By Troy Hoepker
A sense of anxiousness and giddiness came over me all at the same time as I waited for the action to start! Peering over at my long time hunting partner Mark Johnston, he was busying himself with his normal routine. Grabbing the right call that hung from his neck, adjusting the legs of his bipod for the most comfortable feel and readying himself to do battle as he tugged his hat down lower across his forehead. He was ready now and these were the times that I treasured most; the feel of the crisp morning autumn air in freshly harvested fields and the first hunts of a new fur season upon us with a partner that shared the same addiction and passion for calling coyotes as I with that unmistakable feeling of anticipation of what might just be about to explode in front of us in the next few anxious moments.
This ground held coyotes. It had for years ever since I was a little kid. It was quiet for now, but soon Mark’s distress cries would travel along this lone, brushy finger of a waterway we sat beside and echo off the adjacent hillside of thick grasses, small cedars, and abundant cover all topped off with the most beautiful towering whispering pine grove a little over a quarter of a mile away.
The sun began to warm the back of my neck and it was a welcoming sensation from the cold, shivering bite we had felt at our last river bottom sunrise set up that had left us empty handed. After Mark’s second series of calling, the sun gleamed heavily off a pretty colored pale coyote trotting to us along the downwind side of the waterway just like he was following the script after the director had yelled “Action!” It was an old familiar sight once again greeting us to a new season and making the blood pressure rise along with it. You couldn’t miss him if you tried. He shined in the sun like a brand new penny and equally as important, he was staring into the sun without a chance of spotting us, literally blinded by his faith in the realism that Mark’s calling guaranteed him a meal. After a quick glance over at Mark and seeing him just sitting there watching with his gun still resting on the bipod, barrel pointed harmlessly skyward, I knew that he was just going to let me drop the hammer on this unsuspecting coyote while he enjoyed the show. I turned my attention back across the ninety yards that lay between the coyote and the nose of a bullet deep within the tube of my rifle. Less than a blink of an eye later and our first victim of the morning lay among the corn stalks.
Our next spot of the morning was more of a puzzle to solve. Fresh from work not only from the combine but also the dozer, brush piles lined the farm in no particular order at all. The owner was removing a lot of the trees to free up more land for row crop. We found a spot on the banking of a pond dam to set up in the shade of some trees. It wasn’t much really, more of a little frog pond than anything, but it gave us 75 to a 100 yards of elevated shooting lane across the corn stubble into a predetermined kill zone along a heavily timbered draw that meandered into a thicker set of cover to our west. Taking turns on the calling, it was my turn to try and lure a song dog out into the open. Nine minutes after my initial series, Mark lip squeaked to let me know that we had a customer. Sure enough a coyote was moving quickly into our set up. I leveled the gun to find him in the scope and gave another lip squeak to stop him since he was getting on top of us a little quicker than either of us desired.
The change in location from both squeaks the coyote heard, made this coyote do something that neither of us expected. He changed direction in a heartbeat and began looking for the nearest exit. With a scope still cranked up to 12 power and a bit of panic setting in, I pulled the trigger. A miss! I cycled the bolt quickly as I repositioned and to my relief heard the thunder from Mark’s rifle. The coyote rolled but again regained his footing and changed direction 180 degrees and was now bound straight for us once more. No one stays as calm and steady with a coyote in front of them as Mark does and he was able to put a finishing close quarter shot on a full speed coyote saving us from a tough tracking job. After the hail of gunfire we stood over a battle scared old male whose survival instincts had finally failed him for the first time.
Walking into our fourth spot of the morning, we stopped atop a high hill to survey the bottom ground before us. Looking down into the beautiful 25-acre field below us surrounded by timber on all sides rising up like seats of an arena, this little bowl shaped field reminded me of a stadium and the barren bean field below would be our field of play. Because of all the cover and the possibility that a coyote could come from almost any direction we sat up over a hundred yards apart from one another to watch as much ground as possible. Mark called on and off for almost 45 minutes battling a wind that was now beginning to gust. It was nearing noon now and sometimes midday Iowa coyotes can take their time.
As hope was just about to fade, I spotted a coyote coming out of the cover and into a little half circle of the field where it cut back into the riverbank. The coyote was pointed straight at Mark’s caller a mere 50 yards away with Mark positioned for the shot just beyond. Realizing the photographic potential from my vantage point and the possibility of getting Mark on film shooting this coyote, I began snapping pictures assuming this coyote would simply follow the edge of the cover around the bend and right in front of Mark where like a pro, his gun was already instinctually pointed. Instead this little female ducked right back into the next bank of cover in-between her and Mark. I realized Mark never could see her from where he was. Here he sat with a coyote right in front of him, no clue that she was there and I knew that he was about to stand up and call an end to the session at any moment.
Grabbing a mouth call from my pocket I blew some shrill distress to not only hold the coyote but also to tip off Mark that something was up. With Mark and I that was enough communication. He instantly knew that I was calling to something I had saw because of the cadence and sound of the call and instantly began scanning all of the surrounding area. I kept calling intermittedly to try and coax the coyote out or else hold her in there long enough that he could find her. It wasn’t easy seeing into the cover and after ten agonizing minutes, I finally caught a glimpse of movement deep inside it and knew she was still hanging in there with us. Soon after, Mark found her too and weaved a great shot through the brush and into her boiler room. A thumbs up from my trusted partner told me this stubborn female was finally down and made number three for the morning. It was as good of teamwork on calling a coyote as I had ever been a part of.
These are just a few examples of how much fun early season coyote calling can be. That was a November 2011 hunt and normally November is when I’ll begin hunting coyotes but in Iowa the season is open on them year round. Others like Mark enjoy hunting them at all times of year. The fact is that you don’t have to wait until the snow flies because some of the very best coyote hunting the entire calendar year has to offer is right now. This time of year the temperatures are more comfortable making a more enjoyable hunt, coyotes respond well, there’s simply more of them out there and there’s usually no walking through deep snow.
By the end of fall and into the early part of winter pup dispersal is usually taking place. Mothers will rather rudely kick their litter out and make them fend for themselves and seek out new territories. That’s good news for early season coyote callers. Those greenhorn pups are hungry, curious about everything and completely unaware of the dangers hunters and trappers present. In the fall, there are lots of transient coyotes exploring all areas of the countryside thus making the odds of having a coyote close at the time of calling greater than any other time of year. Those young pups can approach a call with varying dispositions however.
Like the last coyote Mark and I killed, sometimes a young pup can approach a call very tentatively. That particular coyote was extremely timid. She wanted a meal badly, but was also well aware that other coyotes inhabited the area and wasn’t prepared to risk injury to any dominant coyote to get it. When pups are trying to find their pecking order in the world they can be chased off numerous farms many times and become extremely cautious because of it. Adversely, I’ve had early season coyotes all but run me over to get to a meal on many occasions. Sometimes it can be a young pup trying to get to the rabbit they are hearing as quickly as possible to steal a meal. In other cases it can be an older alpha coyote within its established territory either trying to see if there is an intruder stealing rabbits or a bit rusty in their technique, and used to not having any danger when responding to the sounds of distress for the last six months such as the second coyote we killed that morning.
Coyotes of all ages come to the call for a variety of reasons; curiosity, hunger or territorial reasons. Distress noises work best in the fall and can appeal to all coyotes for the reasons I just listed. Pups are hungry and adults are not as wary as later in the winter. There’s really no reason to not use distress sounds in the fall. Later in the winter coyotes may have heard plenty of them especially if you know other callers are around and a change in tactics may be necessary but in the fall distress sounds are high percentage. There’s usually no need in overdoing the calling early on in the season. Remember that less is more and once you’ve put those sounds out there have faith that a coyote has heard them and has no reason not to come to you because most of the time they don’t this time of year.
Coyote vocalizations can work in the fall as well but there are certain ones that will work better than others. Staying friendly or submissive with your calling is best suited for the early season. Get too aggressive and you’ll chase away every young coyote within earshot. They aren’t looking for a fight. A territorial alpha may respond but chances are they too aren’t overly interested in mixing it up. So a lonely greeting howl or two may get you a lot further than anything else. Interrogation howls can work so long as you keep them high pitched as if they are made by a younger coyote. Sometimes a caller can appeal to their maternal and paternal instincts as well by using sounds such as pup distress, or submissive whines.
Early in the season a hunter can get away with setting up shallower in some sections. Coyotes have been used to safely traveling almost anywhere they want to across Iowa’s rural landscape for the last several months. They’ll continue to do so until they feel some pressure from hunters, fields being harvested and more human traffic in general. Keep an eye on your spots and hit them soon after the crops have been picked or hay has been mowed. A freshly disturbed field leaves behind dead rodents, rabbits and birds and coyotes know it. Calling a place like that with distress sounds instantly perks up the ears of any predator, which will likely be nearby. Just as any time of year, use the wind to your advantage as much as possible. Timid transients will sometimes circle downwind in order to determine if any other coyote is already there. Experienced coyotes will do the same because, well, that’s what they do. After firing a shot keep calling. Often times young littermates might be traveling together or in groups and you can pull a second coyote back into your set by continuing to call.
As fur buyers begin accepting pelts again news is not good on the fur market. Coon and other fur prices will likely be very low to start this year but all indications show that a coyote pelt may start the season stronger than the others. Last year in mid November it wasn’t unheard of to hear of good coyotes fetching upwards of 30 to 40 dollars. We may not see that mark this year, but they may not drop off as drastically as raccoon. Coyote fur begins to prime up in Iowa from mid-November or shortly after if you’re in it for the best fur possible.
Take a break this fall and put down the bow or give your bird dog a rest for a day and take advantage of some of the best coyote calling time the whole year has to offer right here in Iowa!