Hunting Coyotes
Coyotes, and the art and sport of calling them, has been a major part of my life for over 30 years. There are few things that I enjoy more, and I’m fortunate that I get to spend so much time in the field throughout the year doing it.

I’m also fortunate to have had the privilege to be friends with great coyote callers all my adult life. Almost all have been willing to share their tactics and experiences with me, and if I listened, I almost always learned something. One of the most important things that I was told, and at first didn’t realize the true impact of, was that if you “hunt” the coyote rather than “call” it, you were likely to have more success, especially when the calling was tough.

I’ve often mentioned Keith Gregerson of Roundup, Montana, in my articles. Keith is well known for his coyote snaring catches of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and he and his wife traveled to many states to promote his snares and snaring. What most people don’t realize is that Keith was a second-generation government trapper in Montana, and his spectrum of coyote knowledge extended well past snaring. I used to sit for hours in his shop where he sold snaring and trapping supplies, to soak up anything to do with coyotes. Keith was the first person to mention the fact that you were actually hunting coyotes when you sat down to call. At first I thought that statement was rather generic, but over the years I’ve remembered it many times, as I was going through the extra efforts of coming up with an especially tough coyote.

Years ago, I watched a video on hunting mule deer. It was made by a hunter famous at the time, and was one of the few hunting videos that I’ve ever watched. I remember being in awe of some of the footage of huge bucks on their winter range, as well as the stalking and shooting of a buck or two. It was early day hunting filming at its best, and I’d hate to think of the hours, days, and even months it took to produce that 1-hour video. The guy obviously spent a pile of time in the field, and knew what he was talking about.

One thing I noticed was that he carried a pair of binoculars constantly, and was often glassing both near and far. In other words, he was hunting. In the video he said that when he stopped to glass an area, he did two things. First, he’d give the area a quick scan, to see if by chance he’d spot anything obvious like a buck moving across an open spot, or a bunch of deer feeding. He mentioned that deer were on the move at times and he didn’t want to miss them, if at all possible. Then, he’d slow down and glass the shadows, and the cover. He was hoping to spot a deer’s face, the shine of an antler, or anything different. Again, he was hunting. Most of you who hunt have done the same thing many times.

It stands to reason that hunting coyotes shouldn’t be any different. The use of binoculars has changed calling for many people, including me. Spotting a coyote, or coyotes before you even set up to call might change your approach, or where you intend to set up and try to call them. This might sound like basic information or just be plain common sense; however, I think a lot of people tend to have a spot in mind when they go to an area to call, and head straight for it, and don’t always hunt it right.

Glassing the area first might show a coyote or coyotes heading into cover that they intend to spend some of the day in, or maybe leaving cover for a hunt. Being able to make a plan to use the terrain and cover to get ahead, or at least downwind of them, before calling, is critical. Also, glassing the area first might reveal multiple coyotes. It might change the type of call or sound that you use, and whether or not you pack a shotgun along in anticipation of the possibility of multiple coyotes showing up at one time.

Wind direction is the most important concern when picking a calling stand. Having an idea of where the coyote or coyotes are before you pick the spot is critical.

I’m not sure who said it first, but I agree 100% with this statement: “Coyotes don’t always believe their eyes, but they never doubt their nose.” So many coyotes will circle, at least partially downwind as they get close, trying to get a whiff of you. It’s just built into them and their naturally wary makeup. You have to plan for this, and be sure that you can shoot in that direction when you pick your spot to sit or lay in. And, even though I don’t always practice what I preach, it isn’t a bad idea to use a range finder if you have one. Ranging a few spots when you sit down to call will give you an idea of how far a shot actually is when the time comes. Just pick a few landmarks, like a stump, a big sage, or a prominent clump of grass or whatever.

I guess I’m still old school and just judge distance by how big the coyote looks in the scope, but I have been fooled enough times. I have learned to know the range on some days, especially the days that distance is hard to judge, like in poor lighting or on very overcast days.

I’m writing this article during a winter night of fairly heavy snowfall. The snow was light and fluffy, making tracking easy in the morning. It wasn’t a windy or stormy night, but rather calm and quiet. I’ve found that coyotes like to move on mornings like this, in contrast to the nights where a front moves through, dramatic and upsetting. After those nights, it seems coyotes tend to wait a day before moving too far.

Breeding season is in full swing, and I’ve seen several places where a pair of coyotes have literally trampled down an area in the snow, with their antics and mating ritual. I’ve watched them with binoculars, and they seem to like to roll around and slide on their shoulders and backs, and prance around, playful like. They put on a pile of miles during this time of year, and I’ve followed many a pair of coyotes the better part of a morning on fresh snow, and cut their (and mine) tracks over and over while following them.
They seem to have their home range roughly established during this time of year, and it’s a good time to be out seeing where they slow down and stage a hunt, where they travel, and, where they try to avoid. In other words, a time to observe and learn.

I recently went on a trouble call. A rancher friend had called the night before to tell me about three coyotes he’d run off a newborn calf, and the fact that they’d already killed and eaten another calf. When he told me they had run “off to the west” after he’d saved the calf’s life, I knew the place to call from. It snowed that night too, and there was a slight breeze from the east. I hate calling when the wind is from the east, and if I had time to fish, I’d hate that too, because I never did good fishing then, either. East winds are never good here in Wyoming. And just as predicted, the next day the weather had the game down and hard to spot.

I knew from experience that the coyotes liked to spend their days along a wide, fairly open creek bottom that had very little heavy cover. That is where I planned to call when I got there. Since I had to set up with the wind in my face, that meant I had to come from the west. Rather than drive past or even through where I figured the coyotes might be, I had to come in through a neighboring ranch. I parked well back, almost a half a mile, before I dropped into a low draw that led down to the creek, in hopes to keep any coyotes or deer that might run off and spook the coyotes from seeing me. It was still fairly dark and overcast, and I was wearing snow camo, so I figured if I moved slow and quiet, I stood a chance.

I decided to set up by a fence line, because the extra grass along it would be great to lay by and call. I actually like to do this, and it seems to work.

I didn’t see any tracks in the snow until I got down in the creek bottom, and then the snow and frozen grass got crunchy, making walking noisy. I decided to get back on the edge of the bank and walk the last 100 yards as slow and quiet as I could. There weren’t many fresh tracks, but since it had just finished snowing, I knew that the tracks I did see couldn’t be more than a few hours old. I figured they’d be within hearing distance for the open reed call that I like to use, so when I got to the fence I found a spot at the crest of the bank, and laid down. The spot looked good, but I realized that I couldn’t see from the right side, so I decided to cross the fence and pick another spot. I knew that I had to watch the wind quartering almost toward the direction I figured the coyotes would be, but I had no choice. I tiptoed about 50 feet, and sat close to a pile of old, rotted down stumps and limbs. The view from there was better, and I decided it would work.

I put the bipod arms down on my .25-06, and set it on the ground in front of me pointed in the general direction of where I figured they’d approach -- if they came in. I made sure the scope was turned down to 6.5, the lowest setting, because it might be a fairly close shot, with the farthest possible being maybe 250 yards. I almost always carry a shotgun, and that day was no exception. I laid it on my right side, within easy reach. My son had just put a Pattern Master choke it, which makes for a very dense pattern, and effective range of the 12 gauge is extended to 50-60 yards easily.

Once I got comfortable and was confident I could see fairly well in about a 270° area around me, I glassed as best I could. Nothing seemed to be moving. About 20 mule deer does stayed bedded; I’d walked past them on the way in and they were still there. I could hear my rancher friend feeding livestock with his tractor already.

The first call I made was a low rabbit in distress, with a little high pitch but not a lot. I figured I’d try that first, and if nothing showed up, possibly try a female howl, at least to locate them if nothing else.

About 30 second into it a coyote appeared out of nowhere, at about 100 yards. I’d snuck right in on top of it, and I actually was a little surprised. She tried to get downwind, but I blew a little harder and more frantic on the call, and she decided to head on in, at a fairly quick pace. At about 12 yards she decided that she’d made a mistake, and slammed on the brakes. Too late.

The snow muffled the sound of the shotgun a bit, and I watched for another coyote running away. But nothing was spotted. I continued calling for another 10 minutes, off and on, with no luck.

I finally gathered my gear and back-tracked her, and found where she’d been bedded. She appeared to be alone, although she’d obviously been breeding from all indications. I was really glad that I’d taken the extra precaution to walk in and hunt, rather than just call from a random spot. That might not have worked.

There are a lot of factors to be considered when calling coyotes. Weather, wind, coyote disposition that day, the list goes on and on. But by doing your part, and doing things right, you can tip the odds in your favor.