By Troy Hoepker
There’s nothing like a full day of coyote calling to provide a perfect example of all the multiple ways you can have success, or failure, in trying to take Iowa’s most elusive predator! Last year my calling partner Mark Johnston and I had just such a day. After the day was over we had taken three coyotes on about seven calling attempts. A decent day as coyote calling standards go for Iowa, but it was the way in which we took all three of those coyotes that stood out to me after the day was done. We didn’t remain vanilla, boring or unimaginative with the coyotes we were after. Instead, we attacked them, got aggressive and stayed on the offensive with all three coyotes that ended up finding a cold ride in the back of the truck at day’s end. Here’s how we did it.
After the first cold stand at daybreak went for nothing, we took the long way around to drive to our next location. It was past mid-winter and with a nice skiff of snow freshly beautifying the Iowa countryside, we hoped to spot a coyote up on its feet in the early morning hours. At that time of year after a snow, that’s a tactic I like to employ to find a vulnerable coyote that might be callable. I’m lucky that with the help of many gracious landowners, I have the ability to cover thousands of acres and go on the hunt by having standing permission if I spot something I want to pursue. We hadn’t gone 5 miles when just as we turned the corner of a gravel road, there stood two coyotes right out in the wide open only a couple of hundred yards off the road. They had wanted to cross but our drive by interrupted their plans. I didn’t stop completely but slowed and they turned back, headed towards the safety of a wooded draw a half-mile to the northeast.
I kept the pickup rolling east down the road so that they would just continue on to that spot. After we went over a couple of hills, we turned into the field entrance of a property I had permission on and across the fence to the farm where we had spotted the coyotes. The plan was to quickly move one half mile to the north and get set up ahead of or off to the east of where those coyotes were headed to. A couple nice hills between their route and us provided cover and we settled into a nice little bottom where we hoped to call them to.
Usually when we do this if we’ve successfully remained undetected, it doesn’t take long for them to come. In this case however, I blew three of four series on my trusty mouth call and still there were no customers? Eleven minutes into the calling, I had that weird feeling that something was watching me, a feeling that’s happened to me plenty of times over the years. I turned my head slowly and behind me on my right, sure enough, there stood a big coyote not 40 yards away staring a hole right through us! I whispered to Mark, “Behind us!”
Somehow, a coyote had gotten around behind us and the only thing to try was to aggressively swing the gun and bipod around on him to try for the shot. “Here goes nothing,” I thought as I tried the maneuver. As I swung, the coyote began to move, but Mark swung on him as well just seconds after me making the coyote do a double take and slow, giving me the extra half-second needed to make the shot. The coyote dropped right there and proved to be a 42 pound male. The biggest I’d taken in some time. No partner ever showed itself and the odd thing to us was that this coyote seemed a bit browner than possibly the two we had saw earlier. Whether this was one of the same two coyotes, we weren’t sure, but aggressively heading into the section to outmaneuver those coyotes had resulted in success.
The next spot we went to has been a great spot for us over the years. There’s usually a coyote or a bobcat nearby and this time proved to be no different. This time Mark did the calling and we sat high on a hill at a division between the tall switch grass and shorter mowed hay where a couple of lines of timber lead to our position. Mark has a special sound sequence that he’s put together on his e-caller using some sound editing software to combine a variety of sounds into one thirty minute series that has worked numerous times for us over the years. He began the series and about halfway through, there’s a nice variation he’s put together that gets very excited and features some crow confidence sounds along with distressed rabbit sounds that to your ears, just invites you to want to know what’s going on at the scene of such aggression. I’m sure a coyote can’t resist as well, especially given the buildup Mark recreates beforehand.
As if on a string, a coyote came hooked right in towards the caller. Mark even had a little trouble getting him stopped for the shot he wanted since the coyote was so convinced he was going to find an easy meal. I heard Mark’s gun sound off! He had taken the air out of a 31-pound male with a nice coat! That aggressive sequence proved to be the ticket on yet another unsuspecting coyote.
After a few dry stands, we went into our last place of the day before dark. As we were still getting set up a coyote lit up the air with a loud howl to our west which in turn, triggered a coyote to the south of us to sound off in song of her own. We had two customers to work with in fairly close proximity. We immediately sat down without setting up the caller and went to work. In late January, in a situation like that, it called for some aggressive howling to light the match under these coyotes, or so I thought.
The coyote to the west sounded as if he had issued a domain howl of some sort and so I thought a challenge howl or three would drive him crazy enough to come charging in. Maybe a bit antagonistic on my part but when a coyote issues a low-pitched powerful howl that sounds a bit like it’s coming out of a barrel, then it sometimes means that those are a “my territory” type of howl that can used that time of year to keep other coyotes at a distance but also to entice any females in the area to come to him. The second howler from the south returned the howl in a high pitched “friendlier” type of communication. My challenges hoped to bring one or both on the charge.
A few minutes went by and nothing showed itself in front of our position facing an open pasture squared up by timber on two sides. Mark began playing some pup distress on his caller to try and get attention off of me in case coyotes would show at any minute and to add to the intensity of the scene. I had already been made and I didn’t know it. Not sure what I was looking at, I slowly raised my binoculars to confirm a coyote looking right at me, half its body behind a tree and his head and shoulders looking around the tree at me. Figuring I’d never be able to move the gun on him, I thought I might as well take his picture. I raised the camera and he let me snap a cool photo. So now I figured I might as well try swinging my rig to the left on him. I did that too and the coyote just stood there defiantly looking at me, possibly looking for a fight, so convinced by the sounds he had heard earlier? With my body twisted extremely to the left I took the shot and to my surprise the coyote took off running. Just as I squeezed off a second shot Mark did what a great partner does. He anchored that coyote right there. The aggressive howling worked perfectly and by not being too subtle we had induced the reaction of one of those coyotes to get to us while there was still enough light to see them. The other one never showed itself after the shot, but likely had been coming as well. As we stood talking over our killed coyote, almost in total darkness, the second coyote chastised us repeatedly with barks and short howls from a short distance away in the timber showing his displeasure of our being there.
In each of those successful hunts throughout the day, there was an aspect of aggressiveness in the way we called or approached the coyotes that we were after and it was the key factor in our success in each case. Sometimes it’s easy to become complacent or get caught up in the same old groove when calling coyotes. I encourage anyone to experiment and to think outside of the box to better your odds. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you learn from each experience.
Relying on your own instincts is a big part of it and along with that, experience plays a factor. Just as with those howling coyotes, instinct and experience from previous hunts directed me as to how to call to them. Or when putting the sneak on a coyote, experience and gut instinct tell you what you can get away with and what you can’t.
There’s also a time to be aggressive and a time not to be. A lot of times less is more with coyotes too. In the fall for example, a few simple short series of calling combined with a lot of patience in a good area is all it takes. Same goes with the breeding season of winter months. A few calls are sometimes all it takes if you offer up the right combination of howls to a nearby set of ears.
How do you know when to try aggressive tactics? The answer to that comes from the scenario that is being played out. If you have a vocal coyote, try and determine his demeanor. Is he being bold with his howls? If he is, then maybe it’s a fine time to attack him with challenges, or a domain howl of your own to make him upset that you are in his territory. Are coyotes vocal but not moving toward your calling efforts? If so, maybe it’s time to study the terrain around you and if you’re able to move without being discovered, reposition yourself from a new vantage point and call towards them. Sometimes it’s just a change in location that will get them moving to a spot where you can shoot them. This is especially a good nighttime calling tactic.
Is there a coyote that is staying just out of range for some reason? If so, ask yourself why first of all. The answer usually lies in one of three things. Available cover for that coyote to use for an approach to you; the sounds you previously sent his way or the wind. If it’s a cover problem, wait and back out. Then reattack him an hour or more later with different sounds from a location that will make him feel more comfortable to come to the call. If he’s heard the wrong sound, it may be because he’s a subordinate coyote that just won’t approach any closer if he’s heard what he believes is an alpha howling. Now turn the calling into a submissive type of calling. Whimpers and invitation howling are best to make him feel at ease. If you believe wind direction is the problem, then work on your setups. Always remember that you’ve got to give the coyote the feeling that it can use the wind and get downwind of your location. You want him to have enough cover that he commits to coming to your call but can’t quite make it downwind of you completely without exposing himself to you right before he get’s downwind. It’s an ambush point and the cover he uses on the way to it is enough to give him the false sense of security to commit to coming to you.
When you sit down to make a calling stand using distress sounds try some stands with aggressive, more continuous calling and some stands with just a few sounds and more long pauses in between. See what works, but make those sounds you use count. When you’re done calling with a mouth call you should feel like you’ve poured your heart and soul into it. Actually picture in your mind a rabbit being attacked and tormented by bites from a predator as you call. Make every series feel like it drips blood and oozes anguish. Include high-pitched squeals with raspy excited screams all together. Reach out and grab a coyote’s ears! With an e-caller, pick those excited sounds where you can really hear the desperation in the squalling and use them. Add into the mix crows or owls. Make the scene where you feel like there’s a desperate fight for life going on.
If you spot a coyote from the road out in one of those Iowa sections, stop and think how you can get in on the coyote without the coyote winding you, seeing you or hearing you. Don’t try to call a coyote back to where it’s already been and don’t worry about getting too close to it. Instead, flank them or get ahead of them using the terrain to hide your movements. Never try to see it again. Just try to get to an area where you can bring him to you. Trust that it can hear you when you begin calling. You’d be surprised how little you need to make it work sometimes. But don’t be afraid to get a little risky.
During breeding season, turn to more aggressive tactics like using challenge howls, deep and threatening domain howls or pup distress howling. A coyote is more likely to defend its territory during this time and hitting them with territorial triggers can work well.
If you’ve been experiencing a lack of coyotes coming to the call, mix things up and go on the attack. Just like in sports, sometimes you have to go on a strong, bold offensive to take what you want!