Calling Coyotes - Part I
As a full-time predator control agent, calling is one of my important tools. I thought I'd share some of my experiences.

I got my introduction to calling coyotes over 30 years ago, in Montana. I was fairly new on the Western trapping scene, and I was hungry for coyote knowledge, so I pursued calling just like I did trapping. I learned fairly quickly how to voice howl, and later mastered howling with an open reed Crit'R Call. One of my mentors advised practicing howling with that call while driving down the road, in the cab of the pickup. That way I wouldn't offend anyone, or spook a coyote off with the sour notes and high pitched sounds that erupted from the call if I didn't hold my teeth just right, or had the call too far out of my mouth. That was good advice!

I spent a lot of time in the field, just listening to coyotes, and locating and calling them. I can't always sleep well at night, so I would often drive the back roads at night, stopping at random places and howling to see if there were any coyotes in the area, and if so, how many. It took years to fully learn what to do with what I was hearing and seeing, but it all paid off.

I've had the chance to work with other callers and coyote men over the years, and we've exchanged tips and ideas that have helped me become a successful coyote caller. But, like in my trapping career, I've had to learn and re-learn some things on my own. Those hard-earned lessons are the ones that ring in my ears the most when I'm walking into a calling stand.

First and foremost, watch the wind. It can make you or break you, plain and simple. I don't mind calling in some wind, although obviously it does limit the range that a coyote will hear you. But more important is wind direction.

It's a good rule to call with the wind in your face, and I try hard to follow that above anything else. I can make a little crosswind work, but it does require a few other considerations when choosing the stand. Knowing that the majority of coyotes will try to circle slightly downwind on their approach, if I feel the most probable direction of a coyote showing up is even slightly downwind, I might opt for a better location. I can't tell you how many coyotes I've watched run off when they ran into my scent trail that was drifting down to them. I try hard to keep that to a minimum.

You see it a lot with pairs or multiples of coyotes coming in, because they don't always race each other in to see what the commotion is about. It seems the old dog coyote is usually the most aggressive, and will come in fairly easy when there's a pair. Sure, it doesn't always work that way, but enough to make a reasonable bet on it. I don't know whether it's the male's natural aggression, a need to express dominance, or just plain showing off for a female, but they're usually the one that can end up right in your lap.

At the same time, just as often as one being the aggressive one of a pair, you will often see the other coyote beginning to circle downwind, or possibly just hang up at a distance. There are so many variables of terrain, time of year, type of coyotes you are working on, etc., that I wouldn't even want to try to guess all of the situations you will encounter when calling. But I do know coyotes, and they will use the wind to their advantage if you let them.

So, if I see any sign of a coyote beginning to get to that spot where I know they will cut my scent, I try to get them shot first. Since that could be a long shot, I'm usually ready with my rifle, and slowly keep it pointed in the direction of the farthest coyote, so I can be as ready as possible when the time comes to shoot.

Any movement that I'm making to get ready and steady for that initial shot can be seen by the coyotes, especially the closer one(s), but that's a risk you have to take. I'm a firm believer that coyotes expect to see some movement, since, after all, they are approaching a dying rabbit or whatever. But I do keep it to a minimum. Moving that extra little bit to get your bipod leg raised, or the butt of the gun rested on a small rock, is all the help I need to make an unusually long shot, so I do it. The bottom line is simple. Coyotes don't always believe their eyes, but they never doubt their noses. Remember that.
Sunlight is important, too, and it can come into play more than you think. I love to call spring/summer coyotes, and it's a rare day in the coyote denning season that doesn't find us out there bright and early. My kids no doubt get tired of me saying, "Sun at our backs and wind in our faces," because I tell them that every morning they go to work with me. We'll routinely drive 10 miles out of our way if we have to, to get on the east side of coyotes, and for a good reason. Coyotes don't like to look into the sun any more than we do. It can impact their ability to see, just like it does us.

I've made the mistake of thinking that a bright sun behind me will completely hide a less than cautious approach to a prospective calling spot. I try to take advantage of any terrain or ground cover that will let me get to where I'm planning to sit, without spooking the coyotes. I really believe that even half of your body hidden helps better than just walking the skyline, so walking just over the crest of a hill works when there is no other option at times.

When I'm approaching the place that I've chosen to sit, I look for any and all shade. These little shady spots can be caused by a tree, a sagebrush, or just a small draw or edge of cover. I take advantage of them to sit or lay in, if they still allow me to have a good view of the surrounding terrain. But I won't compromise for having to use the shade if I'm lying too low, or sitting where there is too much vegetation or whatever in front of me to see well. I just think sunlight on you magnifies your movement and body shape. And believe me, I've had so many coyotes show up, like they have magically appeared, out of a shady spot, that I know coyotes understand using shade too.

Another mistake that I've learned the hard way is to approach my calling stand from the direction that I think is the least likely for the coyote to appear. That usually isn't a problem, but sometimes you have to walk in from the side of where you are going to face. In these cases, I try to walk in an arc, away and behind the stand when I'm maybe 100 yards out. Too many times I've had coyotes spook and run off when they cut my footprint/scent trail that I left when I walked in. Taking the extra few minutes to avoid that is just smart business.

When at the actual stand, I try to make myself as comfortable as possible. I'll move a stick out of the way, shove a few rocks with my boot, and get things positioned so I can move a bit if I have to. I know I will probably be there a minimum of 15 minutes, and likely more, so an annoying rock can be a reason for a less than enjoyable experience. But if it's the right shape, it might come in handy to lay the butt of my gun on.

From experience I have learned to expect the unexpected, and I take that into consideration before I start to call. I get my gun(s) positioned after I'm settled in. I use a rifle while calling coyotes, but I have a shotgun with me probably 75% of the time. If I'm sitting I use a pair of shooting sticks, and have them adjusted to the height I think I'll be shooting. I've gotten in the habit of having my bipod legs down too, while the gun is in the shooting sticks. I do this in case I have to move or lay down to take a longer shot, or shoot to the side, or whatever. I lay the shotgun within easy reach, usually on my right side, since I'm right handed.

It's up to the coyotes to determine if and when I switch to the shotgun. I've done enough of it to know that even a few wasted seconds can let a coyote get that extra 10-15 yards that will put them back out of effective shotgun range.

Before I start calling I usually let things settle down for a minute or two, and glass around the area, watching for movement, and trying to visualize where the coyotes will appear from. I don't usually carry a range finder, but I mentally field judge distances and landmarks for when the time comes to shoot. I do that for both the rifle and the shotgun.

Once I'm ready, and confident that I've done everything I can to improve my odds, I start to call. Next issue: Part II