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From the looks of things winter may be coming back for a bit, which is not bad news if you are one who likes to spend time outdoors. There are actually more options than there are daylight hours to spend on them, from simply walking the woods roads in search of animal tracks to creeping along on snowshoes hoping to pot a hare or two with a .22 rifle.
One of the more interesting things you can do at this time of year is coyote calling, a unique sport that essentially puts the hunter in the prey position and leaves all the tricky moves up to the hungry coyote. If you haven’t sat in a patch of woods and watched one of these big, alert predators come bounding in to make a meal out of you, maybe it’s time you gave it a try!
Most folks don’t know it but February is the start of the breeding season for coyotes, which can have as many as 14 pups in a litter (depends on available food, mortality – if we kill more they’ll make more! – and other factors). That is a lot of yappy little mouths to feed, and the parents are kept quite busy chasing down whatever they can find, from road kill to a foundering whitetail in deep snow. Nothing is ignored and everything will be eaten, so when a coyote hears the distress call of an injured rabbit (which is the universal choice for calling predators) they will come running in to investigate.
The standard technique for calling coyotes is to find a secluded area far from roads and homes, ideally near a low spot where swamps and upland forest meet. Power lines are great places to look for coyotes. Walk three or four poles back from the road, get on the high side facing downwind (because incoming coyotes will follow their noses when investigating a call) and get completely set up before you make your first call. Sit down, cover your hands and face and have your rifle or shotgun facing downwind, loaded and ready to shoot.
The reason for this is that in many cases a coyote will literally come running in when he hears the sound of an injured rabbit, and if you are not in position and ready to shoot he will spot you and disappear into the brush – and that is one coyote you will never see again!
One of the primary errors new callers make is calling too much. Remember, you are emulating the cries of a rabbit in distress, and if you’ve spent much time in the woods you know that most rabbits being attacked by predators (winged or otherwise) will utter one or two gut-wrenching squalls and then a few piteous cries, followed by silence. This is the sound you want to make as soon as you are settled in and ready to shoot.
Wait at least 20 minutes before calling again. Any coyote within a mile of your location will not only hear your call but will have you pegged the instant he hears it. I have called in perhaps 100 coyotes over the years and every one of them came in staring right at me! My very first coyote (which I did not shoot!) appeared on the horizon in the middle of a snow-covered field a good 400 yards away, and when I peeked at him in my 10-power scope, he was looking right down the barrel! When I flicked off the safety on my trusty old Model 70 .220 Swift, the coyote picked his head up, turned and ran. He had spotted that slight motion from nearly a quarter mile away!
Since then, I’ve learned to sit still, aim straight downwind and don’t move for at least half an hour. If a coyote appears, I’ll sit tight till he’s behind a rock or log, and if I have to make an adjustment I’ll do it then. If you move while he is in the open and looking right at you, he will turn and go, guaranteed. Coyotes are suspicious by nature and if anything seems out of place, they will abandon the hunt just like that. And, just like that, you’ve educated another coyote that may never be fooled by a call again.
One thing you can do to help yourself is to put out a few cotton balls soaked with skunk essence, fox urine or rabbit scent. Coyotes are unafraid of skunks, foxes and rabbits, and will actually eat such creatures, so they will not be alarmed when they run into your scent stream downwind.
I place one scent ball directly in front of me and about 20 yards out, then another to the left and right about 20 yards apart. You can’t fool any coyote forever, but all you have to do is get him within range. Judicious calling and scent placement will do the job.
Once in a while you’ll get a coyote (probably a young one) that seems interested but hesitant. For these reluctant canines I carry a small, plastic squeaker that sounds like a mouse in trouble. Even in a brisk wind a coyote can hear a squeak at 100 yards. Don’t overdo the calling – just give him a squeak every time he goes behind a tree or bush.
If you have set up in the right place with some cover around you, it’s possible to call a coyote (even a fox or bobcat) to within 10 yards – and sometimes less! One winter I was intently calling to one coyote I’d spotted across a beaver flowage and had to use the squeaker to get him to my side. Just as I was about to take the shot I was surprised to see another coyote standing at the end of the log I was sitting on!
We stared at each other for a couple of seconds and then both coyotes tore out of there in a cloud of snow. I happened to be using a .243 rifle that day and couldn’t get on either animal, but that’s all part of the game.
If you are lucky to get a coyote, take him to the nearest fur buyer and see what you can get for him. These days a prime northern coyote hide may be worth $20 or more, enough to pay for your gas, a bottle of skunk essence and a bag of cotton balls. Talk about incentive to get up before dawn on a frigid February morning. It just doesn’t get any better than that!
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