By Troy Hoepker
It was all going perfectly to the plan. My friend and fellow Iowa Sportsman Magazine writer Nick Johnson had traveled down to film me calling coyotes for an episode of Iowa Sportsman Television a few years ago and his camera was rolling on the first coyote of the day at our very first spot of the morning. An unsuspecting coyote had crossed through the fence directly in front of us at eighty yards. Standing beautifully trying to decipher the whereabouts of the dying rabbit he had heard moments earlier, this coyote was giving us some great footage. I was almost holding back a grin as I felt the tension in the trigger begin to succumb under the pressure of my finger. This coyote was as good as dead. He just didn’t know it yet.
At the crack of the shot I was in disbelief of what I was seeing! Instead of a coyote flopping to the ground, I saw what appeared to be a perfectly healthy coyote bounding away. Couldn’t be? No way I could have missed? Quickly regaining my senses, I repositioned on the coyote and gave him some barks to stop him for another shot. It worked and the coyote spun to look back standing broadside at 125 yards for the most beautiful shot you’ve ever seen. The crosshairs were centered again on the front shoulder and again the bullet whizzed by harmlessly and the coyote turned and zipped away, this time running off into oblivion for good and on film for the entire world to see.
I sat there in utter disbelief. Almost unable to talk. What in the world was happening? Once Nick and I returned to the truck I pulled out a target. I couldn’t hit the paper at 25 yards let alone the bull’s eye. After correcting the windage knob as far as it would go, I was still 15 inches to the right. I don’t have to tell you what that translates to at 100 yards. It’s not good. Bases and ring screws were tight. I had a scope problem and a bad one. I had just shot a coyote with this rifle a few days earlier at roughly the same distance. Looking back on that coyote however I had struck him down the length of his body as he was quartered towards me instead of putting one in his brainpan like I had intended. At the time I thought it was odd but just chalked it up to movement on my part or something. I should have seen the warning signs. After remounting the scope and resetting it back to zero and test firing, it proved that the scope had gone bad internally. It cost me a coyote at the worst possible time.
Coyotes can disappear like a ghost at the first sign of trouble. The click of a safety, the slightest movement from a hunter, a poorly executed set up or any other mistake of which there are thousands, can turn a seemingly relaxed, easy target into a missed opportunity in a matter of seconds. Let’s break down some of the obvious and not so obvious things that lead to failure.
Equipment & Practice
Before the hunt ever begins there are things to think about that can be your undoing once you take the field. Like what happened to me, a check on equipment before the hunt is a must. Being comfortable with your rifle and knowing exactly where it shoots at different ranges is imperative. Spend some time before the season punching some paper at different ranges so you can make the shot on a close quartered coyote as well as that onlooker that just won’t commit and hangs up out there at 300 yards. As the season goes along keep doing some test firing just to make sure that your rifle is still shooting where you expect it to be. All of those times of sliding the gun in and out of the case as well as walking with it over your shoulder can move your point of impact between scope and rifle after time. I like to try and check my zero after every twenty stands or so just to make sure. I’ll also check the torque on my ring screws and windage screws for any signs of loosening at the same time.
Other equipment checks include checking the battery life of batteries in our electronic caller and its remote before heading out for a hunt and making sure we have a mouth call or two along with us in case something goes wrong with the caller. Familiarize yourself well with the sounds on your remote so that you know exactly what sound you want to send out for any situation that may present itself and you can access it quickly when needed. Likewise, practice your mouth calling so that you have confidence in your sounds.
Practice shooting the rifle from the position that you’ll be hunting in. If you’ll be seated practice your shots on paper the same way. You may be able to have ¼ inch groupings from a solid benchrest but have you practiced shooting the rifle in the same way you intend to use it? Making sure that your scope is dialed to the proper magnification for the surroundings of your calling location is vital as well. If you’re set up in tight quarters of cover then dial the power of your scope down to its lowest level for a wider field of view or just grab the shotgun for some spots. Consider what your set up is going to look like before you depart for the field and carry the appropriate coyote-killing tool.
How you enter a property and how you set up within that property can determine the outcome of a stand before it even begins. Coyotes won’t respond to the call if you’ve broadcast your scent towards your calling area or put yourself in a bad spot that easily lets a coyote wind you, see you or feel uneasy about coming to your location. It’s easy to place blame on the possibility that there just weren’t any coyotes in the area we’ve called once we’ve had a failed set up, but I like to always make sure that nothing I do from the time I leave the truck, until the time I stand up after the set is over gives a nearby coyote any chance of ever knowing that a human encroached into his territory. We have to examine our entry route to make sure that we are never silhouetted on top of a hill or easily spotted from the cover we suspect a coyote will come from. I approach those areas with a wind in my face or with a crosswind to prevent my scent from being detected.
Once I’ve made it to where I want to sit, I usually find a spot that has good visibility of the landscape and good visibility to my downwind side especially. I try to never give a coyote a way to get downwind of me without being able to see it before it gets there. Putting yourself in a spot where you can’t see any of the possible approach routes a coyote could likely take is a recipe for disaster. Try and determine which are the high probability areas a coyote will approach from and ask yourself if you can adequately cover those areas if a coyote does appear there. Think about how coyotes like to travel and apply it to the scene. They’ll use the downwind side of cover to approach, as well as any bit of cover they can possibly use to stay unseen as they come. They’ll use every last inch of concealment that depressions in the earth like waterways, ditches, slews, the backsides of terraces and other lower ground features offer them when coming in. Be aware of those spots so a coyote does not surprise you. When you sit down determine the closest spot where a coyote could surprise you breaking out from the cover and point your gun there for the duration of the stand. If a coyote comes out from another point much farther away, then you’ll have a much better opportunity to move on him than you would have if he pops out too close to move.
Place your caller in a spot that complements that as well. Let your caller work for you by drawing the coyote to a spot where you can kill him downwind of it and not yourself. One mistake I’ve always witnessed is placing the caller in a spot that is way too obvious. If your caller is blaring out distress sounds from the middle of a barren field easily within eyesight of a coyote in the safety of cover several hundred yards away, then there is no secrecy in what you are doing. The coyote can see the source of the sound and will usually keep coming until the point to which he can confirm with his eyes what his ears have been telling him. So keep that in mind when considering caller placement and think about hiding the caller somewhat. It doesn’t have to be much, just some small amount of cover where a wounded rabbit could take refuge. Also chose a spot to sit where you are shaded or not looking into the sun. Some callers believe that you have to be buried in the brush to keep a coyote from seeing you but I don’t. The more tucked away in the cover you are the more it limits your visibility of your surroundings. A coyote could pass through around you somewhere and you might never even know he was there. As long as you back yourself up to the cover to the point that you can still see your calling area sufficiently you’ll be fine in most cases. Remaining still is far more important in my book.
After you sit down, make sure you have a chambered round. Sounds silly, but many hunters have dropped the pin on an empty chamber and watched a coyote escape because of it. If you have to move when you are watching a coyote approach, move only when he moves or when he goes behind any cover.
It’s the sounds that bring coyotes to us right? Adversely, it can also be the sounds we use that make a coyote not come to us or determine where they’ll appear when they do come. Let me explain a little further. Often times we see coyotes that never fully commit to coming all the way in and hang back on the outskirts of cover. Other times we may hear them howl at us but they never show. Still other times they may sneak in but stay in the cover only getting a peek and we never knew they were there. They were interested, so why didn’t they come on in? Assuming the wind had nothing to do with it, the sound or sounds you chose might likely be the culprit even though you had no idea that it would influence them in the way that it did. If a coyote is coming to your distress sounds and then it hears you put out a coyote vocalization while he’s still on his way, then you’ve just changed the game. You’ve now possibly influenced that coyote’s behavior and how it will act when responding to the call. Subordinate coyotes will now circle wide of your calling area in order to look at the scene from a distance or go straight downwind when they might not have done so previously. Dominate coyotes or resident pairs might also certainly go downwind or hang up if you are on the outskirts of their core territory. There are lots of reasons a coyote acts the way it does but just remember that anytime you introduce coyote vocalizations into a set up, it can and often times does change the reaction or disposition of the coyote that heard you.
Vocalizations have their place however and can be used effectively. Starting out with aggressive vocalizations can be one of the biggest mistakes callers can make. I like to remain more social and friendly when I began with vocalizations. Then by the end of the set if I’m inclined, I may then go to more aggressive sounds. In my observations of Iowa coyotes responding to aggressive coyote vocalizations I’ve witnessed a higher percentage of coyotes presenting longer-range shots. The main thing is to give the coyote a chance to respond. If you’re over calling too often, especially with differing sounds, you’ll likely see nothing.
Ever hear the saying “Patience is a virtue?” That admirable quality comes highly into play in all things coyote calling. Callers need the patience to hold still, the confidence that their sounds are working to prevent over calling, and the patience to sit on stand long enough to ensure nothing is coming. In my opinion, if a hunter isn’t sitting at least a half hour in Iowa, they haven’t stayed on stand long enough. I’ve witnessed too many coyotes come in even after the half hour mark to be unsure of that. Out in our western states that may be different but here you’ll be missing out on numerous opportunities at coyotes if you aren’t staying long enough.
When a coyote approaches patience again has to play a major role. Even when the coyote isn’t working in the way that you’d like him to, as long as you have patience, a lot of times they can be killed. Let them make the mistake not you. Watch their body language. It’ll tell you whether you’re dealing with a calm, relaxed coyote or a charged up motivated one. About the only time I try and let patience purposely go out of the window is when a coyote is just about to get my wind. Then all bets are usually off and action is needed on my part. If they are coming, let them come. There’s no need to call to a coyote that is falling right into your hands. Let them dictate whether you need to call to them or not.
Lastly examine every set up that you make. Recall the sounds you made, the wind direction, your overall general set up and try and determine what things could have possibly made it unsuccessful. Also ask yourself what made the stand successful after you kill a coyote. Why did it work or not work. Start a logbook and jot those things down. It really does help.
These are just some of the little things that are the difference in dragging fur back to the truck or walking back to the truck shaking your head in disappointment. But it’s the little things that we do in coyote calling that make all the difference in the world.