Litter Trapping Coyotes
For many trappers, fall trapping kicks off with coyotes first. In many states the coyote season comes in first, or there's no closed season at all. A lot of trappers chase coyotes for a few weeks every fall before they start their water lines, and others concentrate on coyotes, or canines and cats, the entire season. In either case, litter trapping can come into play.

I've observed some things over the years that might help you understand coyote families, and how these observations can play into your fall trapping. First, let me give you a few insights that I feel are important about family units, dispersal, and basic Coyote 101.

I've come to my own conclusions on the topic of 'dispersal' that I've heard and read so much about. I've found over the years that there aren't any real rules about how early in the fall any given litter of coyote pups will break up and begin to venture out on their own.

It varies a bit, but most coyote pups are born from late March through the month of May. By late August and through September, they can pretty much be considered young adults. At that particular time they can be hard to identify as either juvenile or adults unless you can check their teeth, or pick them up and check their overall body weight or 'frame' mass, or both.

Their temperament and overall traits can vary a lot. Doing predator control work, I get to see this 4-5 month evolution from pups to adults on almost a daily basis. I've often marveled at how some coyote pups can be fairly docile and playful around a den, while others seem to be shyer, and others even downright nasty. I imagine that certain individual pups are 'black sheep' in their litters, and get pushed around a lot, similar to domestic dog behavior. Some that can be considered bullies because of their aggressive nature. I have to guess that these different personality traits are carried with them throughout the rest of their lives, at least to a point. I don't claim to be a coyote mind reader, not by a long shot. I've been around this coyote business for way too long to ever think that. It's just that I see these variances in sub-adult coyotes when I'm calling with my denning dogs. At times, some are as aggressive as their parents by mid-summer.

Some coyotes seem to be loners, while others are found fairly close to at least one or more of their littermates. I'm sure this comes into play when they decide to leave their home area, and get away from the rest of the family. And there is no doubt in my mind that some pups just get 'shunned' and left behind, or pushed away by their parents when the time comes. It's only speculation as to how far they will travel away from their original denning area.

Coyotes can and will use the same denning areas year after year, but as the summer goes on they will usually take up residence in another area. I think that during this time a lot of pups get the natural urge to start moving out on their own.

Many, many times I've witnessed a lot of communication between these loosely knit bunches of coyotes. I live and trap in pretty big country, with many vantage points where I can park and listen to these scattered groups. I feel it is so important to be out there as much as possible to completely understand coyotes.

Vocalizations are important, and there have been a lot of good observations shared on the different kinds of sounds made between coyotes. I'm sure this vocalization comes into play way more than some give it credit. Even after coyotes take off on their own, they might still be within relative earshot (maybe several miles on the right night), so they stay in loose contact with others from their family group, and of course, other coyotes too.

You can take advantage of these vocalizations for picking trapping locations. I know I've been completely surprised at times by where a family of coyotes are hanging around, after being in the area and reading the available sign (or lack of).

By setting right on their 'home' you are almost always better off than setting on the fringe areas of what you might consider their home range. Hearing several coyotes, and identifying roughly where they are at, can only speed up the process of picking actual set locations.

Food sources, such as big game kills, seem to get a lot of 'bragging' type howls and yips, and in general, coyotes just broadcasting their success. It always seems kind of counter-productive to me, this announcing of food to their neighbors, which is why I call it bragging. I've investigated these fresh kills, and seen where numerous coyotes will show up to take advantage of the meal. I can only surmise that some are pups that have stayed on the fringe of communication.

The warning howl/bark of adult coyotes can be heard from a long distance, especially when broadcast from a high spot. Believe me, these barks are enough to make some coyotes go almost 'underground' at times, and I see it in the late summer especially. Sometimes an area will go dead for a while when I catch a female that I figure has raised a litter of pups earlier in the year. Warning barks and other vocalizations no doubt get broadcast, which puts the litter into the 'lay low' mode for a while.

Another huge factor is food sources. Some of the areas I've trapped have had a seemingly unreal amount of rabbits, rodents, and other food. Maybe it's just me, but I think these litters of pups hang around a tad bit longer than in areas where the going is a little tougher. I have to believe that some coyotes are better hunters than others, just like people.
When it's hot, or in very arid areas, like much of the West, water comes into play too. Water sources like ponds, stock tanks, creeks, and springs will all be visited by coyotes, usually several times a day throughout their travels. Finding these watering spots can really help find concentrations of coyotes, especially if they are places that they're familiar with since their pup stage. I have to believe that they learn at a young age that their food sources like to hang around these watering spots too, and that makes them doubly attractive.

One topic I'd also like to touch on is the fact that a lot of the double and multiple catches you make in the fall are probably not 'pairs'. There's a good chance they're littermates. It stands to reason, since the number of young of the year in a given area is probably larger than adult coyotes.

The reason I mention this is mainly because the topic of remakes always seems to come up. I noticed many years ago that in certain areas, and with some individual groups of coyotes, 'circle-shy' animals seemed to be a bigger factor. I've learned that hard-pressed coyotes can develop a general wariness on their own, which is no doubt another topic all in itself.

But I've also experienced trouble catching coyotes in catch circle remakes when dealing with 'fresh' coyotes, animals that by all rights shouldn't be wary or shy. For this reason I like to have a fresh or new set close by, to hopefully pick up the coyotes that will approach a previous catch spot but not commit. There is no doubt that coyotes will emit a fear-type smell through their glands when they're caught. You can smell it at times as you approach a trapped coyote. At least that's how I've always labeled that particular smell.

The factor that I've never been able to figure out, or put any kind of reason to, is why some catch circles seem to become 'magnets' for other coyotes (probably previous littermates in a lot of cases), and other catch circles seem to repel them to a point. Again, it is reason enough to put in a new set at a location, after a catch is made.

Another thing that will come into play at times, is whether the juveniles are still even with their parents later in the fall. With the average litter size being around six, how often do you encounter all eight family members in a general area come fall? I guess with heavier densities it isn't uncommon, but I know a lot of us are dealing with a lower density overall.

I mention this is because I've set up on what I believe to be an entire family of coyotes that seem to be fairly 'located', and are returning within a week usually, only to have them leave after making one or two catches. A buddy of mine called this a 'bump', and for lack of a better term, I do too.

The best way to deal with this, if you have the access, is to set up other places that those particular coyotes might go to, after they're bumped. At times I feel I might be oversetting an area, based on the amount sign that I've found. I always have a running inventory in my head of how many coyotes I think might be in a given area, and set accordingly.

In a lot of cases, I will pull traps at some locations after I catch what I consider to be the available coyotes. Some areas don't seem to get much in the way of coyotes filling back in after taking a family group out, at least not until later in the winter, or early next spring.

But I always keep it in the back of my mind that I might be dealing with some overlap of litters when I find a lot of sign. In those cases I try to keep track of what I'm catching (adults, yearlings, and juveniles). Again, a running inventory of what is possibly there.

As far as actual sets are concerned, I've always felt that I get the job done with standard dirtholes and flat-type sets. I use one or two baits, a few different lures, and either coyote, fox, or bobcat urine too. These basics will give me several combinations of smells at a location.

Since I know that a lot of the coyotes I'm setting for were raised together, I can assume they're familiar with their littermates' individual smells. I sometimes take a sifter of debris from a catch circle and toss it around the general area of a multi-trap location, just to get that smell broadcast over the area a bit more. My intention is to let them know that a family member spent some time there, and hopefully make them look around enough to find your sets and get caught themselves. Basically, you're just increasing your odds.

I've heard some theories on targeting adult coyotes first, in an attempt to make the remaining young hang around. There might be some truth to that at times, but I've seen it work the opposite way enough that I really don't take that into consideration for the most part. Again, with their vocalizing, and the fact that all of the juveniles probably aren't that close by anyway, I don't usually target just any one animal, like one adult, or what has been referred to as 'dominant' coyotes at any given location.

I'd rather look at the bigger picture, and get sets made on the spots that I think will be enough to get that particular group of coyotes caught, and keep it is as simple as that.

It just stands to reason that a lot of family groups, or litters, of coyotes will be together in the fall when a lot of you will be starting out for the season. Take advantage of this by getting out there and locating these groups.