Hand-Calling Coyotes: Become the Hunted!
By Troy Hoepker
Once upon a time, some prehistoric ancestor of ours somewhere figured out that if he pulled a blade of grass, stuck it between his lips and blew, he could squeak up one those invincible ghosts called a coyote. Without a smart phone handy to share his success on social media, I’m sure he went running to his pals with one hand holding up his buffalo briefs along the way and the other carrying a previously unattainable trophy that was thought to be of mythical legend to show off to all his buddies while they reveled in the disbelief of the magical story. My, oh my, how far we’ve come since those days!
We’ve been hoodwinking coyotes ever since with the assistance of mouth calls, although hopefully while wearing more than just a loin cloth. In today’s world of technology and newest gadgets, hand calls have kind of became overlooked and forgotten about. They shouldn’t be however. There are many benefits of using self-made sound that can far outweigh an electronic caller. First off is the simple satisfaction of calling a coyote for yourself when the sound is on you and knowing that you are the hunted. Secondly, after you’ve mastered some of the lingo, it gives you so much more flexibility in your calling arsenal to be able to generate the exact sound that you want or need when different opportunities present themselves. Also, it keeps us from pushing the button too often to generate more noise when it’s not really needed. The old saying “less is more” is often true when calling to coyotes. Lastly, besides just being more fun, it makes you a better, more versatile coyote hunter. You become better at setting up, playing the wind and you’ll be using different sounds that may have a better chance of sparking interest in a coyote that’s heard the same old sound stored in the files of the other guy’s FoxPro over and over again.
I use an electronic caller often as well and they certainly have their place, especially to help get the sound away from you so that you can move for the shot but most of the coyotes I call in every year will have heard some of my own sounds before getting to me. I just enjoy it too much and the emotion that I can put into the calling I believe helps a coyote truly believe there is an animal that is in desperate despair. When executed well, with a good set up and just the right amount of calling, some hunts go perfectly to the plan. A February hunt of mine last year comes to mind on a farm where we had killed a couple of coyotes already but needed to keep thinning the herd. Although the previous place we had sat on the farm worked, it wasn’t ideal and I’m always looking to improve in the way I can set up for a coyote. Walking the north end of the property, I ventured into a different field and found a much better set up area to dupe an unsuspecting coyote into range.
I sat down in a bit of grass along a weedy fence line with an open bean field to my downwind that I could peek at occasionally and another bean stubble field out in front of me that was bordered by a creek on the opposite end and steep ridge of timber beyond that. Behind the ridge was everything a coyote would ever want in the form of CRP grass, water and cedar thickets. My hope was that I could pull a coyote down to the intersection of the fence line where two fields met the timber and he’d trot up the fence line to me or out across the bean field in front of me towards my downwind.
The wind was blowing a bit so I held nothing back as I put the voices of both of the two metal reeds enclosed inside my beautiful laminated, custom-made, closed-reed call to the test. Piercing the air with some bone chilling, raspy dying rabbit noises through one reed all while simultaneously including shrieks of high pitched wails from the other reed, the combination created the scene of a desperate struggle of life or death taking place. I wound down the series of calling almost as if the rabbit had given up with slow, elongated “waaahhhhh’s” till the last bit of breath escaped from my lungs. Taking a moment to catch my breath, I studied the terrain incase a coyote in close proximity decided to surprise me.
I gave two or three more of those agonizingly emotional filled series of distress spread out over the corse of ten to twelve minutes and sat back to wait for a while. Almost on cue, I spotted the familiar lope of a coyote coming into the corner of the field below me and moving right up the fence line towards me in search of the sound, just as I had hoped the storyline would play out. The sporadic series of calling led to a calm, relaxed coyote coming in to investigate and while he wasn’t exactly sure how far up the fence line he needed to travel to find the rabbit, he knew he’d wind it or see it eventually. Unfortunately for him, the rest of the script played out and ended with him sliding off of my tailgate and into the furbuyer’s shop less than an hour later.
It was as simple as that and the hidden little secret to calling coyotes is that you don’t need $300 to call them with a fancy caller. A ten or twenty dollar investment in a mouth call can result in the same dead coyote. Anytime you are emitting the sound, you have to be careful and there are some techniques that I’ve learned over the years that will help. Remember that “less is more” thing I mentioned earlier? Not only does that sometimes work better for getting a coyote to come but it also helps you not be caught in the act of calling. Unless there is a good possibility of a coyote jumping right to you within seconds of hearing your sound, I like to start out with two or three excited, elongated series of distress. This is where you are trying to really reach out there and grab them by their ears with something they can’t resist coming to investigate. Pour on the emotion and fill each series with blood curdling rasp and high-pitched shrieks. Then wait for a while. Each series you do after that stands a better chance of a coyote coming into view at any time so keep them shorter. You just want to reassure the coyote that the rabbit is still in turmoil and make him think he’s got a good chance of getting to it. Don’t be surprised if it’s after that second round of calling before you see a coyote come into view.
As time goes along with nothing stirring, don’t be afraid to once again give another long series after twenty minutes or so. What you are doing is calling to the coyote that is further away or who may be up on it’s feet moving along and has now entered a closer proximity to your calling and thinks that he may now come to see what all the fuss is about. You’ll read plenty of magazine articles where advice will state to call for fifteen or twenty minutes and give up, but that’s for western state coyotes, and I assure you that Iowa coyotes can take their time for what ever reason. A higher percentage of coyotes I call in come within the first fifteen minutes but enough come in at 30 minutes also that I never give up on a stand before that, especially if I am calling to an extremely large tract of cover. If you are quitting after twenty minutes in Iowa, I assure you that you are losing out on a percentage of late comers unless you are calling to small parcels of cover.
When generating the sound yourself, you’ll need to conceal yourself as well as possible because the coyote is hunting you. They will most likely take a direct approach or like a duck takes to water, they’ll naturally head for the spot where they can get your wind. Set up so that you can watch the area downwind from you. One of the most common mistakes hunters make is to call to a coyote that is already coming once he’s been spotted. If he is coming, let him come and don’t risk the movement to produce a sound that is not needed. It will only give away your location and make him jumpy. If they check up for any lengthy time, a simple lip squeak will usually get them moving again. Sometimes you’ll have the occasional coyote wander out of view as he’s on his way either because something else has caught his attention or he’s kind of lost track of where the sound might have originated. If that’s the case and you feel the need to call to him again, keep it short and quieter. Blowing the call too loudly to a coyote that isn’t far away can sometimes make them suspicious.
It’s important to practice with your calls to learn all the sounds they are capable of and to be able to generate the sound you want in the field from memory. Just like any musician will tell you, practice really will make you much better. The added benefit of annoying the wife, the kids, the pets and the neighbors all at the same time can be fun too if you dare. There are open reed calls and closed reed calls. Closed reed calls are great for beginners because it’s as simple as just blowing air into the call and you can get some great distress sounds. Open reeds take a bit more practice and most hand calls that are capable of producing coyote vocalizations are of the open reed variety. Biting down on the end of the reed at the tip of the call will produce a higher pitch while blowing the call further up the tone board and closer to the sound chamber will produce a deeper pitch. Once you have practiced enough, you can even produce coyote howls that include all the pitch breaks we hear from the real thing. There’s no greater feeling in the predator hunting world than having a conversation with a song dog back and forth, speaking his language with him and then pulling him in. Mouth calls give you the benefit of being able to just grab one and call quickly, such as when a coyote has just vocalized towards you. Instead of having to scroll through a sound list on your remote to find the correct sound and then hope you chose the right one, you’ll be able to simply play him the right tune yourself.
Blow the call by using support from your diaphragm to help you sustain long notes or a long series of calling. Anytime you huff and puff air in and out, you will tire much easier and will not be able to call as long with each series. You’ll sound better also as your notes will be stronger and you’ll have more control over them. I like to grip the call with my thumb and first finger over the sound chamber of the call near the end and use my other three fingers to act as an extended horn for more volume or cup them over the call to dampen the sound when needed. I’ll roll those three fingers on and off the end of the call as I blow to create a little bit of volume fluctuation as I call. While you are blowing a series of distress, try and actually picture a rabbit being tormented by a hawk or owl that’s ripping it to pieces bit by bit and imagine what that rabbit would sound like. Sounds silly, but it helps create emotion in your sound.
We can’t just go pulling all the calls out of their packaging and blow on each of them as we make our way down the aisle of the store so it’s hard to know what one to buy. Remember that it isn’t so much about the sound itself as much as it is about the emotion, energy and practice you’ve put into the call. Most calls on the market are more than capable of calling coyotes and what one person suggests is the best call might not be for the next person. Some calls just feel more comfortable and sound better to your own ear than others so play around over time with several and see what fits you best. You’ll likely want to invest in a good closed reed call to begin with, then possibly an open reed distress call and also own a good howler as well to have all the bases covered. Then go out and earn a coyote the hardest way there is. The old-fashion way with a mouth call.