Fall Coyotes
I don’t make it to very many conventions anymore, but when I do attend one, I pay attention to the topics that people are talking about. So, even though I only went to one state convention, along with Coyote Days this summer, I came away with a few topics that seem to be on people’s minds at the moment. Luckily, they tie together a bit, so I thought I’d write my column for this issue with those topics in mind.

First, there is definitely a lot of talk among the predator control guys, who work in some of the northern prairie states, about the lack of coyote litters this past summer. I saw it myself, as there was a high proportion of “dry” females that didn’t have a litter. At the same time, we dealt with some paired coyotes that acted like they should have a litter of pups somewhere, but actually didn’t. It took a lot of leg work to come up with some of these coyotes, and a lot of “process of elimination” to accomplish any results at times. And, I saw some of the smallest litters that I’ve seen in 38 years of hunting coyote dens. In conversations with a lot of other people doing ADC work, I’ve found this seems to be in a fairly large area, what could be called the “coyote belt” of the Dakotas, eastern Montana, and down through Wyoming and other areas.

I’m not saying there’s a major die off, or an overall crash in numbers caused by disease or other factors, as that doesn’t seem to be the case. What I’m saying is that there appears to be a lot less young of the year, which in turn may affect the overall numbers of available coyotes to catch in a given area this upcoming season.

Some people have mentioned that they seem to have as many coyotes as any normal year, which means they probably won’t be affected as much as others when it comes time to start harvesting fur. A lot of you trap in areas other than the ones I’ve mentioned, but I still think what I’m going to suggest for you to try will be something to consider.

I’ve always been a proponent of pre-season scouting and preparation, and this year it could be more important than ever. Again, I’m not saying there was a parvo-type disease that made every adult coyote die off, so you will likely see some sign at most of your traditional and time proven locations. Yet, as I’ve learned many times in the past, some years tracking conditions aren’t that great, and you have to really hunt to find sign. It’s not hard to under or over estimate what is around, based on what tracks you find.

When I’m scouting for sign at a location that I’ve set before, I naturally look at the old trap beds to see if anything has been working holes I left, or possibly left a dropping by it. Even after pulling the traps many months before, there will probably be some residual smells and attraction there, and some animals check out those spots fairly often. If they happen to leave a shot of urine there too, as is often the case, then it becomes a spot of interest for any other critter in the area.

All of this activity can make for a lot of sign, and you can be fooled into thinking that there are a lot of animals in the area. Sure, those old sets are a great place to start, but it might be smart to look around some of those areas a little closer to see if you’re dealing with a few adult coyotes, or possibly a family group, maybe remnants of a litter still loosely grouped together going into fall and winter. A little extra scouting and assessing of the population might be in your best interest this season, to avoid any big surprises. You might consider scouting some additional areas if you find that there just doesn’t seem to be the population that you’re used to working on, if you intend to produce the same amount of fur.

I’ve already mentioned looking for tracks and droppings, and I find myself constantly scanning the roads, trails, and ground when I’m out of the pickup. I guess it goes with the territory, so to speak, and it’s part of my job. I try to keep a running inventory of the coyotes in an area, and, well, tracks don’t lie.

I also had a conversation or two with trappers about locating and assessing their available coyote populations by using vocalizations and getting responses. I know it may sound like an unneeded or time-consuming process for some, but I urge you to consider it. When I gave a lot of instructions on predator trapping, it was one of the first things I taught people, and it laid the foundation for what I was going to show them. Sure, tracks and such are important, and show you where coyotes have been, but getting them to howl and talk back to you tells you where they are now. It can also give you an idea of how many there are, since you might even be able to actually count the single responses. If there’s a good population you might hear multiple coyotes over a large area answer and talk to each other, all in succession. For me, there is nothing more exciting than having various litters respond to one another, after I initiated it by my vocalizations.
In the summer months, it’s fairly easy to listen carefully and tell which coyotes responding are pups, with their bird-like yipping all at the same time. But, as summer wears on and fall gets close, they become coyotes. It’s often harder to determine which are juvenile young of the year and which are adults, especially if they’re in a group and chattering all at the same time. Sure, if they are singles or spaced, you can usually tell which ones are adults because they will likely have a deeper tone and howl, since they are more aggressive and older. But I’ve been fooled many times by females, with their high-pitched yips and howls.

All of this is important info or “recon” to have. Knowing there is a family group of coyotes in a spot to work on is better than just seeing a few tracks. It can help you decide which locations to set, how many sets to make, and also to know how many you have available to harvest. If your locations don’t produce after what you think is a reasonable amount of time, you might consider moving, or adding in locations and sets.

Tracks in the mud can last a long time, and you might have to wait for the coyotes that made them to come back to marginal places that you originally thought where the spot, but, over time, produce little. If you have a rough number in your mind of what’s there, because you actually heard them, you might reassess your attempts. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not hard to be fooled by tracks, especially if it’s a proven location. But coyotes do move and change their routes and hunt different areas at times.

By now you’re saying, “OK, I get it, but how do I get them to howl?”

The answer to that is simple. First, mornings have always been best for me. Pre-dawn is the best, but the first hour or two of daylight can produce results too. Evening is probably a close second, as far as getting the majority of them to respond to you.

I’m usually in my pickup when I’m locating, and try to pick a spot with a slight rise in elevation, but not necessarily the highest hill around, as it’s not needed. I just prefer to have a vantage point, so I can use a landmark or two to get a better idea of where they are, rather than, “east of the hill”. You can spot a bunch of trees, a tower with blinking lights, a waterway, a yard light at a farm, or whatever it takes to give you a better idea. Now you can actually visualize where they are at that moment, which can help you decide to get permission, pick locations, etc.

I personally use an open reed call to howl the most often, although just a howl made with your mouth will often work. I prefer a long, deep howl, maybe 3-4 seconds, and I might add a yip or two at the beginning. I usually turn my head a bit, when making the howl(s) just to make the sound cover more area. I’ll usually wait at least a couple minutes before I howl again. Often, it’s after the second sounds that they answer. Being in a hurry doesn’t pay, and let’s face it, you drove there to try it, as you had a hunch, so give it time.

If you get a response, listen carefully and get a count as to what is answering. I personally don’t take notes, but if it helps you analyze and prepare, then do it.

After I’ve been there 5 minutes or so, I’ll move to another spot, which is usually at least 2-3 miles (or more) away. I don’t like any overlap, and I feel it’s usually a waste of time, but sometimes I’ve been fooled. There are no real rules to locating this way, and you sometimes hear coyotes back in the direction that you were just in.

Of course, you can use sirens and electronic locaters, as there are many on the market. I do have one word of caution if you decide to go this route, and that’s to keep the volume down, as their sounds carry a long way, possibly miles. That can cause coyotes to respond way out of your earshot, and you might discount an area for lack of responses, because you didn’t hear anything. Many coyotes won’t respond multiple times in one night, so you could miss the one and only chance. That is why I prefer a hand-held reed type howler, or my voice. They simply can’t hear them quite as far as the electronics.

The number of places and size of area that you try to assess is entirely up to you. If you’re in a new area, or want to rethink a few of the farms or ranches that you trap, this is a good way to do it and never leave the county road at times. You can even do it before or after work, if you have time constraints.

With Mother Nature possibly throwing us another curveball this season, you might consider adding location vocalization. It’s easy, quick, and productive. And, there’s nothing quite like a family of coyotes answering you on a pitch-black night. It will get you thinking, and get you at their level. Try it.