Rumbling across the vast, wide-open prairies of eastern Montana in a four-wheel drive can be intimidating. There’s so much country, you can almost see forever. Somewhere in the sagebrush, grasslands, deep cuts or big open flats, there are usually coyotes. Figuring out where they are to set up for calling is the biggest problem hunters face in wide-open country. You can do a lot of unproductive blind calling if you don’t have a good idea where to start.
Luckily, coyotes in the wild are much like the dogs in town. When police or fire sirens blast in town, dogs will often bark at them. When coyote hunters blast a siren, coyotes bark and howl at them, too.
It’s a good way to learn how many coyotes are in the area. In fact, state wildlife agencies sometimes use sirens to census coyote populations. For a hunter setting up to do calling, a siren is a valuable tool. He can go into an area he’s never been before, hit the siren, locate them and then move in to call.
In the old days, hunters would get old police and fire sirens, pop the hood on their vehicle, and touch the wires to their batteries to set them off. Today’s hunters have more options, and much easier to use.
There are two types of sirens and both are portable. One is a long-range siren that reaches about four miles. Then there is the mini-siren. The mini is more practical for most areas, with a range of one to two miles. We like the mini-siren because we can hear the coyote answer. If they’re out four miles, you can’t hear them, and being able to hear the coyote reply is the object.
We’ve had coyotes come in just to the siren. Why they do that, I don’t know, but it happens. If we’re checking an area during the day where we think coyotes are close, we’ll take our rifles with us, and set up before we blast the siren. My hunting partner, Merv Griswold, and I often go out in the late evenings and use the siren to locate coyotes for the following day. There’s still enough daylight left to see, but not enough to shoot. When we hear a coyote answer, if we’re close to the vehicle, we jump in and get out of there fast. You don’t want them to see you. You can destroy the setup by having the coyote answer and then come in to you. Just come back the following morning. Simply put, sirens work great night or day, and can be effectively used at either time.
We’ll get on a high point so we can see a good distance, as the sound will carry well. If we’re on flat terrain, we get up on the vehicle to give us a little advantage. Any high elevation will allow you to hear better.
If there are a couple of hunters, one guy gets a good distance away so he can hear while the siren is going. If you’re by yourself, a coyote might answer and you won’t hear it because the siren is still going. I would strongly recommend the person running the siren wear earplugs. It’s a very loud sound. As you get some distance away from it, the sound isn’t so bad. One caller looks one way, the other in the opposite direction. If there are three hunters, we cover three directions. Human hearing is directional, so there is an advantage to having more than one set of ears.
Selecting the correct point to siren from is fairly critical. If it’s a big, long drainage or canyon, commonly found out West, you want to be at the head of the drainage. The best advice is to use your siren just as if you’re setting up to do some calling. Have the vehicle out of sight. If coyotes come up to a ridge, you don’t want them to spot the vehicle.
Remember, coyotes only answer a siren once. They might carry on for a long time in their answering, but they won’t answer a second time. The more coyotes in an area, the better the siren works. One group will answer, then another. Soon, they’ll be talking to each other. That’s the best.
If you hear a coyote, the rule of thumb is that it’s twice as far away as you think it is. The ability to determine how far away the sound is coming from is something gained from experience.
You can hear coyotes answer out to three to five miles, depending on the day.
When wind is blowing, we have very little success. Windless days or those with little wind are best. Usually in early morning and evening, the wind dies down and it’s prime times for locating coyotes with sirens.
If you’re out in the early morning and it’s breaking daylight, be sure to have a really good binocular. Often, even if the coyote doesn’t answer, it’ll come to a ridge top just to investigate where the sound is coming from. Also, realize that it may take a while for the coyote to get to the ridgetop. Glass all the ridges around you.
The results of the first siren blast will inform what you do next. After the initial blast, and if we don’t get an answer, one hunter can answer the siren with a coyote howl. After about five minutes, the other hunter answers him with a howl of a different pitch. It sounds like a pair of coyotes answering each other. You might carry on for two or three howls. Often, that will kick a coyote into answering.
Once coyotes answer and you know where they are, it’s up to you to do a good job of calling and bringing them in. If you call and nothing comes in, carefully move closer to where you think the coyote that responded was and start calling again.
Another word of advice: if you get a response to the siren, and don’t have a good setup on the coyote, it’s better to leave the area and come back in a different spot and then try to work the animal. You must have a good setup. When you don’t have a good setup, leave and come back another day.
You can use a siren all year long and use it throughout the day. It won’t scare coyotes out of an area, but as is the in hunting for any species, coyotes quickly get wise to such tactics. If you and perhaps other hunters have used sirens repeatedly in the same area, the coyotes will quit answering. That’s especially true during the day. They might answer more readily at night, but don’t count on it. A siren is a very effective one-shot tool, so use it wisely.
The siren really works great when pups are up out of the den, because pups answer immediately. You can usually tell when the adults get back to the den. They’ll make the youngsters stop answering. The ability to get pups to answer is extremely valuable when undertaking predator control for a rancher or farmer.
As in all coyote hunting, patience is your greatest ally. Go through your siren blasts, go through your coyote howls—even siren-shy coyotes will answer a howl—but be sure to give the coyotes enough time to answer and give away their location.
Sirens extend a coyote hunter’s reach when the dogs are out there a long way. Some answer fast—some slower. Use your ears and binocular. Locating coyotes first gives you a big advantage in calling.
One final word on the use of sirens—check local regulations and with your state authorities on siren use. If you’re hunting on private land, let the landowner know what you’re doing. If you go out at night and blow a siren near a rancher’s house, you’re going to see the lights go on and that might be the only action that happens. No matter how effective a siren might be, disturbing a rancher’s sleep or scaring him during the day is no way to get invited back to hunt coyotes.