Out west, terrain and cover are continuous and seemingly unchanging for miles. One spot often looks as good for holding coyotes as any other, and setting up demands a detailed consideration of the four mainstays of stand selection: wind, sun, terrain and cover. Coyotes on my home field often forego open spaces where the wind favors them, and instead opt for routes with cover to conceal their approach and their investigation of the sounds. That approach is often slower and more deliberate. Out west, they tend to come in more quickly and directly. A different system must be employed that takes into account three important factors:
Coyotes are notorious for using their noses to thwart us. Never underestimate the ability of a coyote to pick you out of the bouquet, and often, from incredible distances. Plan setups in unfamiliar country to anticipate a coyote circling downwind from where the sounds are emanating. I use a crosswind with the best view of approach routes to my downwind side. The wind in my face is the next best option.
There’s nothing like spotlighting yourself on a bright sunny day to highlight movement and undo the benefits of camouflage. Always try to call with the sun at your back, or to one side, and position yourself in the shade. On the first day of our western Kansas hunt, the first coyote I saw came in with the sun at his back. When I raised my rifle, the flash off my scope sent him hightailing. Looking back, it was a bad choice of setups, but the only option we had at the time.
Coyotes use terrain and cover to mask their approach, especially as the season progresses. Coyotes that don’t learn this tactic simply don’t live long. Taking the low road is a behavioral adaptation that suits survivors well.
The key is to find a place to sit that provides a commanding view of the country in front of you and to either side. Find enough elevation that allows you to see down into ravines and drainages. Try to see far enough to allow yourself adequate response time to shoulder your gun or reposition for the shot.
Rarely does one find a stand site so perfect as to have the wind, sun and view ideal. Prioritize these elements in order of importance, with wind being the greatest consideration, followed by sun, then terrain and cover. But others might see things differently.
For my buddy, Tim, terrain is the primary concern.
“Calling coyotes in the mountains is not the best choice,” he says. “You’ll find coyotes in greater numbers in the valleys, between the mountains. Look for cattle. Most good cattle country is good coyote country. At the same time, if you can see antelope, you can pretty much bet that there’s a coyote within hearing distance.”
In wide-open desert country, it isn’t always possible to find a place to park the truck where it’s concealed — an often-overlooked consideration.
“Some of our open valleys don’t have any place to hide a vehicle,” continues Tim. “Try to find a few bushes or cactus to park between. They might only be as tall as the tires, but at least they break up the outline. When available, park in a wash, behind a dirt tank, or behind taller mesquites.”
Setting up for the shot is important.
“With a rifle, try to find openings in the brush, such as small alkali flats where you can see at least 100 yards for 180 degrees,” Tim says. “With a shotgun or handgun, look for smaller openings.”
Yet another partner, Jason, who hunts the densely wooded 200,000-acre Hoosier National Forest in south-central Indiana, feels that knowing coyotes — including their behavior, and how they interact with their habitat — is the prime objective.
“Coyotes in the big woods like the same types of bedding terrain as white-tailed deer favor,” he says. “These might be cedar thickets for weathering a storm or open ridges where the warm sunlight penetrates the canopy during the day. In these areas coyotes commonly bed in pairs with a good view ahead and a tail to the wind for clues of what is behind them.”
Bruce learned that woodland coyotes depend less on rodents and other small prey, opting to rely more heavily on scavenging and taking down larger game to fill their needs.
“They seem to move through primary hunting areas at a quicker pace when faced with limited opportunities to feed,” he continues, “searching for a fresh deer carcass or unsuspecting turkeys feeding in heavy cover. Thickets and water sources hold great opportunities for hungry coyotes as most prey species utilize both daily.”
With these bedding and hunting habits in mind, and realizing the limited number of coyotes he’s working with in large wooded tracts, Bruce approaches setup possibilities by first looking at aerial photos and topography maps, and then scouting on foot to identify where he believes the resident coyote’s territorial core can be found.
“I approach each large tract of timber as if it holds one group of resident coyotes,” he says. “Using maps, I identify what I believe could be their core areas and I sneak toward that ultimate goal, stopping every 300 to 400 yards using low- to medium-volume sounds on a coaxer or mid-range call, and spending 10 to 12 minutes on a stand in hopes of coaxing a short-range coyote into the crosshairs before I venture too far and kick him up.”
“These short stands cast a ‘halo’ of sound around me as I move toward the core areas,” he adds. “As I travel, the ridges and valleys inside this halo are effectively purged of coyotes willing to work a call. When I reach the most appealing stand — the core — I position my caller and settle in for a 45 to 60-minute stand full of high volume distress and hair-raising howls”
On this grand finale stand, Bruce sets up to watch the area he believes a coyote would like to reach — downwind of the caller where it will have good visibility of the sound source.
“These deep woods stands in core areas are just as likely to produce at eight minutes as they are at forty,” he advises.
“Sit tight. It’s a long drag back to the truck.”
Cold calling in new country can be challenging and frustrating. Having realistic expectations about success and failure go a long way toward how enjoyable the experience will be. We quickly learn how beneficial the home-field advantage can be as we gain knowledge about the terrain and coyotes on our home court, and how the two interact.
When we leave the comfort of home, we challenge everything we think we know about coyotes and calling. You open yourself up to failure, and create opportunities to learn and grow. Venture out beyond the reaches of your comfort zone. Go east, or go west. Try new country and develop a strategy that suits the area.
Go back to basics in each new area and start fresh. Consider wind, terrain, sun and prey. Learn or best-guess how they interact. Figure out what the coyotes are eating, and why and where. How do they use the lay of the land? What is the most likely route they’ll use to approach, and how can you set up to cover that approach best? Use what you know about coyotes in your home turf and apply it to the situation before you. Attempt to anticipate their reaction to what you offer.
Hunting unfamiliar country need not be a bust if you remember what motivates any coyote, anywhere: his belly, his safety and his territory. Think like a coyote and apply his priorities to any new country you’re looking at for the first time, and adjust your style accordingly. Always remember, while it might be new to you, to the local coyotes it’s familiar turf. Tune your basics to the new country and you’ll be in for an adventure.