Making Sense of Coyote Scents

If you’re not using attractant and cover scents to get an edge on wind-walking coyotes maybe it’s time you did.

Making Sense of Coyote Scents

Trappers know a thing or two about how the natural world operates, especially those of yesteryear who owned the title “mountain men.” Their existence revolved around living off the land while acquiring enough furbearer pelts to trade for required necessities such as the luxury of an occasional cup of coffee! They learned much of their trade by working with Native Americans and adding Old World ingenuity. One of their greatest achievements was the lures they developed — a tradition that continues to this day. Nearly every modern day trapping celebrity has his or her own line of lures. Your DIY uncle might even have a concoction brewing in the barn right now with the potency to bring a coyote running once the Mason jar is opened.  

Most coyote hunters are well aware of the benefits of using scents and lures, but oftentimes their efforts are directed elsewhere — the main focus being eliminating their own offensive odors. Scent-eliminating sprays and laundry detergent definitely aid in reducing the human odor footprint when combined with sensible downwind strategies. Nevertheless, you might want to take a lesson the trappers of the past and present — their lures attracting predators to hidden trap sets. For fur hunters, the multitude of manufactured scents now available on the market provide surefire ways to spoof a coyote.


Don’t be Afraid to Test the Waters

While discussing scents with some of my Western coyote-hunting buddies, it was evident a few were reluctant to test these waters. They felt that the open landscapes they hunt allowed them the commanding position to shoot the majority of coyotes without the use of scents. There’s some truth to that, but not every coyote charges the call across an open prairie. Out west foothills, pine bluffs, badland terrain and river-bottoms provide coyotes with terrain features that allow them to sneak in investigate without revealing themselves. This is even more relevant for hunters who live in the heavily wooded habitat of the Southeast or Midwest or other areas where visibility in hindered by thick cover. In these backdrops you might be wise to think about employing scents to draw predators out into the open. 

Jerry Lannen, a 24-year veteran of the Eastern coyote front lines, hails from Pennsylvania and is driven to pursue these critters year-round. It was this driving force that helped him land a pro staff position with Predator Quest. In fact, his coyote affliction has spread to his two young kids, and the trio is routinely asked to leave the house by his loving bride when they all begin practicing their calls in unison.

For Lannen, the strategy of incorporating scents on his coyote hunts arose from his experience hunting whitetails. “I mainly got into using scents for predator hunting from deer hunting,” he said. “felt that if scent elimination and deer urine works for deer it has to work for predators. Coyotes definitely have a better nose than deer so using scent-eliminating sprays and predator scents seemed only natural.”

How does a coyote rank in the olfactory department? On numerous occasions Lannen has watched coyotes react to his human scent from 300 to 400 yards away. A quick dive into the data reveals that humans have approximately 5 million olfactory receptors in their nose, while domestic canines have 220 million (bloodhounds have 300 million) and it’s believed whitetails have nearly 300 million. Such data on coyotes is scarce, but you can bet it’s close to the bloodhound level.

That olfactory advantage combined with a coyote’s inherent wariness adds up to a guarded approach when responding to the call. And even though deer are always on the lookout for danger, coyotes are closer to the ground, which gives them a slight whiff advantage. Couple that with their vigilant nature and you can see why their nose plays such a huge role in their survival. Simply put, coyotes are scent savvy.             

“I start off every hunt by spraying down with scent-eliminating products even though I’m not totally convinced you can completely beat a coyote’s nose,” Lannen said. “But I do think it can buy a few more seconds if they happen to smell you and I feel the same way about using [attractant and cover] scents while coyote hunting. Whether you’re using them to mask your scent or to attract a coyote, you’re making them think about what they have smelled and that hesitation could give you an opportunity for a shot.”

Scents can be used to not only attract but also distract coyotes while at a calling set.
Scents can be used to not only attract but also distract coyotes while at a calling set.

Scents for Scouting

So, what’s the best way to use scents for predator hunting setups? Lannen says it begins with scouting. “I often use coyote urine and other scents when I’m out setting up cameras and scouting,” he said. “I use the trail cameras to scout locations and to determine coyote travel preferences. When I review the images, they tell me where coyotes are traveling the most and that’s where I hunt the most.”

Lannen uses several different scents, coyote urine being simplest to acquire and easiest to use. Nevertheless, he also has access to a homemade recipe he procures from a local, old-time trapper — a mutual benefit for the trapper and Lannen. He supplies the elderly outdoorsman with coyote carcasses who uses the coyote urine and glands to make a special brew that appeals to coyotes. In return for the carcasses the trapper supplies Lannen with several bottles to use for hunting. It’s win-win arrangement.

Lannen then uses that scent or urine to “bait” his trail cameras. He selects a stick that’s 8- to 10-inches long, dips it into the scent and then stakes it on an old road, or trail in front of the camera. The added height of the stick ensures the scent is disbursed by the breeze so it’s a can’t miss for coyotes. This same ploy can be used to create traffic jams for coyotes. Trappers are always looking for pinch points and funnels where they can trap or snare coyotes. By adding scent to a corner post or trail junction you might be able to elicit repeat visits to an area or down a shooting corridor. Replenish the scent weekly or biweekly to keep coaxing coyotes to visit these social signposts. Your efforts could keep coyotes in the area longer and increase calling opportunities.

Spraying coyote urine on your boots helps mask your human scent and might possibly entice a coyote to stalk you after it crosses your back trail.
Spraying coyote urine on your boots helps mask your human scent and might possibly entice a coyote to stalk you after it crosses your back trail.

Jamming Scents

Scents not only mask your presence, but they can be used to stop a coyote in its tracks or even attract it to your setup. For Lannen this process begins as soon as he hits the trail to a calling location. He sprays his boots down with coyote urine, which according to him serves two purposes. For starters it helps to mask any human scent that might be lingering on his boots even after using scent-eliminating spray. Next, it could even play a role in attracting coyotes that might be slipping through the backdoor. His hope is that a coyote picks up his scent trail and walks right in. “You never know if a coyote will cut across your back trail,” he said. “The extra scent will hopefully cover your presence and a coyote might follow it in just like a buck tracking the estrous scent of a doe.”

A slight mist of coyote urine on his boots also helps mask any human odor that could possibly be left behind as Lannen positions his electronic caller in a downwind opening. Some coyotes respond with vigor and might arrive upwind of the caller with a chance of crossing Lannen’s footsteps. Smelling the scent causes a rambunctious coyote to hit the brakes for another whiff.

As another confidence booster, Lannen uses coyote urine or lures downwind of his caller.

 “I spray a mist of scent on vegetation just downwind of the e-caller in case there’s any of my scent on the unit,” he said. “I figure if the scent is downwind it will be the first smell they get when they approach the caller.”

It’s a coyote’s nature to circle downwind to detect danger and using an electronic caller can help nudge them toward the source of the sound while your scent hopefully is drifting off at a different angle. As it approaches the caller it will still circle, but you can increase the realism of the setup plus stop it with properly placed scent. “It just helps add to the realism of the setup if a coyote busts onto the scene and smells another coyote,” Lannen said. “If you howl and he responds by showing up and then gets a whiff of coyote it just means he believes more of the story you’re trying to tell. And it can be the one element that makes a coyote step out of thick timber because it smells what it heard.”

If you hope to entice a coyote to stand still for a portrait by luring it into a choreographed shooting location, scents have the ability to maneuver these incoming canines. They can also mask any clues you might have left behind while walking into the setup or while positioning your e-caller. It just makes sense to include scents in your coyote capers — one more weapon for your bag of tricks.


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