These dudes will spend countless days scouting prior to a big game hunt, yet throw their stuff in the truck on a whim and think they can successfully call coyotes or bobcats or—heaven forbid wolves every time they fire up the electronic caller. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I believe scouting prior to a predator hunt is perhaps even more critical than it is when hunting deer in an area where you’ve hunted them for years and already know the lay of the land. In my experience, the lack of scouting is the primary mistake made by wannabe predator hunters.
EYES AND EARS
You’re out hunting birds, deer or rabbits— or maybe you’re taking a morning jog—and you hear coyotes howling. Or maybe you see one or more running across the landscape. Make a note of it. Maybe you’ve spoken with landowners or town locals who’ve seen an influx of coyotes in the area. This is good information, and it will get you started in the right direction. For more clues to predator densities in a given area,drive along dirt roads after a heavy rain or new snow and look for fresh tracks. Just like when hunting deer, elk, bears, wild hogs or wild turkeys, once you know there are predators around it’s time to get serious. Break the property down into micro-sections and eliminate thoseareas that are likely to be unproductive. This is what successful coyote contest callers do. Because success hinges on how many productive calling stands they can hit in a finite period of time, they’ve spent a lot of time scouting—much of it at night—before a contest begins. “I generally spend several hours the night and morning before my hunt locating coyotes,” Cory Lundberg, a professional coyote guide and contest caller (CodaHunts.com), told me during a hunt a few years back. “I’ll begin about 10 p.m. and try to locate as many coyotes as I can until dawn by attempting to get them to howl back at me. This way I can determine the three things I really need to know: their location, how many there are and their sex. I do this with both an electronic caller and by making interrogation howls with mouth calls.”
Why spend time calling areas where there are no coyotes? Scouting will help you determine exactly where the dogs are hanging out.
Lundberg is also a fan of glassing for predators, especially during early morning and late evening. “I quietly sneak into a spot, set up a spotting scope, and use it and my binocular to locate predators without making a sound,” Lundberg said. “This way I can determine where they live, and they don’t know I’m on the planet—until I come back and call them into shotgun range.” When he gets a response, Lundberg really starts to pay attention. “I want to know exactly where they are, and I try and figure out how many dogs there might be in the pack—something you cannot always do precisely, but you can get a general idea. Also, it’s very important for me to figure out exactly who’s responding. If the respondents are old males, for example, I’ll probably use different sounds to try and call them in than I would if the respondents are young pups. Armed with this knowledge, I can carefully plan the next day’s hunt with a good idea of what I can expect.”
TIME TO GO GET ’EM
The most successful coyote hunters I know are also the most cerebral. They play the game like chess, not checkers, trying to reduce the “luck” factor as much as possible. Step No. 1 is to assess the information gathered from a scouting mission. Pretty quickly you’ll see which areas have high coyote densities, which hold just a few dogs, and which produced no responses at all. Naturally, you want to hunt those areas with the highest coyote densities first—but that might not be possible given wind direction and the weather forecast. Successful contest callers always have a backup plan in case the weatherman gets it wrong, roads become closed, there are other hunters in their spot, etc. Dustin Butler, a hardcore coyote hunter and contest caller (PredatorDown.com) once told me he and his partner will try to find up to 40 high-quality stand locations prior to a contest.
Once you reach a stand location, it’s time to put your intelligence to good use. If you’re hunting during the day, you first want to set up so the sun won’t light you up like a lamp. Then, using your data on what age and sex of coyotes responded during your scouting, use the appropriate call sounds. For pups, start off with soft pack sounds before going to the more common dying rabbit, woodpecker or other food source sounds. Old male? Hit him with a territorial howl sequence. By mixing up your sounds all day long and targeting specific animals, you’ll up your odds for calling in multiple dogs. The best hunters I know are those who spend as much—if not more— time planning, thinking about and, yes, scouting than actually hunting, regardless of the species being targeted. You should, too.