For the vast majority of you, the canine season is well under way. I realize that most of you are pursuing canines for the fur market, although a few of us are involved in predator control. For me, this means the opportunity of getting into some areas that I possibly haven’t worked much through the spring and summer months.

I’ve always believed that scouting can be a huge factor in planning out a line, and anyone who’s read my previous articles knows I stress this. It’s smart to use a variety of ways to scout: coyote vocalizations, tracks, actual sightings, and tips and leads from landowners and others. Those are all basic “Scouting 101” tactics, and rightfully so, because they all work.

This fall the scouting and locating of coyotes to work on has been tougher than usual in a lot of ways, and I guess I’ll blame it mostly on our drought conditions. Some of the ranches I’ve been working on this fall have got 1 inch or less of rain this entire year, and their range is in tough shape. The ground is hard, and instead of any livestock around making the trails “beat up and fluffy”, the trails are rock hard in a lot of areas. Tracks are almost non-existent, which is frustrating for me, since I rely on them so much to decide if I’m even going to set an area. So I’ve been relying on droppings, or the lack of, to tell me what’s going on, more than possibly ever before.

For me, other than sighting a canine, there is no better indication that there are critters around than a fresh dropping. While tracks can be misleading at times, a black dropping is a sure thing. I’ve never had a problem with picking up a dropping, smelling it, breaking it into pieces (almost always with gloves on) and trying to determine what the individual animal had eaten to produce such a nice dropping.

Age of the dropping is important too, and I take into consideration if there's been any recent rains, possibly freezing, and even the temperature, and how much sun it has been subjected to, as ways to figure out how old it is.

Color is important, and while a jet black dropping that’s all nice and shiny means that it’s probably fresh, it usually also indicates a high percentage of straight red meat had been consumed. If there’s hair in the dropping, it’s smart to see if you can figure out what it’s from.

Deer hair is evident in a lot of droppings, and while I don’t try to over-analyze and over-guess things, usually if there’s a lot of hair in the dropping, it’s either a kill of theirs or one they’re feeding on, or a road kill that they’ve found.

For the most part, gut piles don’t have as much hair at them. Even if the hunter decided to skin the animal at the site, I usually don’t see where the hide gets consumed by a canine very often. Sure, the hides eventually disappear in most places, but I usually blame it on badgers as much as anything. At the same time, I do remember over the years seeing where a loose-knit group of pups has torn up and wore out a dried up antelope or deer hide that was left behind after the fall hunting season. I’m sure it starts as them trying to get every last scrap of meat off a hide, and it eventually leads to the entire hide getting shredded and packed off and consumed, at least partially.

Consumed rabbit hair makes for a nice dropping, too, and I would be willing to claim that, based on my experience, those are the ones that most closely resemble bobcat droppings. It’s tough to make the final call at times. Their compactness, gray color, and almost dry look make them a close second for a classic cat dropping, and I’ve been fooled many times.

The easiest droppings to identify and recognize are the ones you find when canines are eating on a cow carcass, or possibly even a calf that they’ve either killed or found dead. They seem to have no trouble in consuming at least a little hair when eating on a cow carcass, and the droppings will almost always be very black, with some hair mixed in. For what it’s worth, they’re almost always the largest droppings you’ll find, too, which no doubt means they are gorging themselves on the huge source of food. I’ve found those huge hair-filled droppings, and later caught the coyotes that produced them, a few miles from the carcass. If you find droppings like that, It’s just good business to try to find the source, and set the area up accordingly.

It’s always amazed me at how many times I’ve come across fresh droppings, yet can’t find any other sign in the immediate area. Animals can move around quite a bit and not leave many tracks, not only because the ground might be too hard. Some animals just naturally avoid walking in the obvious or traditional spots you’d look to find a track. Yet their presence is indicated by a single dropping.

Other animals like droppings too, and they are a main focus of dung beetles, pack rats, and even those pesky little kangaroo rats that are so common in many areas of the West. I know for fact that canines love to eat cat droppings, which makes them disappear faster than you can find them at times, and I’ve watched fairly active bobcat toilets get picked over by pack rats on several occasions.

In my area I usually don’t see a lot of droppings at any one spot, although I do know in some areas it’s common. I guess there’s a little more competition for the droppings by the smaller rodents and bugs; and maybe, to a degree, coyote and fox droppings left along roads and 2-tracks are the first to go, although that might be a little bit of an over statement.

I’m not a huge believer in the territorial theories I’ve read about over the years, as I’ve seen it proven wrong too many times. But I do notice that there are certain places where various coyotes seem to like to leave droppings, and urinate and “kick”. I understand the concept all too well, because I see my male dog want to poop and pee on something high, like a
yucca plant or tall grass, to broadcast that smell and show off his presence. It’s one of the ways canines communicate. There’s no doubt there are lots of factors to this, and different glands expressed while doing it, but any canine tuned in investigates these markings.

So, when I happen to find a spot that looks like multiple coyotes are using it, with many droppings of various ages and sizes, I of course acknowledge that as a great location to setup. I really don’t consider it a boundary, however, but rather as an overlap of coyotes. I equate it more as a bulletin board, and them leaving each other messages. And, like the coyotes, I’m sure after my dog leaves and another dog happens to find that spot along the road, it investigates, and leaves its droppings or pee there too. Canines are canines, and there’s no doubt bobcats and other animals visit those spots too.

In any event, I pick up a lot of droppings for use at my sets, and I know that it’s common practice. I usually put them in a bucket in the bed of my pickup, although I find myself just tossing them in my setting bag if they have a crust on them and won’t get smashed. If they’re fresh and soft, they simply get thrown in the bucket, along with any wet dirt that is attached to them. It’s all good, and all valuable for future sets. If I don’t use them up soon, they do get dried up and a little hard, but a shot of urine refreshes them, and they have great eye appeal and give off some smell and attraction even when fairly dry. I’ve put several in a pint jar with a good lid, and added enough urine to make a heavy paste, too. This can be smeared on a bush or on a backing, just like you see a canine do it naturally. Those big runny droppings give off a lot of smell, as well as eye appeal. Remember that at locations where your best set prospect doesn’t let you take advantage of the prevailing wind, the subtle presence of a black dropping, or heavy paste, several inches off the ground on a prominent object, can work wonders.

I cut the glands out of a lot of coyotes throughout the year, as well as check reproductive tracts (Fallopian tubes) while doing spring and summer control work. I have access to a lot of coyote glands, urine, and droppings. It’s easy to collect droppings while they’re still in the large intestine, and I gather them eagerly. I wear disposable skinning gloves when cutting coyotes open, just to be on the safe side in the case of parasites, and to keep my hands clean. It’s a simple task to strip whatever droppings are available. It all adds up, and all comes in handy later.

In addition to using them on backings and high objects, I use plenty of droppings in other ways. I’ve used them at the outside of my trap jaw at times as an outside blocking, with good success; but to be honest, I’ve found them moved a high percentage of the time. Like I’ve mentioned already, small rodents and bugs leave with them fairly often. Even birds play with them. Before you know it they aren’t where they were originally placed, and all too often they’re on top of your trap when you return. If I do simply lay it on the ground, I try to make a shallow indentation in the ground with my hammer to place the dropping in. Sometimes I lightly pound in a spot, and other times I use the digging tang of my hammer to scratch out a spot to place it in, which adds eye appeal too. I give it a good dose of urine, just in case the dropping itself disappears, so the smell is still there.

I personally prefer to set all my canine sets as walk-throughs, with blocking natural to the area. This can be a cow chip, tuft of grass, piece of sod out of a dirt hole, etc. I place this blocking a few inches out from my outside jaw, which is the farthest from where you will put your bait, lure, or other attractor. This helps to dictate the approach of any animal, and cut down on misses in my opinion. This outside blocking is the perfect place for a dropping, and I’ve found that the wetter and fresher the better, as I actually smear it into the blocking, which helps hold the dropping and its smell in place. It becomes a visual attractor, and spaces out your attractors, which means more foot movement, and, in my experience, higher percentage of catches versus misses.

I also use a fair amount right down a hole. I use a grass plug over my bait at dirthole sets, and I usually just toss a dropping on top of that fairly visible grass plug. Sure, some disappear, but I’ll take that chance, as I do know it helps enhance a good set even more.

I really don’t care what type of dropping it is, and I routinely pick up and use fox and the occasional bobcat dropping at coyote sets. All will create some curiosity and investigation.

A good buddy of mine from Pennsylvania just rode along and helped me pound in traps for several days. We both commented about the lack of droppings in a lot of areas. I mentioned that we’d worked some areas over pretty hard throughout the summer, and any coyotes left weren’t traveling the 2-tracks and usual spots.

On one of the last days that he was with me, we went into a pasture that I hadn’t been in since mid-summer. We were surprised to find 10-15 droppings along 2 miles of ranch road. We of course gathered them up, and used them at sets on a different ranch (and for different coyotes) later that day. We talked and laughed a few times about how effective these strange droppings would be on these coyotes, and how lucky we were to find them.

The little things add up. Give them a try.