Overcoming Sight, Sound and Smell When Hunting Predators

Put common sense on your side to overcome the coyote’s highly developed senses.

Overcoming Sight, Sound and Smell When Hunting Predators

Learning when and how to call with your e-caller or mouth calls is a critical part of the "sight, sound, smell" strategy for hunting predators. (Photo: Andrew Lewand)

I was born in the 1960s. As a young boy, I remember hearing about the Vietnam War and the easing of the cold war tensions in the 1970s. Being far too young for enlistment, I, along with my schoolmates, tossed around military jargon that fit the day. One phrase that always caused a chuckle was “The Three S’s.” I’ll skip the informal definition for now as I figure most guys will know what I am referring to.

Fast forward some 50 years later, and the phrase “The Three S’s” comes back into my life. This time, not as a military reference, but instead as part of the predator hunting world! One day, as I drove in between calling stands, I pondered the factors of calling and what truly affects success rates. I thought about the coyotes I was targeting and looked at things from their perspective.

Specifically, what is there about their ecology and biology that makes them want to approach (or reject) a hunter’s setup? After my hunt, I went home to research my thoughts and put them on paper. It was during this research that I came across a fellow hunter who had pretty much captured my thoughts. I knew right then that I had to reach out and pick his brain so that I could share this concept of “The Three S’s” with PX readers.

I called James Bostock, owner of Boss Predator Acoustics, and he enthusiastically shared his passion for coyote calling. Bostock, who lives in Idaho, was eager to share his philosophies of hunting and, indeed, the concept of “The Three S’s” was a part of our conversation.

What exactly are “The Three S’s?” The term refers to the three highly developed senses of the coyote: sight, sound and scent. According to Bostock, coyotes survive by using these senses. Furthermore, when hunters have a true understanding of how these S’s relate to coyotes, they can use them to help hunt successfully.


The first thing to realize is there are bad sounds and good sounds in the world of predator calling. The bad sounds are unnatural sounds that may spook wary predators and ruin hunts before they ever start. The most obvious bad sounds are those that are made from our vehicles when we arrive at a calling location. A noisy muffler will seldom be advantageous and is something that we can control. The same goes for squeaky door hinges.

Speaking of doors, be sure not to slam them as you prepare for your hunt. Our clothing and gear also make sounds that can alert predators. Calls and remote controls that dangle and bang together can alert proximate predators. I go so far as to oil the swivels on my rifle sling because they become prone to squeaking over time. I want to make as little “bad” noise as possible during any approach!

How about when you inadvertently step on a branch, and the sound seems as if an elephant did it? Stop in your tracks for a moment and resume your trek. Sounds like that are not uncommon in nature and are not as alarming as the unnatural sounds previously discussed.

Now, let’s talk about the “good” sounds, the sounds that we want to use to lure in coyotes. Bostock states that of the three S’s, sound is the most effective way to bring coyotes to our stands, and I certainly agree. Bostock stresses that hunters need to know what motivates coyotes to respond. He believes these triggers are “Hunger, protection of territory or resources, protection of family, ego and sex.”

Bostock points out that these triggers can change throughout a stand, and hunters may need to adjust accordingly. While Bostock believes in their effectiveness and uses, prey distress sounds on stand, he prefers the use of coyote vocalizations.

The use of coyote vocalizations is widely popular. However, many hunters still do not have an understanding of how to use them. Bostock encourages hunters to use levels of aggression when using coyote vocalizations. Bostockurges the use of sounds that are least aggressive to begin a sequence. By doing so, coyotes that may tend to shy away from certain sounds, or situations, may approach the initial sounds.

Solid sound choices for the first level of aggression would be coyote pup distress and/or Ki Yi sounds. Just like a human child, a coyote pup can cry for a myriad of reasons. In both cases, the adult always pays attention and responds to the child or pup. Hence, the motivator to respond in this situation is the protection of family.

Next, hunters can ramp up the aggression by playing whimpers. These whimpers may elicit the triggers of mating or protection of family. Remember, it’s not always about food. We need to find out what will motivate the coyotes to come to our stands!

The next level of aggression is the use of howls. Start with interrogation howls to simply announce presence. This is a non-threatening communication that just says, “I’m over here” Bostock points out that each level of aggression can be modified. For example, the tone of a call is essential to make the correct expression. High pitched howls are less threatening that low pitched howls.

Bostock uses the example of getting yelled at by a schoolyard bully. Which is more threatening: someone with a peep-squeak voice or someone with a deep bellowing voice? Coyotes are more apt to respond to a female howl than that of an alpha male – again, depending upon the motivation at the moment.

Barks and then challenge barks would indicate the next level of aggression. Again, hunters can modify the level of aggression when using these types of vocals. When using barks, produce the same tone so that you sound like a single coyote. When using an e-call, only use one bark. Avoid the temptation to play a variety of barks. Pick one and stay with it. Coyotes are more likely to approach a single coyote as opposed to a pack.

The final level of aggression is the coyote fight. Indeed, the fury of coyotes battling can be viewed as the pinnacle of aggression. The use of coyote growl sounds and those that replicate an actual fight are the main ingredients. The trigger to respond will be the protection of territory and/or family. Hunters may not go through all of the levels of aggression on each hunt. However, it is beneficial to understand the hierarchy and use the sounds at the appropriate time during a hunt.


Even though it may seem that sound is the key factor in predator calling, our second “S,” sight, is hugely important! Predators may be initially drawn to a set when hearing a sound. However, we need to realize that they are sight hunters and want to actually see what is making the sound. Before we discuss how to use sight to assist us in drawing predators in, let’s talk about how to use sight to assist a setup.

Coyotes know their territory well. Anything out the ordinary will bring instant suspicion. That is why hunters need to practice stealth approach and set up tactics. On the approach, use any available land features to hide your presence as you walk to your desired setup location. Walking behind trees, farm equipment, low spots in terrain can mask your approach. Once set up, make sure you are not skylined on the horizon. Furthermore, use the sun to your advantage and have it at your back or sit in any available shade. The bottom line is that you want to blend into your surroundings and not stick out to raise suspicion to an already cautious canine.

Once set up, sight remains important. Remember, predators, want to see what they are pursuing. The use of a motion decoy is perfect for accomplishing this task. This is especially true when hunting wide-open spaces where visibility is far. We want to give the predator something to visually lock onto so that it fully commits to its approach.

If you don’t have a motion decoy, use terrain features to trick the predator into committing. This can be done by placing a remotely placed e-call in a shallow spot in the terrain so that the sound source is actually out of sight of the predator. This, by the way, is precisely the opposite of how I would position a motion decoy. Anyhow, an approaching predator will hear the sound and approach to a position where it can investigate the sound source. Placing the call near a patch of vegetation or a piece of old farm equipment can accomplish the same result.

What about those coyote decoys? Are they effective? They sure can be, especially in the latter portions of the calling season. By late February and March, your resident coyotes have probably seen and heard a lot from hunters. The presence of another “coyote” may make the scene more realistic. Whether they are responding for hunger, mating or territorial purposes, the sight of another coyote may be just enough to make them fully commit to the scene.


Of the three “S’s,” scent is probably the most important. That long snout on a coyote means that his olfactory system is packed with far more scent receptors than humans (research indicates that coyotes smell in parts per trillion versus humans who smell in parts per million). That is why their sense of smell is so acute. It has been said that we can’t beat a coyote’s nose. That is probably true. However, we can do things to attempt to minimize the risk of being detected.

Is there a way to use scent exclusively to kill coyotes? Yes, it’s called a bait pile. Many folks prepare and hunt over bait with great success. The problem for many is that active bait piles are not easy to maintain, and it can be time-consuming to hunt over them. Some may also think of using trapping scent lures to attract fox and coyote. This, too, may test the patience of many hunters. For these reasons, calling is an effective way to enjoy the sport. Even while calling, keeping tabs on scent is critical to success.

Basic woodsmanship skills come into play when discussing scent and wind. The bottom line is that you don’t want your scent to be blowing toward an area that you think is holding predators or where you predict they will approach. Be sure to check the wind direction several times as you are making your approach. You will be good if the wind is blowing in your face as you make your way to your setup location.

Be mindful of the scent you leave on the ground. Choose a pathway that is not likely to be crossed by an approaching predator. This is a vital step to take into consideration when setting out a remotely placed e-call. I have often taken a curved approach and avoided areas of the call downwind because predators will likely swing that way as they come to the call. This is necessary because predators will pick up this hot scent on the ground (even in snow and mud) and quickly vacate the scene.

Bostock states that an understanding of how a scent cone works will also be advantageous. Don’t think that your scent blows away from you and is only as wide as your body. The scent spreads, or widens, in a fan shape. When an approaching predator gets inside of the “cone,” you had better take a shot because it generally will not stick around long.


When the smoke, mirrors and gimmickry are removed from predator calling, there are three important notes to help hunters kill more predators. They are sight, sound and scent.

By understanding how coyotes use their senses, hunters can construct calling stands that will be productive. When scent is accounted for properly, and an interesting focal point exists, coyotes — and other predators — will be motivated to make an approach toward an attractive sound.

That is the exact premise of using the Three S’s! Employ them on your next hunt, and you can be a “Boss” yourself!

Bonus: Be Your Own Boss

James Bostock’s extreme passion for coyote hunting has led him to offer sound packs to hunters all across the country. Now, Bostock has extended his predator line, offering thermal optics.

Bostock knows that hunters have many questions when it comes to choosing the correct thermal optic for their needs, and his 10 years of experience can lead them in the right direction. Visit www.bossthermal.com to learn more about being a Boss.


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