I can still vividly recall the first coyotes I ever called. They appeared as a pair, charging hard across a huge expanse of open snow. I was lying in the middle of a field of winter wheat just behind the crest of a terrace, with no camo, no concealment and a borrowed rifle that hadn’t been sighted in for at least as long as I’d been alive. It was a formula for unmitigated, abject failure.
By Lance Homman
At somewhere this side of a half-mile, I began to get the shakes. I’d heard that this coyote calling worked, but nobody said anything about fending off hungry hordes, and I only had one gun. So, when the lead dog of the deuce was just inside the 300-yard mark, I took my not-so-well aimed shot and, of course, I missed. In fact, I missed by so far that I’m not sure the shot would even qualify as a miss, but rather, a case of shooting in the general vicinity of what might be considered a target. The proverbial shot across their bow.
I was 13 and alone, at a time when Johnny Law wasn’t so serious in small-town America about rural kids taking off in Dad’s pickup to go out, kill something and drag it home. In the 34 years since that day, I’ve amassed a wealth of information, mostly from repeatedly trying and falling flat on my face. And in that time, I’ve come to understand that there are two categories of information that are invaluable to the up-and-coming coyote caller: things you should do and things you shouldn’t.
Having been a writer about calling coyotes and other predators since late in the last century, I’ve done like all my brethren in the trade, offering up countless pearls of wisdom about what you should do as far as camouflaging yourself, whether to use a hand call or an e-caller, why the wind is the enemy and your friend, and a host of other tactical offerings. I do this in hopes that I can help make you — our readers — better at calling and killing coyotes. In working with rookie hunters, and in evaluating their approach to calling and how what they’re doing affects their success, or lack of, I’ve come upon an epiphany of sorts. Somebody needs to point out some of the mistakes you’re making by doing things you shouldn’t be doing.
Despite all the new technological developments being offered today, it’s incumbent upon you to come into the relationship between you and the calling industry with a working knowledge of the role you play in your own success, as well as to understand the similarities and differences between calling coyotes and hunting anything else. Calling predators successfully and consistently takes more than a working knowledge of hunting deer or waterfowl. Different critters, different approaches.
Since the beginning is as good a place to start as any, let’s talk about the first thing you don’t want to do: you don’t want to wait until January to begin calling.
Most people I know fell into calling coyotes for no more reason than the simple fact that all the other seasons were closed and they still wanted something to hunt. How about coyotes? They go out, spend some money on a few hand calls or an e-caller and, as often as not, they strike pay dirt on the first time out. Thinking this is as easy as the videos make it out to be, they get cocky. A week or six later, still having only called that one coyote, their confidence begins to falter. Frustrated at coyotes barking at them from over yonder but not coming in, they soon tire of trying and throw in the towel.
In truth, if you’re serious about learning to call coyotes, you need to start at the beginning of the fur season, in October or November. Waiting to begin calling in January is like skipping class all semester, and then showing up for the final exam, thinking you’re going to ace it and slide home. Not going to happen.
By mid-October, young of the year coyotes (70 percent of the total population) are being dispersed and, for the first time, find themselves responsible for finding their own groceries. Like you, they don’t know what they’re doing, thus you make good adversaries for one another. You’ll both make mistakes, and you’re both much more forgiving than the old dogs will be a couple of months from now.
As the season progresses, you and they will grow and learn. Your skills and knowledge will improve as you make mistakes and learn from one another.
At the same time, calling coyotes is a numbers game. To put up big numbers of coyotes, you have to be out there beating the brush, and that takes time you don’t have by waiting until the end of the season to begin.
It’s Not the Same
The second thing many people do that they shouldn’t is come into calling thinking that it’s no different than hunting deer or other big game.
The best deer hunters, like the best coyote hunters, share one common characteristic — knowledge of their prey. As a newcomer to this game, it’s understandable that your working knowledge of coyotes is limited. You need to get educated, and it’s not as difficult as you might think.
Through the years, I’ve been blessed to have become friends with some of the icons of the calling community. In coming to know them, I realized that these guys shared an intense interest in coyotes, their behavior and how they interact with and react to the world around them. While hunting with these men, I could pose just about any question about setups or calling sounds and, without exception, they would draw upon the experiences they’d had through the years and the information they’d acquired from other wolfers to give me an answer that, more times than not, turned out to be highly accurate in a real-life application.
How do they do this?
First, they seek out and read as much as they can about coyotes — coyote behavior, sociology, physiology, ecology and a host of other disciplines, much of which can be found on the web. Old literature and journal entries, as well as a number of books by former government hunters and trappers, are a treasure trove of information.
Second, they constantly compare this newfound information with their experiences. They rely upon this knowledge to evaluate their successes and failures, objectively assessing what worked, or didn’t work, and why. They recognize that hunting coyotes is a lifelong learning process with no absolutes and embrace their failures as opportunities to get better at what they do.
Fact is, while most guys try to master coyote calling by focusing on their calling skills, the veteran caller knows that the secret to successful calling is knowing as much as you can about the coyote and how to apply that knowledge to hunting situations through proper calling techniques.
Understand that a deer is not a coyote. One is predator, one is prey. One uses its senses primarily to detect danger as a means of surviving, while the other uses its senses to seek and destroy. Having vastly different motivations, the means of hunting each differs greatly from the other and goes well beyond simply knowing where to hunt and when. You need to know how. And, that brings us to No. 3.
Don’t Underestimate Coyotes
Never underestimate the coyote’s abilities. And, at the same time, never overestimate the coyote’s powers. It’s just a coyote, not a god.
Coyotes are adapted to survive unlike any other animal. Not only do coyotes see better, hear better and smell better than you or I, they do so differently. The benefits of this are clear in their sheer ability to survive everything we throw at them, and then some.
A coyote’s eyes are structurally different than ours. They don’t see the range of colors we see, and recent scientific work indicates that beyond a certain distance, they’re relatively near-sighted. But, this doesn’t mean that what they see at a distance is blurry and out of focus, as it would be for you or me. In fact, although unable to differentiate fine details at a long distance, the coyote’s eyes are very adept at detecting movement. Whether it’s an inadvertent turn of the head, being overzealous in working a hand call or repositioning your bottom for a better angle at the shot, a coyote can and will see you from insane distances. Sit still.
Likewise with a coyote’s hearing.
Like most canines, coyotes can hear sounds higher and lower in frequency than what you and I can hear. With ears canted forward and on high alert, the shifting of your shooting sticks in dry leaves or the audible “click” of a safety being disengaged might be all the coyote needs to pinpoint your location. Remember, this is an animal that possesses the freakishly uncanny ability to pinpoint the source of a sound to within less than a couple of feet from as far away as a half-mile on the first approach. Again, sit still.
And, finally, their sense of smell. If any one feature makes the coyote god-like, it has to be their sense of smell. They know they have it, and they intuitively exploit it to their full benefit by circling wide for a hint of odor to give away their quarry’s name.
In the coyote’s nose, air comes in one part and is expelled out another, allowing scent particles to accumulate sufficiently enough to be read in parts per trillion. Regardless of how you feel about cover scents and the like, the best way to deal with the coyote’s nose is not to. Set yourself up with respect to the wind so that your body odor does not get to the coyote, where it’s bedded or along the route between there and getting to you.
And that gets us to our fourth and final no-no.
Don’t Overestimate Them, Either
Don’t give the coyote too much credit. After all, it’s just a coyote, and coyotes are creatures of habit.
With some effort and a little leg work on the web and in calling magazines like Trapper & Predator Caller, you can find and study a wealth of information about how the coyote’s mind works. Learn how they live from one time of the year to the next. Learn their needs and how those needs change from season to season. Relatively speaking, what you learn will be applicable to the coyotes you hunt when considered within the context of the places you’re calling. Always bear in mind that coyotes are products of their environment.
For instance, open-range coyotes react differently to calling and approach than their hardwoods cousins, simply because they were born and raised in a place where standing cover simply isn’t available. Whereas an open-country coyote will circle a sound source at a great distance and attempt its approach from far downwind, the farmland or woodland coyote will often get closer before exploiting the trees and other cover for concealment as it makes its way to the downwind side. The experienced caller knows this fact, and why and how they do this, and sets himself up accordingly by using a sniper to the downwind side to intercept, or by using an e-caller.
Knowing the social structure of the coyote helps you to understand the categories of coyotes, from packs to transients, alphas to betas to puppies, and how each are handled when calling and working coyotes.
Moreover, this is the type of knowledge that helps you to understand what sounds to use, when to use them and why. Better yet, it allows you to know when not to use them and why.
Applying the Rules
How do I apply these pearls of wisdom? A recent morning hunt was a perfect example.
We were approaching one of our honey holes, which, for reasons unknown, hadn’t been producing as it had in the past. We decided to get serious.
I would set up on the southern side of a large meadow bordering a creek where we believed the coyotes were staying. A slight breeze blew across me to the northwest, angling well away from the trees. My gunner deployed downwind to the northwest and concealed himself along the cover’s edge, 150 yards from the caller. Experience and my understanding of coyotes has taught me that they will try to get downwind of the caller and use the edge to do so.
The first coyote stepped from the trees, circled toward my sniper and died the length of a football field from where he sat.
Knowing that this area has regularly held family groups and that the pups, although dispersed, were still hanging together, I switched to a coyote distress, which quickly brought the dead coyote’s sibling on the run. At 150 yards, No. 2 went down just as unceremoniously as the first. And the ki-yi’s continued.
Moments later, a third and final coyote appeared running for home, certain that it didn’t want any part of what the other two had found.
Experience has taught me that first, coyotes will use the wind. Exploit that fact in your setup. Don’t let it work to their advantage.
Second, coyotes are sociable and respond readily to other coyotes in distress.
And third, litters don’t disband until the weather gets much more harsh where I hunt. Therefore, always play to the next set of ears as yet unseen. That’s how doubles are made.
Improve Your Numbers
This is just the beginning of what you can learn about calling coyotes, because there is a lot of great information about what you should and should not do when calling coyotes. Unfortunately, many of us don’t take the time to consider the bad habits we have or actions we take that adversely impact our hunting.
Take a good hard look at every failed stand, identify any pitfalls, evaluate your own methods and determine ways to avoid any hunt-killing errors. With some luck, some effort and some attention to details, you’ll see your numbers improve in no time.
Lance Homman of central Kansas is a Trapper & Predator Caller field editor.