Preparing for the Shot
Calling coyotes, and other predators, can be as simple or as complicated as we choose to make it. It can be as simple as using a mouth-blown call while resting a rifle over your knees, and, if given a chance, it can also reach the realm of full-blown gadgetry. I guess I’m somewhere in between.

Binoculars, range finders, extra shells, various calls of both hand and electronic varieties, and a small sand bag have all found their way into my pack as “must haves” when calling. I don’t always need or use everything in the pack, but when I do need them, I’m glad they’re there.

Having a rock solid, steady rest adds to my success and confidence at making long (or short) shots, and I can’t overstress how much I focus on that when I’m calling. I’ve found out the hard way, too many times, that if I don’t plan for things to go wrong, I’ll probably pay the price.

I’ll pass along a few things that I’ve learned, when I’m preparing to make the shot, in hopes that they’ll be of use in your personal calling efforts.

First, picking the place to call from, or the “stand”, is a huge factor. A person doesn’t always have a lot of options, but making the best of a situation by taking into consideration what position I’ll be shooting from when the time comes, will change my final choice of where I plunk down.

Most of the time I prefer to lie down to call, simply because our ground cover isn’t that tall; it doesn’t always break up your outline well. I prefer to position myself at the top of a ridge, bank, or hill, with the wind in my face, of course. If the sun is at my back, so much the better.

I carry good binoculars in a case that’s attached to wide shoulder straps, and I use them, a lot. I’m watching ahead at all times, and when I choose a spot to call from, I look the country over well before I call.

I have two rifles that I use for calling coyotes, as well as a few shotguns. I usually call with a rifle and a shotgun, and I simply lay the shotgun next to me, on my right side (I’m right-handed), within easy reach. Laying the shotgun barrel in brush or on a clump of ground, so there’s a gap under it, will save some effort if you have to grab it in a hurry. There have been times when having it on my left side would have worked better in the end, but overall the right side is best for me. The wind can be a factor for making this decision, as I’ve found that most coyotes will try to get downwind when coming in, and at times that’s the side where you’ll need to do some short range shooting. By having the shotgun on that side already, it saves time and movement.

The rifles have multi-positional bipods. I really like the ability to adjust one leg higher than the other, like on a slight hillside, or on less than smooth ground. They all seem to make a little clicking sound here and there when adjusting. That can be remedied by putting your hand over the working parts to cover any sound.

I use my pack (mainly empty after getting set up) as a rest for the butt of the rifle, or under my elbow, for added stability. I’ve also used rocks (preferably flat, not round), cow pies, or a small sand bag. I prefer to have it all rock solid.

I like to imagine where the shots will be when I take them, and look through the scope a few times at those places to see if any adjustments need to be made. I use a range finder at times too, just to get an idea of the various distances, to save time and guessing later.

Grass is a major concern -- and no, you can’t shoot through it. I break or pull any weeds that are going to be in the way, and I especially like to remove any from where my hand will be around the trigger and bolt of the rifle. All minor details, but they can add up. I try to do this with as little noise or commotion as possible, and if it takes a minute or two, it’s usually worth it. You can’t always control where a coyote will show up from, or where it’s going to stop, but you can do your part to be as ready as possible.

Many times I’ve decided to move a short distance after I realize I’ve picked a spot with limited visibility or shooting opportunity. Again, a little more effort, but often worth it.

I’ll use the binoculars to see if any coyotes are visible, or if my movement is going to attract attention to antelope or deer in the area, which can cause coyotes to use caution also. If I feel that I’m being watched by the ever watchful eyes on the prairie, I’ll wait until they aren’t interested any longer before I decide to move.

If it’s a spot where you have to sit up to be able to see any predators coming in, you better be prepared to shoot from that position. I’ve never been a great shot while resting on my knees, and the distance the target is away greatly affects the angle of the rifle, and therefore how much of the gun comes in contact with your shoulder and cheek. And resting my arms on my bony knees doesn’t help much, since I tend to roll off, one direction or another. Unsteady at best. Sure, you can still make it work, but I’ve never been overly confident in that position, so it’s a last choice for me.
The summer of 2019, with its above normal precipitation in eastern Wyoming, has made for a big grass year. Sweet clover and a lot of other grasses have flourished, and while it’s all great for game and livestock, it has made for some tougher calling conditions. I’ve found myself relying on some methods and tools that I learned years ago.

In 1985 I had the great fortune to work with the late Vernon Dorn, from Hanna, Wyoming, as an apprentice coyote “denner”. I remember some of that summer like it was yesterday. Vernon liked to sit down, up against a sagebrush or small cedar tree, and shoot from that position. I was shooting a .25/06 at the time, and had acquired a pair of dowel rods that I used as rests, much like the old buffalo hunters. I simply held them together in my left hand, creating a fork, which the forearm of the rifle rested in. It worked to a point, but I was soon introduced to a better way.

I’d only worked with Vernon a day or two when he presented me with a pair of his shooting sticks that he’d made in his garage. Vernon lived his life hunting coyotes, but he also liked to garden and work in his garage shop. He was always building calls and giving them away to people, like me, to try. He also built shooting sticks, and when I was the recipient of a pair, I was forever grateful.

The sticks were made out of oak lathe, and fairly solid. He’d rounded the upper end, and had also cut the bottom end at a bit of an angle, to make them wedge into the ground when in use. A bolt was used as a pivot point, which formed a V. Simple, but very effective. One of the things that he added was a piece of bicycle inner tube, which he had stapled on the top of the V, to form a loop above it.

I remember him telling me to bring my rifle to his garage to custom fit that piece of tube to fit my rifle. It didn’t need to be tight, just snug. It served a purpose, and it was based on Vernon’s experience over many years of calling coyotes in Wyoming. I was anxious to see why.

He showed me how to position the rifle in it, so the forearm was in the V, well behind the sling stud. It provided a lot of support at that point, and actually helped balance the rifle when the butt of it was resting on the ground, which kept it from tipping. He also explained to me the importance of having the sticks spread apart the right distance, so that the intended distance to shoot was achieved, since the rifle was in a solid position. By using your left hand to either spread or compress the sticks together a bit to adjust the height, it was amazing to see just how solid this simple type of rest was. It did take a little practice, but hey, I was all about it. I got to where I held onto the left stick and rested my thumb up against the rifle for added stability, but that was just me. I’ve since seen people grip the sticks below the rifle, as well as on the rifle forearm. It’s all what you get used to.

It was years later that I got a chance to use the Vern Howey shooting sticks, and I liked them as well. I’d met Vern in 1985 too, when he was helping the late Bill Austin den coyotes on the west side of Carbon County, Wyoming. We all met and had coffee a few times, and compared notes. I was a “kid”, but coming along in the big leagues so to speak, and I absorbed and learned a lot form those visits.

Years later I ran into Vern at a convention, and we had a great reunion. I was happy to see that he was making bipods, with his own addition, a swiveled U-shaped rest on the top. The sticks themselves were made of heavy fiberglass rods, and didn’t flex much, which is important. He’d made them with a good point on the end, to catch in virtually any type of soil type, another plus. A good painting of dull colors and a final wrap of camo tape, and they were a work of art. I bought several pairs of two different heights. I still have them, and I carry them at virtually every calling stand. I simply could not call coyotes without them, and I’d hate to think of how many times they’ve saved the day.

By having both the bipod and the shooting sticks, I feel that I’m ready for just about any possible shot or reasonable distance. I practice sitting up, as well as prone, at a few different distances, fairly often. I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t shoot as well as I could when I was younger. I simply can’t see as well as I did at one time. It just makes me get prepared more when I get ready to call at a stand. Luckily, the odds are still in my favor, and calling is an important tool in my profession.

I hope this sheds some light on things for you.