Calling Summertime Coyotes in the Thickets

PX Cartoonist Tim Davis heads to southeastern Arkansas during the oppressive heat of summer to learn how to call coyotes in the thickets.

I could feel the sweat pouring down my forehead in giant beads. I wanted nothing more than to wipe my brow — but I couldn't move. Just then, a large mosquito decided to make itself at home on my left temple. I could feel her drilling into my skin for my life blood. Still, I couldn't move. A tick started walking up my right leg, yet I still couldn't move. My paralysis wasn't from a chronic illness but from intense anticipation.

I was melting in 98-degree temperatures deep in the woods of southeastern Arkansas, hunting for coyotes with Torry Cook of MFK game calls.

I couldn't move a muscle, because Torry had just filled the woods with the sound of a howl from one of his custom-made diaphragm calls, effectively telling every coyote in the county that we were there.

Torry warned me to be prepared because after he howled the coyotes would be coming in fast and furious.

I clutched my rifle with sweaty hands and scanned the thick foliage, only moving my eyes.

Torry broke the tension with a series of pup whimpers from one of his recently developed custom calls.

A few minutes later, Torry got my attention with a hushed commanding voice

"Over here, Spike."

I quickly glanced to my right to see an adult male coyote barreling down on us not thirty yards away. The coyote checked up as I swung my rifle to line up with him. I was sure he would bolt, but he just stopped, looking through the undergrowth and trees trying to figure where the sound was coming from. His few seconds of confusion allowed me to find the coyote in my scope through the brush. I was waiting for Torry to tell me he had our quarry in the camera. My heart was pounding so hard I could hardly hear anything.

Through my scope, I could see that my target's body language was communicating his realization that this party was one he was regretting crashing. At that moment, I pulled the trigger and the coyote dropped where he was standing.

I was amazed. I had only been in the state a few hours and I had my first Arkansas coyote under my belt.

Torry looked over at me with a big smile, pulled the call out of his mouth, and gave me a thumb up.

We quickly took some pictures and moved onto the next stand.

Time was not on our side. We were pinching every minute of daylight the evening would give us.

We settled on the edge of a pond that overlooked a large, freshly cut field.

Torry looked over at me, " You ready?" I gave him a head nod.

He put his diaphragm call in his mouth and placed a cow horn amplifier to his lips.

The challenge howl that Torry produced was so convincing I had to do a double take. Seriously, all I could think was “How can a human make that sound?”

He followed up the challenge howl with a group howl from his ICOtec e-caller. At the other end of the field, I saw a young deer milling around. When the howling started, it snapped its head up and pranced off to the nearby woods.

A few minutes later, Torry said in a low tone, "Coyote is coming."

I looked across the field. Skirting along the wood's edge, was a mature coyote with a gorgeous pelt trotting perpendicular to our position. I told myself to wait for it to come in a little closer before considering a shot, but Torry told me to ready myself for the shot because there wasn't much light left. Then Torry let out a loud "woof " and the coyote stopped in its tracks. I estimated the distance and held my scope's crosshairs accordingly then pulled the trigger. Whiff. A clean miss. We watched our visitor dash off out of view.

Torry pulled the MFK diaphragm out of his grinning mouth and turned the camera in my direction, " So what does the Chicago boy have to say for himself?"

I smiled back into the camera " Even us cartoonists miss on occasion!"

On the walk back to the truck — after spending a few minutes ribbing me about my shooting abilities — Torry informed me that I'm not the first person to miss that particular shot. The field is deceptively long, and I was in good company with folks who had shot low on an incoming coyote.

When we got back to the truck, my long day of driving and the heat and the adrenaline dump of calling in two coyotes were starting to take their toll. I was looking forward to a good night of sleep back at the MFK lodge.  Torry had other plans.

"This is where the hard work of my hunting style comes in." He told me as he let me know the next few hours would be spent driving the country side locating coyotes for the next morning's hunt.  We drove for miles in the dark stopping occasionally to get out of the truck for Torry to employ one of his latex mouth calls and produce a challenge howl followed up with a group howl from the ICOtec hanging at his side.

Several stops gave us no response other than a few cricket chirps.  I wasn't sure if the coyotes were going to cooperate, but Torry was undaunted. At one of our final stops, Torry went through the same calling routine; I was starting to lose faith. As I let out a yawn, my thoughts of a comfortable bed in the climate-controlled lodge were suddenly interrupted by a pack of coyotes close by responding to Torry's howls.

We went on to call several other places. Only one more location gave us a responsive pack of coyotes. Torry used this information to come up with a plan for the morning. I was still working on a plan for getting to sleep before midnight.

The five o'clock alarm cut short my dream of a full night of sleep, but I knew I hadn't driven all the way to south eastern Arkansas to catch up on my beauty sleep; I wanted to kill as many coyotes as possible and learn all I could from a man who knew how to make that happen.

We were accompanied that morning by Dayton Pharr, camera man and fellow MFK pro-staffer. Even though I am a Yankee from Chicago, Dayton made me feel right at home.

Our first stand found us on a dirt road, parking the truck and unloading camera equipment and loading shotguns. We walked down a trail for several hundred yards to a small clearing. Torry instructed me to set up on one side while he and Dayton set up on the other.

Seconds after Torry let out several challenge howls, a group of coyotes below our position responded with a group howl that caused my muscles to instantly tense up. I glanced down instinctively at my shotgun to make sure I was locked and loaded and began scanning the wood's edge, looking through every small opening for any sign of movement. Just then, a coyote jumped out of the foliage across from me within only a few feet of Torry and Dayton. From the angle they were sitting they couldn't see it, and I wasn't going to take an unsafe shot.

The coyote left as fast as it came. I told Torry what had happened and he made the decision to move down the slope towards the pack in hopes that we had not spooked them all.  We packed up our gear and headed in that direction as stealthily as possible. Torry had told me earlier that he has been criticized for his aggressive hunting style. He went on to say that there are times of the year when the coyotes are not willing to cross a great distance no matter what sound you throw at them, and the best tactic is to walk up to their front door and knock. The down-side to this approach is that you have a high possibility of bumping them and watching your hopes of putting fur in the back of your truck slip off silently into the briars.

As we walked through the woods, I was diligent to keep an eye on where I stepped so not as to make much noise; however, cutting through the thick undergrowth made walking quietly difficult. I lost track of how far we had walked, but it wasn't long before Torry turned to us and signaled that this would be where we would make our stand.

Looking around for possible runways that the coyotes would use as a pathway to run into our calls, I chose to stand leaning up against a pine tree.  Torry and Dayton set up to my right.

Torry did his magic by letting out a deep growl that turned into a dominant male howl, then he followed up with faint and subtle pup whimpers. Hearing him produce amazing sounds from a simple piece of latex stretched over an aluminum frame never got old.

I was covering the only access route on the left as Torry was covering the right side.

The silence was snapped by a deep growl that didn't come from Torry.

I looked over and Torry was between me and the sound. I didn't move because I knew the coyote was very close. Torry stayed perfectly still, and the coyote eventually moved to Torry's left in an attempt to get down wind. I took advantage of his movement and swung my Mossberg 535 to anticipate his path. That's when I heard Dayton say in a low tone,

"I've got him in view." Which was my signal to shoot. The coyote stopped not 20 yards from me and looked through the branches trying to figure what was going on. I unloaded a 12-gauge, 3-inch shell loaded with BB in its direction. The mangy varmint folded like a cheap tent.

The sun was starting to get high in the sky and the temperatures were following.

Torry decided it was time to head to the house for some down time and then get back to hunting right before dark.

Dayton runs a farm and had some business to attend to but promised he'd be there for the p.m. hunt.

Torry and I headed back to his house where he showed me his game call operation and gave me a short history of how MFK came to be. Torry has hunted and fished all his life and ran a successful taxidermy business before MFK game calls came into existence. Torry and I met through social media several years ago, and it wasn't long before I was drawing and sending him MFK-related cartoons. Torry and the other MFK crew are a rowdy and crazy bunch of guys whose antics and bold attitude have inspired many cartoons.

After I saw the operation side of the business, Torry led me into a room where he keeps all his MFK memorabilia and first place trophies from his days on the competitive bowfishing circuit.  What I saw next blew me away.  Every cartoon I had ever drawn him was carefully framed and hanging on the wall.  He told me these were something he truly cherished, and it showed.

Dang! I got some dust in my eye!

Once the hot Arkansas sun started sinking down in the sky, we loaded up our guns and gear and headed out to a logging road that lead us along a pine forest.

Torry told me we would be hunting the corner of a large field, but instead of looking out into the field on the edge of the undergrowth, we would be set up 30 yards back in the thick stuff skirting the fence line.

" A coyote is going to feel more comfortable coming to a call in this cover than crossing an open field,” he added. Since the fence made a likely travel path for incoming coyotes, Torry set me up there and he watched the backdoor for anything trying to come in on our downwind.  Dayton positioned himself and the camera at the corner post in order to get the best view of the action. This time, instead of howls, Torry used his ICOtec e-caller to broadcast a distress sound that I had never heard before. It was raccoon along with baby blue jay.

A few minutes into the set, Torry again gave me a vocal cue that we were about to have a visitor. I looked through the barbed wire fence to see a coyote burning through some high vegetation. I had to reposition my rifle and caught him in my scope as he stopped amid a cluster of trees not thirty yards away. The coyote was eclipsed by an oak tree, but I could see that he was bobbing his head around trying to decide where the sound of a free meal was coming from.

I was waiting for a signal from Dayton that the coyote was on camera, and I was trying to anticipate which side of the tree the song dog would step to when, finally, the coyote moved and gave me an open shot. I took it. The animal dropped.

After a round of high fives, Torry took a few minutes to explain on camera what our tactic had been and the sound he had effectively used for this stand.

Unfortunately, my rifle had some technical issues, which cut that night's hunting opportunities short.

The next morning would be my final hunt before I headed home. The MFK guys and I were headed towards a place Torry knew held coyotes since he had located them there just recently on one of his nightly howling circuits. Again, Dayton joined us to run the camera.

We parked the truck along a dusty dirt road, and quietly exited the vehicle. Torry wanted to confirm the pack's location with a challenge howl. Immediately, a group below us responded. As quietly as possible, we walked down the dirt road about 60 yards before climbing into the brush in order to have the wind in our favor.

Once in the woods, I followed closely behind Torry with Dayton not far behind me.

We found a small opening alongside a dry creek bed. Torry pointed to where he thought I should sit to afford me the best vantage spot for a quality shot on an incoming coyote.

After we settled, Torry went through his call sequence using a dominant male howl followed with a group howl on his e-caller. After a few minutes of that, he went into the subtle, soft whimpers of an injured pup.

When that call's scenario didn't produce anything, Torry let out a lone howl using one of his custom MFK calls and a cow horn amplifier.

Suddenly, several coyotes broke out in a loud response not 15 yards to my left beyond a thick weed patch.

My heart shot through my chest! I had never been that close to a vocal coyote with the prospect of it coming in to the call.

With my heart still pounding, I waited with an anticipation that was hard to contain; however, nothing ever came in. The coyotes must have winded us.

Torry kept at it, employing several different types of vocalizations in hopes of coaxing one of the coyotes into shotgun range.

The sounds that Torry was producing were so convincing that a lone coyote about 70 yards down the creek bed popped its head out of a thick briar patch to take a look every time Torry would do a call sequence. This happened several times and left us wishing we had brought a rifle along.

After 30 minutes on stand, we called it quits. On our way out, we discovered the fresh tracks of several coyotes that had run in to our entrance trail and gotten wind of us. These were the ones that had been so close to me, but due to the dense foliage I never caught a glimpse of them.

That is the nature of hunting coyotes in the thick stuff.

One thing I want to emphasize to the reader is that consistently fooling coyotes in to shotgun range doesn't involve luck. Locating them and cutting the distance in almost impenetrable vegetation takes a solid strategy. Then, persuading a cunning creature like a coyote to come within striking distance takes skill in your calling. Torry doesn't just make his calls, he has used them to win multiple world championship calling contests, as have several of his pro-staff members. Witnessing first hand Torry 's ability to produce ultra-realistic coyote vocalizations and learning about his strategy on moving in close to his prey made this some of the most exciting hunting I have done in a long time.

As I packed my car to head on back to Chicago, Torry and Dayton gave me firm handshakes and told me that I was welcome to come back anytime. I am indebted to Torry for his hospitality and for introducing me to yet another way to successfully bring coyotes into my calls. My long drive back would find me thinking about how and where to employ my newly learned tactics in Illinois and pondering several more cartoon ideas to pen down.



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