Mid-winter Coyotes
Coyotes, especially those from the colder climates, are the bright spot in today's fur industry. Here in the West we're seeing a trend of trappers changing their efforts from the high dollar cats of years past towards coyotes. With the trim trade consuming pretty much all the coyotes harvested, the demand for heavy type coyotes seems to be very good for the foreseeable future.

If you live in an area that produces a desirable coyote, consider yourself lucky. If you're a fur harvester, it's just smart business to treat coyote trapping, snaring, and calling as an all-season affair. But while the early goods are being bought at decent levels, the true heavies aren't usually caught until winter weather sets in.

Fall trapping probably accounts for the bulk of most trappers' catch, and rightly so. Litter trapping, decent weather, and being able to navigate coyote country easily, can all make for an enjoyable, productive line. I enjoy fall coyote trapping as much as anything in the outdoors.

But the lure of putting together a good string of mid-winter coyotes keeps a lot of us in the field after the first of the year. I work year-round predator control, so when I'm harvesting coyotes that are starting to pair up by mid-January, I'm getting ahead on future populations, as these pairs almost certainly mean dens later. So eliminating two coyotes potentially eliminates 6-8 (or more) in the long run.

Sure, you'll see pairs of coyotes together anytime of the year, but the tracks and sign of a couple of coyotes heading into breeding time is pretty obvious when you've been accustomed to looking for it. A little snow helps. At times you'll wonder just how many coyotes are hanging around, with all the fresh sign. But over time I've learned that a pair of coyotes can make a lot of tracks on these forays.

Of course, not all coyotes are paired up late in the winter. There are still loose litters that seem to keep in touch throughout the winter months. I'm sure not all the pups hang around in these cases, but there's no doubt some do. You'll often hear these family howling sequences at dusk and dawn, and I've heard them break out mid-day too. When I hear these multiple coyotes vocalizing, answering each other back and forth, I know I'm usually on top of them. Being right in the middle of their home range, where they feel fairly comfortable, can really tip the odds in your favor.

Food availability and congregation of food sources will have a lot to do with the density and habits of late winter coyotes. If you live in areas where deer 'yard up' you probably know firsthand how coyotes will move into these 'yards' to prey on the deer.

In the West, antelope herds are coyote magnets. When we lived in eastern Montana, during the years of big winter storms, we witnessed a migration of massive antelope herds from northern Montana and the prairie provinces of Canada. With these herds came big, pale Canadian and Hi-line type coyotes following them. The food source was migratory, and so were the predators.

Just a little side note; these migrating antelope were noticeably smaller and paler than those native to our area, while the coyotes were larger and paler. These coyotes were a welcome addition to the local gene pool, and we saw a definite improvement in our coyotes in a few years.

I see the effects of coyote predation on antelope fairly often here in Wyoming. Around this past Christmas my son Riley and I saw a large drag mark in the snow, crossing the ranch road we were driving down. It was by a fairly large, several hundred- acre patch of knee deep sagebrush that 100 or so antelope had moved into for the winter.

We got out for a closer look. We only had to follow the drag and blood trail 40 or 50 yards to find the remains of the buck antelope. The paunch had been left behind about midway along the trail, and all that remained was the backbone, head, and three legs. The whole remains didn't weigh 10 pounds. A quick look around revealed only a pair of coyotes was involved, and, to our best estimate, they'd spent a day and a night right there, without even leaving a 100-square yard area.

I had already taken a pair of coyotes off a high, windswept bare dam half a mile away, and hadn't seen any tracks close by recently. It was evident that the recent appearance of this antelope herd had drawn in a few more coyotes. The country was fairly open, but a timbered ridge a quarter mile away was where we figured they were hanging around, taking advantage of the cover. We traveled down the 2-track along the ridge top, and sure enough we cut their tracks. They had crossed coming and going, only 25 yards apart. We set four traps in dry spots, with the intent to wait them out.

Coyotes in prey concentrations is a scenario I see several times a winter. In some places it might only be a concentration of rabbits living on a stretch of creek or sagebrush draw. Other areas seem to have an explosion of mice and other rodents. I've seen kangaroo rats by the dozen, running ahead of my pickup lights at night, where there were none to be found the year before. Mother Nature is funny like that.
You can bet coyotes and other predators find and visit and re-visit these places, over and over. I'm constantly on the lookout for places with a higher concentration of prey, and I set them accordingly. I really feel that in winter it stacks the odds in your favor more than in fall. When it gets colder, and they seem to have settled in tighter cover for longer periods, these places can produce really well.

I also see an increase of coyote tracks and other sign on top of frozen ponds and creeks when they start running together, pre-breeding. You'll actually see where they roll and skid across the snow on the ice, exhibiting their playful side. They seem to like this flat, frozen playground, and if the snow has been on for awhile, you might see where they've visited on numerous occasions.

I do really well with sets on top of the dams on these frozen ponds, and along the high banks on certain creeks, and draws that hold water. If there is a high bank created by previous high water, I'll utilize that as a place to make a very visible hole-type set. I usually set right at the bottom of the bank, where the ground starts to slope towards the water or ice. These high banks will sometimes be the spot that get the most sunlight, too, and that can help keep the set free of snow. There's no doubt in my mind that coyotes, like bobcats, will travel in dry spots rather than mud, if given a choice.

Even with snow on the ground, you'll sometimes see where the snow has melted a small strip of bare ground on top of banks and road edges. A quick look at these places can turn up a lot of sign of coyotes that don't run down the middle of the road or on the ice. And, I've noticed that coyotes will hit these bare spots when crossing a road or trail, leaving only a track or two in the obvious snow cover that you're scanning for tracks.

These natural bare spots also provide another important factor: a means of checking and maintaining your sets without leaving excessive footprints and other sign in the snow. I know a lot of good trappers believe that footprints don't spook coyotes away from set locations, but I have to disagree with them. I've noticed too many times that I 'bump' or move coyotes away from a location where I've made too many trips to the pickup for equipment, or have to get too close to check. I know there are exceptions, but I prefer to leave as little sign as possible. Late season coyotes can be wary enough as it is.

As for sets, I don't do anything fancy. I use hole sets with good bait in them, with a level trap bed. I don't like step-down or trench type affairs, since they seem to gather the blowing snow too much for me. If I can get a bone down the hole, and literally hammer it in place, I'll leave part of it exposed and let the coyote see it down the hole, so you have the visual aspect as well as the smell. A little urine or gland lure on the blocking or backing helps.

Flat sets work well too, and if you can get a good, solid lure holder in the ground, they're deadly in areas where coyotes stop and mill around, like those small playgrounds and such. High, windblown saddles and dam tops are favorites for these mid-winter flat sets, and I set the majority on the upwind side of the location. I keep it fairly simple, and make it as maintenance free as possible.

One discussion I see a lot on Internet trapping forums is the length of time to leave a set in a location. That will vary for me, but I plan on coyote trapping being a long-term effort. A month is actually the minimum that I usually intend to leave a location set, although that can be shortened if I catch the coyote(s) I think are there.

There always seems to be a coyote or two that gets used to your sets being there, and simply won't work them. We've all had it happen. Sometimes I'll catch what I think is the only coyote left on a ranch, only to see another track on the way out on the last check, when I pull.

In those cases I usually find myself going back in later, with a different approach. Maybe I'll hang some snares in a brush patch, or on trails I saw their tracks on earlier. A combination of traps and snares works well for me. If you spend a little time, and see how these shy or spooky coyotes travel through the area, avoiding your sets, you can almost always spot a place or two to set when you come back later.

I try to set entirely new locations, and usually a totally new combination of lures and/or bait. I really think late season is when bobcat gland-based lures really shine, even if you don't have many cats in your area. Fox urine will pick up coyotes too.

Late season coyote trapping can be very rewarding. Let the coyotes dictate more as to where you set, and then wait them out. They'll cover some ground, but will almost always return. If you do your homework, pay attention to where their food sources are, and set up the sign accordingly, you can have success when the vast majority of people have given up for the season.