Progressive Predator Calling — Come One, Come All

Most regions of the North American continent have two or more predator species that share the same habitat, competing for the available food sources. That’s good news for the equal-opportunity predator hunter.

Progressive Predator Calling — Come One, Come All

iStock Photos / JMrocek

The December sun had not yet fully crested the horizon as I made my way across a snow-covered farm lot, and I couldn’t help but notice an abundance of predator tracks in the snow. I saw red fox tracks where the smallish canines had meandered around a hay bale and tracks where a pair of coyotes had made a straight path across the lot and ventured down to a ditch line on the east end of the property. The prints were all fresh, which gave me high hopes as I set up to call. But was I better off targeting the foxes or coyotes — or both? 

One of the most common questions I hear is, “How do I deal with a mixed bag of predators.” In other words, what is a good strategy when coyotes, foxes, bobcats, etc., inhabit the same area? In a situation such as this, I employ what I call a progressive calling stand, which has proven effective for calling in predators in all regions of the country. Here, the hunter purposely selects specific sounds presented in a particular order to appeal to any predator within earshot. 

When hunting predator-rich environments, hunters should think of themselves as the host of a party. They want to welcome all their friends and not exclude anyone, and this needs to be taken into consideration when planning the calling sequence. Which sounds will appeal to both foxes (reds and grays) and coyotes as well as other predators? Which sounds might deter predators from investigating the scene? While there are few absolutes in predator calling, I believe starting any calling sequence with aggressive male coyote challenge howls will quickly eliminate the possibility of calling in smaller predators such as foxes and bobcats. The bottom line is that proper sound selection is paramount to success when making progressive calling stands.


First Comes First

Predators come to the call for a variety of reasons, with hunger, mating, protecting territory and simple curiosity the most common. A progressive calling stand will begin with the notion that predators are almost always hungry. Regardless of the time of year or even the time of day, you want to present sounds that appeal to a predator’s stomach. 

Remember, you do not care whether it’s a fox or coyote that shows up, you simply want results. The first call you use should be something any predator would like to eat. As an example, your knowledge of predator diets tells you that rodents are a common food source in a particular area so it’s a sound strategy to begin with the sounds of a rodent in distress.  — music to any predator’s ears and can be heard from hundreds of yards away. Whether they’re produced using a bulb type squeaker or a high-end digital call, rodent distress sounds are an effective way to start a stand. 

Start low and gradually increase the volume. Consider that a predator might be close by, and it will not take much volume to draw it in — or scare it off. As time passes, increase the volume. How much time? Allot five minutes for rodent-distress sounds. This is generally enough time for any predators in the vicinity to show themselves. If nothing responds, move on to the next phase of the progressive stand.

When it comes time to target coyotes, the author likes to use a combination of electronic and mouth calls.
When it comes time to target coyotes, the author likes to use a combination of electronic and mouth calls.

Phase Two: More Distress Sounds

For the second sequence, I continue to use prey distress sounds and amp up the intensity. Since rabbits and birds are both consumed by red foxes, gray foxes, bobcats and coyotes, they will be the next sound I use. For those hunters using an e-caller, there are literally hundreds of these sounds to choose from and each will have his or her favorites. Newbie hunters might feel most comfortable “matching the hatch” by using sounds from prey species known to exist in the area — cottontails or jackrabbits, for example. 

When hunting highly pressured and educated predators, you might want to use uniquely different distress sounds. Non-indigenous species’ sounds fit the bill in this situation. In any event, select a sound and play it for five minutes. Frequency and duration are up to the individual hunter. Some like to play the sounds continuously, while others like to call sporadically. While using progressive calling, either calling style is suitable. 

If no predators have responded after five minutes of a certain sound, switch to another prey-species sound and play it for another five minutes. Again, this choice is up to the individual hunter so long as it’s a prey species that will attract a variety of predators. This change up in sounds is sometimes necessary because all predators can act finicky and ignore certain sounds for any reason, at any time. The changing of sounds also keeps things interesting and fresh for the hunter. Remember to choose a second sound that will appeal to all predators. Stay away from the distress sounds of larger prey species such as whitetail fawns. Instead, opt for bird distress sounds, such as woodpeckers or songbirds.


Phase Three: Using Vocalizations

Once you’ve served up various prey-in-distress sounds for 15 minutes with no response, it would suggest that appealing to hunger isn’t working or there aren’t any predators within hearing range. It’s now time to mix things up and try some canine chatter — drawing on predators’ territorial nature. However, don’t use coyote vocalizations — not just yet! 

At the 15-minute mark of the stand, I recommend using a gray fox distress sound. Don’t be fooled into thinking this sound is effective for luring in only feisty gray foxes — red foxes and coyotes love it, too. Hunters across the country have been turned on to this sound and swear by it. Play it loud for five minutes and stay alert. After five minutes, I switch to another variation of gray fox distress. Play this sound for an additional five minutes at loud volume. A quick check of the math tells us we have now called for 25 minutes. That’s typically enough time for foxes — and bobcats — to respond for both hunger and/or territorial reasons. While I hate to say that I give up on them, this is the point when I change my mindset and concentrate solely on coyotes.


Phase Four: Targeting Wile E. Coyote

The first three phases of the calling stand were purposely designed to bring in any predators that were in the vicinity. Phase four specifically targets coyotes. Since no coyotes responded to food offerings, it’s time to use vocalizations to appeal to their territorial nature. During any month of the calling season, coyotes are generally not tolerant of nonresident (transient) coyotes invading their turf. For this reason, a wise bet is to begin with a lone howl. This will announce the presence of a rogue coyote and that is often enough to make resident coyotes sound off with howls of their own. This will be a welcome sound to the hunter, because he now knows there are coyotes in the vicinity. Be advised that a coyote might show up unannounced as well, so always stay alert. 

In my experience, it’s best not to overuse coyote vocalizations. Don’t forget that your resident coyotes might have just heard 25 minutes of distress sounds. Less is often better in this case. A simple howl backed by sparse coyote barks will let coyotes know an intruder is in the area. Give the coyotes plenty of time to appear (could take up to 30 minutes) and don’t expect them to howl as they approach. Again, stay still and keep a keen eye on the terrain. 

If the hunt is taking place later in the calling season, the use of coyote mating sounds can be effective. While it’s often difficult to fully decipher between different coyote vocalizations and fully understand what they mean, hunters can still use them effectively by keeping things simple. Start a mating sequence with a lone female howl. After a few minutes of silence, which is spent scanning the terrain, play sounds that replicate actual mating sounds. 

I usually spend 15 minutes using various coyote vocalizations. If coyotes are howling and in the immediate vicinity, I stay on stand longer. If not, my entire progressive calling stand will have lasted 40 minutes. For me, that is enough time invested at one location and I’m guessing that is also plenty for most hunters.

Hunters who are fortunate enough to have a variety of predators inhabiting their lands are in for some exciting hunts — if they know how to pull it off.
Hunters who are fortunate enough to have a variety of predators inhabiting their lands are in for some exciting hunts — if they know how to pull it off.


One of the nice things about using progressive calling stands is that they can be performed with either mouth-blown calls, electronic callers or even a combination of both. The sounds used in the first three phases of the stand can be easily mimicked using mouth calls. The sequences can also be readily programmed into an e-caller for hands-free operation. The only caveat for using pre-programmed sequences is that once started the volume is set, and hunters might want to raise or lower volume depending upon atmospheric conditions. To remedy this situation, I program two sequences that are identical in makeup, except that one has higher volume assigned to the sounds for use on days or nights that are especially noisy due to higher winds. It is my preference to produce the coyote vocalizations manually by using a mouth howler or by manually pressing the buttons on my remote as need be. My rationale is simply that I use the vocalizations in response to the interaction of real coyotes. 

Creating a calling stand that appeals to a mixed bag of predators takes some thought and planning. However, by using the information provided here, it’s possible to develop progressive calling stands that will get the attention of any predator on the landscape.


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