Inside the Den: Talking the Talk

By adding coyote vocalizations to their repertoire, savvy predator hunters can deliver a fatal one-two punch

Inside the Den: Talking the Talk

Far too many coyote hunters — those new to the game and many with years of experience — are stuck in the rabbit-in-distress rut. Largely it’s because using the distress screams of prey species has worked for them in the past, they have confidence in using these sounds and, to some degree, they continue to work for them. But it doesn’t matter whether they’re using mouth calls or an e-caller, hunters relying solely on food-source sounds to call coyotes are using only half of the audio arsenal available to them.

The primary reason many predator callers are hesitant to use vocalizations as a tool to call in and kill coyotes is because they lack the confidence — or knowledge about canine socialization — to use them. It’s just like rattling in whitetail bucks, or using gobbler sounds to lure in tom turkeys for the first time. Unless hunters experience success with new techniques they have very little faith that they work, and continue to resort to methods that have worked for them in the past. And for predator hunters that means continuing to hammer coyotes with the same old, same old. 

There are at least a couple of problems with this approach. First off, anyone who routinely hunts the same areas over and over — many have little choice — are eventually going to fall victim to the law of diminishing returns, as coyotes become accustomed to the repetitive nature of their calls and begin to associate them with danger. Every time a hunter misses a called coyote or shoots only one from a pair that responded to the call, the survivors learn from those negative experiences. Chances are, they won’t fall for that song and dance a second time, or they’ll respond much more cautiously, circling deep downwind and using their noses to detect danger (i.e. the hunter). 

The second oversight is even more pronounced: By using only prey sounds, even a savvy predator hunter is effectively hunting with one hand tied behind his back. Don’t abandon distress calls, but diversify to remain productive — change things up. And that means learning some basic canine vocalizations and putting them to work.

Exploit Their Social Nature

Coyotes are social animals and can be very vocal, especially during mating season — and hunters need to put that knowledge to work, by using these canine social interactions to their advantage. John Graham, an animal damage control agent I hunted with years ago, told me he’s so confident using coyote vocalizations that if he could use only one call it would be a howler. He says that by using coyote vocalizations, you’re appealing to the very social essence of this very communal animal.

“I kill more coyotes each year with a howler than I do with the rabbit call,” John told me during a hunt on his home turf, a statement he backed up numerous times while we were in the field. He says that by talking their talk you’re appealing to both the social and territorial predispositions of coyotes. 

“You might get a response for two reasons,” he said. “One would be the tendency to defend their territories. In this situation I act as though I’m an intruder infringing on their turf. On the other hand, they might just be intrigued that there’s another coyote in the vicinity, especially if it’s that time of year when they’re looking for mates.”

I typically start with a friendly locating call — the long drawn-out howls typically associated with coyotes. This is often referred to as an inquiry call. It’s basically just a coyote asking if there’s anybody out there. If a coyote responds, I mimic its mood. If the tone is friendly, I continue with non-aggressive howls to try to get them to come over and check me out. If a coyote gets aggressive — short, choppy howls and lots of barking — I assume it’s defending its territory and reply in kind, letting the coyote know I hear it and am not intimated. If the coyote stands its ground, I might throw in some dying rabbit sounds. Now I haven’t only intruded on its territory, but am stealing from it, too. Bad dog! 

Break the Rabbit-in-Distress Addition

Long time predator hunter Pat Muffler from Michigan agrees that hunters need to break their dying rabbit addiction. “I think it’s just that a lot of hunters are old school,” Pat told me during a hunt in Colorada. “When predator hunting gained popularity 10 or 15 years ago and guys were really getting into it, all they really knew was prey in distress. They really weren’t paying much attention to coyote vocalizations.”

Pat’s routine was to use his e-caller to deliver a one-two audio punch. He’d begin the sequence with some howls to get any nearby coyotes’ attention. If they didn’t respond within 5 minutes or so — either a vocal reply or a coyote showing up — he’d switch to a food-source sound or a combination of the two, telling the coyotes there’s something big going on and they need to check it out. Sometimes he’d even throw in some crow calls to complete the scenario. The nice thing about using e-callers is that it’s easy to change things up. If one sound isn’t working, another might. And all of those sounds are right there at your fingertips.

At the very least, Pat says hunters should use howling to locate coyotes — that the best way to ensure success is to make certain there are receptive ears in the areas they plan to hunt. Using a howler or an e-caller with recorded vocalizations can help pinpoint those locations. Coyotes are typically vocal during the night and early in the morning, and a howler can give the hunter a reading of how many animals are in the area and their general locations, which will provide a starting point for the first stands of the morning. 

“I drive the back roads where I’m going to hunt and stop every half-mile or so,” Pat said. “I set my e-caller on the roof of the truck and use recorded howls to try and get a response. If I get an answer I try to pinpoint the coyote’s location and work up a plan of attack. Coyotes howl to stay in contact with each other, it’s how they communicate — especially during the mating season in January, February and early March. Alpha males have got their territories nailed down and are defending them, and that’s what makes the howler so effective.” 

But Pat says timing is critical. “One problem I see is that people go out at night and try to locate coyotes to hunt the next morning,” he said. “The problem is, coyotes move all night long and might be 2 miles away come setup time. I advise people that if they’re going to use a howler to locate coyotes, they should go out four or five in the morning, just before they do their first setups.”

Start a Fight

Other effective vocalizations are canine fighting sounds and or canine pups in distress. Coyotes will often respond to these sounds when they’ve turned their noses up at everything else. If I’m using an e-caller, one of my go-to sounds has always been gray fox pups in distress. For some reason this has often been effective when other sounds are not working.

Pat agrees, but says he’s still trying to figure out why it works. “I know it works but I’m not sure why — what it is about those sounds that attract coyotes. I don’t know if they want to kill the pup or if they’re concerned about what’s causing the distress. But there’s just something about it that brings them in. It’s very effective.”

And so are one of Pat’s favorites — canine fight sounds. “When you’re hunting areas where you don’t have good pinch points, such as the edge of a corn field, coyotes are often reluctant to charge out into the open,” Pat said. “If they don’t respond by the 15-minute mark of the setup or so, I throw in a gray fox and coyote fight and it just seems to bring them out of the woods. They might not charge the caller but at least they’ll step out where I can see them.”

The “Dying Rabbit Blues” can be extremely effective for calling coyotes, and many hunters use it with regular success. But those who don’t also apply the coyote social card — using vocalizations in addition to food-source sounds — are failing to tap their complete coyote audio arsenal and are effectively leaving fur in the field.


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