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Understanding a Coyote's Will to Survive

Besides the normal struggle for food and shelter, a coyote’s daily life is constantly fraught with territorial challenges, quarrels over dominance, environmental threats, disease, and hunter peril. Their survival is constantly challenged, but in spite of all the threats they have flourished.

Coyote learn quickly and have long memories. Older coyotes are masters at survival and teach each other well. Because the coyote is so intelligent, it has a longer learning and maturity curve. Coyote have a relatively complex social life. The more you understand that social life, the better your chances.

Life Cycle Tactics

coyote life cycleI normally begin serious calling in late September and in the past have enjoyed pretty good success, especially on young dogs. Shooting can be quite good through October. November brings an influx of big game and upland bird hunters and calling gets tougher. During those times I concentrate on areas not normally associated with pheasants or deer.

Fringe dwellers are the coyotes that I have the best luck calling in late October. With no wary adult to supervise them, these sexually immature males are easy to call. They are often hungry and stressed because they have lost the support of the pack. They are also very curious, especially if they have not encountered a caller before. This is the period when distress calls work very well, and most dogs can be called into very close range.

This is also the reason there are more coyote road kills in late fall. Young nomads often scavenge road kills and have not learned the dangers of such a practice. Their desire for an easy meal becomes their death warrant when they are suddenly surprised and bewildered by the lights of an approaching auto. Consequently it is a good strategy to set up over bait during this period.

I do the bulk of my calling in January and February after the close of deer season. Stress is greatest during these months and I have traditionally had my best luck using distress calls, social howls and barks. The combination of distress calls with bait works very well. This is the time of year when I often get opportunistic shots early in the morning and late in the evening by just driving the back roads and catching individuals on open fields still trying to fill their bellies.

Excellent calling can be had when it is snowing heavily, or the first clear day just after a snow. To me, this is the very best calling time. I have always had my best luck under these conditions. I’ve called dogs throughout the day with no apparent break in the action. Blizzards tend to force them to hole up, so they are out just after the storm to fill their bellies. Calling is especially good in protected wooded areas.

Breeding Season Tactics

coyote life cycleDepending on the latitude, breeding season can begin by mid-January. Until the breeding season, I concentrate tactics around the coyote’s desire for food and comfort, or the lack of experience of juveniles.

During the breeding season, the coyote population is in its greatest annual period of change. This is the season of the coyote wars. One or several males competing for a female may be challenging an area, and females coming into estrus are searching for a new mate. Researchers (KSU-1968), (Feldhamer, Thompson, Chapman -2003). (Sacks, Bannashch, Chomel, Bruno) contend that secondary or “Beta” females will come into estrus 12 to 17 days after the Alpha female. Since the Alpha pair has bonded, the Beta female must go out on her own to find a mate. Coyote social behavior and nature’s calling combine to cause an unusual amount of relocation, confrontation, pair bonding, and territorial challenge. This also extends the daylight hours that coyotes are active. A hunter is more likely to see more coyotes during the day throughout the breeding season.

Breeding pairs can often be caught on open ground as late as mid-day, when the hunter is changing calling sites. Rather than wasting time and ammunition trying to gun down a running pair from the road, take note of these areas and the time the dogs are sighted. Set up for the following morning or next weekend. Chances are the pair will be there. Breeding pairs are establishing den area territories, so they keep a fairly predictable route. These open areas may well be challenging grounds and contain traffic from several different social levels including females in heat, independent males on the make, and Alpha pairs trying to confirm a territory. A great deal of territorial marking may be taking place and be drawing in the dogs.

This is a time for aggressive calling using howlers, territorial challenges and the estrus chirp. I normally use a .243 for long range shots and for bucking the traditional windy conditions of the season. An advantage is that it’s normally not as cold in March and sitting in a blind or on a hillside is not uncomfortable. You can wait longer for something to develop. A good pair of binoculars is a must for observing game trails and activity.

The disadvantage to breeding season is the weather is unpredictable. It can be warm and still, then a howling wind kicks in, or even a sudden shower or snow squall. Coyotes react differently to each weather situation and a caller can never be sure what those reactions might be. On the other hand, weather changes contribute to the unsettled nature of coyote society and can be an advantage to the caller. Use higher volume on a windy morning.

Breeders may not respond as aggressively to traditional distress calls because they have territorial matters foremost on their mind. It may be necessary to go for the long shot off a well braced bipod. Many times my calls do nothing more than stop them for an easier shot opportunity. I’ll use a short bark on my howler to pull this off. If I do connect, I’ll leave him lay, stay in position and keep calling rather than disturb the area.

coyote life cycleThis is also a period when you may run into bold packs that will eagerly cross open ground and come right into the call. They will aggressively defend territory and react boldly. This is driven by Alphas in a quest for territorial control, and pack support is utilized to reinforce their status. This trait can significantly improve calling success. Last season I called in five at one time the first weekend of April. This demonstrated to me that some packs will remain together later than commonly believed.

A good low chair or butt pad helps the hunter remain still for longer periods of time. A cover scent is practical in close, still conditions, but on open ground in breezy conditions I don’t bother.

Breeding season is an excellent time to deploy the howler and an estrus “chirp” call. I use a high pitched howler to mimic juvenile males or females in heat. Whole family units may come in to defend territory. Single males may also frequent the area checking scent markings and challenging for territory. A howl from a perspective breeding female may be all the encouragement he needs to move in.

I don’t recommend overusing the howler, especially later in the morning. At that time of day it is better to simply wait in ambush from the high ground until you see something and then try to entice with a high pitch bark or the good old distress cry. Late day singles may well be nomads looking for a meal at a time when they are less likely to encounter dominate aggressive packs.

You can often tell which cry to try by watching the coyote’s body language. If he is advancing at a fairly brisk trot with head low, poking and prodding, digging and searching, a distress cry will probably encourage investigation rather than a territorial challenge. However, if he is moving cautiously with his head held high, frequent stops where he scans the area, moving to high ground and pausing to investigate, an estrus chirp or challenge bark will be more successful. This dog is either on the prowl for a territorial challenge or he is looking for a mate.

An estrus “chirp” is a short, brisk vocalization best made with an open reed mouth call. It is a great attention getter and works similarly to a bark with a howler. It is higher pitched and sharper than a howler bark and often convinces a potential suitor or rival to come in for a look.

The best location for breeding season is the back country where there is little human traffic in the early morning and plenty of food resources. This is a good time to wear wading boots and cross streams that may turn back other callers. Breeding season coyotes are going to frequent areas of less human traffic and a sound strategy is to go where others don’t and remain in the area later in the day.

Large concentrations of rats, mice, and birds are good indicators, as are lambing and calving grounds. I’ve had very good luck recently by overlooking open ground over a mile stretch between lambing ground and good den sites. I like the sand hills where there are acres of farmland bordering good, well foliaged den areas. Winter crops are still short and ground cover is slight. Dogs often pass across these open fields on their way back to heavier cover after a night of foraging.

Most of all, coyotes are more aggressive and preoccupied during breeding season. They are more likely to get involved with social activities and let their guard drop. Beginning callers should try their luck in the spring during breeding season before becoming too discouraged. Mistakes we all make are often countered by the natural aggression and confusion that develops during the coyote breeding season.

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