Tips from a seasoned coyote guide
Professional guide and author, Kevin Wilson, with a client after collecting a fine winter coyote. Photo Credit: Kevin Wilson
Fifteen minutes earlier my client and I had seen two coyotes heading for a small woodlot. Given the topography and wind direction I felt confident in our ability to set-up in a great spot to call in at least one of them.
With an 8 km/h southeast wind, we drove to the far northwest side of the field, parked, and quickly moved in toward the trees. Gentle undulations in the snow-covered field created a perfect opportunity for concealment. Lying prone on a hilltop 70 yards out, I opted to use a mouth call. Emulating the loud plaintiff screams of a jackrabbit in distress, I commenced calling. Barely a minute passed when a finely furred coyote burst from cover glaring intently in our direction. Motionless, we held our position. After a brief hesitation, he continued his advance clearly hoping to capitalize on an easy meal! I had to howl to stop him long enough for a shot. Unsure but curious, as soon as he hit the brakes and turned broadside, the gun barked and the rest is history.
On that hunt, we did everything right. We’d interpreted the situation and set-up correctly. We used the right call along with effective sounds, and we made the shot count … but not every hunt plays out like this. Plenty can go wrong and it often does. Hunt coyotes long enough and you will make mistakes. Here a few of the most common ones every coyote hunter should avoid.
Setting up downwind gave this coyote no other option than to approach from upwind. Photo Credit: Kevin Wilson
Whether you sit over bait, hunt by spotting and then stalking in for a shot, or prefer calling from a stationary position, approaching or sitting upwind is a sure way to ruin your hunt. Coyotes are cagey. They rely on their acute sense of smell, both to detect their prey and danger.
Setting up downwind from where you think a coyote may approach can be great, but in many situations setting up for a crosswind approach can sometimes be an even better option. Either way, with every set-up we run the risk of a coyote circling downwind and catching our scent. Take the time to carefully evaluate the wind and thermals to select your stand location.
Rare is a coyote stand that presents unrestricted 360-degree visibility. Limit what you can see, and you lower your chances for success. Calling scenarios sometimes bring them in on the run, but they can also sneak in on high alert. I’ve had them barrel over the crest of hills and across wide open fields, but I’ve also seen them skulk in cautiously using the lowest draws and shrubby cover available until the very last second.
Taking time to carefully assess your stand location, even if it involved capitalizing on just a few extra angles of visibility can pay off big. One of the best strategies I have used with consistent success – when there are two or more of us hunting together - involves sitting back-to-back, literally leaning against one-another. Having the ability to see every direction is a priority.
Coyotes have phenomenal eyesight and an acute sense of smell. When they approach any call, they are always looking for a reason to leave. Photo Credit: Kevin Wilson
Coyotes have outstanding eyesight. In every calling situation we have to scan our surroundings. Moving our heads from side to side scouring the landscape for incoming coyotes demands careful attention to detail but moving too much or too quickly can get us busted. The key lies in minimizing movement and seeing them before they see us.
Opt for the wrong sounds, call poorly or too much with the same sounds and you may as well stay home. Choose the right sounds, call just the right amount, and at the right volume – and eager coyotes often can’t resist.
Mouth calls are great but there are really only a handful of vocalizations available with these, e.g., jackrabbit in distress, howlers, crow calls, and variations of these. With the legalization of electronic calls, we now have an enormous inventory of sounds at our fingertips. Even still, use an e-call where or when they are not allowed can land you in hot water.
I’ve got a couple different e-calls, but my hands down favourite is a Fox Pro Shockwave, mostly because of its diversity. It literally has hundreds of sounds to choose from. Before using digital calls in your state or province, however, be sure to check local regulations to ensure that it is allowed by law. Likewise, be sure to check on the legality of using certain sounds like ungulates in distress and whether or not there are seasonal provisions or restrictions. For instance, in my home jurisdiction, after checking with a Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer, I was advised that the intent is to facilitate an increased harvest of overpopulated coyotes, so it is indeed acceptable to use these other sounds during exclusive coyote, red fox, and wolf seasons and only for the purposes of hunting these species. So, that means, I cannot for instance use these e-calls during open spring bear seasons.
Again, knowing when and how to use the variation of sounds is key. Early in the year, for example in November and December, I frequently employ a jackrabbit or cottontail in distress sound mixed in with crows and magpies. If this doesn’t attract a coyote after 20 minutes, I’ll switch to a coyote pup in distress call. This often closes the deal.
If I’m hunting later in the season, say in January and February, and particularly in tighter areas with lots of tree cover where I know deer are a viable food source, I’ll sometimes use a doe and fawn in distress call. Essentially emulating natural prey, ungulate in distress calls can be pure magic.
Alternatively, howling alone is sometimes an even better choice, especially as breeding gets underway in late January and on through February. Coyotes are social but also territorial. Sometimes female invitations, coyote pairs, variations of these, and even locator calls can do the trick. Each situation is different. Experimentation will show you which calls prompt the most consistent responses.
Familiarity with your rifle and how your scope works is imperative. Photo Credit: Kevin Wilson
Not understanding our rifle or ballistics can also turn a coyote hunt south in a hurry. Coyotes are small targets and shooting accuracy is essential. I’ve seen many varmint hunters screw up shots because they didn’t know how to use their equipment. The two most common errors involve unfamiliarity with ballistic performance and not knowing how to properly adjust and use long-range optics.
Sighting in ensure pinpoint accuracy is critical before any hunt. Photo Credit: Kevin Wilson
Many coyote hunters today are using flat shooting rifles like a .22-250, .243, .204, or .223. Properly sighting in to ensure that our rifle, bullet of choice, and riflescope are in sync is priority one. Equally important is familiarity with bullet drop at variable distances.
I’ve wasted many days stubbornly calling in stiff winds, extreme frigid temperatures, and deep powdery snow. Needless to say, most of those days are less than productive. Its’ sometimes better to wait. Conditions can make all the difference in the world. Certainly there are exceptions and one can never guess which days will produce for sure. On average though, the most consistent calling results tend to occur on days when the temperature is above 5 Fahrenheit (-15 Celcius), winds are less than 10 mph (or 16 kmh), and there is either limited snow cover or the snow is crusted over allowing the coyotes to travel with ease.