Use Aggressive Tactics for Predator Hunting Success

Learn when it's time to transition to Fight Club mode when you're hunting predators and why it works.

Use Aggressive Tactics for Predator Hunting Success

Conflicted again with why the coyotes were ignoring my previous calls, I stared at the remote in my hand. I knew coyotes lived on the public parcel. And despite the fur-season wind down I could hear responding howls from miles off. Coyote tracks crisscrossed my tracks and few hunters ventured in to the interiors of the public area. Maybe I needed to be a bit more aggressive and go beyond the whimper of a mere rodent? That’s when I touched the button that started the rallying cry of coyotes fighting. After a few blasts of that ‘Gladiator” revival I sat back. 

Thirty minutes had slipped by when I discovered the changeup worked. A coyote popped over a nearby rise scanning into the basin below me to look for the argumentative canines. Still convinced there was a brouhaha brewing, it loped closer. When it started its characteristic downwind swing at 120 yards, I barked once and let my rifle take over. That response told me one story. It was the time of year to transition to a “Fight Club” mode.  

Texan Gary Roberson has been calling coyotes since he was 10 years old adding up to more than five decades of coyote experience. In addition to the enjoyment of hunting coyotes, he shares that enthusiasm via the Pursuit Channel predator hunting show “Carnivore,” plus he owns the iconic company Burnham Brothers Calls. To say hunting coyotes is his life would almost be an insult.

“With 55 years of predator hunting education I can tell you that I’ve made every mistake in the book, more than I should have,” Roberson said. “Even after all of those learning lessons, I’m not sure I know any more today than when I started. It’s funny because you see these guys that have been calling for maybe 10 years and they are suddenly experts. That’s not me. I’m always learning. Even now I have days I still can’t call a thing and then there are days I can call everything under the sun.”

With a lifetime of coyote university studies as a background, Roberson admits there is a change in the character of coyotes after the first of the year. And like many wildlife behaviors it has more than one culprit.

Why The Change In Attitude

If you’ve hunted coyotes long enough, you understand that after you take down the Christmas lights coyote hunting can be as frustrating as fixing that string of lights before the holiday. Not only have every one of your hunting pals harassed the area coyotes with the conveniences of an electric caller, there are simply fewer coyotes around. The math is easy on that one folks. 

Dedicated predator hunters begin targeting young-of-the-year coyotes in early fall. Seasoned fur getters add to that pressure after the first frost when hides are prime. Add into that mix the more than 10 million deer hunters who let very few coyotes pass by without a passing shot and you can see that the shelves are becoming bare in the coyote shopping aisle. 

Throughout this melee, the survivors learn that not every sound in the distance is safe. Instead of charging headlong into an ambush, coyotes begin utilizing their version of a safe space. Some simply ignore your calls because they’ve been duped before. Others may creep closer for a look, but still stay just out of sight or out of rifle range. 

Fortunately, there’s a disturbance in the force as the Ides of March loom on a future flip of the calendar. Throughout January, February and March, you can expect coyotes to take on a different approach to life and it doesn’t include a life coach. 

Coyotes begin sensing the upcoming breeding season, the need to defend territory and, as food grows scarcer after a long winter, the need to protect the groceries. In brief, coyotes become aggressive, and that’s your cue to go after them with a more aggressive approach. Roberson understands all of the factors that create hard-to-call coyotes, but points to one factor as a possible boon. 

“When they start mating, it’s a different game,” Roberson said. “It’s not necessarily easier; in fact, it can be tough to call them with distress calls because they have something other on their mind.”

Roberson’s experience tells him that coyotes don’t feed as regularly as they sense the beginning of mating season. Territoriality takes over the hunting dominance of their lifestyle and that shift means a shift for your coyote hunting strategy. For Roberson, it’s time to play upon a coyote’s aggressive nature for breeding rights, territory protection and, eventually, den protection.

Instead of basing calls on prey distress, he adds or totally goes with a coyote vocalization approach. This is when howls and challenge calls drive success, but he still cautions there is no cure-all or miracle sound. He stresses you can still overuse a call, and educate coyotes quickly.  

“Coyotes are quick studies and a good example is when I discovered a new sound we recorded from a 3- or 4-month-old pup we had in captivity,” Roberson said. “This coyote started making a sound I had not heard before in the wild that started off with yipping and then transitioned to a guttural sound.”

He describes the new sound as a message conveying, “I’m OK,” that also adds in a bit of loneliness. Although it has more of a mournful tone, it must spark some aggressiveness in other coyotes based on how he’s seen coyotes react to it. With the new sound in hand, Roberson started testing it and was amazed at the results. 

During one breeding-season hunt, a female started warning barking at him from 500 yards away behind a screen of cover. There didn’t seem to be a good ending for the confrontational encounter, so Roberson switched sounds to the new pup vocalization and was flabbergasted at what he experienced next.

“When that old female heard the call, she charged out of the brush and ran straight at me. You could see from her actions she was going to whip someone’s butt,” Roberson said.

That running response ended badly for the female, but with the incredible reaction, Roberson continued testing the new sound with great results. He may have tested it too much because when he returned to the area where he killed the barking female, the results were dismal. As he noted earlier, coyotes are quick learners so it pays to vary your approach, even during the lead up to spring.

An Invite For Love

The breeding season, or coyote rut, is the main instigator for the changes that take place after the Christmas season. As Roberson said, coyotes begin to forget about food and instead have thoughts of puppy love. Deer and elk hunters can relate to this phenomenon. Males of both species forsake food for breeding rights and coyotes do the same. They’ll pad around for miles while looking for a mate and, when the contract is signed, it’s time to lay down roots and protect a territory. 

Depending on the region of the country, the coyote rut can kick off earlier or later. Most breeding takes place in February with Roberson noting that he sees an uptick in South Texas during mid-January. Those dates signify the time to modify calling strategies to more coyote talk. Roberson adds that it’s never too early to begin the message of love. 

“When coyotes are looking to pair up, you can’t go wrong with the lone howl,” Roberson said. “Coyotes looking for mates could definitely move toward a lone howl that sounds female in nature.”

In addition to simple howls, Roberson says it’s never too early to begin using estrus whines either. He believes hunters wait too long to use the unique sound. Instead of holding off well into February, he suggests adding it to your calls when coyotes are actually hunting for a mate before breeding. 

“I’ve got a recording of a female in heat making estrus whines along with other strange sounds. I’ve had decent success using it, but you’d think it would be crazy good,” he said. “In my mind, I think we’re probably using these breeding sounds a little late. Coyotes are maybe already paired up. Once they pair up, they are committed to staying together, so there’s no reason to chase after another female, even if they hear the estrus calls.”

An Invite For Hate

As much as the season dictates a Love Boat way of life, the attitude of coyotes in the late season continues to be led by aggression. This is particularly true after two coyotes pair up and establish a home territory. Roberson continues pestering these coyotes with howls. Group howls work well to locate coyotes and give you a target area for calling, but sometimes pairs won’t react to a large bunch. For that reason, and to possibly lure in a loner, Roberson still trends toward the lone howl.

“I kind of like the single howling more,” he said. “Group howling will set them off and locate for you, but as far as attracting them, I feel a single howl offers more. They think it is one coyote and a pair might be more likely to go in and challenge a single instead of going in on a group where the danger increases.”

Roberson isn’t afraid to take it to the next level, though. Despite a reluctance to use group howling for a primary, aggressive call, he does add coyote fighting sounds into his setups late in the season. For him, it’s all about telling a story.  

“What you hope to do on any setup is to tell a story. Through sounds you can establish that this happened first and that event triggered another sound, and so on and so on,” he said. 

His fighting sounds were recorded from a fight that ensued between three half-grown coyotes. He’s had excellent results with the sound. In most instances, he tells a story that may include a set that begins with a howl and then transitions to estrus sounds that eventually cumulate with a fight. He also tells sound stories with distress sounds of prey and adds in fighting to mimic coyotes fighting over a kill. Your story may differ, but coyotes definitely have an attraction to a street fight.

As related earlier, Roberson doesn’t hide the fact he also hits a wall with unsuccessful coyote setups, especially in the testing, late-winter months. He keeps one go-to sound in reserve when everything coyote seems to fall upon deaf ears. For those times, he relies on a particularly distressed gray fox.  

“It’s that time of year. Coyotes have heard everything so, like fishing, you kind of go into the tackle box and experiment. In this day and age of electronic callers, it’s easy to do with so many sounds in the palm of your hand,” Roberson said. “One that I have had success with is the adult gray fox in distress. I never use it early, but when other sounds don’t produce I occasionally use that sound and have had pretty decent success. It’s loud and covers a lot of ground.” 

No coyote tactic works 100 percent of the time, particularly when predator hunters have been putting pressure on local coyotes. Roberson understands that conundrum as the fur season progresses. Regardless, when the going gets tough, it might be time to take a tough attitude with coyotes. Try asserting some aggressive messages into your setups for some hard-hitting success. 

Bonus: Stabilize Your Shot

Whether you shoot at coyotes near or far you need to stabilize your shooting iron. That distance can increase exponentially with paranoid coyotes in the late season. For the highest accuracy possible, you need to equip yourself with the right stabilization gear. You can stabilize your shot for precision with these options. 

Military and law enforcement personnel rely on the adjustable bipod for a stabilized shot in any environment. Most models secure to the forend swivel stud, yet allow a sling to attach to the bipod. This attachment guarantees no change in zero from the rifle. Legs fold down for deployment, or out of the way if you want to freehand the shot. Springs retract and extend legs in models such as those from the trusted Harris Bipods company, and even swivel to accommodate uneven ground. 

If you don’t like added weight to your rifle, consider shooting sticks. Modern shooting sticks feature padded rifle grips in various heights. A few models even accommodate standing shots when extended to maximum height. 

For those of you who may take a wait-and-see approach, a sturdier platform may be in order. Consider a portable shooting bench. These portable rests cradle the entire length of the firearm on an adjustable track platform, all stabilized on adjustable tripod legs. 

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