What I have Learned from Coyote Hunting
By Troy Hoepker
The first coyote I ever called in gave me the slip. I’m sure most hunters would share that the first coyote that magically appeared to their calling efforts made a similar escape. Calling them is one thing…….killing them is sometimes another thing entirely. Coyotes have the innate ability to disappear like a cottonseed in the wind. But you can’t learn much if you can’t call them up in the first place. Every coyote that comes to the call teaches us something if we’re paying close enough attention.
In today’s world of instant knowledge with things like predator hunting shows on outdoor channels, magazines dedicated entirely to predator hunting, countless videos to buy, websites devoted to the coyote hunter, You Tube and podcasts, information to straighten the learning curve is literally at a hunter’s fingertips. I remember when I first became interested in calling coyotes. There were no Randy Anderson dvd’s to buy, FoxPro didn’t exist and there certainly weren’t any predator hunting television shows to watch. Even when the infancy of the internet came along I remember getting on the worldwide web to search coyote calling, looking for any tips that could help me. I’d wait for the slow dial-up speed of my computer to load a page that might describe the general principles of coyote calling but finding anything containing any real information was slim to none.
Like so many of you I enjoy the accessibility to information nowadays, but looking back I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I had been around hunting coyotes since I was big enough to see over the dash of my Grandpa’s Ford pickup. But it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I first tried calling a coyote to me. Armed with a mouth call and a rifle I sat in that first field calling, not knowing at the time that it would begin a lifelong passion of hunting coyotes in a new way from what I had always been accustom to before that. The early frustrations fueled a competitive desire within me to succeed no matter what. The only references of information at the time were the occasional Fur-Fish-Game article or talking to an old timer that had seen at least some success in calling coyotes in their own hunting experiences. Many of those experienced hunters were tight lipped with their secrets in those days. And who could blame them? After all, they had learned the hard way too. I understood that and respected it. “Get out there and pay your dues.” That’s what I always told myself. So that’s what I did. I hunted every chance I could, sometimes wondering what I was really learning sitting in some of those snow drifts with the wind howling and the temps dipping into the negative of negatives? But to learn what makes coyotes tick, you have to get out there and live with them to a certain extent.
Learning from the coyote itself is by far the best education you can receive to make you a better hunter. There is no better teacher. If you’re able to think like a coyote and think deep about what motivates a coyote to act a certain way you begin to learn the characteristics and traits that coyotes use on a high percentage basis. Applying those general traits of a coyote in your plan of attack when hunting them will lead to more and more success. For years I tried to make a real science out of it. I kept a log that detailed where I called from on a given farm. The wind direction, whether it was sunny or cloudy, where the coyote came from, how long it took to respond, and how it acted were all things that I documented. I was always looking for trends or character traits within my logs to use to my advantage.
Scouting is the most underrated and underused tool in the bag of tools of most hunters of the coyote. Learning about coyotes begins with scouting. When I say scouting, I don’t just mean scouting to learn where coyote populations are larger to recognize good calling locations either. Scouting for coyotes can be so much more than that. With coyotes, you don’t have to see them to know where they are. Nightly, they announce their locations and their demeanor to anyone willing to listen. By listening in the middle of the night I feel like I’ve learned so much about the way coyotes interact with one another. If you’re listening closely, they’ll tell you some of that information. Intel like that helps you know how to imitate coyote vocalizations in a way that speaks some of their language. Vocal socialization is such a big attractant to trigger a coyote to come. I’ve learned over the years that certain coyote vocalizations definitely have a meaning that can be understood well enough to know what response will trigger the coyote to come.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that your own scent doesn’t matter all that much. You can bathe in turpentine and go calling and still call a coyote. All the scent control products in the world won’t fool a coyote’s nose. Instead play the wind. If you are set up right in correlation with the wind and the cover you are calling towards, it doesn’t matter what scent you’re giving off.
Nothing influences a coyote’s daily life as much as the wind. Their keen nose directs their body’s movements in literally everything they do. From how they approach prey to how they socialize with other coyotes, the wind direction tells a coyote’s brain where to go. That’s how you think about it when you set up. It’s essential that you keep a coyote believing in what he hears as he approaches. As he gets closer, his nose will take over. Letting him think he can get downwind of you keeps him confident as he travels and eventually wants to get downwind. If you’ve left an area where he’ll have to expose himself in the moments right before he gets your wind, he’ll never make it there if you’ve set up correctly. Two things I’ve learned about coyote approaches are that you need to be able to see the caller, if using one, and you need to be able to see downwind of your location. Most of the time an approaching coyote will direct himself towards one of the two.
Coyotes are creatures of habit. I’ve noticed so many times over the years that as a coyote approaches, it’ll follow the terrain features of any depression, low spot, waterway or ditch to approach. In an area such as a waterway, an irrigation ditch, a timbered finger or a terrace, a coyote will generally place himself on the downwind side of the cover of that structure as he travels. It lets him smell danger as well as prey. As evident from trail camera pictures as well as observation over time, coyotes can sometimes be very routine with their travel patterns at certain times of day as well. As trappers well know, coyotes use the same deer trails, cattle paths and two-tracked lanes all the time to travel. A coyote hunter can use this to their advantage as well by giving the coyote a place it’s comfortable with to travel towards their calling.
In relation to calling, I think the one thing that saturates the information out there is the belief that there’s some magical sound that will call coyotes like crazy. It’s simply not true. Sure, lots of sounds work well, but it’s not so much about the sound as much as it is about receptive ears hearing it. As long as a coyote hasn’t been put on alarm they are usually very receptive to coming forward once they’ve heard anything in distress and are a manageable distance away. Along those same lines, there are a lot of times when we as callers aren’t doing ourselves any favors by letting the caller play almost the entire time we sit on stand. A few short burst every few minutes is usually all it really takes to bring a coyote that is near. When you blare a caller continuously you are giving the upper hand to the coyote. I’ve also noticed a difference in the coyote’s demeanor when it hears continuous sound. When calling less, I’ve noticed coyotes come in more relaxed, slower and easier to kill. I’ve learned to keep some mystery in the coyote’s mind as he approaches. Making him hunt me. If he doesn’t know exactly where I’m at when he gets there, then he’ll have to hunt me and that means he’ll make a mistake doing it along the way. A coyote responding to a caller that is constantly running responds with fast speed when you see it. That sound blaring in their ears can make them come hard and fast and when you have to react, they see it and are harder to kill on their way out.
I’ve grown to appreciate sounds other than just distress or coyote vocals. Sounds that add realism to a set are confidence sounds that make a coyote really believe in the commotion he’s hearing. Crows, blue jays, cardinals and squirrel barks for example are all sounds you hear at the site of a real distressed animal. It makes an approaching coyote believe. If they truly believe, it may just influence them to skip going downwind in some cases as well. If a coyote hears crows at the scene of distress it believes that it must be real.
One of the things that has probably brought the most success to me as a coyote caller is to ask myself the question of whether or not my set up has the ability to make a coyote feel comfortable to travel to me at the place I want to call from. If the answer is iffy or no then I don’t call it from there. If you can make a coyote feel safe and confident in his travel route to secure a meal, from a standpoint of wind and cover, then you’ve accomplished most of the battle. The sound you use is of less importance. Give them cover and give them some wind that they feel they can use to their advantage.
Another important thing I’ve learned over the years is to not give up even after you’ve killed a coyote or taken a shot. Where there is one coyote, there is oftentimes another nearby. Keep calling after you shoot. You might just be surprised how many times you’ll get a second coyote to appear. It may take a minute or it might take 10 minutes but it happens more than some people might think. Breeding season can provide the best examples of this. Anytime you’re calling in the months of January and February be aware that if you called one coyote, there’s a large chance that a second coyote may be near.
Lastly, I’ve learned that even when you don’t have success killing a coyote, coyote calling offers some of the best wildlife viewing there is. You have close encounters with big bucks, bald eagles, hawks, owls and other predators that not many other people get the opportunity to witness. You see nature in a whole new light and see some of the best sunrises and sunsets that Iowa has to offer. You get the opportunity to share those experiences with friends and family that join you for the hunt. I’ve learned to respect the coyote as a tough and valiant adversary and I try not to take for granted each and every one of them I’m lucky enough to take. The coyote’s survivalist lifestyle is to be respected and I’m reminded of that each time I hear that hauntingly eerie howl taunting me in the darkness as I wonder to myself if I have what it takes to match wits with its wild spirit!