When you’re pursuing predators for fun or as part of your deer management plan, be sure to do your scouting and preparation homework prior to the hunt for better chances at success. These weekly tactics, ideas and suggestions from Trapper & Predator Caller can help with your predator problems on private or leased lands.
By Mark Kayser
What grabs your attention more, a request for help or a screaming plea?
That’s an easy one, but think about it in terms of coyotes and other predators. Their world is full of sounds, some are run-of-the-mill and occasionally they hear the screaming plea.
It’s the plea, the shrill sound of excitement, that grabs their attention. Include a plea, or even better, an unmistakable atmosphere of excitement in every setup, and you’ll pique the interest of more coyotes in your neighborhood.
Predator calling was based on the pleading call of a distressed rabbit, but with today’s array of calls, oftentimes the plea can be overlooked. Many hunters toss out a natural sound that might simply be ignored because it doesn’t have a frantic nature. Some distress calls ignore that tempo. And if you vocalize to coyotes, particularly in heavily populated areas, the howl might be as humdrum as another press conference by the president.
You can go from humdrum to hair-raising by incorporating some of the following tactics into your predator pursuits.
Pick up the tempo
Using a handheld caller allowed you to be in control of the message you sent out on the winds for a predator to hear. You could blow on it lightly or in full force depending on how far you wanted the sound to carry. You could change the plea to a slight ask for help or as distressful as a full-out call for the Marines.
Today’s electronic callers do the same, but with the large library of calls found on e-callers, users sometimes forget to get the message right. Have you ever listened to the literally hundreds of sounds available to the calling public housed on these digital wonders? Many are simply vocalizations of common animal sounds. Sure they might catch the attention of a hungry predator, but without the element of excitement added to the outgoing message, it wouldn’t take much for a coyote to turn its attention in the opposite direction.
Common on most calling libraries are the meows of a standard house cat, the chatter of a blue jay and the bleat of a fawn. I have several lethargic house cats freeloading on me and taking up barn space without paying rent. They meow from time to time, but they really meow when they are in danger. A few of the callers of today have missed the target when imitating a cat in distress.
I haven’t found cat distress calls to be the ticket in my zip code, but in my opinion, fawn distress calls shine. Unfortunately many also fall into the less-than-stellar category for award-winning performances. It’s a shame too.
Some of my best coyote setups include fawn-in-distress calls with bawls that would make any mother deer come running to the screams. How do I know how frantic a fawn can scream? I’ve run across fawns and deer hung up in barbed wire fences several times. I actually was able to free one so it could browse another day, but most were simply coyote meals in waiting.
In every case though, the bawls of the fawns increased to decibel levels that carried multiple times farther than any electronic caller I’ve heard, plus the cries were more hysterical than shoppers at a Target store on Black Friday.
Today when I want fawn frenzy, I mimic the sounds I’ve heard in the past from those injured deer wailing a tone of terror. On a particularly nasty winter a couple seasons back, the coyotes were targeting deer herds struggling to travel in the deep snow. Hoping to cash in on the deer dining extravaganza, I incorporated screaming fawns together with my coyote vocalizations. It worked five times in a row with my best reward coming in the form of seven coyotes bounding through the snow to my calls. Two landed in the back of my pickup after some help from my Hornady ammunition.
Confident calls and decoys help coyotes build confidence when they decide whether to commit to a calling setup.
Calls and decoys provide the counseling to make a coyote commit. Confident calls can be casual as well with sounds that simply melt into the natural background and sound a signal of “All’s well.” There’s nothing wrong with that message, and I oftentimes go that route if I believe I’m dealing with pressured coyotes or those that have had their share of unfriendly human relationships.
More often than not, my confident call signals excitement. That’s what I want to convey. What brings confidence to a coyote? One of the most confident messages you can send to a coyote is a simple howl. Stay tuned. That will be covered in the next section. Most of my confident calls include the sound of scavenging birds and forest tattletales.
How many times have you been on a stand and had crows show up? If you haven’t, you need to really consider calling in a new location. Crows can be found coast to coast and follow coyotes via visual and audio clues to clean up after a successful kill. Now think about spending time in the field. If you listen carefully, you’ll recall crows cawing off and on in the background. If you really listen, you’ll occasionally capture the din of crows in a feeding frenzy as they compete for a piece of the pie.
That’s the excitement you want to create when sending a message of confidence to coyotes. Not only will the coyotes calm down hearing crows in the neighborhood, but they can distinguish between simple crow chatter and crows vying for space at the table.
Magpies are another feathered helper ready to convey a mood of confidence. They are found in the West and are true trailers of the coyote. Magpies show up on nearly every one of my setups, whether invited or not, and more than once, I’ve watched them fly long distances literally hovering over incoming coyotes.
Blue jays fill East Coast forests and Midwestern woodlots, and provide another audible cue to incoming coyotes. Known for mobbing predators, especially birds of prey, a flock of blue jays can bring the woods alive when warning woodland friends of a predator’s presence. Increase the tempo and intensity of these and other confident calls and you might just increase the boldness of an incoming coyote.
Occasionally, I’ll take crow decoys and post them around my position, a tip I picked up years ago from world champion coyote caller Al Morris. Instead of letting the decoys do all the work, I’ll bring crow calls into the mix after the initial series of distress calls. Of course, my crows sound like someone left a T-bone steak on the ground with a tug-of-war in progress.
One of my favorite memories using this ruse was of a coyote coming from nearly a mile across a large prairie basin with a focus on the decoy I perched adjacent to me on a decrepit, weathered fence post. The coyote’s eyes were glued on the crow and it walked to within 50 yards before I turned my Thompson/Center loose to end the showdown.
It’s a dog fight
Lastly, build confidence in coyotes using their language because it’s easy, and all you have to do at any setup is broadcast a series of howls.
Even though many predator hunters use howls, coyotes still fall for the scam because it’s their basis for communication. Coyotes howl in varying degrees of excitement, but you can add a rush of coyote competition and energy with additional coyote vocalizations.
Today, I rarely call coyotes without a little help from a dog fight, meaning I usually include fighting coyote sounds into my setup. Although nobody has fully cracked the language of coyotes yet, it’s safe to say that when coyotes growl, bark, yip and scream, it draws the attention of other coyotes. In my opinion, it brings coyotes to the location for basic territorial curiosity and to see who’s enthusiastically lunching at the neighborhood diner.
These fighting sounds are now standard on most callers, including the new Executioner from Johnny Stewart. Another sound that brings coyotes out of hiding is the estrus whimper call, also found on digital callers and available in a handheld version by Johnny Stewart. This call imitates the submissive whimper and yips of a female coming into heat. With a little practice, you can make it sound like a coyote hot for a good time.
Last winter, I hiked into a remote public parcel and set up in the dark only to be depressed by a spooked coyote barking at my location. The coyote eventually shut up and went its way while I waited quietly for the basin to forget about the fracas. My usual calls did little good and about 30 minutes into the setup, I decided it was either time to pull up tent stakes or try something new.
Not one to give up easily, I hit the canine fighting calls on my digital caller and minutes later, a pair of coyotes boiled off the rim of the basin headed my way. Since they were on a collision course, I stayed my decoy dog Sage and she watched as the bolder of the duo trotted to within 100 yards eyeing my dog the whole way.
I ended the standoff using the circular reticle of my Nikon Coyote Special riflescope, and swung to pick up a double. Rats! The second coyote used a small drainage as an escape tunnel, but one furry prize after 45 minutes worth of setup time was well worth the long hike in and out of the Wyoming rough country.
Mark Kayser, a veteran outdoor writer and photographer, calls the rough country of Wyoming home.
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