At nearly every predator hunting seminar I speak at, a high percentage of the attendees will ask me during the seminar what they can do differently when coyotes won’t come to their calls. I wish I had a magic wand to wave because oftentimes I’d like to ask the attendees the same question. There are no quick solutions or magic potions. Nevertheless, you can do a few things to increase your odds and some of them are easier than you think.
Steve Thompson worked as a state animal damage control officer for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks for 15 years. Today, Thompson designs and manufactures predator calls along with custom lanyards in his home-based company, Dakota Coyote Howler. His open- and bite-reed calls offer unlimited variability in creating everything from predator to prey sounds and he has clients coast to coast.
As a professional coyote hunter, Thompson understands everyone has good days and bad days. He also understands if you want to be successful, you need to try and determine why coyotes aren’t coming to the call and change your ways.
Fur Season Fixes
One of the most troubling periods to have coyote-calling issues is when furs are prime and time is of the essence to put a few in your truck. From fall through early winter, coyote hunting ramps up and coyotes run into predator hunters with increasing regularity. They also run from volleys of bullets from big-game hunters, all the while reinforcing their notion to stay far away from humans. During this period, Thompson doesn’t worry so much about his calls, but rather his approach to a prime calling site. He believes far too many predator hunters take a lackadaisical attitude when hiking into a hunting area and he points a finger at televised hunting shows for some of the blame. His advice is to veil your entrance.
“Whenever I watch a predator hunting show or video, I’m always amazed at how the hunter walks in without trying to hide,” Thompson said. “They look like an old bean pole, but in most areas you have to sneak in so you don’t spook any predators that you’re trying to call.”
Thompson’s backyard in South Dakota is characterized by rolling hills, allowing him to veil his approach easily as long as he stays behind terrain and quickly moves into position when he crosses a hill. That’s not always the case in other areas of the country. In wide-open agricultural areas, you oftentimes have to consider how to cross these spaces and utilize low areas or limited cover to move into calling position. If you live in forested areas of the east or west, you need to consider how far to push into cover before calling. If you aggressively go too far, you’ll stand the chance of pushing predators out of the area.
“You have to be careful on how you get to your stands,” Thompson said. “You don’t want to be spotted and that’s a reality in open country. In thick cover you don’t want to wade right through an area holding predators, so you have to scout for edges and openings where you can call those coyotes to you without blowing them out.
Traveling in dim light and making the first stand before sunrise kills two birds with one stone for Thompson. It provides him the cover of darkness and by calling before sunrise he doesn’t have to worry about picking a spot out of the sun.
I also return to hotspots of the past during fur season. The reason for this is simple. Coyotes rarely leave a parcel of prime real estate uninhabited for long. If a coyote is shot from a territory, it doesn’t take long for a wandering coyote to move in and claim the territory. Even if you’ve shot a coyote in a particular area, it doesn’t mean you can’t shoot another. Wait a few days — week or longer — then return and hit the spot again. If it has all the needed elements to support a coyote family, new residents will move in faster than a newly elected president claims the White House.
Breeding Season Remedy
As the main fur season swings into breeding and ultimately denning time for coyotes you can also experience lulls and question why coyotes won’t come to the call. Many variables can come into play including whether or not a coyote has a mate, if it is a dominate animal and if it was successful in a litter of pups. Thompson worries less about targeting a coyote’s stomach and instead focuses on a coyote’s territoriality. He advocates invading a coyote’s territory.
“Early, as coyotes begin establishing and maintaining a territory, you can really get them excited simply by howling,” he said. “If you can invade their territory without them seeing you and howl, they’ll often come to investigate and size up the invader.”
A common mistake Thompson hears from coyote hunters is that they howled in an area and didn’t get a response. Instead of staying longer, they left to look for a more vocal coyote. That’s exactly the wrong move, according to Thompson. In his experience, the majority of coyotes coming to investigate a howl arrive silently. His advice is regardless if you hear a coyote respond or not, sit tight and stay vigilant. Once the pups are born and the feeding frenzy of a new family begins, then the hunting gets even easier.
“It can be difficult to locate a den precisely, but you don’t need to be on top of a den to get a coyote to come to your howls and defend its territory, especially after the pups are born,” he said.
Again, coyotes might not boldly proclaim their presence, but they won’t let another coyote or coyote pair move in close to their den. They’ll protect the pups from all coyote visitors. As Thompson noted, locating the precise site of a den is difficult. As a professional coyote hunter, they utilized an airplane to locate the den of problem coyotes and aid in eradicating the problem. You likely won’t have that luxury, but you can utilize the next best thing, which is the landowner.
Ranch managers, farmers and actively-involved landowners are out and about. They see where coyotes travel and oftentimes stumble across dens. Even the location of past den sites can be helpful. New coyotes or youngsters might return to the old sites and remodel them for their personal use. Ask those living on the land about their discoveries and you might be able to push the territorial buttons of a coyote clan with an up close and personal visit.
Solving Summer Slumps
Although the number of summer coyote hunters drop like the stock market after a poor quarterly employment report, you might still want to pursue coyotes in the summer. Many use summer coyote hunting to maintain wildlife management goals or simply for a summertime diversion. That doesn’t mean you still won’t encounter coyote-calling problems. Thompson’s past career meant going after coyotes 365 days a year if problematic coyotes were reported. In the summer, he also focused on territoriality. By midsummer, pups were beginning to test their lungs thus giving him ample auditory evidence on their whereabouts. His advice is to use the pups’ enthusiasm to your advantage.
“Adult coyotes are very protective of their den sites, so it’s not always easy to get them to howl back,” he said. “They don’t want to tell everyone where their den is located. It’s a different story with the pups though. When the pups are coming out of the den, they’ll howl back to your howls, especially as they get older. You can use those clues to move in for a more aggressive strategy or follow-up howling tactic.”
Thompson points out another problem in the summer — vegetation. He feels that many hunters might not have a problem calling coyotes in the summer, but simply seeing them is an issue.
“Coyotes are masters at using cover to hide, especially thick summer growth,” he said. “The problem in the summer time is the tall grass, crops, sweet clover and thick brush. It can be almost impossible to find an area where you can see a coyote coming to your call.”
To be successful it takes scouting for the right terrain in order to observe for coyote action. Elevation is critical, whether you use a hill or a treestand. It also might help to incorporate a partner. One person, the caller, holds up on an elevated vantage point farther back from a suspected den area. The second person pushes ahead and finds the best location to ambush any incoming coyotes with an open view.
Watching low areas like creeks and gullies with gravel bottoms, or even a recently mowed hayfield, can provide a shooter a glimpse of a coyote as it darts from heavy cover across an open area. The coyote will be focused on the sound further back, also giving the shooter an advantage instead of having the coyote looking directly in the shooter’s direction.
The fun of calling coyotes is the challenge of overcoming their craftiness. If you called in a coyote every setup, the fun would soon wear off. Trying to achieve that goal keeps bringing you back for more.