Locating Coyotes
The first hint of daylight was evident when I pulled my pickup through the gate. I pulled up on a small gumbo knob, shut the truck off, and rolled the window down. I waited a few minutes, then reached down and manned the control of my siren.

A series of high-pitched wails echoed down through the pocket of rough country below. Almost a minute went by before I had a response. A long, coarse howl came from a ridge almost 3/4 of a mile away. A few seconds later I heard the bird-like "chirping" pup barks, followed by the bitch coyote's bark. I strained my ears and eyes to get a good fix on the den location.

This scenario is typical of a lot of the situations that I encounter, when responding to a spring coyote depredation complaint. The pups come out of the den from late April through May and June, and their food demands increase rapidly as they grow. A pair of adult coyotes can do a number on sheep at this time, and the predator control trapper is expected to remove them quickly. To do this it's necessary to pinpoint the position of the offending animals as accurately as possible, and decide on the best method to take them.

There are several ways to locate coyotes, and one of the best, and most used, is the siren. Much like a dog barking at a fire siren, coyotes will sometimes answer the high pitched wail. I use a high-quality, multi-pitch "Signal-Corp" police siren.

The controls are mounted on the hump on the floor of my pickup. The external speaker is mounted on a special bracket that fits under the hinge of the hood. The siren is loud enough to be heard without opening the hood, but in some cases I'll raise the hood if I want it heard for a greater distance. Usually I leave the hood down, to have some control over how big an area the sound is reaching. Sometimes I feel that some coyotes answer my siren, which they can hear, but they are too far out for me to hear them. Here in eastern Montana coyotes will often answer only once, and I may have only one opportunity to get a good line on them.

I've had some success using the siren any time of the day or night, but I have the most luck in the early morning. A lot of coyote depredation on lambs is done by a pair of adult coyotes feeding a litter of pups. These pups are usually fairly vocal, and sometimes give their location away. When the pups are big enough to come out of the den, the old coyotes will sometimes announce they're returning home early in the morning, after a night of hunting.

I have lain awake a lot of nights in a bedroll on the ground, and listened to this early morning reunion. The trained denning dog that I had at that time would run over in the coyotes' direction, and really get to howling. I would get up and make some marks in the dirt, or lay a soda can or something on the ground, pointing in the direction of the coyotes. This would give me an accurate direction to listen and watch later in the morning, while trying to call in and shoot the adult coyotes.

In some areas, some coyotes won't answer the siren. A certain number are just naturally tight-lipped, and in some cases the use of the siren has been abused. In these cases, I go into the area and try an open-reed call, such as a Crit-R-Call, or a Bill Austin. There are several different ways to bark and howl with these calls, but the "domain" bark gets the most responses in my area. This is usually one short bark followed by a long howl. The resident coyotes think this is another strange coyote challenging their territory, and they will usually respond.

Sometimes coyotes have been spooked by a siren. This has happened to me when the coyotes responded to the siren by coming in, and saw me and made the connection. Also, in areas where some calling has already been done with commercial calls, the coyotes may be call shy and not respond. In these situations I will use my voice to do the domain howl. This works rather well for me, the only disadvantage being the volume isn't as loud as with a blown call.

In some cases, coyotes just flat won't answer anything, and hardly ever howl on their own. Then the best way is to rely on tracking them.

If I know the general area the depredating coyotes are in, I go into the area on foot, with my rifle and call. I look at all stock ponds, and any trails leading to them. Coyotes can get by with very little water, and seem to know where every little spring or wet spot is. Usually, though, most coyotes will frequent a water source that is close by.
In some conditions such as muddy or real dusty soil, I have driven the roads in the pasture and watched out the window for tracks. Usually, the shoulder or berm of the road will hold tracks for a long time.

Once you find a coyote track, follow it on foot for a while. If it wanders and meanders around, it is probably just hunting, not heading for a den. But if you see tracks heading in one direction, follow them. If they stay basically on direction for 1/4 mile or so, they are probably headed for the den. They might not go perfectly straight, but you can soon tell that the animal has a destination in mind.

At this point I stop and look ahead for any prominent terrain features, like a draw or hill. Although they will den almost anywhere, they are attracted to these places. You often hear that coyotes will only den on south slopes, or where the sun shines, or where they can overlook approaches. This is not always so. I have seen them den in almost any location. They don't face in any particular direction.

I continue to follow the tracks until I feel I'm near the den. If I see a concentration of sign that might suggest the den site, I will pick a place to make a call. If the temperature is real hot, which sometimes limits response, or if the wind is from the wrong direction, I'll leave the area and return under better conditions. I'm careful to try not to create too much commotion if I think I'm close to the coyotes. No door slamming, loud talking, or stirring up livestock. I've had coyotes pack up whole litters of pups and leave at the first slight intrusion. Then the whole process of locating them starts again.

When answering coyote depredation complaints, my job is to do something about it immediately, as soon as I locate them. I use a variety of methods. If their location is easy to get to, and if I know a federal ADC plane is in the air that day, I'll drive my truck closer, radio the plane, and walk in front of the truck towards the location. Once the plane sights me, I wave and point in the direction of the coyotes. When they're directly over the specific spot, I tell them on the radio. Often the offending animals can be taken immediately with a shotgun from the plane.

If a plane is not available or if the coyotes are back in rough country, my usual method is to approach on foot as close as possible and call, hoping to shoot both adults, then find the pups. Although coyotes will respond to calls in the middle of the day, I prefer to call in early morning or late evening as they are more responsive then.

If the weather is bad, too windy or raining, I walk in and set traps or snares. There are a lot of sheep fences in my area, and my preferred trapping method is to set snares where the coyotes are crawling under the fence. I use a large loop, to let rabbits through without firing the snare. Three or four good crawl under snare sets are as good as 20 footholds. These snare sets are also not affected by sheep, whereas footholds set near livestock will sometimes be sprung by them. Footholds are harder to maintain than snares.

If I can't find snare sets, I use footholds. Actually, I usually use a combination of methods. I often call, then set snares and footholds for any animals that remain.

Again, my job is to stop the predation immediately. I don't locate the coyotes, then come back in ideal conditions. I usually start hunting them as soon as I locate them, using any and every means suitable at that time, and persist until the animals have been stopped. If an opportunity presents itself, I take it.

In most of the situations that I have dealt with as a county predator trapper, the methods I've mentioned above have worked. At times I've had to resort to a different combination, such as siren, then voice howling. Sooner or later though, even some of those coyotes that seem to always walk on rocks, and don't seem to be sociable, will make a mistake, and you'll locate them.