflex or red-dot sight handles close encounters. AR platforms are ideal for this type of arrangement.

The most important thing I’ve found when making calling sets in flatlands is having brush behind me. These coyotes live their entire lives around humans. Farmers frequently shoot at them and hunters often call to them. As a result, these song dogs are smart and make few mistakes. You need a solid backdrop of dense brush because the second a coyote has any doubts, it’ll stop its approach.

When hunting valley floors, I like covering as much ground as possible, especially when the land is brushy. Coyotes don’t always move long distances across big openings, so the closer you can stick to brush, the better. Because of this, calling doesn’t have to be aggressive or overly loud.

Sage brush draws, brush-laden cottonwood thickets, oak groves and pine or fir timber patches are all good habitats to call into. This is especially true if you’ve spotted coyote sign or observed actual activity in these areas through scouting efforts. When running and gunning in the flats, give a spot 10 minutes before moving on. Coyotes are usually close, and most respond within the first minute or two, so don’t linger if you come up empty. Be ready when you make that first call, as things can happen fast.

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RIVER RUNS

From the Coast Range to the Rocky Mountains, river bottoms are another habitat where coyotes thrive. Many dens are found here, too, making river bottoms ideal for calling this time of year.

If the land allows, set up on a nearby hill where you can overlook the bottom that you’re hunting. Shooting lanes can stretch a couple hundred yards in meandering river and creek habitats. Willows, briar patches, tall grass and thick brush create ideal cover for coyotes in river bottoms. They do, however, often make it tough for hunters to see.

If you can’t get the elevation needed to hunt brush thickets or big stands of timber, sit trails with a shotgun. Hunting from a treestand also works great in thick river bottoms, as does hunting from a portable ground blind. Here, use subtle calls, making sounds every 5 to 10 minutes for a couple hours in the morning and evening. If coyotes don’t immediately respond, don’t give up. Instead, be prepared to hopefully catch them traveling trails.

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PLAY THE GAME

Coyote numbers continue to grow throughout the West, which means there are many places to consider for hunting. Thankfully, wherever coyotes are found, there’s always a way to hunt them. This is true even in the West’s most challenging coyote habitats. Once you know coyotes are near, craft a solid setup. Then, it’s just a matter of playing the wind and offering sounds they can’t resist.

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