Cold Calling New Coyote Properties
By Troy Hoepker
It doesn’t matter whether it’s deer hunting, pheasant hunting or coyote hunting, each time we gain permission on a new spot we as hunters see visions of limitless birds, huge bucks or dozens of coyotes emerging before our eyes like some fantasy from our dreams that we’ve just discovered the ultimate hunting paradise. It doesn’t usually work that way, but it feels good to dream and the overzealous, hysterical urge to hunt a new promising looking property overwhelms our every thought. Coyotes are everywhere in Iowa, but some farms just shout out the word “Coyote” at the very glance at them. As a coyote caller, fulfilling the dream of consistent success on the new property often takes some forethought and scouting ahead of time. You’ve got to do everything right to get the results you’re dreaming of.
There’s been plenty of frigid times during an Iowa winter when I’ve literally been cold calling but the term “cold calling” actually refers to attempting to call a coyote at a place where you’ve never tried it before and may be a little unfamiliar with the landscape as well as the local coyote population. There’s more to it than just taking a seat and blaring sounds. To begin with I look at the area as a whole, not just the property I have permission for.
Take a good look at the bordering sections surrounding your new found coyote Mecca. You’re trying to discern where a coyote spends a majority of its time. I look for the places where coyotes likely bed during the day and hunt during the night along with the travel corridors that can lead a coyote from a comfortable spot to a more vulnerable one. I’ll pay special attention to any areas within the center of a section that harbors good cover. Coyotes may bed down anywhere. On many occasions I’ve even witnessed them sunning themselves in the middle of a gravel road but in general, if there is good concealment dead center in the middle of the section, then the odds are better that coyotes will be there far away from disturbance or human interaction. Within any one section in Iowa you may have several changes of landscape. In a typical 640-acre section, you might have four or five different landowners all making different uses of the land. One parcel may be enrolled in CRP, one may be in pasture, and two or three more might be beans, corn or hay.
Look at all the different types of habitat and then take into consideration the roll of the landscape, the ditches, wooded draws or waterways and add them to the mix and you can begin to develop a plan of attack for how to set up. The more acres you have permission on the better, but when only having access to a portion of the section you have to then figure out the role the property you can hunt plays in a coyote’s daily life within that larger habitat as a whole. Is it a spot where they likely bed more or a spot where they might likely hunt more?
Determining what role your spot plays for a coyote helps you do several things to formulate a game plan. First off it helps determine whether the ground you can hunt might be better suited for calling during the day or during the night. Usually the available amount of cover determines this. If you’re calling open ground such as pasture, or row crop stubble then it might be better to target your attempts to predawn, twilight or nighttime hours. That is unless it borders a dramatic change in habitat or has a pocket or two of heavier cover on the property you can call. If heavy timber or high grasses lay right on the other side of the fence or lead to the same type of cover on the neighbor then it’s always possible to pull a coyote out along the cover during anytime of day.
The breaks in habitat are good places for coyotes to travel but we’ve got to be careful when using them as ambush points. I’ve always said that one of the best things about calling coyotes is that you don’t have to have permission on the best coyote ground. You just need to have permission on the neighbor. That saying is true but you can’t be reckless when shooting a rifle or any firearm in a direction where you’re uncertain of who or what might be in the background. So while attempting to pull coyotes to you from neighboring properties it’s important to choose ambush spots that won’t tempt you into shooting towards a neighboring property but still give a coyote a comfortable feeling while traveling.
One of best tools for scouting a new place to hunt is right at your fingertips with aerial maps on the computer. Seeing the property from above identifies all the areas of cover and travel corridors within a section. It’s a great tool for beginning the process but it isn’t the end all, be all for your plan. You’ve still got to get eyes on the landscape to figure out where you’ll set up and how you’ll get there. Some areas where you’d like to set up may look great from a topographical view but lose their luster when you see them in person. Print out a map or aerial view and then go drive to the property to compare the two and make notes. At this point you can let your boots hit the ground. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t go for a walk throughout the property before you ever hunt it.
Grab a four-wheeler or take a hike and look for tracks, scat, or urine markings in the snow. Sometimes you’ll uncover some great knowledge about the way a property works for coyotes. When you find tracks make note of where they lead and where they are headed as well as their freshness in the right circumstances. On some farms you’ll discover gold nuggets of information such as a highway of countless tracks easily letting you determine where coyotes are likely bedding and hunting. Manmade water crossings, gateways between fields, low spots under a fence, creeks with fresh moving water, field edges and the end points or tips of waterways all make great places to narrow your search for coyote sign.
I also keep in the back of my mind possible points of territorial boundaries. Boundaries play a role in a coyote’s willingness to come to the call and sometimes having a working hypothesis on where those boundaries are can help with success. Pay close attention to where you see scat. Slow down and look for more scat in the same area. Multiple piles may mean multiple coyotes marking their territory. The same can be said of urine markings in the snow. My experiences in the past have pointed towards fences, creeks and roads as being good locations to find a rough estimate of a territorial boundary. Even an open ridgeline with something as simple as a well worn cattle path can serve as a rough boundary. Sometimes identifying a boundary can take a lot of experience at that particular location but if you think you’ve identified a possible break in territories, then I usually like to get away from that spot several hundred yards before calling. Coyotes may be hesitant to come near there unless it’s a more territorial defending time of year such as late January, February or even March. It’s not that they won’t come at any time of year, but the percentages might not be as high.
If you want to take your scouting a step further, head out in the evening as the sun goes down and listen for the local coyote population to sound off in chorus. When you can hear them serenade right as it’s getting dark or just as it’s getting light in the mornings you’ve gained some crucial information about where those coyotes like to be at those times of day. To get a pattern developed do this for several nights. Ask the landowner or nearest neighbor where they are hearing coyotes howl from and check with the landowner or renter of the property where they have seen coyotes at certain times of day. Information like this can be extremely effective.
Once you’ve located good sign and have a basic understanding of where coyotes might be spending their time, it’s time to plan that all important set up location to call from. Some properties have tons of natural places to sit while others only offer up a few good locations. You want elevation over the landscape for visibility of any coyotes that might come to the call and you want good concealment. I’ve never thought concealment is as important as simply remaining still but it is a good idea to break up your outline and chose a place where there are some breaks in cover from the coyote’s perspective as he approaches you. Using the aerial photos, sign. and good common sense, you want your ambush site to be just that; a place where a coyote feels comfortable to investigate your calling expecting it to be a natural place where it would find prey in distress and not danger to it’s well being. A place that gives you the drop on any coyote that comes into the area. I like to limit the ambush spot somewhat to a smaller field of view when calling by myself. Sometimes we chose a hide that just has too much area to cover with our eyes enabling a coyote to get the drop on you. I’ll use the hills and the cover in the area to funnel a coyote where I want him if it is possible within the property. I want the coyote to be dead before he even knows it and when I limit my field of vision down to a certain area that I can draw him into, it ups the odds of making a killing shot versus educating a coyote that gets away.
Identify several places around the property to call from using these methods so that you have multiple places to try with different winds. If the property only holds one or two decent locations to call from and the wind is wrong, the answer is simple. Don’t call it that day! Never try and call a coyote to a place he doesn’t want to be and never call a spot with a marginal wind that could get you busted. A coyote’s most trusted tool is his nose. Instead plan your ambush spots catering to the wind. Give the coyote the sense that he can wind you when in reality he can’t without exposing himself first. Getting a coyote to commit to coming is the most important step and once they are committed between those beady yellow eyes of theirs you’ve often times got them right where you want them if you play the wind to your advantage instead of theirs.
Any ambush calling spot isn’t worth a thing if you can’t get there without spooking every coyote on the property. So plan your approach carefully. Be wise to not broadcast your scent to where you’ll be calling and try to walk in spots where you’re not visible to the whole property. Park the vehicle out of sight and limit the noise to a minimum on your approach.
Any sound may work to draw in a coyote but I always like to take note of what prey is in the area, as it might be worth a try. If the area is rabbit rich a heavy dose of rabbit distress may be in order. For high deer traffic areas maybe some fawn distress. I always like to ask the landowner if anyone else is calling the property as well these days. You may want to mix up your sounds a tad so as not to sound like the last guy. Coyote vocals can be something that coyotes aren’t used to hearing and might be curious about. I always like to stay fairly friendly with my howling until I’ve gotten a better understanding of the local population. While I’m at it, I’ll also ask the property owner if there are any deer hunters or anyone else that uses the property that I need to be aware of. It’s important to treat anyone else that also has permission with respect while hunting on someone else’s ground. I’ve done everything from putting cattle back in when they were out, to shutting gates that were open, to picking up downed trees on people’s property that were gracious enough to let me hunt. Leaving things the way you found them and showing respect to the landowner goes a long way. Some coyote hating landowners also like to see your results and when you have success stop by and show them. It’ll lead to permission for a long time when a farmer knows you’re getting rid of coyotes around his cattle or sheep herds.
Lastly, if you’re not having luck with your coyote calling in a spot, try a different time of day. In some spots over the years I’ve found I can’t call up a coyote to save my neck in the morning but can get one to bite occasionally in the afternoon. Some spots are even good midday spots. There may also be something about the landscape that coyotes just won’t take to. In that case try the neighboring landowner. Tell them what you’ve been trying to do and in a lot of cases, they might just let you hunt too. Don’t give up and remember that you can learn something from every failure. Cold call your way right into a hot streak of success on a new property!