I slowly lifted the remote and looked at the timer…5:11, 5:12, 5:13. The first five minutes of the stand had been uneventful to say the least, much like the previous five stands we had already made that morning. Was I using the right sound? Was the sound carrying far enough? Were we sitting long enough? Were there even any coyotes within earshot to hear it? These were just a few of the questions that bounced through my mind while I sat there waiting patiently.
It was late February and we were calling some of the most coyote-rich and picturesque country this great nation has to offer — the sandhills of Nebraska. Optimism was high earlier that morning as we drove through the darkness on a one-lane paved road into the middle of no-man’s land, but after five dry stands and an increasing wind, our dedication and enthusiasm were being tested.
The sun was already high in the late-morning sky and I knew that the coyotes would be making the transition from their hunting grounds to their bedding areas. So we headed to a choppy range of yucca-covered sandhills paralleled by vast hay meadows on either side.
I glared back down at the remote…6:47, 6:48, 6:49. After nearly seven minutes of a screaming jackrabbit without any takers, I decided that something completely different was in order. I scrolled through the sound list, highlighted “coyote pup screams,” and pressed play. Once I had the volume up to an adequate level, I briefly surveyed our setup one last time. The wind was ideal, blowing from left to right around 15 mph. Brett and his trusty .22-250 Rem. stayed with the camera and me. We tucked ourselves into a cluster of yucca plants and had an unobstructed view of nearly 75 percent of the calling area. In order to get a handle on the remaining 25 percent, Joe positioned himself roughly 60 yards downwind of us on the backside of a small rise. The e-caller and decoy were strategically stuffed into the top of a yucca out in front of our position approximately 30 yards. The imaginary line from us to the caller was perpendicular to the wind direction. The setup was spot-on. All we needed now was a willing participant.
Sometime around the 10-minute mark, I heard the one word I had been waiting so patiently to hear all morning. “Coyote,” Brett whispered. With a slight turn of my head, I briefly caught a pale-gray blur descending off the hillside 300 yards out. “He’s coming hard,” Brett said hastily. Within a matter of seconds, the coyote had closed the distance to less than 150 yards and slowed to a trot as he crested a small knoll in front of us. At that exact time, the Mojo Critter let loose with one of its erratic spins and the coyote’s strides lengthened again. “I’m gonna try and stop him,” Brett said, but it was too late. In what seemed like a couple blinks of the eye, the big male had closed the gap to less than 40 yards and was making a beeline for the e-caller and decoy. BOOM! The .22-250 Rem. barked, and in an awesome display of speed and energy, the 50-grain V-max completely incapacitated the coyote in mid-stride. The coyote came to an abrupt headfirst halt less than 3 yards from the FOXPRO CS-24 ! After our schoolgirl giggles had subsided and in between the head shakes of disbelief, I glanced down at the remote one last time…11:24, 11:25, 11:26.
So what was the key to our success on this stand? Did we finally get within earshot of an unsuspecting coyote? Obviously! So why did this big male not come charging in to the screaming jackrabbit that was playing the first seven minutes of the stand? Maybe he was making a slow approach. Possibly he had gotten a little bit of an education earlier in the season. Perhaps it was the mild winter we were having. So why did the coyote-pup distress invoke such a rapid and aggressive response? Maybe it was due to the time of year. Possibly we triggered an instinctual response that the coyote had no control over. Perhaps it was due to the area we set up in. Regardless, these are all great questions and ones that I’ll discuss throughout the remainder of the article.
Sound Categories And Behavioral Triggers
Eight years ago I was introduced to a priceless theory that different sounds might trigger different responses in coyotes. During a day of sharing stands and taking turns dragging coyotes back to the truck, a good friend of mine and a coyote-killing veteran of more than 40 years shared his “Triple F Theory.” He said, “Coyotes will come to the call for several reasons. To feed, to fight, or to . . .” Well, I’ll let you figure out what his third “F” was. He continued by adding, “It’s up to you to figure out what the coyotes are wanting that particular day and give them the corresponding sound.” As simple as it sounds, it was something that I hadn’t put much thought into before that day. From that point on, I started categorizing the sounds on my call.
In today’s market of high-tech e-callers and large, diverse sound libraries, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when picking and loading sounds onto your call. To simplify things, I’ve classified all the sounds used specifically for calling coyotes into three categories: prey distress, coyote and coyote-pup distress and coyote vocalizations. Give yourself the most diverse variety possible within each category, but don’t overload your e-caller with too many sounds from one category. In an ideal situation with an e-caller holding 100 sounds, loading 34 prey-distress sounds, 33 coyote/coyote-pup distress sounds, and 33 coyote vocalizations would be optimal.
Now that the three sound categories have been identified, it’s time to discuss the triggers. Although remembering the three “Fs” is probably easier, let’s break things down a little further by identifying four triggers: hunger, curiosity, territorial and parental. Of the four, hunger and curiosity are responsible for calling in the most coyotes. Is it because these are the easiest triggers to invoke? Or is it because the average coyote hunter is primarily using sounds that trigger these two responses? I believe it’s a little of both. Triggering territorial and parental responses can be very effective as well, but understanding certain coyote characteristics and coyote behavior is the key to being able to trigger these responses on a consistent basis throughout the entire hunting season.
Before we can tie everything together into a practical game plan, let’s discuss coyote behavior from early fall through early spring. During the month of September and the early part of October, the coyote family group is still intact. The pups are still in the general vicinity of their spring denning site, but they are learning to hunt on their own. Food is plentiful, with insects and plants still available for consumption. Hunting pressure is minimal and coyote densities and numbers are the highest they will be all season.
In late October and into November, the family group breaks down and the pups head out on their own. During this timeframe, a good portion of the coyote population is composed of young, transient coyotes roaming the countryside looking for their own territory to establish. The food supply is minimized and easy meals such as grasshoppers are gone with the colder temperatures. The coyotes must now take to catching rodents, rabbits and birds. Hunting pressure has significantly increased and the coyote numbers and densities are dropping.
In December through the first half of January, most coyotes have now established a territory. Winter has hit with full force, and keeping food in its belly is priority number one for a coyote. Hunting pressure is extremely high, and the coyote numbers and densities are continuing to drop.
During the last half of January and February, the remaining coyote population turns its focus to repopulating. Mating is now the priority, and the females will come into heat sometime around the first of February. Food sources are dwindling, and the coyotes must continue to hunt on a daily basis. Hunting pressure remains high, and many of the remaining coyotes have had some sort of educational experience during the previous four months.
In March and April the coyote pairs have established a den. Territory is now the focus. Defending remaining food sources from being eaten by other coyotes is important for the survival of the litters. The family group will spend the next six months in this location. Hunting pressure has dropped significantly, and as long as 30 percent of the coyote population survived the winter, there will be just as many coyotes again next fall.
The Game Plan
By now, you’ve begun to see the relationship between the different sound categories, the triggers they invoke and how this relationship is affected by the changing of seasons. Prey distresses will generally trigger a hunger or curiosity response. Coyote and coyote-pup distresses will generally trigger a parental or territorial response. Coyote vocalizations will generally trigger a territorial or curiosity response. Early in the season, concentrate on triggering a curiosity, hunger or parental response. Midway through the season, concentrate on triggering a hunger, territorial or parental response. During the late-season, concentrate on triggering a territorial, parental or curiosity response. Let’s discuss how to implement this correctly.
It’s early October and you’re headed out to call your favorite piece of ground for the first time this season. During the first half of the stand, play a prey-distress sound. If there’s a coyote within an earshot that is hungry or curious, you’ll get a response. If nothing responds halfway through your stand, switch categories to hopefully elicit a parental response. To do this, pick a sound from the coyote or coyote-pup distress category. Let it play for the remainder of the stand. If there was a coyote within earshot, chances are one of the three triggers you tried to invoke will produce a response.
It’s late January and you’re headed out to call a piece of property that you’ve already hunted several times. By now many of the coyotes have received some sort of education and are more concerned about repopulating than eating. During the first few minutes of the stand, use your favorite coyote vocalization sound. Next, switch sounds and pick something from the coyote and coyote-pup distress category. Let that play through the halfway point of your stand and then repeat with coyote vocalizations and more coyote and coyote-pup distress. This accomplishes two things. First, you’ve played sounds from two different categories, which have the ability to invoke three of the four triggers, which are relative to the corresponding coyote behavior that time of year. Second, you’ve played sounds that the average coyote hunter hasn’t used up to this point in the season. Identify the triggers that you want to invoke and then ring the right dinner bell!