I could feel my heart start to pound, my breathing quicken and the hair stand straight up on the back of my neck, as a coyote let out a deep warning howl less than a hundred yards from me in near darkness! Warning me of his intent when he found me, this was a coyote that meant business! His howl was intended to scare me off before he arrived or else he would whip me out of his territory! But I held my ground, frantically scanning the field in search of any sign of movement in the low light conditions. Moments later, a ghostlike, large male with hair bristled, appeared directly in front of me, not 20 yards away. He stared me down just long enough for me to find him in the scope and end the encounter with my own loud report!
What had him so mad? I had sat down a half of an hour earlier and began my calling with some sporadic dying rabbit sounds from a trusty mouth call. It was the middle of breeding season and after I had no response to the rabbit distress, I reached for my howler. It was a series of five or six lonesome howls that let this mad male know that another coyote was in his territory. Those howls triggered his territorial response and led to one of my most memorable close encounters with a coyote.
Unlike many other game animals, coyotes have more types of triggers that can lead to us calling them closer. Callers can capitalize on their desire to defend their territory, their urge to breed, their hunger or their desire to simply have company. They are very social animals with great senses, and those things make them easy to call and hard to call at the same time, which is why learning to use a mouth call and getting good at it can bring more coyotes to you.
There’s one thing to know about calling to Iowa coyotes. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a six hundred dollar electronic caller or a six-dollar mouth call. If you’re near a coyote that is receptive to come for whatever the reason, that coyote will come just the same to either. Both types of calling do have their benefits, but for the beginner, mouth calls offer an inexpensive way to get into coyote calling and see if it’s something for you.
Hand calling takes a little more time to master, but most calls really aren’t that hard to learn to blow. With them, a caller can generate most, if not all, of the sounds an e-caller can do. You have the ability to make the call as loud or as quiet as you want it to be and
can put your own unique spin on the sounds you’d like to make. My favorite reason to use mouth calls is the extra challenge of calling a coyote to you even though you are the source of that sound.
There are generally two types of hand calls, open reed calls and closed reed calls. Closed reed calls are simple to master as simply blowing air into the call produces the desired sounds. Open reed calls take a bit more time to get good with. A caller must manipulate the open reed of the call to produce the desired sound. Pitch can be changed by simply sliding your lips and teeth up the reed, closer to the bell, for lower pitched sounds and down to the tip of the reed for higher pitched sounds. Most of today’s calls on the market come with instructions to inform the buyer how to operate their product.
Each type of hand call has its own unique sound. The sounds emitted are influenced by a number of things including; the thickness of the reed, the number of reeds in the call, the material the reed is made from, the thickness and or width of the tone board, the thickness and length of the sound chamber or the material the call body or tone board is made of. The size of the opening inside of the call body also helps to determine how much air it takes to blow the call. The larger the opening, the more air you have to generate to vibrate the reed. Everyone has favorites including me. I have a whole mess of hand calls but after a caller collects a few, you will begin to have your favorites that just sound good to your ear and are comfortable to blow.
Regardless of the type of call you’re using, one of the most important things to do when using any of them is to call with emotion. If you’re trying to sound like a dying rabbit, then remember that the rabbit that you’re trying to mimic is fighting for its life! When you begin calling, imagine a scenario in which a rabbit is being harassed by a hawk or young coyote. Think of it being bit and tortured and what kind of sounds it would emit during the process. Go through that scene in your head as you blow the call. There is no right or wrong way and you absolutely do not have to sound perfect. After all, no two rabbits sound identical. Just making it sound like some object of prey is in horrible distress will perk up the ears of any predator nearby. High pitched shrieks of varying lengths work well, as do raspy lower pitched wails.
It is also important to supply the air to the call from your diaphragm rather than simply your mouth. This will help you keep a constant supply of air readily available to do a series of calling without constant interruption to take breaths. With some sounds you’re making, you can use a steady stream of air from your diaphragm, through your mouth and into the call and interrupt the air when you need to with your tongue to produce the desired sound. Other sounds of your liking may require you to shut off the air directly from your diaphragm. But it’s easier that way than to try and huff and puff the mouth call. Using your diaphragm is really important when trying to hold those notes when a long howl needs to sound like an authentic coyote.
Above all, mouth calls give the caller the chance to switch sounds immediately when required. Last year for example, I had spotted a single coyote in the middle of a section one morning. I snuck in from a safe direction in hopes of calling him to me. After a few
short series of rabbit distress, the coyote came around the hill to investigate. After the shot, a second coyote that I had not observed began invitation howling from the original location where I had spotted the first one. This was the female. She was lonely and wondered where her partner went? There were several things I could try that could work, including pup distress, challenge howls and barks or mimicking her invitation howls. I chose to challenge her. Even though she was now by herself, coyotes will usually defend their territory together, so challenging her as if I were an intruder was likely to bring her out to investigate after her mate had disappeared. After giving her a sarcastic lecture, she arrived within a few minutes. She didn’t come close, but she came to an area that would let her see my location as she continued around to get to my wind. Thank goodness my shooting was on that day and I pulled off a 270-yard shot. By being able to go from distress on one coyote, to howls and barks on another coyote with a different call, I was able to call in both coyotes in the same section separately!
When sitting down to begin calling I usually try to suit my calling style to the surroundings or terrain around me. Regardless of where you call though, try and position yourself so that you can see your downwind side from where you sit down. Coyotes won’t always try and get downwind of you in Iowa but a certain percentage of the time they will. If there is a noticeable wind or if you’ve introduced coyote vocalizations like howls into your calling, the odds of a coyote trying to circle around for a sniff increase. You want to see that coyote before he gets your wind, so leaving yourself some open areas in his approach route to your downwind side is always a good idea. If you are hunting with a partner, position that person downwind of your sounds. If I sit close to the cover or in the cover, I usually start my calling softly in case a predator is bedded close by. I may also keep each of my series shorter since an animal could show up any time and may be harder to see. As time goes along, I’ll begin to blow the call louder to try and broadcast my sound out farther. My last series of calls I’ll generally quiet down again in case something is getting closer. With close cover set ups I may use some coaxing sounds right before I get up and leave. Coaxing sounds such as mouse squeaks have a way of enticing a coyote out of the cover if he’s been sitting still and watching.
If I’m in more open terrain, I’ll generally start my calling louder with longer series of calling. I may do several of them back to back to back. I like to generate a lot of excitement in this type of situation and try and do everything I can to get a coyote up on their feet and curious to come investigate. They may have further to travel or open terrain to cross to get to me and I will often times include a combination of loud, erratic, shrieks, wails, and raspy sounds. Make the sounds of a rabbit in absolute agony.
You can start off with distress or howls. Howls and other coyote vocalizations can work well by themselves or intermixed with distress. Sometimes you may not see a coyote until you introduce the other type of sound. For whatever reason, it may be the trigger that they needed to come. No matter what sounds you use, it is important to have trust in your sounds. As silly as it may be, believe that you are going to call a coyote every time you sit down and set a stand! That confidence will come through in your calling and make it sound better.
Confidence in your sounds also goes hand in hand with how much you should call. Overcalling leads to more movement and a diversion of attention from watching for a customer to show up. Sometimes a coyote can grow suspicious if they hear constant calling of different sounds. Put your sounds out there in moderation and have trust in them!
Of the last 80 Iowa coyotes I’ve called in, their average response time has been roughly 13 minutes. That is the average time it took for me to lay eyes on them from the time I began my first sounds. Naturally, I had coyotes that took less than a couple of minutes and coyotes that took up to 35 minutes, but the average was 13 minutes. That kind of data showed me a couple of things. First, if you want to play percentages, a good time to be sitting quiet and watching is generally around that time after your first sounds. If I do any sounds during this time, it’s only some quieter coaxing sounds and I usually keep them shorter. Secondly, in Iowa you will have a percentage of coyotes that show up late for the party. So if you’re not staying on a stand for at least a half of an hour, you’re leaving before the game got started in some cases.
Once a coyote has been observed approaching your stand, I usually wait and see what his body language is telling me. Sometimes, you’ll see them looking over their shoulder, signaling that there may be a second coyote ready to pop into view. If they hold up upon sight of your area, then they are trying to confirm with their eyes what their ears were telling them. If they keep coming on a trot, then I will stay quiet and let them come as long as I can. Stopping a coyote can be done with your own mouth. The “kiss of death” made by puckering your lips and sucking air through or by sucking air off of the back off your hand is a fantastic way to stop a coyote for a shot. If that doesn’t work, then simply making a bark sound with your voice can also work.
Calling coyotes with mouth calls can be fun, and once you’ve outwitted one using them, it leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment that you did it the hard way. So grab yourself a mouth call and go out and try your best at singing the “Bunny Blues!”