March 08, 2021
The topic of calling coyotes during the breeding season is heavily debated among veteran predator hunters. Like many other animals, a coyote's period to breed is short. This brief window creates high anticipation for coyotes, as well as hunters looking to take advantage of what some refer to as the coyote rut.
I've overheard veteran hunters express two main schools of thought on calling during this time of peak activity. One is that, even though it is the breeding season, distress sound tactics should still carry the day. A coyote still must eat, especially when temps are low and they need more food, and particularly females that are preparing to carry their young. During this time, coyotes are burning energy while trying to find a mate and when breeding, thus supporting the argument that calls representing a potential meal excel.
On the other end of the discussion are those that change their tactics to focus on what's occurring in the coyote's world. Rather than food sources, they focus on breeding and place greater emphasis on coyote vocals.
Two facts that both sides agree on is that coyotes are one of the most territorial animals on the planet, and there is a distinct behavior change caused by the breeding season.
I recently sat down with two predator hunting pros who both rely on coyote vocals to trigger breeding and territorial instincts, including food, when calling. Both agree they get faster responses, and more of them, when adding vocalizations to their calling sequence.
Steve Criner, host of Dog Soldier TV, is a veteran predator hunter and world champion coyote caller. Needless to say, he knows how to call in coyotes using vocals. Criner says that while his overall tactics don't change significantly when hunting late-winter coyotes, he does like adding vocals to his calling regimen.
"I always use howls during the breeding season," Criner says. "I tend to draw them out, though, making long, subtle howls. Then I follow them up with a few whimpers."
He implements these vocals as an answer to what he refers to as "the February lull," when responses from coyotes to food-source or distress sounds exclusively are delayed. By adding soft, subtle howls followed by a few whimpers, he can often trigger the territorial instincts of coyotes that might hold up or not respond to distress calls alone. The thought of a competitor entering their area simply draws them into action.
FoxPro pro staffer John Embry, of central Missouri, also knows coyote vocalizations and their effect on calling coyotes. He has more than 30 years of experience calling and hunting coyotes, and his favorite technique is decoy dogging, which involves using a trained dog to draw in coyotes. Like Criner, Embry uses vocals year-round but says he adds more emotion during the breeding season.
”I use a lone howl for the first 5 to 8 minutes when I begin calling," Embry says. "On many occasions I get a response during that time before I make any other sounds."
He then switches to submissive sounds or breeding sounds, such as yips and whines, like those made by a pair of mating coyotes. When adding breeding sounds, Embry believes he gets responses from lone males who haven't found a mate yet or male-and-female doubles that have already paired up and think another pair of coyotes has slipped into the area.
Calling predators has gained tremendous popularity over the past decade. This is excellent for the sport of hunting, but it can create challenges for the hunter.
"Calling predators once was something hunters did after deer season because there was nothing else to hunt," Embry says. "Now, it seems there are many hunters like me who like to decoy-dog coyotes during the summer and call them during the fall and winter."
Because of this boom in popularity, coyotes often get fewer breaks from hunting pressure, which can make them somewhat call-shy. Embry says he has used hand and diaphragm calls in the past, but the large selection of vocals and the quality of sounds available at the push of a button with electronic calls have made them his go-to choices. He uses realistic sounds from his FoxPro X2S to keep on-edge coyotes comfortable enough to come within shooting range.
Criner also leans on electronic calls for his vocals during the breeding season. However, he combines his electronic call with his hand call howler or his diaphragm call. He loves using an open reed-style call to begin his calling sequences.
"I use my Blood Red Moon Howler to create long drawn-out howls, and then to do the yip, yip, yip sounds of the coyote whimper by sliding my mouth to the end of the reed of the call," Criner says.
Used in conjunction with an electronic call, the open-reed howler also allows him to create a realistic scenario that might take place during the breeding season.
"I place the electronic call a little farther away from me [about 50 to 60 yards away] then answer myself once I've completed my vocals on the Blood Red Moon Howler," Criner says.
With these two calls, Criner can either sound like multiple coyotes challenging each other for territory or a pair of coyotes seeking out one another for breeding. Either way, coyotes often respond because of the presence of another coyote, even if they might appear to be call shy when using familiar distress sounds. In any case, to get the most out of coyote vocals, you need calls capable of producing realistic sounds that trigger a response from coyotes.
The right sounds are important, but so too is being in the right spot. You want to call from a quality stand, preferably in an area with lots of coyotes.
"I try to make quality stands where I know there are coyotes," Criner says. "I try to hunt in open areas, where I can see a long way because coyotes will work the wind; they will figure out things before they get to you."
To ensure you're choosing a good site, Embry suggests scouting areas on foot and howling to confirm the presence of coyotes. If done ahead of time, this helps assure better stands throughout the season.
Keeping pressure in mind is also important when choosing stands.
"I've had hunters tell me, ‘I know there are coyotes where I'm hunting, but I'm not having any luck calling them in,'" Embry says. "After talking to them, I usually find out that they are hunting the same places every weekend, thus putting too much pressure in the area."
He likens hunting coyotes to hunting a mature buck. If you hunt the same stand over and over, they are going to feel pressured and leave. Once you've identified several locations with coyotes, rotate through them over the course of the season. This will help hold coyotes in your area and make for more successful hunts.
The bottom line is, through March, coyotes have more on their mind than simply figuring out their next meal. They are anxious to find a mate, and they are aggravated, annoyed and curious because other coyotes are doing the same. When a coyote is actively responding to a certain sound—whether it's food or vocalizations—hunters should take advantage of the opportunity and speak their language to help seal the deal.
Two calls to tempt songdogs
The FoxPro X2S is a compact and powerful unit with a positional, high-definition speaker. The horn-style speaker has an added tweeter for improved frequency response, and the system allows for extreme volume and realistic sound clarity. The X2S features Bluetooth compatibility, so the user can connect wirelessly to devices and use their own personal sound library. With 100 pre-loaded sounds and the ability to store up to 1,000, this electronic call is a potent predator tool. It also comes with the popular TX1000 remote that includes FoxPro's pre-loaded sounds, as well as barometer, moon phase, temperature, timer, clock and battery level displays. ($579.95; gofoxpro.com)
Part of the Dog Soldier Legend Series designed by world champion caller Steve Criner, the Blood Red Moon Open Reed Howler is an incredibly user-friendly open-reed-style howler. The call produces authentic howls, barks and many other coyote vocals perfect for breeding season. Each howler is designed and hand-tuned by Criner himself and is guaranteed to produce authentic sounds. ($44.99; coyotecalls.com)