There are many hunters who think a coyote is a coyote and that there’s not much difference between the eastern and western predators. Having hunted coyotes from Maine to Montana and all the way south through Texas, I can say with certainty that there is a big difference in how these animals respond to the call.
A lifetime of calling and Murray Burnham’s (one of the famous Burnham Brothers who pioneered the use of calls for coyotes, foxes and other predators) sage counsel have led me to create 10 tips for calling coyotes anywhere east of the Mississippi.
1. Dress for Success
Whenever a coyote shows up I get the same feeling I did when my high school math teacher looked me in the eye and called me to the front of the class. When I was ill prepared she seemed to know it, sensed it and could pick me out of the crowd from halfway across the classroom. The same goes for coyotes. If you’re not fully covered in camouflage (includes face mask and gloves) all of your efforts to bring him into range will be for naught because as soon as he stops to look at you he’ll see you—and be gone. Wear camo clothing that matches the surroundings you intend to hunt and cover yourself from head to toe. Every time.
2. Your Setup is Ready to Shoot
Some Eastern hunters will start calling before they set up thinking that a little pre-squalling will give distant coyotes time to cover some ground. This may work well in the wide-open West, but in the east the “distant” coyote may literally be right around the corner. He will be in your lap before you have a chance to shoot, and then you’re busted! Never utter a call (or make any noise, including talking) until you are sitting comfortably with your back to a tree, rock or log just as you would while calling spring turkeys. Use a cushion or low seat if you must, but get comfortable, knees up, firearm or bow in hand and ready to shoot. You must be able to sit still, not moving, for the next 45 minutes. Take care of the rocks, twigs and sticks that are under you. Don’t sit on your legs or lean on your elbows because 20 minutes into the hunt they’ll be screaming for relief. Sit down, relax, aim downwind and always assume that a coyote is going to respond to your call.
3. Call Sparingly
As Murray Burnham told me, hunting in the East means calling in relatively confined spaces, with hills, mountains and thick woods all around. Even the loudest of calls can only carry a few hundred yards due to the density of the surrounding habitat, so there is no need to call loudly, repeatedly and continuously. I raised rabbits for meat and lived in the deep, dark woods of Maine for 12 years during my homesteading days and was quite familiar with the sound of a dying rabbit. One or two loud, piteous squalls or a few squeaks are the norm for a rodent that is being attacked by a predator. Call too much and the incomers will become even more suspicious than usual because continuous wailing and screeching is not how “real” prey species respond when being attacked.
I start out with a couple of short-range squeaks just in case a coyote is just inside the woods or just over the next hill. If not, I’ll follow up with one or two loud blasts on a long-range call—but no more. A hungry coyote will know exactly where you are from the first squawk. When he clears the brush and you first see him he will be staring directly at you.
4. Sit Tight for 45 Minutes
Patience is the eastern coyote hunter’s most valuable asset. Once you are set up and calling you must trust your skills and the senses of the coyote. He will find you—in fact, he already has your location pinpointed in his mind — and he will show up as the cover, conditions and his own suspicious nature allow. Some coyotes come in on the run and show up in five minutes; others will skirt every bit of available cover and creep in slowly, full of doubt, anxiety and uncertainty. All you have to do is sit still, ready to shoot, and let the coyote do all the worrying. His hunger will override his fears if you give him time to work on it.
Plan to sit still for 45 minutes, but then sit another five or 10 minutes just in case. And, when it’s apparent that no coyote has heard your call, scan the perimeter carefully and stand up ready to shoot because there’s always that one coyote that will show up unexpectedly at the very last instant, offering a quick shot for the hunter who’s ready for it. This has happened to me everywhere I’ve hunted. Expect it and prepare for it. Sooner or later it will happen to you, too!
5. Study The Wind
Once you have let loose with your call you have done all you can to lure a coyote into range. Now it’s a matter of patience and the wind. Always set up facing downwind or, in hilly country, quartering downwind. Coyotes and other predators will make a wide swing around you and come in with the wind in their faces as they look, listen and sniff the breeze. A predator is as cautious an animal as exists, far more suspicious than deer, elk or even bears. The least whiff of danger will send them running for cover even if everything else looks or sounds good.
6. Use Cover Scent
This is one of the major differences in coyote hunting east to west. On my many trips beyond the Mississippi I have noticed that few open-country callers use cover scents, but the reason is simple enough. In the wide-open spaces of the prairie country shots at coyotes are usually taken at anywhere from 100 to 500 yards or more—there really is no need to bother with scent because you’ll see (and shoot) your coyotes long before they ever catch your wind.
In the east, however, shots at incoming coyotes are often under 100 yards, sometimes much less. This means predators following the scent trail will more than likely catch your odor if you haven’t put out a cover scent that puts them at ease as they move closer. I carry a plastic aspirin bottle filled with cotton balls scented with fox or rabbit urine, skunk essence, beaver castor or some other strong-smelling attractant and simply hang one cotton ball on a bush or tree five yards to my left and right and about 10 yards downwind of my position. I give the scent pads about 15 minutes to catch the wind, which gives me ample time to get comfortably set up before calling.
7. Move At Least a Half Mile Between Sites
This is one of the primary bits of advice Murray Burnham offered when I complained that his calls were not working. “You need to move at least one-half mile between calling sites, especially in the east, because predator populations are lower and it’s possible that they are not hearing your calls,” Burnham said. Smart guy!
While hunters like to think that coyotes in the east are so abundant that they are “everywhere,” the truth is that they are not. “Abundant” is a relative term when it comes to predators. My home pack, for example, shows up about every fourth night, howling and yipping for all they are worth (usually at 3:00 a.m.!) but they are long gone the rest of the week. I have discovered this to be true elsewhere in the east, where small family packs may be here today, gone tomorrow as they forage within their home range, which may extend over several miles. Coyotes are movers, traveling constantly over many miles in their search for food. Do the same while calling and you will have more success.
8. Hunt Over Bait
Another non-western approach that works well with coyotes is the use of bait, which can be used to call predators into range or simply keep them in the area longer and make them more likely to respond to your calls. When calling, set up well away from the bait site or you risk teaching coyotes that bait + calling = trouble.
Good baits for coyotes include beaver carcasses, dead farm animals, road-killed animals (including raccoons, skunks, porcupines and deer) or meat and bone scraps garnered from the local meat cutter. Baiting requires a lot of work and planning, and if you don’t anchor your baits to the site coyotes and other predators will simply carry off the meat and bones, negating your efforts. Baits of opportunity, such as deer, moose, cows, sheep, etc., that have died naturally make excellent short-term baits. When I find one of these I plan to return and call from a nearby position with a plan to lure the coyotes into range along their normal approach route to the bait site.
9. Use Waterways to Your Advantage
There are innumerable lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, beaver flowages, swamps and bogs in the east that are unheard of throughout most of the arid west. All of these waterways provide coyotes with convenient travel lanes, even in winter, making the caller’s job much easier. Set up in a place where you have a good view of the shoreline brush. Use the wind to your advantage and expect incomers to show up in close proximity to the water.
Few coyotes will bother to swim a river, pond or beaver flowage to investigate your call, so allow extra time for the animals to negotiate wetlands, swamps and other standing water as they come in. Sit tight for an hour or more to give them time to work their way through the maze of obstacles along their route.
10. Never Underestimate Your Quarry
The No. 1 mistake of coyote hunters is thinking that each hunt will go as smoothly as a TV hunt. Keep in mind that many hours of hunting goes into the production of those movies, and that the kill scenes are often recorded days or even weeks prior to the promos and “how-to” segments. Coyotes are smart, suspicious, alert and reactive— make any mistake and they are gone. Conduct each hunt under the assumption that there is a coyote out there that will respond to your calls and always presume that there is a coyote just over the horizon. Walk quietly and whisper if you must talk at all. Ditch the cell phones, stay put as long as you can stand it, then give yourself 10 more minutes, and take your best shot as soon as it is presented.
I have often tried to call coyotes in closer just for the fun of it, but friends, the coyote isn’t one for playing games. They are experts at their craft and will make a fool of you at every opportunity. Take an eastern coyote up close and on his own terms and you will come away with a whole new respect for these challenging predators.