Featured image: Paying attention to details — from noting wind direction to masking your presence walking to stand and standing during calling sessions — is the first step to bagging 50 coyotes a year. (Credit: iStock)
Many hunters make goals for themselves at the beginning of each predator calling season. This is actually a terrific idea because the act of goal setting provides focus for achieving a task. Newbie hunters may give themselves a winter to bag their first coyote. Cagey veteran eastern callers may strive for a dozen song dogs. I know of a pair of hunters who annually strive for 50 coyotes! That’s right … 50 coyotes!
Jon Robla, 31, and 28-year-old Ben McAllister hail from Norwood, New York. Norwood. The two hunters met only three years ago through mutual friends. As they were on the only predator hunters in their circle of friends, it was inevitable that they would join up for some hunts. Robla and McAllister discovered quickly that they both had huge amounts of land access and also that they should join forces to truly manage their hunting spots for maximum productivity.
Their method of hunting is strictly calling. No bait, no running with dogs; their total is achieved through run-and-gun calling efforts! Here are tips for how they do it.
Tips for bagging eastern coyotes
Pass On Fox
As I experienced while hunting with Robla, the pair of hunters do not shoot at fox that willingly charge into their call during the first 3 minutes of calling. Instead, they let these frisky foxes go and wait for coyotes to appear. “It’s amazing to see how many coyotes come in minutes later, after a fox appears. Many hunters do not realize this because they shoot the fox, collect it and move on,” states Robla. Make no mistake, the pair do shoot fox, but they shoot them later in the set or not at all when hunting in areas with a high likelihood of a coyote appearing.
Rely On Silence
Again, I experienced this calling tactic first hand. Robla truly relied on silence during each setup. We sat in silence for up to 50 percent of the total stand time. Robla indicated that coyotes appear 50 percent of the time when waiting in silence. He related his tactic to giving a toddler a lollypop. When the child has the lollypop in hand, he is content and gives it attention. When the lollypop is taken away, he really wants it and does what it takes to get it back. According to Robla, the same goes with responding coyotes and calling sounds.
Regulate Your Stand Length
Don’t adhere to a predetermined stand length (A.K.A the old 15-minute rule). Develop your stands based upon your own findings in the field. Robla says he stays 25 minutes at each coyote stand. This isn’t simply an arbitrary number that Robla selected. It was based on recent findings in the field. He was noticing that if he broke a stand earlier, he was seeing or hearing coyotes right in the area where was previously calling from. As a result, he lengthened his stand time and his fur count went up!
Master Your Lights
Let’s face it: thermal night-vision packages are expensive. The bottom line is that many hunters simply cannot afford a high-end scanning and shooting thermal system. That is why Robla encourages all hunters to learn how to effectively use the myriad of LED light systems that are on the market today.
How They Do It
What does it take to bag 50 eastern coyotes in a single season? I interviewed Robla and he shared his insight on calling these formidable creatures that he, admittedly, has a great deal of respect and admiration for.
The first thing Robla mentions is that he and McAllister had to truly meld their hunting styles to become successful. They each had their own hunting tendencies and found that they had to come to consensus while together on stand. When thinking about the factors of calling (volume, frequency and duration), Robla considers himself a conservative caller, while McAllister is more aggressive. According to Robla, they still are working on blending their individual styles, but always find a groove when it comes time to putting fur in the truck. Good thing, too, because the pair enter as many regional calling contests as they can find.
While looking for potential calling spots, the fellas agree that a prime location should be next to “holding areas” where coyotes can both forage for prey and rest in the day. The terrain is best if it offers a high vantage point from which to call and offers a downwind view of predator approach routes.
Although, 95 percent of their success comes while hunting at night, they also enjoy daytime calling. Work commitments and family responsibilities make night hunting more plausible and the pair have honed their skills for mastering the night shift. Their favorite night hunting spots are huge open fields where they can see coyotes approaching from great distances.
One would tend to believe that Robla and McAllister must hunt every conceivable night to amass such high totals. Surprisingly, they don’t! Robla said that he likes to get out at least once a week, but sometimes more. The real factor is weather. He doesn’t hunt during inclement weather and his area has plenty of that. They also do not like to overhunt their areas. Exactly how often they hunt an area depends upon prior results.
If they kill a female coyote, they will return the very next night and try to lure in the single male. If they “educate” a coyote with a missed shot or other mishap, they will not return for a solid month. On that return, they completely change their hunting tactics: new setup location, new sounds, new time of hunt. They do everything in their power to change up the scenario for the coyotes. On average, the pair make three stands per night, unless they are in a contest, then the number swells to 15.
The pair of hunters employ a specific calling sequence for the majority of their stands. To start the session, they use a prey distress sound for 3 to 5 minutes. They rotate the prey sounds and do not rely on any one particular sound to start every set. This is done to keep things fresh for the resident coyotes. If nothing appears, after waiting several minutes in silence, to the initial sounds, coyote vocalizations are next on the playlist. Robla mentions that he likes to use primarily female vocalizations and generally refrains from using alpha male sounds. Again, they use a variety of coyote howls as played through either their FOXPRO Fusion call or through mouth calls. He lists his favorites as Female Submissive and Female Lone Howls. Coyote-pup-distress sounds are played after the howls. In case you are wondering about the frequency of calling, I will discuss that factor later in this article. If still nothing shows, another series of prey distress sounds is played, followed by more coyote vocalizations. After a lengthy calling session, the stand is broken down. They use this calling format throughout the calling season, but find it especially productive in the later portions of the season when coyotes are mating or searching for mates.
Robla and McAllister rely on thermal optics for their exploits. McAllister was first to take the plunge and “go thermal.” His rationale was that he wanted to get into filming his hunts and realized that thermal units could allow him to do so while hunting solo. Robla, who achieved crazy coyote calling success in the 2015-16 season while using a conventional red LED scanning and gun-mounted red LED shooting light combination, stepped into the world of thermal hunting for the 2016-17 calling season. He is quick to say that while he loves his IR Defense MARK-2 shooting scope and IR Defense Patrol helmet mounted unit for scanning, thermal doesn’t make coyotes come crashing into every setup. Hunters still need to pay strict attention to proven and effective approach, setup and calling tactics. “Thermal doesn’t make them come to the call,” insists Robla. He does credit thermal for eliminating the issues that can cause coyotes to spook when hunting with other scanning lights. Issues such as LED lights being too bright, transition blunders from scanning to shooting lights, or worrying about light splash are a thing of the past in the thermal world. McAllister adds that it is “educational and fascinating to watch coyotes come to the call with their natural reaction instead of being influenced by the glow of red light that is often cast upon them.” He also mentions that he can detect incoming coyotes at great distances and that allows him ample time to prepare for the shot. According to Robla, using thermal over the course of a long night can get tiresome on the eyes and that judging distance can be difficult, so it really helps to know the landscape well.