Leader of the Pack

Sometimes it’s the coyotes themselves that provide the very best lessons on how to become a better hunter.

Leader of the Pack

iStock Photos/AB Photography 

Let’s face it, we’ve all seen some pretty crazy things on YouTube.com. However, when I watched a grown man walk into the woods, make howling sounds with his mouth and then have a pack of wild coyotes run to him and jump into his arms, I thought I had seen it all! Because I was vaguely familiar with the man, I knew it was not some sort of computer-generated imagery. This was the real deal, and I needed to know more about this man’s exploits.

The man’s name is Torry Cook, the owner of MFK Game Calls, and he has become a well-recognized figure in the predator hunting industry. Before Cook, a 43-year-old mountain of a man from Johnsville, Arkansas, got involved with his call company he had a thriving taxidermy business. In 2009, when the demand for his calls increased, he decided to give MFK his full attention. Cook assembled a pro staff who became proficient at mastering coyote vocalizations on mouth diaphragm calls. They demonstrated their skills, both in the woods and at national calling competitions. 

Here is where it gets interesting. One day, Cook’s wife, also named Torie, made a Facebook post apologizing for her husband’s recent absence from social media. She vaguely explained that he had been living in the wild with some coyotes and the results were going to be worth it. 

Torry Cook’s “adventure” began in 2018, as he attempted to record coyote vocalizations to use while hunting. He came across a den that had live pups inside. Because the adults had died, Cook extracted the 1-week-old pups to give them a chance to survive. And because he wanted to raise the pups in as normal an environment as possible, he created a den near his home and placed the four pups inside. 

He and his wife spent almost every hour of the day caring for the pups to ensure their survival. Through feeding and vaccination (both legal in Arkansas), the pups flourished. The Cooks provided a food source for the coyotes, but other than that they were 100 percent wild and on their own. Cook says the coyotes did also find food on their own, but his feeding kept them around. The pups were raised as free-range coyotes but have imprinted on the Cooks as their “parents.” Torry says that he and his wife simulated adult coyote behaviors to keep things as realistic as possible. For example, when real coyotes bring food to the den, they often regurgitate the food for the pups. The Cooks didn’t go that far, but they did provide softened food to replicate this tendency. 

Cook documented their lifecycle through video and audio recordings over the course of the past four years. The videos can be accessed on the MFK YouTube channel, and the high-quality sound files are available on the MFK webpage. The Cooks have also raised subsequent litters each year. While they might not spend as much time as they did the first time around, each litter has survived. At last count, they are in contact with 18 coyotes on the 20,000 acres of land they control. 

Here is a fun, if not amazing, fact: Torry can identify them all by their howls! Countless hours of observing coyote behaviors have translated into an understanding of coyotes that most folks will never achieve. The good news is that Cook is willing to share his knowledge to assist hunters in becoming more proficient while hunting. I asked him to detail some of his findings and use them to shed some light on important issues related to coyote calling.

Coyotes and Sound Volume

Have you ever wondered how loud a real coyote’s howl is compared to what you are emitting with your e-caller? Well, Cook knows this answer and his findings can help you make more realistic howls. He measured and recorded the sounds of wild coyotes and directly compared them to various popular game calls. For example, a recorded coyote howl on a Foxpro Shockwave played at level 36 is equivalent to a live coyote howl. Users of the X series Foxpro callers might want to bring it down a bit because the live coyote volume was equal to 26-34 on those lines of e-callers. Of course, some recorded sounds might appear louder than others, but Cook’s findings provide insight as to how loud hunters should be playing their sounds.

Here is another interesting fact. Cook compared the live coyote response to howling volume and found that playing howls loudly from an e-caller drew far better vocal response than lower sound level howling. So, don’t be afraid to crank up the volume when you’re trying to locate a pack on your next hunt. 

Hunters who seek 100 percent authentic animal sounds need look no further than those offered by Torry Cook. Here, he records coyote vocalizations up close and personal.
Hunters who seek 100 percent authentic animal sounds need look no further than those offered by Torry Cook. Here, he records coyote vocalizations up close and personal.

Sound Frequency and Duration

The debate of whether to play sounds continuously or intermittently rages on. However, Cook’s observations might settle things once and for all. According to Cook, for the most part, two things trigger coyotes to respond: starting a sound and stopping it. And when they trigger, it happens quickly. He expands his explanation. “Don’t play only two sounds for a long time. It is better to play several sounds for one to three minutes (four minutes at the max). They also trigger in the silent breaks as they listen for the next sound. Sporadic breaks of 10 to 30 seconds are best. Again, playing several sounds for less time is far more effective than playing only two sounds for a long time.” 

Hunters also debate about how long to stay on stand. According to Cook, spring and summer stands, which are chiefly composed of coyote pup vocalizations, are most productive when they are 12 to 15 minutes long. If nothing shows up in this time frame, they either are not coming or are out of earshot of the call. For wintertime calling, stand length can be extended to the 25- to 30-minute mark. These stands should comprise one or two sounds from every call category to trigger a response. For example, hunters should include lone howls, pair howls, fight sounds and breeding sounds to elicit a response.  

Individual Personalities 

I asked Cook if he observed coyotes approaching differently to the sounds. He says that while there are similarities, sometimes it depends upon the individual coyote. Certain coyotes, due to their “personalities,” are far more suspicious of call sounds. Furthermore, some coyotes will not trigger unless they can smell the source of the sound. Most coyotes, when convinced, will go straight to the sound, taking the path of least resistance. 

Interestingly, Cook found that howls are most effective at triggering coyotes to respond. He noticed that coyotes are convinced more easily to howl sounds than they are of prey distress sounds. When coyotes approach howl sounds, they are less likely to circle downwind as compared to when responding to prey distress sounds. This bit of information should give all hunters confidence when playing howls on stand. 

I asked Cook how far away coyotes responded from. “In thick cover, they will react from a mile away,” he said. “In open terrain areas, this distance is doubled to 2 miles, and when they do come, they will appear within minutes. It doesn’t take them long to cover the distance.” 

The Educated Coyote Myth

Are coyotes really that intelligent? Do they possess some mythical ability to avoid a hunters’ best calling attempts? Cook admits he used to believe that the educated coyote theory was a myth. That is, until his observations proved otherwise. Nowadays, he “100 percent knows coyotes quickly smarten up to hunters’ calling tactics.” Cook conducted his own field experiments on this very topic to see if coyotes would shun certain sounds. He found that all coyotes learned to avoid/ignore sounds that had any sort of negative connotation associated with them. He also found that if a sound was left to play through a remotely placed call and the coyote approached and reached the call and realized the sound was fake, it would never approach that particular sound again.   

On the other hand, when Cook turned off the sound when the coyote was a considerable distance away (and no negative stimulus was experienced) the coyote would approach the same sound in the future. Torry also found that playing the same sound for a long period of time seems to educate coyotes. Conversely, playing several sounds for short intervals did not educate them nearly as often. 

Observing and recording the coyote pups’ behavior as they interact with each other has led to discovering highly effective sounds to lure in coyotes while hunting.
Observing and recording the coyote pups’ behavior as they interact with each other has led to discovering highly effective sounds to lure in coyotes while hunting.

Gender Specific Howling

Cook believes that many hunters overthink their calling tactics. He has found that gender and age make no difference to responding coyotes. In essence, gender specific howling is a myth! Cook said, “Many people are overlooking some of the best sounds on their callers because they are male recordings and folks are scared to use them,” he said. “A wild pack of coyotes recognizes the howls from its group and of groups around it. In that case, the subordinate coyotes know better than to fool with an alpha male because the pecking order has been established. However, when hunters enter the area and use howls in their sequence, any of the coyotes will approach because they have never encountered that “coyote” and have no fear of it.” Cook points out that his series of howl sounds recorded from “his” coyote named Boone are highly effective on coyotes of all ages, even though Boone is a dominant male coyote. 

Life Cycle Transitions 

Cook believes hunters should understand what is happening in the coyote life cycle so they can develop a year-long calling plan. He calls the different phases in a coyote’s life “transition times,” and each requires specific calling tactics.  

The months of October through November consist of family “bust up,” where young of the year coyotes are spending time and distance from each other but have not permanently dispersed to new living areas. During these times, pups are acting as individuals and are far more susceptible to prey distress sounds. Be sure to include a variety of prey distress options while on stand. 

During December and January, coyotes are pairing up and preparing to breed. Hence, all social sounds that involve breeding can be effective at this time. Prey distress sounds also are important because coyotes need to feed with greater frequency to maintain energy levels during the colder temperatures that are present during these months. 

February through March is denning time. Male coyotes will be roaming areas surrounding the dens to confront intruders. Coyote fight sounds can be effective at this time. Breeding sounds can still be effective, as well. 

April through August is pup rearing time. While some hunters take a break from hunting at this time, others who are chiefly interested in livestock protection continue to hunt. For spring and summer calling, pup vocals — both howls and pup distress/fight sounds — are excellent choices.  

What’s On the Horizon?

Anyone who has been around the predator calling community for several years has noticed the trends and evolution of the sport. Initially, rabbit distress sounds were the staple call to use. Then, folks realized that adult coyote howls could be effective at drawing coyotes to the stand. Nowadays, it seems like pup vocalizations are becoming all the rage.  

I asked Cook what he sees as the next trend in calling and his answer was two-tiered. First, he said that fight sounds would become popular. He points out that some hunters believe the sounds are too intense, but some folks are using them successfully. He thinks the time will soon come when people start their calling stands with fight sounds. Secondly, he adds that people will realize how important it is to play multiple sounds on a single stand to trigger response. Because the sport is expanding at a rapid rate, it is inevitable that calling tactics must evolve as well. 


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