Song Dogs And Seasonal Diversions
Author: Frank Ross
Calling coyotes is about as much fun as you can have without looking in your rear view mirror for a flashing light.
There's no question about it. Big game hunting is a lot of fun. Start loading the truck for birds of any feather and I'll be there with you, throwing the deeks over the tailgate and holding the dog off the good seat covers.
As a matter of fact, there aren't any hunting seasons that don't hold great expectations and fond memories for me. But, as much as I enjoy all of the others, there is one season that has captured my heart.
Calling coyotes is about as much fun as you can have without looking in your rear view mirror for a flashing light. To be sure, there are many great things about hunting coyotes, but one of the best things about this season is that it never ends.
To me, the calling aspects of the hunt are tantamount to "romancing the stone." I've had them pop up from 30 yards away, and seen them come from as far as a mile away. After a half dozen years of sneaking and calling, I consider myself an adequate caller, although sometimes I come home scratching my head. When you're trying to outsmart a critter with the epithet of "Wily", every day is a learning experience.
When To Call?
My favorite time to call is at night when there is a fresh blanket of snow on the ground, little or no wind, and a full moon. The dogs aren't as cautious because they aren't normally shot at in the dark, and they are expecting other animals to be hunting as well. To a coyote, hearing a rabbit in distress is as natural after sundown as scratching fleas.
Hunting alone is ok, but if you want to make sure you're not the "surprisee" instead of the "surpriser", it's best to take a buddy to cover the back door as well as the down wind arc. We'll get to that in a minute.
If you're the caller when snow is on the ground, a simple white cover-coat, or a set of snow camo is best, but if you can find a place to set up with a dark background you can go with your regular set of gear. When the coyote comes to a call, it will be totally focused on the direction of the sound, and if you're sticking out like a sore thumb it will be tough, if not impossible, to get it to commit. Camo for the backup man is less important, since he will be positioned away from the source of the sound.
Don't kid yourself about a coyote's senses. They will lock onto a sound and come as straight as a tightly pulled string. If they are suspicious, they'll get to about 50 yards out and circle downwind trying to make sure that they are not being fooled. That's where the back door man comes into the act.
When you set up for a calling session, you want to position yourself against a brush-line, fence post or embankment that will break up your silhouette. Find a piece of ground that offers breaks, gullies, or any other terrain where a coyote might find a hiding spot. If possible, you want to have the wind blowing in your face so that your scent isn't picked up. An important thing to remember is that just because you expect a dog to come from one direction, and your back is turned to the other, doesn't mean that it won't come from behind you. That's part of what makes it fun.
You call, and they come. The unknown factor in the equation is always -from where? When you raise a call to your lips, they might be anywhere, and often they will use breaks and draws to stay under cover until they are forced to come out into the open. One of their favorite tricks is to trot along a fence line, especially if it is clogged up with tumbleweeds.
For beginners, the best way to start is by listening to a tape and going with someone that is at least moderately experienced. The folks at Sceery put out a kit that includes calls and a video which covers all of the basics. The necessities are a rabbit squealer, howler and a decoy if you want to drag one. On days when the 'yotes are wary, a decoy is well worth the effort.
Rabbit in distress calls come in both open and closed reed formats. While the open reed call offers a lot more control and variations, they are also harder to get a good call with every time. This is most often true on cold mornings when the reed freezes up right when you're hitting hot licks. Remember that you are trying to imitate a dying animal, and variations in that sound are as complex and varied as the number of animals doing the dying. If you blow a sour note, don't panic. It might be the sound that is different enough to pique a dog's curiosity. It also might be the sound that causes it turn tail and run, but if they're not totally panicked they can often be coaxed back in. If you don't feel confident enough to use mouth calls, both Lohman and Johnny Stewart make great electronic systems, and Cabela's has their own model that is priced right. You'll need to monitor the volume carefully, but you won't be out of wind when the moment of truth comes.
I am often asked about howling, and how loud to call. These are two subjects that are affected so much by circumstances that it is difficult to make any hard and fast rules. Here are some guidelines that I work with.
Howling is most effective as a way to locate dogs, but if it isn't the breeding season, you don't often get them to come. During the late winter breeding months, about all a male coyote wants to think about is talking to female coyotes. Howling works two ways. If an active male hears you howling in an area that he has staked out, his first inclination is to come over and demonstrate his prowess in a fight. If he thinks it's a female moaning for companionship, he will come even quicker. One of the problems with howling is running off young dogs. When you announce your presence with an aggressive howl, you are basically telling any coyote within earshot that you are in his territory, and you want to get into his business. If your howl falls on the ears of a dominant male, it's show time. If it gets the attention of a young dog that might have been recently whipped, your first glimpse of him will be his tail and two hind legs pumping hard toward the horizon.
Most of the year, I set up and start with a squealing rabbit call, and resort to the howl only when all else has failed. Once you get set up, take a few minutes to settle down and scan the entire area so that you have a complete mental picture of the terrain, as well as giving yourself a chance to locate any prowling coyotes that may be in the open. If you have a range finder, it is best to mark a few reference points before you start calling. Once the action starts you don't want to move anything but your trigger finger. Sometimes a coyote will hang up at 250 yards or more, and refuse to come in. With a steady rest, and the right rifle, that distance is a given, but you don't want to be guessing when you should be shooting. Once they decide to go, the exit happens at about 40 miles-per-hour.
I start out calling fairly softly. A coyote can hear you a lot farther away than you can hear the call, so you don't have to be that loud. Most importantly, if you are lucky enough to have moved in quietly on a dog that is only 50 yards away, a loud blast will only spook him. Rabbits don't make a real loud squeal, and at first, you shouldn't either. After calling for about a minute, stop to watch and listen for a couple of minutes. When you don't get a response, increase the volume to reach out a little further. If you don't spot any incoming bogies, repeat this cycle for 20 to 30 minutes. How long is always a question that you have to develop a feel for. More than once, I've stood up and realized that a coyote was coming in from a long way and just hadn't had time to cover the distance. If you don't have any results, move about a mile and start over.
One habit that I've developed over the years has produced good results numerous times. Remember that back door? Before moving, I always make one last scan of the entire horizon in front of me, and then when I stand up, I immediately spin around and scan the area to my back. When you catch one sneaking in the back door, it will always be a grab shot, but if you're quick you can catch them before they recover from the surprise of seeing you instead of a rabbit.
A decoy can be very effective not only to increase a coyote's desire to come, but most importantly, it takes their eyes off of you. A tanned rabbit fur, tied to a spring that is firmly attached to a stake, is a very effective detractor. Just tie a string to it, and pull it occasionally as you call. Once a marauding coyote is within sight, it won't be able to take its eyes off of your decoy, and it makes getting your rifle into position a lot easier.
Most coyote hunters lay off during the Spring to avoid shooting a female that is hunting to support a den of pups. I think it is the right thing to do, even though sheep and cattle ranchers don't care much of the concept. For the novice, mid to late Summer is a great time to learn about calling coyotes. That's when the new crop of young dogs are out, trying to find an easy meal. They're usually dumb as a box of rocks. If you start out with these youngsters, just don't get to thinking that it will always be that easy. Once they've been educated by a few bad calls or errant shots, even the dumbest pups become as wily as a top sergeant. No matter what season you choose, once you coax a coyote to commit, you'll be locked into singing with the song dogs on a regular basis.
For more information on predator calls Click Here
Frank Ross grew up on a lake in Florida, where fishing and hunting were second nature. He has pursued his passion from the jungles of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic Circle and most points in between. With a background in newspapers, the wire services and magazines that began in 1970, Frank brings a unique perspective to his work with Cabela's. He is an award-winning photographer with a flair for getting to the bottom line of every story.
When he's not out hunting down another interesting story, Frank can be found near his home in western Nebraska where he now spends most of his time guiding his two sons and teaching them how to be successful in the field. "It's part of the responsibility we all have as outdoorsmen, to share what we have learned and pass on the passion. I take the same tact when approaching a story┐. how can I help someone be better at what they love to do?"
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