Coyote Mating Season Mayhem

Patience and persistence are the keys to success when coyotes are focused on breeding.

Coyote Mating Season Mayhem

Winter. In much of North America it’s cold, with winds that can cut to the bone. Much of the continent’s wildlife has hunkered down, hoping to survive until spring. Not the coyote. Depending on exactly where you live, from mid-December to the end of March (with mid-January to mid-March being prime time in most places), coyotes are focused on something more important than comfort — the future of the species. They are now engaged in a territorial battle for the right to breed. 

Mating season mayhem is upon us. 

Just as is the case with all wildlife — and yes, humans as well — when mating instincts become the paramount focus, behavioral changes occur, affecting every portion of the coyote’s being. Territorial battles are waged for the right to pass on genetics. At this time coyotes become more aggressive and offensive, protective and defensive, territorial and hungry. All this can give the savvy predator caller an added advantage. This is also the time of year when calling coyotes can be feast or famine.


Mating Season Basics

Some basic biology. Female coyotes are monestrous, meaning they experience estrus only once per year; when they come into heat, it lasts for somewhere between two to five days. Thus, male coyotes produce sperm only during the time females are receptive. The coyote estrous period lasts about 10 days, and if the male tries to breed her before she is ready, she’ll threaten and reject him until the time is right. She’ll growl, bark, yip and even whimper, all the while bearing her dagger-like teeth in an attempt to make her point to her suitor — fuhggedaboudit! Even though coyotes are monogamous, an alpha male will often become so frustrated with the teasing of a not-quite-ready female and go on the prowl, looking to mate with a receptive female either within or outside his own pack. Males are simply following a basic male biological need to spread their genes. He’ll return to his mate when she’s ready. 

Pups are born 63 days after conception. The average birth rate is three or four pups per litter, though it can be much lower or much higher. Pup survival rates are as low as 20 percent, though it is generally higher in urban and suburban areas, and averages out to about 50 percent. Both parents rear the pups. Lactation lasts until June. Weaning puppies are fed regurgitated food by their parents, which is gradually replaced by more solid food, such as dead and live rodents. This is done until the pups can forage for themselves.


Basic Behavioral Calling Strategies

Regardless of the game you pursue, late-season hunting presents unique challenges based on several factors. One is hunting pressure. If you’re doing your business in areas where you, and others like you, have already spent months calling and hunting, coyotes that have survived to this point have already heard all the dying rabbit sounds callers can mimic. Instead, try calling sequences based on the nuances of the breeding season. 

That’s why estrous whimpers, chirps and yips work so well during the mating phase. Both alpha males and receptive females are on high alert as breeding season approaches, and these sounds will pique both male and female curiosity. His first instinct is to come and find out exactly who’s trying to horn in on his breeding territory, with the intent to run him off. Same with a female, who might aggressively respond with the goal of chasing off any female haughty enough to try and mate with the pack’s alpha dog. Adding a few growls, yips and even a few barks in with the estrous whimpers? It just might provoke a response from the whole pack. When the female is ready, she will call the male back to her with the female invitation howl. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know why this sound is so effective on all male coyotes during this time frame. 

During the coyote’s nesting period, a pregnant coyote’s maternal instincts are already shifting into high gear. She will spend much time prepping a den site for her soon-to-arrive pups, which will be here in just nine short weeks. Like all expecting mothers, she will also aggressively protect that territory from all intruders. And because both males and females equally share pup rearing responsibilities, males do their part to protect this denning site, too. That’s why a challenge howl can be very effective right now. However, this is a sound one should be used sparingly, and with great patience. And because breeding makes coyotes hungry, it is also important to not totally forget about prey distress sounds.

Electronic callers loaded with unique food source sounds as well as a wide variety of vocalizations give the hunter a distinct advantage when dealing with veteran coyotes during the mating season. The key here is to mix it up.
Electronic callers loaded with unique food source sounds as well as a wide variety of vocalizations give the hunter a distinct advantage when dealing with veteran coyotes during the mating season. The key here is to mix it up.

What About Prey Sounds?

Coyote vocalizations are your primary tool during mating season mayhem. However, you should not forget about a coyote’s tummy. Breeding takes energy, as does being pregnant. Together with bitter winter weather, this means both male and female coyotes need lots of calories. 

Let’s make a big leap and compare this period to human pregnancy. Being preggers will cause some women to eat way more than normal. Why would a litter-laden female coyote be different? How many of you have male friends who, when their wives were pregnant and ingesting twice their normal daily caloric intake, ate right along with them, also packing on a few extra pounds? And did they not make sure they had plenty of their favorite snacks stashed in the cupboard? 

In this, coyotes are no different. They perform what is termed “food caching” during the breeding phase. They’ll gather all the food they can, hungry or not, and bury it to be unearthed later for themselves and their young. This is why prey distress calls should still have a place in your battle plan. 

Here’s a tip, though. Unless your hunt area has not been hammered by other callers for months, try using distress calls the local dogs have not heard much of yet. Stay away from rabbits and focus more on songbirds such as nuthatches or woodpeckers, gamebirds such as pheasants and quail, even chicken and house cat distress calls. If you’re hunting an area that gets called, they might have already been educated by somebody’s rabbit sounds, but maybe not so much these lesser known and lightly used distress calls. Your e-caller should be loaded with options.

The dead of winter can produce excellent results if the hunter understands the change in animal behavior during the breeding season and adjusts tactics to take full advantage.
The dead of winter can produce excellent results if the hunter understands the change in animal behavior during the breeding season and adjusts tactics to take full advantage.

Typical Calling Sequence

After sneaking into a stand location, getting set up and giving it a few moments to settle down, I like to start off with a single young pup howl. Then I might throw in a female yodel howl and male coyote howl. If you can mimic that lone female coyote looking for companionship, you’ve made the No. 1 most effective coyote sound for this time period. 

During the course of the year, coyotes will come for a myriad of reasons — territorial protection, defense of their soon-to-be-born or young pups, a need to eat or good old-fashioned curiosity. But January through March, the main reason they’re coming is to defend their territory and/or to breed. They still need calories, and when all else fails trying the aforementioned prey distress sounds makes sense, but this need to eat takes a backseat to breeding and territorial defense. After starting the sequence off with that lone howl, wait for maybe five minutes. No response? Go to morning yips and whimpers. Work those sounds for maybe a minute, then shut up and wait for five to 10 minutes. No action? Try pup screams and distress sounds, and even gray fox distress cries, then wait some more. 

One time I heard Al Morris, the well-known coyote caller, talk about this. He emphasized something that’s easy to forget when you’re excited as all get-out on a fresh stand. “Mimicking a lone female coyote looking for a companion, broadcasting to the world I am a lonely coyote looking for anyone else in the world, that single howl is the No. 1 sound to get other coyotes to come look at you,” Morris said. “You can’t make any better sound to call in a coyote in this period. Also, I purposefully space these sounds out because silence kills as much as sound. The space between sounds is very, very important, and can change from stand to stand. Use your experience and judgement and make the call. But patience — and silence — will kill more coyotes than constant calling.”


It’s a Challenge

No doubt, coyote calling during the breeding season can be frustrating, a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Some days, you get lots of action. Many days, nada. But the adrenaline rush when it comes together and that big alpha dog comes to fight is hard to replicate. Even during tough times, patience and persistence — and the knowledge of the coyote’s biological needs during the breeding season — are the keys to bringing thickly furred dogs into range.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.