By Predator Hunting Editor Judd Cooney
The last thing I expected as I rounded a corner of the slicker-than-grease-when-wet dirt road was a parked car and a couple of hunters standing in the middle of the road, with an electronic caller blaring crow cries off the roof of the car. Managed to squeeze the truck past without running over either of them, but not by much.
They were the first crow hunters I’d seen in 15 years of outfitting in Iowa, so when I parked at the lease a half-mile down the road, I pulled out the binoculars and watched. Over the next 15 minutes, they pulled in four different groups of black scavengers and touched off a dozen or so rather long shots, which as best I could tell didn’t ruffle a feather.
They may not have made a dent in the population, but I can guarantee they made 20 or more crows a whole lot less susceptible to future calling.
Got me to thinking about a predator-calling friend in northern Colorado, who shared the following experience:
He was trying to locate coyotes during early spring where a rancher had reported predation problems, when he parked at a favorite high point on a gravel back road and cut loose with the siren on his electronic caller. He waited but got no response.
The ranch house wasn’t far down the road, and he had seen the rancher out fixing fence, so my buddy drove over for a chat. The rancher told him he was the third caller to stop on that point that morning. The first had used a siren, also, but had waited only a few minutes before driving off. Shortly after that caller left, the coyotes started howling on a ridge behind the house. The second vehicle pulled onto the point a short time later, and this wannabe predator slayer cut loose with a series of electronic locator howls.
When he didn’t get an immediate response, he drove off, too.
By the time my buddy parked, the coyotes had seen and heard enough for the day.
After his talk with the rancher, my hunting compadre circled around to the backside of the ridge, hiked in half a mile, set up and called using recorded canine puppy sounds. He shot two coyotes that day, ending the rancher’s losses for the spring and also earning a huge chunk of prime antelope country to hunt that fall.
Experienced predator hunters from all around the country tell me the same sad story: the proliferation of wannabe callers is ruining their sport. I don’t agree. But it sure is changing the game.
When a coyote is suckered by a call but manages to survive the encounter, it is not only tougher to sucker with the same sounds, but may even pass the lesson along to its mate and offspring. The number of inexperienced hunters in certain areas, all using similar recordings of prey distress sounds, has definitely made a difference in this respect.
However, in such areas, the wise use of the same electronic call might just save the day, not lose it. Better electronics produce a wider range of believable coyote vocalizations, many more than can be made by even a skilled caller using mouth-blown howlers and calls. And some of these sounds can be deadly effective, even where coyotes turn a deaf ear to those ubiquitous rabbit squeals and squalls.
This concept needn’t be limited to coyotes. The sounds of foxes mating, fighting or barking; of bobcats breeding, fighting or yowling; and the distress sounds of the young of either species may prove far more effective than prey distress sounds.
In fact, fox and cat vocalizations may be the most under-appreciated and under-utlitized sounds in all calling.
Coyotes now dominate in regions previously ruled by red fox, gray fox and bobcats. This encroachment by a larger, more aggressive predator has made the lesser furbearers leery when responding to anything that sounds like a prey animal in distress, much less a coyote. Those that do respond take their time and vanish at the slightest hint of danger (oddly enough, the same holds true for coyotes where the larger, more aggressive wolf now roams).
But the right fox or cat vocalization may still turn the trick.
This doesn’t mean you can buy success with a digital player and a library of sounds. The best hunters still mix it up, using mouth calls and electronics, and there is more to it than just pulling off the road and calling. The electronics may not be making the hunting tougher, but the wannabes who are impatient for success and careless in their approach are having a negative impact.
Nowadays, rarely does anyone ask me which mouth call I recommend or which calling sequence gets the best results. All they want to know is which recorded sounds to play and how loud. More’s the pity.
This past fall, my grandson Zane and a buddy were hunting a ranch where they’d seen a number of coyotes during earlier deer and elk hunts. The first day, they made four stands using an electronic caller to broadcast cottontail and jackrabbit squeals and squalls, sounds that had produced fur in the past. They watched two coyotes sneak by out of rifle range, within hearing distance but not displaying the slightest interest. The following morning, they stopped to call in an adjacent area of the ranch and discovered their electronic caller’s batteries were dead.
Didn’t faze Zane. He reached in the caller bag and pulled out a lanyard with three mouth calls. A similarly loaded lanyard resides in every electronic call bag I own, for just such occasions.
Zane called in three coyotes at four stands that morning, and they got all three. Perhaps a mouth call would have worked the first day, or maybe an electronic caller would have worked the second day. This is not scientific proof, but rather what researchers refer to as anecdotal evidence. Still, I believe it illustrates why any predator caller who doesn’t make use of both recorded and mouth-blown calls may be missing a bet.
Gary Strader, a full-time predator-control professional from Montana now residing in New Mexico, states unequivocally that the coyotes in many areas of the West are getting call-shy when it comes to the recorded prey sounds that are used by most hunters. Because of this, he instead concentrates on coyote vocalizations.
Gary feels that when a coyote hears another coyote, it lulls that coyote (if a coyote ever truly gets lulled) into a sense of false security and makes it less leery and easier to call.
However, calling coyotes is never a slam dunk, and Gary’s vast experience also has taught him that certain vocalizations may work like a charm in Nevada but not work worth a hoot in New Mexico; coyote sounds that work in Montana may be equally deadly in New Mexico but not in Arizona. The key to success in this and all aspects of predator hunting is time and effort in the field, a willingness to experiment with sounds, setups and ideas—something that seems to be lacking in many of today’s wannabe callers.
There are places where any coyote that survives the fall and winter hunting seasons has likely heard every common variation of recorded sound and is ultra leery of responding to anything that even hints of human involvement. In general, howling is most effective for such coyotes in late winter and spring, when they pair up and aggressively establish a home range with denning areas.
I know that many readers of this magazine feel that taking any furbearer during spring breeding and denning seasons borders on the sacrilegious. These folks are committed to harvesting and conserving the wild fur resource.
Believe me, nobody appreciates a prime pelt more than I do. And most states protect fox, cats and coons with a closed spring season, which I fully endorse. However, coyotes are a different breed, and predator control is a different type of management hunt.
Coyotes now dominate vast regions once ruled by red fox, gray fox and bobcats. This encroachment by a larger, more aggressive predator has thinned the lesser furbearers and made the survivors leery when responding to anything that sounds like a prey animal in distress. Those that do respond take their time and vanish at the slightest hint of danger.
To restore and maintain some balance, coyotes must be hunted, and it isn’t just a concern with the smaller furbearers. We found a multitude of coyote-killed deer on our leases again last fall and winter; and a number of our hunts were short-circuited by coyotes cruising the food plots, looking for deer of their own. We see prowling coyotes on an almost daily basis, and it isn’t just coincidence.
The past couple of years, I’ve slacked off on my late-winter and spring coyote control efforts, but with this apparent increase in local coyote numbers, I figure I’d better spend more time in the woods and fields this spring, doing my part for the deer by carrying out some serious coyote-control management.
Now through spring turkey season, you can bet I’m going to be using howls and other vocalizations to con those canny Midwestern coyotes. I’ll be working hard, making full use of tried-and-true mouth calls, several new styles of open-reed howlers, and also the latest and loudest FoxPro CS-24 digital caller.
Good equipment helps, but you cannot buy success. You still have to get out there and earn it.