The author with a double. Both coyotes came to a medley of scavenging bird sounds, howls, prey in distress, and pup in distress sounds. Photo credit: Kevin Wilson
Overlooking a deep valley, I had serious doubts.
“There has to be a few coyotes down there,” I thought to myself. Sure, it offered a bird’s eye view and a high point to project sound but with so many trees, shot opportunities would surely be limited.
Placing the e-call call in the snow, my partner and I sat down, pressed the cottontail in distress button on the remote, and waited. As the painful squeals commenced, I bumped up the volume. Annoying to me, the waning screams would surely be music to a hungry coyote’s ears.
Only a few minutes into our calling session, it happened! Startled by a coyote barreling over top of the ridge, neither of us had time to shoulder a rifle. Nearly pouncing on the call, the coyote had raced up the steep bank out of view. I can only imagine how he felt upon realizing there was nothing but a hard-plastic box and speaker making all the commotion. Instantly recognizing something was awry, a blur of fur sped past us, all the while looking over its shoulder in disbelief. Equally astonished, this was another reminded that anything can happen when you’re calling coyotes.
With nothing to lose, we let the call run. My partner shifted his position to accommodate for a possible repeat performance. Visibility was limited there but at least we now had the angles covered. Sure enough, five minutes later the same coyote returned. Yipping and barking, he stood 20 yards away under a nearby evergreen. Still unaware of our presence, he was obsessed with, and clearly agitated by, the incessant squealing. My partner slowly turned, raised his rifle, and aimed. Offering a perfect quartering toward shot, at that proximity nothing but fur filled the scope and the coyote collapsed in his tracks.
Impressed by how this scenario went down, we collected our coyote and headed back to the truck to move to a new area and do it all over again. As a serious coyote hunter, I’ve seen many unique situations but this one ranks right at the top. With burgeoning populations across the continent, and the growing popularity of calling predators, more hunters are learning how to communicate with these wily canines. Years ago, when relatively few of us were doing it, calling coyotes was straightforward. Mostly uneducated, a cottontail in distress call would most often produce some kind of response. Today that’s all changed. With the development of electronic calls and a variety of mouth calls - mostly prey distress and howlers - not to mention scavenging bird calls, it can sometimes come down to who can play the best medley to fool these well-informed coyotes, that brings home the fur. From the subtleties of each set-up to the individual vocalizations, nuances can make the difference between bringing a coyote in close, having him hang up just inside cover, or having him ignore the call altogether. Allow me to share with you a handful of tips for communicating with coyotes.
I’m a big fan of e-calls for two reasons. First, they offer a wide assortment of sounds and second, they eliminate the often-immense amount of effort required to blow a mouth call. To some extent, I’m reluctant to even disclose just how deadly e-calls can be, but if you’re familiar with them already, you know sometimes it can almost be like cheating.
Generally speaking, a few simple guidelines apply when using an e-call. First and foremost, consider the angles and place the call where you want a coyote to show up. For example, if you’re calling in an open area, face the speakers in the direction you want the sound to be projected. With my Foxpro Shockwave for instance, I can unlatch and pivot either of the two end speakers to cast the sound accordingly. Sometimes I want it to go into the woodlot or down into a valley I’m calling. Other times, I want the sound to be projected away from where I think the coyotes may be hanging out.
The author uses a Fox Pro Shock Wave because its versatility in calls, and the ability to move the speakers to cast sound. Photo credit: Kevin Wilson
Next, be sure to sit downwind of the call. Remember, an incoming coyote is always looking for a reason to leave. In most situations, a curious coyote will most often approach from downwind. One of the biggest advantages with an e-call, is that it can be placed some distance away. I like to put it between 30 and 50 yards away from my shooting position. Most of today’s e-calls have a remote handset that allows the calls to be operated from a distance.
For realism, using an e-call allows you to place one or more decoys where the call is set-up. Appealing sounds attract a coyote to the general area and often draw them in close, but add a visual stimulant like a motion decoy, (i.e., a rabbit or any number of commercial motion decoys), and you’ve got a visual attractant the likes of which coyotes find hard to resist. Adding another dimension, like a Flambeau Lone Howler full body decoy to the equation, placed facing the call about 20 yards away, creates competition for what sounds like an easy meal.
While e-calls are valuable luxury, a good mouth call is a staple. On some days a mouth call will consistently outperform an e-call. Those emulating prey-in-distress sounds made by a dying rabbit, a scavenging bird, or a howl or pup in distress, are proven favourites that consistently pique a coyote’s interest. Similar to an e-call, a mouth call allows the caller to vary the pitch, sound, and volume at will. The downside is that coyotes are drawn to the precise location of the caller.
The author uses a variety of mouth calls, but favours the Predator Quest Ruffidawg Jr. distress call and a Classic Buffalo Horn Howler made by Predator Sniper Styx. Photo credit: Kevin Wilson
Most hunting supply retailers stock an assortment of howlers. Become familiar with the different types of howls, pitches, and frequencies to determine the meaning of each. With a little practice, you’ll be able to emulate both male and female locator howls, invitations, challenges, yips, barks, and Ki-Yi’s. Some are territorial vocalizations, some are breeding sounds, others are puppy distress calls, and still others have altogether different meanings.
Any sounds you use to attract coyotes must be realistic. Prey in distress sounds, like the classic wounded cottontail or dying jackrabbit, are famous because they can work year-round. But remember, the more realism you add, the greater your chances of duping the wiliest of coyotes. As a rule, think seasonality, i.e., fawns are dropping in the spring, so if you’re hunting in June and early July for instance, a fawn distress call can be dynamite.
Over many years I’ve experimented with lots of different sounds and watched the natural predator-prey relationship unfold before my eyes on many occasions. In natural situations, a predator attacks a prey animal and a tussle ensues. It's usually not pretty and there can be a fair bit of noise. Sometimes it's not even a predatory attack, but merely a prey animal that, for one reason or another, is dying. Think about the variety of prey animals available, and you quickly realize the list is long. My two favourite sounds include the whitetail doe and fawn in distress and the jackrabbit in distress. These prey species are natural and abundant in the areas I hunt coyotes.
Silage and bone piles can also be great places to howl from. Coyotes are readily attracted to these and expect to hear their peers in these locations. Photo credit: Kevin Wilson
If I’m probing a valley or a high ground location to determine the whereabouts of coyotes, especially early in the morning or late in the evening, I often use a lone howl – either a mouth call or e-call. For most calling sessions where I’m using an electronic call, I begin with either a lone howl, a coyote pair yipping and howling, or a challenge call to entice a territorial response. If neither prompt a response, I’ll step it up and use a group of coyotes. Depending on the result, I’ll either be quiet and move in closer to set up, wait 15 minutes, then begin a distress sequence, or I might even continue howling right from where I am. The important thing is interpreting any responses you get, i.e., are they excited and eager, or are they warning barks signifying a reluctance to come in.
Howls can be effective year-round, but they can be especially effective during the breeding season from mid January to the end of February. For locating, early morning and late evening, howling can prompt coyotes to respond thereby giving away their location, but this strategy can also be very effective for communicating with them during the midday hours. Very territorial, coyotes will often respond by racing in to challenge or simply see who the intruder is. On other occasions, howling can require more patience. If you can prompt a vocal response, you can then form a plan of attack.
Howling, or employing other sounds, within a couple hundred yards of active den sites will always increase your odds of bringing in a curious coyote. Photo credit: Kevin Wilson
A typical e-call sequence in my arsenal includes a couple minutes of increasingly vocal predatory birds like magpies, crows and even ravens congregating. This is one of the most important nuances in my calling sequences. In an ideal situation this attracts real birds that will add to the authenticity of the scenario. As they circle overhead and call, it adds an almost irresistible realism. Coyotes not only listen, but watch for these birds and their reactions. They know that where magpies, crows, and ravens linger, there is usually a meal. Sometimes a coyote will show up with the bird sounds alone, but after a couple minutes, I start in with either of my favourites, the doe and fawn in distress or the jackrabbit. Letting that run and intermittently switching back and forth from these to the bird sounds, most often something comes in within 20-30 minutes. If it doesn’t, then switching to the Ki-Yi, or a coyote pup in distress call, almost always closes the deal. Prompting both dominance from males and maternal instincts from females, the pup in distress call is often too much for them to handle and they commit.
But what about those times that you can see a coyote skulking around the edge of the area you’re hunting, but it never really exposes itself enough for a shot? Or worse yet, one that sits just inside cover and barks incessantly. He’s there, but won’t come out in the open. In these situations, this is where vocal nuances come into play. I’ve spent many hours rotating between pup in distress and rally or serenade calls to pull a reluctant coyote from cover. Most often its about experimenting with the sounds that trigger that particular coyote. Not long ago, I spent 45 minutes working on a reluctant coyote with two or three different howls. Eventually he took the risk, stepped out a few metres from the edge of the trees and one quick shot put him down.
Don’t neglect the wide assortment of other prey species distress sounds as well. With coyote hunting, it is often about experimentation to determine the sound that will trigger a response. Bird distress sounds can be dynamite as well.
Another critical nuance involves mixing both e-call sounds and mouth calls during the same set. Hand calls offer modulation that the e-calls cannot. Regardless of what you use, as soon as you see the inbound coyote, decrease the volume accordingly – this is imperative. As soon as the coyote is in a shootable position, stop the calls. In most situations the coyote will stop and remain motionless, even if only for a few seconds, to reassess. If it runs, immediately howl. Most often it will stop, and turn broadside to again evaluate what’s happening – this can present a great shot opportunity.
Last, but not least, as soon as you begin calling, shoulder your rifle. Your goal during any calling session is to pinpoint any incoming coyotes before they see you. As a rule, sit or lie prone with the gun securely braced on a shooting rest and, if possible, shouldered ready for the shot. Remember, shot opportunities can be quick and fleeting. This will help minimize movement when a coyote shows.