By Troy Hoepker
As I sat and watched the terrain, I couldn’t help but think that if I were a coyote, I’d sure be intrigued by those spinning feathers that whirled around the caller. Heck, I’d even catch myself watching it in moments of boredom while waiting on a customer to show up. The decoy was a FoxJack that featured an imitation woodpecker that fluttered about overtop of the Foxpro as the caller wailed the sounds of a bunny in horrific anguish. A good attention getter for sure, now we just needed a coyote to see it.
It wasn’t long and movement to my right caught my attention. A coyote came bouncing into an opening about 100 yards away. He had an earful of mystery that he couldn’t resist investigating. As soon as he topped the hill and came between the cedars into an opening where he could lay eyes on the scene, he came to an abrupt halt. There he stood, locked up staring at the decoy and I had my gun pointed south and this coyote was east/southeast of me. Any attempt to try and swing the barrel his way and he’d pick up the movement and be gone. So I waited, hoping the decoy would intrigue him enough to come on in. Instead, I could tell it was having the opposite effect, making this coyote nervous. He sidestepped, and then with one last look back, he loped away back into the cedars and was gone.
Weeks later, I found myself in a spot where a decoy could be beneficial. A smaller open field of row crop surrounded by timber instead of the larger grass field with sporadic tree cover around the hillsides like weeks earlier. I moved out to the middle of the field on the side hill and placed my decoy. This time the attention getter was a Flextone Lure Motion decoy which is basically a faux fur imitation rabbit that when powered up, shakes and rotates. I placed my tiny Scorpion caller right underneath it and cranked up the bunny blues at full volume. Fifteen minutes later a coyote broke the cover and hauntingly loped along the tree edge following the end rows of the field. He’d scan across the field and then look back at the decoy continuously as he steadily dogtrotted towards me while paralleling the decoy. He seemed to be assessing the situation as he moved, not wanting to leave but not wanting to stop. Finally when he closed the distance to 45 yards from me, I had to make him stop. A quick lip squeak slowed him almost to a stop as a following shot hit home causing him to lurch into the air and then into the trees in a desperate attempt of escape. I found him a short distance inside the cover piled up, his lungs void of air.
When using decoys to hunt coyotes, it’s possible to get any kind of reaction from a coyote. Each of those hunts only weeks apart illustrate that you can get a positive response or a negative one when trying to dupe a coyote visually. Different factors may play a role in how a coyote behaves such as the type of decoy, where you place it, the terrain you’re hunting in and the sounds the coyote heard before seeing the decoy. I certainly won’t pretend to know how an animal thinks but a coyote will spook in an instant if he thinks something is out of place or doesn’t match up. Let’s be honest, introducing a decoy of any kind to a situation where a coyote is going to enter can increase the possibility of a coyote gaining anxiety from the decoy itself or it can seem natural to a coyote at times, as something the coyote might expect to see based on what he’s heard before getting there.
If I hear a turkey gobbling over the hill, I expect to see the turkey when I get there. If a coyote hears a coyote howl, he expects to see another coyote. When he gets there and sees a motion rabbit decoy things might change for him. Now he knows he’s in competition with another coyote for that meal because he’s heard him there. He knows there should be another coyote around close. He may wonder why that coyote isn’t there any longer? It may make him nervous to not know where the coyote he just heard is. So he may change the way he approaches, staying on the fringe or going downwind or he may not approach any further at all. Other times, if it’s an alpha coyote especially, he might come right to the decoy unafraid of any other coyote that may be in the area. Decoys, as with coyote vocalizations share the distinction in the world of coyote calling of being able to influence coyote behavior based particularly on a coyote’s place on the chain of command of social hierarchy. Call the wrong coyote to the wrong decoy with the wrong sound choice and you get a hung up coyote when he sees the decoy or at the very least, a coyote that will circle and never fully commit to coming further. Call the right coyote with the right sounds to the right decoy and you’ve got a coyote willing to approach.
I’m not saying that coyotes can reason like a human, but if you’ve ever had a dog that heard another dog bark nearby, than you know that you’re dog is highly likely to go searching for sight of the other dog it just heard. What does your dog do when he finally lays eyes on the other dog? It stops to size up the situation. Same thing with coyotes. If there is one thing we know about a coyote, it’s that they do have a good memory and that they do pinpoint sound well enough to spook if something doesn’t make sense. When using a decoy I’m careful to keep the decoy close to the caller. I’ve witnessed a coyote spook because the sound of prey changes location or doesn’t match up with what he knew to be true. Why can’t coyotes just be dumb? They sure would be easier to hunt. But what fun would that be?
The obvious advantage of using a decoy is to keep the animal’s attention off of you and on the decoy. That advantage can be minimized however once a hesitant coyote halts to survey a situation if he’s timid or unsure about the decoy itself. He’ll stand and watch the decoy and pick up movement over the entire area in front of him. Sometimes no matter what sounds you throw at them from that point on, they just become even more stubborn. A motion decoy can be intriguing at times to a coyote however, especially when combined with an alluring distress sound. A coyote might not be able to resist running in and snatching up a small prey animal that he thinks he can carry off quickly to a safe place. If you think about it, how often does a coyote really kill and consume a rabbit out in the open? It happens, but what a predator prefers to do is kill and carry off the animal quickly to a safe place where it can consume the meal in peace and unbothered by another predator competing for the same meal.
Consider that the next time you place a prey decoy in the field. Instead of placing the distressing decoy out in the wide open, try placing it closer to a field edge or in a spot where a coyote has to come into gun range to see it. That way if it does choose to hang up, you have the drop on him from that point on no matter how he decides to act. These are the things a good predator hunter does to conquer the unknown reaction that any particular coyote might have with the decoy. Train yourself to constantly think about the best places to set up to kill a coyote whether you use a decoy or not.
The use of different decoys can stimulate different things to a coyote. Something as simple as a crow decoy can instill confidence in a coyote once he sees it. Crows always beat a coyote to the sound so it is not uncommon for them to see a crow near prey in distress. It adds realism. An actual coyote decoy such as the Flambeau Lone Howler is a realistic looking coyote. You can also use high definition two-sided real sized images of coyotes anchored to the ground with support rods. An actual coyote decoy may stimulate a coyote to approach closer out of curiosity, companionship or defense of territory. It can also have the opposite effect, halting a coyote in its tracks or have a greater possibility of making a coyote circle to get downwind. When placing an actual coyote decoy consider pointing its nose away from the easiest approach route for a coyote. If a coyote is to approach it, it’s more likely to do so from the rear. Make it easy for the coyote to do it. A coyote decoy may work a little better during the breeding and denning seasons. Don’t forget that if you’re going to put anything near you that resembles a coyote, do it in a spot that isn’t visible to the road or any place where another hunter will see it. The last thing you need is a bullet whizzing by your head because everyone takes pot shots at coyotes.
Duck and goose hunters along with turkey hunters have long known how deadly a decoy can be. However, coyotes are different. They aren’t a small-brained bird. While I’ve spent plenty of time sitting over a decoy for a variety of game, I must tell you that I personally rarely use decoys for coyotes any longer. Like many a coyote caller, I have tinkered with about everything and anything that I thought could give me an advantage. Years ago I came to the conclusion for myself that I don’t want to use a decoy all the time. It’s not that they can’t work. They can, but they usually have little benefit in the way I see it. Besides being an extra thing to carry, think of it this way.
If a coyote is several hills away and he hears your calling and begins to come, then you’ve already triggered everything you need. A coyote will appear as long as you’ve done things right. He started coming when he couldn’t see the decoy, why wouldn’t he continue to come once he can see the area of the source of the sound. I want the predator to hunt for it even if he goes downwind because I’ve already prepared for that. When they hunt for it, they make a mistake along the way and let me shoot them. I like my setups to keep it a mystery. A decoy can be a game changer. You might have a coyote perfectly content to investigate your calling and then by adding something that isn’t needed you make them nervous. I want a coyote as comfortable and relaxed as I can get him. Less is more for me.
Decoys can have their place in the right situation though. If you know a property is extremely pressured with calling and coyote hunting, adding a decoy might just be something that can convince a hung up coyote to come on in. Highly pressured coyotes may hang up and watch an area from a hill away. When they visually see movement or another coyote, it may be enough to convince them the situation is real. In areas of bobcats they can be effective. Bobcats are more visually stimulated than a coyote and will lock on to a motion decoy intensely. Instead of a decoy you can even consider using some sort of eye catcher such as a white sock or a feather, or perhaps a fuzzy stuffed animal. Just something to hold a predator’s focus and keep the attention away from you. Just be careful you don’t make your kids cry when they catch you ripping the stuffing out of their favorite stuffed animal because it’ll look great as a topper for your electronic caller.