The Predator as Prey

If you're looking to take up coyote hunting, The Call of the Wild isn't the first title that should come to mind. The real key lies in the name of a 1979 Peter Sellers movie: Being There. To become a predator hunter, you need to put in time in the field, try a variety of calling and hunting techniques, and—above all—never get discouraged.  That's the message from Wyoming guide and outfitter Will Ross of X-treme Outdoor Adventures (307-360-8309; xtreme outdoor adventures. com). Ross spent five years as a wildlife specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hunting livestock marauders ranging from grizzlies to ravens, but mostly coyotes and foxes. So he approaches predator hunting as a professional, but it's long been a personal passion of his as well. Who better, then, to get you into the game? Scouting No amount of calling will work if there aren't any predators around to hear it. One way to discover what's out there is to check with local ranchers and farmers. In the West, talk to any sheepherders you run across, too—they often know where coyotes are denning. Still, there's no substitute for searching for coyote sign on your own.Dirt roads are good places to start looking, as predators like to travel on them, and surfaceswill show fresh tracks and scat. Off the roads, coyotes often hunt along well-worn routes, or runways, that may form junctions at high vantage points. If you live in the north, a covering of snow will make finding fresh tracks a relatively easy matter. Look for dens in extremely thick cover on the sides of arroyos, riverbanks, and dry slopes. Scouting predators is hunting, and you should always have your calls and rifle with you. Coyotes are visually oriented animals, so move stealthily. Don't let yourself be silhouetted when you top a ridge. Use cover as you move, and pay attention to the wind. No mammal in North America is more vocal than the coyote. Use an electronic call to take advantage of this trait. Set up on ridges and above canyons to howl or make prey sounds in the hope of getting coyotes to call back, revealing their location. The best times to try this are in the late evening and early morning, when coyotes are back at their dens. The Perfect Setup As you get into calling position, look for routes that coyotes may follow. "Don't set up where there are obstacles between you and where you think the coyote's going to come from," Ross advises. "They're wary, and anything in their path—heavy brush, rocky outcrops, deadfalls—will make them hesitate. Better to make it as inviting as possible for them by setting up over an open approach area. Make sure that you're downwind of the runway, with the sun at your back if possible." Concealment is crucial, and that means having good camouflage, being comfortable, and using a steady rest. Ross wears patterned camo, spring through fall; in winter, he ties leaves and branches to white coveralls. Layering allows him to make adjustments according to the temperature and his movements. On stand, he puts on a facemask and thin leather gloves that won't impede his calling. Remaining motionless is only possible if you're comfortable, so a seat cushion is a must. Shooting sticks let you keep your rifle in a ready position. Calling Tactics Coyotes mostly prey on small game such as rabbits, squirrels, prairie dogs, and birds—not to mention smaller "game" such as mice. To draw a coyote into range, use a call that imitates the screams and distress calls of a dying rabbit or other critter. Coyotes can't resist those cries and will come sneaking in from long ranges to check out the source. There is nothing wrong with using an electronic call (where legal)—but the real excitement comes when you pull in a predator with a mouth call. The two choices are closed- and open-reed models. Closed-reed mouth calls have the advantage of being simple to use. The problem is that while you can produce different tones by varying the air pressure, most closed reeds sound pretty similar. In an area with hunting pressure, and where most hunters use closed-reed calls, coyotes quickly learn what those sounds mean. Because of this, Ross prefers open-reed calls. "I can manipulate the exposed reeds with my upper lip and cover a broad range of sounds," he says. "And I can vary the volume better." The synthetic materials of these reeds are also less likely to freeze than the metal in many closed-reed models. "Open reeds are tougher to use at first, but they're worth the trouble." Time of year can make a big difference in determincalling tactics.