Coyote Hunter's Guide


Randy D. Smith


Chapter 1 Hunting Little Brother 1

Chapter 2 Coyote Wars 5

Chapter 3 Blaming Mr. Coyote 22

Chapter 4 Patterning Coyote Behavior 36

Chapter 5 Developing a Predator Control Strategy 50

Chapter 6 Coyote Hunting as a Population Control Strategy 65

Chapter 7 Predators, Pursuit, and Property Lines 78

Chapter 8 Land and Landholder Strategies 88

Chapter 9 Good Stand vs. Bad Stand 101

Chapter 10 Using the Howl Call 115

Chapter 11 Decoys, Electronic Calls, and Mouth Calls 127

Chapter 12 Mix It Up! 144

Chapter 13 Making the Most of a Few Calls 154

Chapter 14 When Calling Isn’t Working 163

Chapter 15 Breaking the Calling Slump 172

Chapter 16 Calling With the Less-than-perfect Rifle 186

Chapter 17 Scattergun Tactics 200

Chapter 18 Single-Shot Calling 216

Chapter 19 Double Duty! 226

Chapter 20 The Muzzleloader 241

Chapter 21 Coyotes and Crossbows 252

Chapter 22 Camouflaging Guns 267

Chapter 23 Timing the Shot! 280

Chapter 24 Cold Weather Calling Comfort 295

Chapter 25 Pack Shooting 304

Chapter 26 Meeting the Tall Grass Calling Challenge 316

Chapter 27 Moonlight Serenade 329

Chapter 28 Tag Team Tactics for Coyotes 341

Chapter 29 Tight Country Predator Hunting 354

Chapter 30 Coyote Baiting Tactics 363

Chapter 31 Making Small Acreages Work for Predator Calling 376

Chapter 32 Wind Tactics That Work 387

Chapter 33 Summer Coyote Strategies 401

Chapter 34 High Country Coyotes 412

Chapter 35 After the Shot 424

Chapter 36 Predator Calling Goofs 437

Chapter 1

Hunting Little Brother

Coyote hunting will get in your blood!

They often come into the call on night feet and fade away into the shadows like a fleeting apparition. The first thing you’ll often see of them is a dim triangular outline of a head as it materializes from the brush in the dawn mist or a slightly amiss color variation in the surrounding winter foliage of brown and gold. They can be absolutely silent and yet they are known for a mournful song that has become one of the enduring symbols of the West. They have spread throughout North America since the demise of the wolf. Until by now, they seem just as much at home on the streets of Los Angeles or the pastures of New England as in the Southwest desert landscapes where they evolved. They are the ultimate survivor and can prosper in nearly any environment.

The Kiowa respected them for their intelligence and courage and called them Little Brother as a sign of honor. We call them yotes, songdogs, killers, raiders, or simply dogs but once you’ve hunted coyotes even those labels can be badges of respect. I respect the coyote for what he is. Over the last century, coyotes have been poisoned, trapped, run with dogs, called, and shot at long distance with sophisticated rifles. They have been the objects of scorn and a source for high bounties. The same human tactics that virtually exterminated the wolf have failed to control the coyote. In fact, he has rapidly increased his numbers and has expanded his territory from the deserts of Mexico to the Arctic shores of the Hudson Bay. 

After over forty years of chasing, ambushing, baiting, and enticing them, I’ve learned that coyote hunting is a never-ending adventure in changing tactics. I’ve hunted coyotes on the broad high plains of the west, the sagebrush hills of the Southwest, the Redlands of the south, the prairie lands, the mountains, and even the semi-urban areas of the Northeast. Just about the time I think I have it figured out, something happens to change my mind and alter my strategies. The coyote is the ultimate survivor and one of the most challenging quarries any hunter can go after. So many new people trying coyote calling validates its growing sport hunting popularity. There is no surefire strategy for coyote calling and that is what makes the sport so compelling. At the same time, it can be very frustrating for someone who has only hunted the whitetail deer or a few game birds or waterfowl. A hunter enters a whole different league when he goes after the coyote.

The most popular methods of hunting the coyote today are trapping, opportunistic shooting, and calling. I don’t have the time or inclination to trap. During any given year, about twenty percent of the coyotes I take are at long range when I happen upon them. Opportunistic shooting works well enough on the open plains and prairies of Kansas, but is not a good option in more populated areas of the country. Most of the time I call them into rifle or shotgun range using a variety of calls.


Chapter 2

Coyote Wars

Understanding the annual life cycle of the coyote will make you a more productive hunter.

Understanding the annual life cycle of the coyote will make you a more productive hunter. The war for survival goes on no matter where an animal might be positioned on the food chain. The coyote is no exception. Besides the normal struggle for food and shelter, a coyote’s daily life is constantly fraught with territorial challenges, quarrels over dominance, environmental threats, and disease. We can also add hunter peril to the list. The coyote leads a life where its survival is constantly being challenged. The coyote is a warrior and a good one. In spite of its precarious existence, the coyote has flourished by taking advantage of change and turning that change into an asset.

I have strong beliefs about the coyote. First of all, it is smart—much smarter than my hunting dog. Coyotes learn quickly and have long memories. Older coyotes are masters of survival and they teach each other as well as they can without having spoken language. A coyote’s intelligence can be used against him. Because the coyote is so intelligent, it has a longer learning and maturity curve. I can use the coyote’s natural curiosity to lure him into a trap. This is especially true of first season pups. Pups quickly learn that the sound of distress means a meal. Pups have not learned the dangers of boldly responding to distress sounds. Until they do, and even one bad experience will teach them, they are relatively easy to attract.

Because coyotes are so intelligent, they have a relatively complex social life. The more a hunter understands that social life, the more likely the chance of taking an advantage.

Secondly, the coyote has a marvelous sense of hearing, smell, and night vision. While many will concentrate on their sense of smell, I believe just as many underestimate the coyote’s hearing ability. Sound is very important to a coyote’s survival. I’ve watched them listening for movement in the snow and digging for varmints on sound alone. If a coyote can hear the movement of a mole several inches below the ground’s surface, he can certainly hear many callers clanging and banging into their set with a wide assortment of bells, whistles, lures, decoys, and sound equipment. The hunt does not begin when you are ready to call. It begins the instant you decide to approach and call any location.

Let’s review some coyote traits and examine how we can take advantage of them. Coyotes are explorers and that is the reason for their rapid expansion throughout North America. They expanded their boundaries because of three influences: the demise of the wolf, and human population expansion are two of those influences. The wolf, their natural competitor, is larger, stronger, and probably even more intelligent. When man eliminated the wolf from certain areas of the country, the coyote naturally assumed his position just like the second string quarterback gets to play when the first stringer is injured. As human population grew so did the numbers of domestic livestock and the amount of perishable food and waste. Domestic livestock tends to be less intelligent and weaker than wild animals. Compared to a deer fawn with a protective mother, a lamb is easy pickings as are penned geese, ducks, and chickens. Because the coyote has historically been lower on the food chain than larger predators, it evolved to use stealth and cunning to secure its food. With the wolf gone and man assuming his place, it is natural for the coyote to be perfectly comfortable securing his survival in the shadow of civilization. The coyote retains its stealth to survive under the dominance of man and steps into the wolf’s roll as well. This makes for formidable survival skills.

Coyotes are territorial. The mating or “Alpha” pair may have juveniles running in their family pack but juveniles do not engage in breeding for the first year. The exception to this rule is caused by a “radical disruption” of the family unit. Radical disruption can be caused by a death, disease, or wildly fluctuating environmental change.

If one of the Alpha pair is killed, especially the female, the juvenile females may become breeders. The Alpha male is replaced by a male of at least a year’s age. Several pairs may also establish a smaller territory of control with more litters whelped within the traditional eight to fifteen square miles of territory for an Alpha pair with an intact family unit. If the Alpha female is killed, subordinate females become breeders and find mates. In less stressful conditions, the subordinate may remain in the family pack for a longer period of time. This is why hard hunting and trapping have not reduced the coyote population for long periods in the past. The fact is that hard hunting and trapping may actually encourage the short-term growth of a coyote population. This is especially true in areas where there is plenty of food and habitat.

After a radical disruption of a family unit, male coyotes will infiltrate the area earlier than normal. Even though coyote pups establish dominance over each other very early in life this dominance can be very fluid and change as littermates mature or die. It is estimated by some researchers that thirty to seventy percent of coyotes will not live to be a year old.

When male and female coyotes are ejected from the pack, they become nomads. Even in a strong family unit nomads develop quickly as young males are forced out in the late summer and early fall. These nomads move quickly through pack territories or exist in an area at the pleasure of the Alphas. Nomads may migrate over a hundred miles before they find a territory with no competition and begin their own family unit with a female. These coyotes can be thought of as fringe dwellers. They dwell on the edges of Alpha territories and do not challenge the Alpha family status until much older and stronger.

 Alpha unions will last for several years and since only a few coyotes live past three or four years of age because of disease, hunting pressure, and bad luck, there is a fairly regular turnover and testing of territory. Where there is frequent disruption, both turnover and territorial challenge will be greater. In other words, you can shoot and trap every coyote there is on a piece of property and that population can be fully restored or even greater within a year because of territorial pressure from new Alpha couples.

Therefore, it is fairly safe to assume that good coyote habitat will remain good hunting ground season after season. Scouting and finding good ground is a prerequisite for successful calling. When ground is hunted out, wait a few months for new coyotes to move in. If the food and cover is there, the coyote will find it.

Life Cycle Tactics

I normally begin serious calling in late September and in the past have enjoyed pretty good success, especially on young dogs. Shooting can be quite good through October. November brings on an influx of upland bird hunters and calling gets tougher. During those times, I concentrate on areas not normally associated with pheasants and quail.

Fringe dwellers are the coyotes that I have very good luck calling in late October. Because there is no wary adult to supervise them, these sexually immature males are easy to call. They are often hungry and suffering from stress because they have lost the support of the pack. They are also very curious, especially if they have not encountered a caller before. This is the period when distress calls work very well and most dogs can be called into very close range.

This is also the reason why there are more coyote road kills in the late fall. Young nomads often scavenge road kills and have not learned the dangers of such a practice. Their desire for an easy meal becomes their death warrant when they are suddenly surprised and bewildered by the lights of an approaching auto. Consequently, it is a good strategy to set up over bait during this period.

I do the bulk of my calling in January and February after the close of deer season. Stress is greatest during these months and I have traditionally had my best luck using distress calls and social howls and barks. Distress calls and bait work very well. This is the time of year when I will often get opportunistic shots early in the morning and late in the evening by just driving the back roads and catching individuals on open fields still trying to fill their bellies.

Excellent calling can be had when it is snowing heavily, or the first clear day just after a blizzard. As far as I’m concerned, this is the very best calling scenario. I have always had my best luck under these conditions. During heavy snowstorms or snow fogs, I’ve called in dogs throughout the day with no apparent break in the action. Blizzards tend to force the dogs to hole up so they are out late in the day just afterward trying to fill their bellies. Calling is especially good in protected wooded areas.

Breeding Season Tactics

Depending on the latitude, breeding season can begin by mid-January. Until the breeding season, I concentrate my tactics around the coyote’s desire for food and comfort or the inexperience of newly independent juveniles.

During the coyote breeding season, the coyote population is in its greatest annual period of change. This is the season of the coyote wars. One or several males competing for a female may be challenging an area and females just coming into estrus are searching for a new mate. Researchers contend that secondary or “Beta” females will come into estrus twelve to seventeen days after the Alpha female. Since the Alpha pair has bonded, the Beta female must go out on her own to find a mate. Coyote social behavior and nature’s reproductive fury combine to cause an unusual amount of relocation, confrontation, pair bonding, and territorial challenge. This also tends to extend the number of daylight hours that coyotes are active. A hunter is more likely to see more coyotes during the day.

Breeding pairs can often be caught on open ground as late as midday, when the hunter is changing calling sites. Rather than wasting time and ammunition trying to gun down a running pair from the road, a hunter should take note of these areas and the time dogs are sighted. Set up an ambush for the following morning or next weekend. Chances are that the dogs will appear there again. Breeding pairs are establishing den area territories so they keep a fairly predictable route. These open areas may well be challenging grounds and contain traffic from several different social levels including females in heat, independent males on the make, and Alpha pairs trying to confirm a territory. A great deal of territorial marking may be taking place and be drawing in the dogs.

This is a time for aggressive calling using howlers, territorial challenges, and distress screams. I also normally dig out my .243 Winchester for long-range shots and for bucking the traditional windy conditions of the season. An advantage in my area is that it is normally not as cold in March and sitting in a blind or on a hillside is not uncomfortable. You can comfortably wait longer for something to develop. A good pair of binoculars is a must for observing game trails and activity.

The disadvantage is that the weather is unpredictable. One day it may be warm and still, the next a howling wind, the next a sudden shower or even snow squall. Coyotes react differently to each weather situation and a caller can never be sure what those reactions might be. On the other hand, weather changes contribute to the unsettled nature of coyote society and can be an advantage to the caller. I am more likely to use a high volume electronic caller on a windy morning with a reasonable expectation of success.

Coyotes will often not respond as well to traditional distress calls because they have territorial matters on their mind and it may be necessary to go for the long shot off a well-braced bipod. Many times my calls will do nothing more than stop them for a bit easier shot opportunity. I like a short bark on my howler to pull this off. If I do put a dog down, I’ll leave him lay and stay in position rather than disturb the area.

This is also a period when you may run into bold packs that will eagerly cross open ground and come right into the call. They will aggressively defend territory and react boldly. This is driven by the Alphas in a quest for territorial control and pack support is utilized to reinforce their status. This trait can significantly improve calling success. Last season I called in five at one time the first weekend of April. This demonstrated to me that some packs would remain together later than commonly believed.

A comfortable low chair or butt pad helps the hunter remain still for longer periods of time. A cover scent is practical in close, still conditions, but on open ground in breezy conditions, I don’t bother.

Breeding season is an excellent time to deploy the howler and an estrus “chirp” call. I like a high-pitched howler during this period to mimic juvenile males or females in heat. Whole family units may come in to defend territory. Single males may also frequent the area checking scent markings and challenging for territory. A howl from a prospective breeding female may be all the encouragement he needs to move in.

I don’t recommend using the howler much, especially later in the morning. At that time of day, simply wait in ambush from the high ground until you see something and then try to entice with a high-pitched bark or the distress cry. Late-day singles may well be nomads looking for a meal at a time when less likely to encounter dominant packs.

You can often tell which cry to try by watching the coyote’s body language. If he is advancing at a fairly brisk trot with head low, poking and prodding, digging and searching, a distress cry will probably encourage investigation rather than a territorial challenge. However, if he is moving cautiously with his head held high, frequent stops where he scans the area, moving to high ground and pausing to investigate, an estrus chirp or challenge bark will be more successful. Either this dog is on the prowl for a territorial challenge or he is looking for a mate.

An estrus chirp is a short, brisk vocalization best made with an open reed mouth call. It is a great attention getter and works similarly to a bark with a howler. It is higher pitched and sharper than a howler bark and hopefully convinces a potential suitor or rival to come in for a look.

The best ground for this is the backcountry where there is little human traffic in the early morning and plenty of food resources. This is a good time to wear wading boots and to cross streams that might turn back other callers. Breeding season coyotes are going to frequent areas of less human traffic and a sound strategy is to prepare to go where others don’t and remain in the area later in the day.

Large concentrations of rats, mice, and birds are good indicators as are lambing and calving grounds. I’ve had luck recently by overlooking open ground over a mile stretch between lambing ground and good den sites. I like the sand hills where there are acres of farmland bordering good, well foliaged den areas. Winter crops are still short and ground cover is slight. Dogs will pass across these open fields on their way back to heavier cover after a night of foraging.

Most of all, coyotes are more aggressive and preoccupied during breeding season. They are more likely to get involved with social activities and let their guard drop. I advise most beginning callers to try their luck in the spring during breeding season before becoming too discouraged. Mistakes we all make are often countered by the natural aggression and confusion that develops during the coyote breeding season.