There’ll come a day when your electronic caller simply won’t lure in a wayward crow. That’s a bad day, but be prepared for it and repeated occurrences. Last winter I left my truck under darkness. The occasional meteoroid shot across the sky as I hiked more than a mile to reach my calling site before shooting light.
After reaching the lofty vantage point, my coyote dog, Sage, laid down beside me. Soon we were announcing our location to every coyote within a couple square miles on the calm, single-digit morning. If I was a betting man, and I’m not, I would have put a Franklin on the table that I’d call a coyote on that setup. The high ridge provided ample bedding cover with its multiple draws that connected to our pinnacle position. Plus, two large cattle ranches operated on either end give coyotes a reason to believe.
Apparently, the believers weren’t home that morning. I waited nearly an hour for the pointy ears to appear before collecting my gear. Still not satisfied with the results, I decided to hike a bit farther to scout a new location. Fifteen minutes later I scrambled up another slope and peeked over it. A feathery convention surprised me. Several ravens and a squad of magpies fluttered in the brush below. I knew their presence meant one thing: carcass.
Bringing my SIG binocular to my eyes I scanned the distant, winged conference and realized the commotion was over an unlucky elk. I gazed a second more and to my surprise the beady eyes of a coyote stole a glance above the exposed rib cage! No wonder nobody wanted to join my meager picnic when an all-out buffet was being served less than 1,000 yards away. Could I pull off a stalk to make my wish-upon-a-shooting-star morning a coyote coup?
You have to give credit to the marketing professionals behind the scenes of companies that produce electronic predator callers. Their ads, pro-staff support and nonstop imagery of coyotes sprinting to their deaths trigger you to heed the call to call. You can’t deny the reality of the intense visuals, but acquiring 30 seconds of coyote eye candy could take a month or more of hunting that includes travel to hotspots across the nation.
A better plan to waylay coyotes may include setting aside the caller when times get tough. It’s true. A silent approach exploiting behavior of coyotes can still pay off in fur. Improvise with a no-call strategy. To do this, look beyond a coyote’s weakness to the call and pick apart its likes.
Terrain Travel Patterns When it happened the first time I chalked it up as a fluke. After sneaking to a bench overlooking a river bottom, I waited for sunrise before beginning to call. Just as I was about ready to wail out a mournful tune I noticed movement below me along the field edge. It was the gray form of a coyote working his way back to the willows before the sun lit up its frosted, winter fur. There was no need to range as the coyote was well within reach of my .22-250, and when it stopped to sniff the trail of a long-passed field mouse I depressurized him with V-Max muscle. A week later I pulled the same stunt from a haybale stack a mile farther down the river. I might be on to something here, I thought.
Without debate, taking a stand for coyotes as you watch potential travel corridors produces the entertainment level of watching paint dry, but when calls and coyotes don’t cooperate consider the changeup. Since 9 million of you also hunt big game you have a jumpstart to put this tactic into play. Waiting and watching for deer undoubtedly reveals the patterns of other wildlife, including coyotes. Repeated sightings tell you that taking a stand might work in a particular area. This tactic works East or West, but environments characterized by woodlands, edges and openings hold particular value for coyote ambushes.
These tight-cover habitats give any coyote coming to a call the advantage to get downwind without ever being seen in the dense surroundings. But if the coyote is simply trotting down the bunny trail to its next refueling stop, your hide in a downwind location has the potential to jam the brakes on the unsuspecting predator.
Although big-sky coyotes tend to freelance their travels, stands work in this backdrop too. While deer hunting one year I watched on back-to-back mornings a pair of coyotes follow a fence line from one canyon to the next. A month after deer season I returned to the hilltop and found some high ground that gave me a prone position to watch the fence line. My plan was to watch as the sun rose then commence to calling if the travel pattern was nonoperational. I was about to energize the caller when the sight of a coyote slinking along the fence verified my hunch. After a tug of the trigger I was on my way to the convenience store for a bit of bragging.
If your big-game hunting didn’t reveal solid patterns, confer with the locals. Farmers and ranchers take opportune shots at errant coyotes, but most have more important work awaiting them. Nevertheless, they’ve spent their lives on the land and know patterns of wildlife like the grazing tendencies of their herds. If they say coyotes prefer to follow an irrigation ditch, believe them.
Some locales may necessitate a treestand for elevated observation, and for comfort you could consider a ground blind, but put it out early. Coyotes are as wary as whitetails to a new object along a pathway. Also consider using terrain for hideouts, plus never overlook man-made features. I’ve shot more coyotes than I can count from the top of haystacks. I’ve also climbed atop old combines and calving sheds to give me the vantage to watch for a wayfaring coyote.
Cow Groupies If you’re scratching your head to find a path with a coyote passing lane, stop, look and listen. Do you hear any mooing over the horizon? Are cows blocking the trail? With a nationwide cattle inventory of nearly 95 million, it’s likely you have a coyote temptation factory within a short drive of your front door. Cattle aside, coyotes routinely visit sheep, goat, hog and poultry operations and any domestic farm critter with a noticeable population nearby. Take notice of these coyote-captivating life forms for a meet-and-greet.
Not only do these locations give you exact waypoints for calling positions, but when your calls are as disregarded as the 500th robocall on your smartphone you know where to start the silent approach. Coyotes pay attention to the domestic meat factories around them. Most keep these locations on a permanent stopover as they hunt their way through homelands.
Why coyotes have affection for domestic livestock is beyond me, but I guess they are hopeful. Modern livestock losses have been minimized, but the occasional passing provides a protein bounty, and some managers maintain a carcass pit that is a coyote farmer’s market when new arrivals appear. Birthing time provides the occasional stillborn snack along with afterbirth. Finally, coyotes are not beyond going vegan. They’ll nab grains and processed feed for livestock when the going gets tough.
Carrion or livestock could steal attention from your calling. Remember also that coyotes are not above stealing grain or processed feed destined for livestock.
Watching openings that lead to and from the petting zoo doesn’t require calling—just patience. An early arrival for overwatch duties is a must, but stay far enough away to avoid agitating the herd. Livestock may become apprehensive when you try to slip past it in the dark. A predawn stampede could awaken a coyote napping on the outskirts and blow your sunrise surprise.
Stay downwind of the herd, keep a hidden distance and navigate with your hunting app to a pre-chosen location then wait for shooting light to arrive. In the afternoons you should also arrive early to beat any early-bird coyotes. Stressed and hungry coyotes could show up at any time, but dawn and dusk represent your best time periods. A pre-game talk with the herd owner is also advised to learn how close he allows shooting near the herd.
Was it a no-show? Nothing says you can’t still-hunt the area. Work edges, openings and fence lines separating livestock pastures. Move a few steps then stop to glass ahead for coyote movement. Although coyotes have a tendency to be more observant than whitetails, they do get distracted. Mice rustling underneath grass or snow draw their full attention.
One foggy morning I wandered the edge of a wintering herd of black baldy cows when I spotted movement across the fence. My binocular confirmed it was a coyote pouncing on mice underneath the snow cover. The wind was right. The cows were content while feeding on a bale of hay and the coyote was focused on the scurrying beneath its paws. It was a green light.
Mossy Oak snow camouflage—and fog—helped me disappear in a depression. A short stalk later I crawled up on a rise to see the coyote working away, but still oblivious to my presence. I barked and the coyote took its last look at cattle country.
Wildlife Watchers If you can’t find an open gate to a livestock empire think of wild kingdom get-togethers. As fall transitions to winter, many wildlife species gather at the best habitat in any area. National wildlife refuges, state big-game winter ranges, county nature parks and other wildlife-attracting landscapes beckon coyotes like bacon beckons your Labrador.
With the same appeal as walking ground beef, masses of wildlife occasionally lose a colleague, especially in stressful environmental conditions. Plus, in the case of many hunting areas, the random wounded animal that lingers to die later becomes an easy appetizer. It’s just another reason for coyotes to hang out with the wild bunch.
A hike along the perimeter of a ranch off-limits to hunting may still reveal evidence of coyotes crossing in and out of the no-trespassing zone.
While living along the breaks of the Missouri River in central South Dakota, a coyote-hunting friend of mine revealed he routinely stalked in the breaks along the icy banks below. He discovered a pattern: Coyotes wandered the shore and ice looking for injured Canada geese that escaped the gauntlet of the goose-hunting camps above. Slipping through the breaks was as effective as calling for him. I quickly copycatted with results.
Even if a property holds sanctuary status you can still hike the perimeter for coyotes, crossing in and out of the no-trespassing zone. A favorite hike of mine is actually along a private ranch that swells with wintering big game. The landowners have decided to curtail hunting, but the carnival-like atmosphere of wintering game attracts coyotes that routinely have a lapse in memory about fence designations. Oftentimes large herds of deer and elk gather along border fences. There’s no need to hike miles when you can sit and watch for coyotes testing the perimeter security of herds. Other times I circle as much of the property boundary as possible in slow motion with my binocular doing most of the work, looking ahead for a furry drifter.
Windshield Time Top-heavy coyote populations combined with a generous layout of section-surrounding roads means you can hunt coyotes and drink coffee at the same time. This could be your weekend answer to coyotes that don’t care about your calls
It’s not unusual any longer to spy coyotes along highways, gravel roads and trails. Whether you have access to the property is another question, but with the help of GPS and hunting apps like HuntStand, you can quickly retrieve deed information on the go. Knock on a door (not at 6 a.m.) and you could be granted the keys to the coyote kingdom.
Hunters with permission to roam large properties may want to consider a drive-by hunt if the coyotes are callous to calls. Coyotes tend to become indifferent to vehicle travel as long as it doesn’t stop, suddenly followed by a bang and whizz. They routinely step aside for chugging tractors and rattling diesels doing daily land work. More than once I’ve been tempted to rent a tractor for a day and just idle around a property for fur prospects.
After one unsuccessful setup I was bouncing down a trail and nearly to the county road when off to my right I spied a coyote napping as it soaked up the winter sun. It raised its head to watch my truck as I ambled on, but it never stood to flee. I rounded a bend and my truck went out of sight. That’s when honor-society smarts returned. That coyote thought out of sight, out of mind. I clicked off the engine and rolled to a stop.
Grabbing my rifle and silently clicking the door shut, I eased back using a ridge for cover. Crawling to the top, I stole another look and sure enough, the coyote was fast asleep. The shot was long, but with a laser zap and dope-card confirmation he took the eternal nap.
You can get a bit too carried away with windshield time. Take heed of the “texts cause wrecks” message and replace text with coyotes. One of my favorite winter drives is from my home in Wyoming to Billings, Mont., because I can look for coyotes. I’m not hunting so it’s just for entertainment, but zooming down the highway at 80 mph could cause a wreck if you’re rubbernecking for coyotes.
Don’t be a distracted driver like one of my friends. While coming back from a coyote hunt he spotted one along the highway and hit the brakes to consider a drive-by. Unfortunately he forgot about the black ice layering the pavement. A tow was the only cost, but it could have been much worse.
Back to the sudden appearance of the coyote immersed in the elk carcass, I first had to make my dog stay, as her presence was not required. Sage knows to stay by my backpack, so I slipped it off and whispered, “Stay.” Then I started crawling through the sagebrush, pushing my Bergara ahead slowly. Once I reached a good shooting range and platform, I raised enough to not alarm the live drone crew but to confirm the coyote was still there. My BDX confirmed a range of 178 yards as I dialed in for a bipod-steady view of the chowing coyote. My Hornady Match bullet caught up with the culprit a second later.
Sage zipped past me at the shot not wanting to miss any action, and as proud as I was of the rescued morning success, I have to admit, I missed a second, unnoticed coyote as it blazed past me. I’d have to sneak up on that one another day.
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