The Slot Set
I had just spent the day deer hunting with my youngest son and when I got home, I read my messages. One of the messages caught my eye right away; it was from a rancher who had just, “Run a coyote off of a calf it had killed”. I called him right away, asked where it was, and told him that I’d be there first thing in the morning.

I knew the ranch well and knew exactly where to set up to call. I took into consideration the sun and the wind, that I expected to be out of the northwest, when I got there at daylight. I had to take a route to get in position that kept me out of sight of where I expected the coyote to be if it was feeding on the calf. I picked a shady spot to sit that allowed me to blend in, then I glassed the entire area for at least five minutes before calling for 20 minutes. I glassed for another 10 minutes before getting up on my knees, to glass again. When I was satisfied that no late comers or holdouts were sneaking in, I made my way back to the pickup.

I slowly drove toward the dead calf and was less than 200 yards from it when I saw a coyote running through the sagebrush within 50 yards of me! I slammed the truck to a stop and bailed out with my rifle trying to get the bipod down and the scope turned down at the same time. I already spotted a slight hump of ground that had been left when the ranch road had been bladed. That was where I intended to get in a rock-solid prone position to try a shot when the coyote, hopefully, reappeared on one of the open hillsides that surrounded the sagebrush flat I had spotted it in. I didn’t have to wait long when the single coyote reappeared at about 200 yards. He wasn’t moving fast when I let out a short bark with my voice. I had already turned the scope back up to 12-power, when the coyote stopped briefly, I let fly with the rifle. It all happened quickly, but one less coyote was the result. I took a picture with my phone (modern day predator control procedure I guess) and sent it to the rancher. He quickly answered back, “Good job”.

Apparently, the coyote was so intent feeding on the calf, or perhaps it didn’t like my version of a fawn-in-distress or a lonesome coyote howl as I’d been calling from a spot less than a ½-mile away. In any event, it all worked out and I was grateful for that.

Later, I spent a few hours looking at several trails in the area, but no real sign was found. I know from experience that some coyotes simply don’t follow trails with any regularity. When I went and looked at the calf and could only find a few large tracks that appeared to be of the same coyote, I assumed that I’d just shot the coyote that was feeding on the calf.

I skinned the dead calf’s neck back to look for any bites and then inspected the hind quarters and legs, and found no real trauma. I noticed that the blood coming out of the calf’s nose was faintly red and very foamy and I came to the conclusion that it had probably died of a type of dust pneumonia, not by a coyote, and I reported that to the rancher. He seemed surprised, but was satisfied with my conclusion.

Things were quiet there for about 10 days, and then I got another text, saying he had heard a few more coyotes and saw one out in the pasture close to where the calf had died. I’d been expecting that call; I figured other coyotes would eventually move into the area once they smelled the semi rotten carcass, and/or spotted scavenger bird activity in the area.

I had already set a fair number of traps that week, so the pickup was loaded with equipment. I started out the next morning the same as before, looking for a vantage point to call from, but the wind was already pushing 30 mph, so I decided calling was out of the question.

I went back to some of the same trails I’d checked out earlier, and was happy to find a few tracks in the mud. Coyotes are easier to catch when you find sign on location in my opinion; I went to work setting traps.

I rarely set within a few hundred yards of a carcass, and in this case, I was out about a ¼-mile. I intended to hit the cattle trails and any low drainage type places or draws that a coyote would use when coming and going. The ground was wet from melting snow and light rain, and I had to be really careful not to make any muddy tracks around my sets.

I made four dirthole sets in a row, and all were started with a 4-inch auger that I use in the summer and fall, before the ground freezes. I like the 4-inch auger because it makes what I consider to be a “coyote size” hole in the ground, and it also moves enough dirt, easily, to bed and cover a trap. I simply score the ground a bit, making two or three shallow holes close together in a rough clover leaf pattern to make a trap bed. I use the digging tang on my hammer to finish the bed so my #3 trap lays in it solid, and then I sift enough dirt over the trap to cover it fairly deep, a ½-inch or so, to compensate for the relentless Wyoming wind that I trap in.
At most of these sets there’s dirt left over, depending on how deep I auger the hole, and I usually just leave it for eye appeal. On some sets though, I take a few extra seconds to scoop up any extra dirt into my sifter, and simply toss it off to the side of the set as far as I can. I prefer a little variety when making multiple sets and that quick move lets a set “age” a little quicker it seems.

The fifth set was one that I’d come to use years ago while trapping on frozen creek beds. I never really knew a name for it until I saw mention of a “slot set” in a mink trapping book years ago. I remember thinking, “Hey, that’s exactly the type of set that I’m using for coyotes and cats”.

The first time I made this set it resulted in a really nice yearling bobcat, and that prompted me to make more of these sets over the years. I’ll describe the set and while I do, bear in mind that the only thing needed is a sharp vertical bank, like along a creek bed or anywhere that erosion or construction has created a fairly sharp edge. The height of the bank can vary, from maybe a foot, in the case of a dead furrow, up to several feet in a creek bank situation. I like these sharp banks for several reasons, one being that they’re usually a bit drier than the ground around them because snow and rain doesn’t stay on them. If they’re positioned so the sun hits them for any length of time during the day that’s even better, because it’ll help keep the bank’s soil dry. The sharp bank will act as a good backing too. The eye appeal of a finished set here is second to none and that makes this sleeper type set a producer over and over.

All of this was in mind when I saw where a trail had gone down a slight ditch before it dropped into a gently sloping draw. Wind and water erosion had left the main draw with rounded and rolling features, while the bank caused by the deep trail leading into it had gotten taller and sharper over the years. The bank was about 3 feet tall and only about 2 feet from the main trail where I’d spotted a few coyote tracks. The bank was facing southeast so it got a lot of sun which made the soil very dry and fairly soft. I had no problem using the digging tang on my hammer to score the dry dirt straight down several times. I starting scoring the dirt at about 2 feet up the bank wall on down to the base where I intended to bed my trap. I tried to make this slot only a few passes of the hammer wide which is about 4-5 inches, but very noticeable.

The result looked like an upside-down keyhole or slot and that’s where the name came from, I guess. The dirt that came from this quick digging was more than enough to bed the trap in, and any extra was used as blocking. At the bottom of the slot, I used the digging tang on my hammer again and made a small indentation a few inches above ground level. This rough pocket is where I drove in a sun-bleached T-bone, which added even more eye appeal.

I bedded my trap out a little farther than I normally do, about 12 inches from the center of the pan, to the bone. I did this because I didn’t want a coyote to have to squeeze up against the bank to work the set. By using a few clumps of dirt for additional blocking on the outside of the trap, I knew I’d created a natural place for one to place its foot.

I smeared a little paste bait on the bone followed by a shot of coyote urine on the outside blocking, and called it good. The finished set was kind of rough, but it did have eye appeal, and it looked just like the digging and destruction that I’ve seen coyotes do on many occasions while digging out ground squirrels, voles, and rabbits.

I’ve used variations of this set for many years now, and it has always been a constant producer. I know the eye appeal and the natural blocking effect of the sharp bank work together, and I make some of these sets on a regular basis.

Oh, I might add that so far, that particular set hasn’t produced yet at this location, but others like it have. I guess I caught the coyotes that made those tracks in other sets on that ranch, as those are still the only ones I’ve seen in the trail.

No worries, I’ll keep making the sets at other places.