Coyote Line
Having a successful season on the canine line involves many factors: populations available to work with, weather, length of time to trap, preseason scouting, and line preparation. For me, being in the field, looking for sign and picking locations, is one of my favorite activities. I’m constantly looking for another place to catch a coyote or two.

I find myself looking at scenery whenever I travel, and that often means picking locations as I drive down the highway, even though the locations are possibly several states away from home. That means they’ll probably never get looked at any closer, but it’s a hard habit to break, and I’ll likely never get over it.

Closer to home, I’m constantly driving down obscure 2-track roads, and walking up to new vantage points to look over country I can’t see easily. It doesn’t always pay off, but I know you can’t over-scout an area.

I put an average of 32,000 miles a year on my two Ford ¾-ton work pickups while trapping, along with several hundred miles on my Honda side by side, and plenty of shoe leather. Surprisingly (and luckily), after many years of doing that, I’m still able to find places that deserve a second look to see if they warrant setting up.

I’m very fortunate to have the type of situation that allows me to be in the field throughout the year, in pursuit of coyotes for predator control.

Up until now I’ve never had to keep records of where I have traps or snares, although I suppose that someday I’ll have to write things down more. If my kids and a few friends didn’t ride along with me from time to time, I know that I’d have to keep records in case something happened to me.

I’ve always been under the opinion that if a location really stands out to me, and I have a chance to analyze it, I’ll probably never forget it. That being said, I guess in all fairness I should add that some of my locations are huge, and some over the years have had almost a grandeur effect about them. I’ve trapped in a lot of picturesque places, especially in the Rocky Mountains, and those locations still linger in my mind. Although trying to remember where I last put my pickup keys in the early morning can be tough sometimes, I still remember locations and sets from 35 years ago. Go figure!

But coyotes don’t live off of scenery, and they have to have a reason to be somewhere. Picking specific locations means reading sign and evaluating it, and I’ve overlooked some great locations because they didn’t really stand out at first.

Obviously, being on your home turf has its advantages. It’s just a matter of doing your homework and taking the time to lay out a route that will take you to as many locations as you can check in a day. If you can run 2-day checks, then maybe plan for twice as much. That might sound pretty generalized, but when you step back and take a look at it, that’s about what it boils down to.

The scenario or situation that seems to throw a curveball to some is how to operate successfully on ground other than what you’re familiar with, or, for perhaps a variety of reasons, haven’t scouted. In other words, “cold rolling”.

Going in cold was never my first choice, but often it’s the only way of doing things. Sometimes you get “weathered” out of an area or state, and decide to go elsewhere. Or maybe animal populations aren’t large enough to maintain a catch ratio per day that warrants staying very long in a given area. And, maybe you just decide to take a trip to a different area to try your hand at something new. On occasion, if you’re lucky, you’ll have the weather and other things treat you right on your initial trapline, and you simply want to extend your season a bit. If the fur is holding up and you’re not seeing too much wear and tear, it’s an opportunity to add to the season’s catch.

For the fur trapper, moving at least a few times and adding and pulling sets constantly are often what it takes to make a decent sized catch. Of course, it’s all dependent on your intentions and personal goals. There are a lot of variables. From year to year, and area to area, things can change.

It’s not always an easy decision for me to know when to pull a line, or even some specific locations or sets. I’m always an optimist, and I’d rather have traps in the ground than in my pickup, so I often find myself leaving sets in a fairly long time, maybe even months, before pulling them. Coyotes can often fill back into an area after you’ve harvested some. These new coyotes might be enough to warrant the effort to keep me checking and maintaining my original sets, along with a few fresh ones, as sign dictates.
I’ve mentioned in previous articles, something that I started doing when longlining fox in Montana in the 1990s. I’d pull almost all my sets from a ranch, with the exception of maybe one or two key locations that always seemed to produce, especially after a weather front. I’d call it my skeleton line, and it worked well. I’d drive by a lot of previous locations in a hurry, check and probably dispatch a catch and then remake the set or sets. The smell created at some of those locations were like fox magnets, and it seemed any fox left, and any that moved in, would find those “foxy” places and get caught. I’d cover a pile of ground in a day, but they were all the best of the best spots, and it usually paid off.

I’ve done the same thing with coyotes, and it does work for them too. I noticed that it might take a little snow and time to age some of those worn out areas that produced multiple catches, mostly because of all the activity and the resulting tracks that I’ve left in the area.

I know it doesn’t pertain to fur trapping, but predator control work, or ADC trapping, is different in that way. Taking the gravy or easy ones out of a population of resident coyotes isn’t always what’s needed. If the going gets tough, you can’t just throw your hands in the air and pull a line before the job is done. You often have to deal with depredating coyotes in an area that has virtually no locations that stand out, and often with very little sign to use as a gauge of where to set. In these cases, it’s usually a matter of following your instincts and picking locations that you think a coyote will use as cover to get around the area without detection, and also where they’d likely be getting water.

So many times over the years a single track was all it took for me to set a trap or two, or other piece of equipment like a snare or M-44. It’s not always a case of numbers when doing predator control work; often it’s about catching the right ones doing the damage. With that being said, I honestly feel that harvesting the fur of predators is a form of control. I can tell you from experience that coyotes prey on large game like antelope and deer way more than most people realize or will openly admit. So, in my opinion, private enterprise coyote fur trapping is basically free control for landowners and sportsman, and a benefit to game populations.

We’ve had very little rain in Wyoming this summer, and the ground is as hard as I’ve seen it in quite a while. There’s very little dust in the cattle trails, and the edges of stock dams and other watering spots are hard, too. Tracks are tough to find, and I’ve found fresh droppings in spots that there should be a track or two. If I relied on tracks to dictate where I set equipment, I wouldn’t be getting much out. I’m calling and trying to locate coyotes almost every day, and it’s a lot like laying out a trapline. I’m in likely areas before good daylight, and vocalize howls and gathering-type sounds, in an effort to get coyotes to answer back, which gives me a place to start for the day.

Some days the wind is from the wrong direction, or for a variety of reasons I’ll decide to come back and try for them when the conditions are better. I’ll make notes in my mind of how many I heard, where they were at exactly, and if they were located at water, etc. Summertime coyote work is like laying out a trapline in that way. Keeping a running inventory will keep you ahead of the game at times. They do often move, and they do show up in places that you deemed void of coyotes earlier. The more scouting and evaluating you can do, the more success you’ll have. Summer control work has also taught me how some litters of coyotes seem to loosely stay together well into the fall and winter, while others seem to break up in the late summer; there doesn’t seem to be any real logic to it.

I do believe they scatter more when in an area that’s under predator control efforts, since they probably don’t have a big population of coyotes in close proximity to push them back to their original denning and rearing areas. That could mean that a litter or family of coyotes located in late summer could still be in the general area a few months later, when you start fur harvesting. With the average litter size of coyote pups being around 6 usually, and the parents still being somewhat in contact with them, that means there’s maybe 8 or 10 coyotes that you’ll have a chance at. Scouting will show their tracks, and early mornings are key times to be in the field, glassing and listening too. Again, the more you get done early, the better your chances will be later.

Planning a successful coyote line takes effort and time, but almost always the amount of effort you put in it will be rewarded. Being prepared, having plenty scouted, and being ready to roll with the punches will pay off. It’s a never-ending thing for me, and I hope it’s always as exciting years from now.

Good luck this season; it’s fast approaching!