Antelope vs. Coyotes
Every once in a while, I get into a discussion with someone about the benefit big game populations receive via the harvesting of coyotes for predator control or fur. I’ve been challenged a few times, and have been asked to explain why I felt the way I do. When this happens, I just smile and asked how much time they have to listen. If they let me, I can proceed with confidence and outline some of the things that I’ve witnessed and learned over many years. I also mention that I’m speaking from experience, not from a book. I thought I’d share a few of these things with you.

The summer of 2020 has been a long one here in Eastern Wyoming; long and hot. I only remember a few summers in the last 20 years that have even come close to what we’ve experienced this year. The lack of moisture has been very tough on livestock and wildlife alike. Stock ponds, and water tanks located by windmills scattered in pastures, have been major factors in the distribution of animals. Grass and hay are in short supply, and I’m sure it’s stressing ranchers, as well as the stock they own. But the West is populated by resilient wildlife and humans, and we’ll get through it.

I’m pretty tuned into wildlife, and the patterns they keep, while being in maybe a dozen or more pastures and several ranches on any given day. The first light of dawn on a summer morning is a time of great activity, and being on a hillside with good binoculars, just watching, will tell you a lot about what’s going on in an area.

A lot of the little hidden watering places were dried up by mid-summer this year, and the manmade watering places were getting a lot of wildlife activity concentrated around them early. This might not seem like a huge factor for mobile animals like antelope and mule deer, but it can be a big element in their survival simply because it draws them, and their fawns, out into open country.

Antelope will bunch up for most of the year, and groups or herds of dozens, 25, 50, or even more are common during the winter months. But as late spring and early summer roll around, you start to see the does become more solitary, and some just seem to want to get away from the rest of their family and find a little “hidey hole” well away from any traditional spot where you’d expect to see an antelope. While they’re still loosely connected and usually within sight of each other, I’ve noticed that there might be half a mile or more between them.

Antelope make some weird sounds at times, and some almost seem to talk back and forth. My wife, Nicole, grew up on a ranch in eastern Montana, and she has told me many times that she had doe antelope make various vocalizations when she would ride through a bunch of them while working cattle years ago. They also have a habit of flaring the hair on their white rumps when alarmed. I’ve noticed this countless times, and I guess you could compare it to the hair on the back of a dog standing up when it’s alarmed or provoked. It’s a case of body language at its finest, and I’ve come to believe that antelope are very tuned in to this display of white rump hair being raised or flared, as it is very distinct, and can be seen easily for a long distance.

One instance that I base this on is when using a coyote howler. On a calling stand, or when simply trying to locate some coyotes, I rely heavily on the use of binoculars to survey the intended area. I always scan the area well before I ever use the howler. It’s just good business to try to see what’s in sight, either prey, predators, or both. It’s not uncommon to see many antelope and deer while doing this, and in a lot of cases they’re unaware of my presence. Some will be in their beds, others will be feeding, and almost always there will be a few sentries on the lookout. That’s life as usual for antelope and deer on the prairie. But when I howl to get a response from a coyote or coyotes in the area, I notice an immediate change in the antelope and deer that hear you mimicking a coyote. It’s not hard to acknowledge how much they are susceptible to depredation, just by watching the change in their body posture.

Their ears will go up, pointed right in your direction. Their hair will almost immediately take on a fluffy, flared up look, and I know it’s a signal, as I’ve already mentioned. I can’t tell you how many times that I thought I had a good count of how many deer or antelope (or both) that were in the area that I’ve scanned carefully, only to have that visible number double or triple after I’ve alarmed them by howling and doing coyote talk. Sometimes one or two does will come towards me, ready to divert a coyote’s attention, or possibly to have a full-on confrontation. I’m not sure exactly what kind of signal they give, but many times I’ve had several antelope and deer appear at close range from virtually every direction. I’ve watched them stomp their feet, and false charge to make the coyote (me) move and give up its location.

Antelope and deer have huge eyes, and I’ve had them approach close enough to see them, with binoculars, blinking. They don’t seem to play the wind like a predator does, or they wouldn’t get so close. But if they do wind you, they’ll snort and move away quickly.

My decoy dog that I’m using now takes this all in stride, and he learned as a pup to not mess with large animals. But he also seems to realize that these natural, live decoys moving about aren’t just good amusement; they’re also good advertising for coyotes in the area. He’ll make his little jaunts out in front of me a little closer than usual if any mamas get too aggressive, and wait until they’ve moved off before venturing farther out, say maybe to 200 yards.

A fawn bleat, made with an open reed call, will really draw prey and predators alike. I have noticed over the years that coyotes seem to be a bit more cautious as they approach a fawn bleat than with any other sound. I’ve had them come in from a mile away and take what seemed forever to get close as they stop and look around several times. They no doubt had either been taught that by another coyote, or had personally experienced a very aggressive female protecting its offspring. Like I’ve had happen over the years.
The first time I saw this was in eastern Montana, maybe 30 years ago. It was early June, and I was hunting coyote dens in an area 4-5 miles south of a sheep ranch, in an attempt to head off any lamb depredation by coyotes from that direction. I’d hiked into a low ridge to set up and call from, after hearing what sounded like a pair of coyotes at a distance of a mile or more. The ridge had a few bunches of 2-foot high sagebrush on it, and I headed straight towards the biggest clump. I watched ahead of me as I walked, in case the coyotes I’d heard were also headed towards me, which isn’t uncommon. I remember starting to notice that more antelope were appearing than I’d originally seen. I didn’t want to get too close to any, in fear that they’d spook and warn each other, along with the coyotes.

Once I got set up and glassed the short grass prairie that went on for literally miles in front of me, I double checked the area that I figured the coyotes had answered me from. I was hoping there would be a lane, and they could come to my calling without encountering any aggressive doe antelope. Things looked good, so after I got settled in and had my shooting sticks adjusted for height and my rifle pointed in the general direction I expected the pair to come in from, I started off with a few challenge howls.

Only a few seconds after I’d wound down, the pair answered me, very aggressively. I guessed them at maybe half a mile away, and noticed that they probably hadn’t moved much from their original location.

If I remember right, it was only a minute or two before they appeared almost out of nowhere. They’re masters at using cover and terrain change to their advantage, and they’d quickly closed the distance to a quarter mile. Reading their body language, I could see that they were going to be in my lap quick, and the dog I was using at the time headed out to engage them. It was Dog Decoying 101, and I’m sure my heart was pumping fast, even though I’d been through it a hundred times before.

But just when I was starting to think this was as cut and dried as it could get, antelope started coming in, charging the pair of coyotes. My dog stopped to watch the action, as he’d had a few minor run-ins with antelope before.

At least five or six antelope were taking turns charging and running right over the coyotes, stomping them in the process. I kept calling thinking that the coyotes would eventually get away and keep coming, but that didn’t work out.

To make a long story short, what should have been an easy pair of coyotes to pick up were headed over the horizon the last time I saw them, with a few of the antelope still in hot pursuit. I had to come in from a completely different direction on another day to get them, if I remember correctly. This was a great example how antelope, somewhat frail and not really very large, can have their survival instincts kick in when needed. There was no doubt that there were several fawns in that area given the time of year, as well as how the does had reacted. Fawn antelope are a favorite prey of coyotes, and I know they hunt them very aggressively when they start hitting the ground in early June.

This past spring, nine out of the first 10 coyote dens that I found had evidence of this, in the form of fresh fawn legs and skulls around the den entrance. As a matter of fact, I found antelope fawn legs at two dens before I even saw a live fawn!

Whitetail fawn legs, as well as mule deer fawn parts, are also very common at coyote dens, and I’ve seen adult animal parts at many dens, too. In some cases, there will be so many parts scattered around the den site that they will actually start to smell when the weather gets a little warmer.

As the summer goes on, the fawns that make it through the first few days get fairly mobile and you gradually see the does start to regroup. After a month or so, say by mid-August, you’ll see them sharing babysitting duties, and at times one or two does will have several fawns with them. A quick look around the surrounding terrain will usually find them within a mile or two, though.

Fawns of all kinds will hide so well that I’ve stepped over them at times. They literally flatten right down on the ground. Their mom placed them there, and they were holding tight.

Towards fall and into winter you start to see some of the smaller antelope groups congregate into even larger groups, and they can become more nomadic, travelling many miles. I’ve seen migrations of antelope that went maybe 10-20 miles at times. Coyotes will follow these travelling herds, and I’ve had some really good check days on coyotes after a herd of antelope have gone through the area in previous days.

Not all antelope and deer migrate, though, as I see resident populations that seem to stay fairly well put. They seem to find pockets away from traditional coyote denning areas in the summer months, but you can bet that they are on guard at all times, too.

I know that antelope aren’t native where a lot of you live and trap, but I’m sure deer are in most cases. I honestly believe that you can mention to a landowner when trying to gain access, or simply reporting in, that virtually any coyotes and other predators that you can harvest off their property will help their game population. In my opinion it’s just a fact that can’t be denied.