The window at the foot of my bed rattled loudly in its sash, the 30-mph wind outside buffeting the ranch-style bunkhouse. I lay awake in the dark, waiting for the alarm to go off, trying to muster a small degree of optimism. I was hunting on a private ranch in coyote-rich southeastern Colorado, I told myself. My hunting partners were Hunter’s Specialties pro-staffer and World Coyote Calling Championship winner Al Morris, and good buddy and NAH “Whitetails” columnist Mark Kayser. I even threw in the old standby adage, “A bad day of predator hunting is better than a good day in the office,” but I couldn’t shake the nagging reality that hunting coyotes in heavy wind sucks!
We were up 2 hours before shooting light because Al had a plan—one that, unfortunately, didn’t include gale-force winds. We would drive the ranch roads and howl to locate coyotes to determine where to make our first setups during those precious minutes after first light. A great approach if the coyotes can hear you.
“I’d rather be cold and wet than have to call in this wind,” Al muttered as we climbed into his truck and he fired up the engine. Sticking to our strategy, we drove the two-tracks, stopping to hit the howler every half-mile or so. The only response we got was the constant howl of the wind. We made several setups after first light, but the wind prevented our sound from reaching any receptive ears.
By 9 a.m. our optimism was waning. Despite our best efforts, we hadn’t called in a single coyote. We needed a new plan. “Let’s try to get out of the wind,” Al said as he pulled the truck to the side of the road. “There’s a dry creek-bed on the other side of that ridge,” Al pointed to a steep incline. “Maybe we’ll catch a coyote tucked in on the lee side.” We climbed the hill and settled into a jumble of rocks overlooking the brush-chocked wash.
Al sent out a bawdy rendition of “The Dying Rabbit Blues,” and before the first stanza faded to black a female coyote poked out of the creek-bottom looking for the source of the commotion. The problem was, I was facing the opposite direction, and when I heard Al lip-squeak I knew I was in trouble. Moving as quickly as I dared, I spun around and got my rifle back on the shooting sticks. The coyote was quartering toward me at about 100 yards and it should have been a slam dunk, but in the excitement I rushed the shot and the bullet sailed harmlessly over her back. The she-dog spun around and, joined by her mate, headed for home and Mother. A second desperation shot missed as well, and the pair disappeared over the rise. Not a great performance on my part, but at least we saw some fur!
Because of work and family obligations, we can’t always choose our days afield and sooner or later have to deal with adverse weather conditions. “If I was hunting close to home, I’d probably wait for better conditions,” Morris said. “But if you’re hunting out of state or your time in the field is limited, you just have to put your head down and go with what you’re dealt. If it’s raining or snowing, you might be miserable but you can overcome those conditions and hunt successfully,” Morris added. “But if the wind is blowing 25 mph, it cuts my success rate by maybe two-thirds. Up over 30 mph … well, it’s just about impossible.”
And there’s data that backs up the difficulties of hunting in windy conditions. An unpublished survey compiled by Steve Allen, former furbearer biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department—polling more than 3,000 predator hunters—measured calling response rates for red fox and coyotes, accounting for several weather-rated variables. According to the study results, wind had a significant negative impact on response rates for both species.
So what about those days when you have no choice but to buck it up and hunt in the wind?
• When the wind reaches 15 mph or more, predators generally head for heavier cover and you should, too. Coyotes will use whatever cover is available—creek-bottoms, gorges, ravines, timber, cattails, high grass—to get out of the wind. Select stand sites that overlook heavy cover, approaching from the downwind side.
• Crank up the volume. Coyotes won’t respond if they can’t hear you. Electronic callers are effective under windy conditions because they’re capable of producing much higher volume than most mouth-blown calls.
• Since your sound won’t carry very far in heavy wind, animals that are able to hear you should arrive in short order. Remain only 10-15 minutes on stands for fox and coyotes, a little longer for cats. Space each stand 1/4- to 1/2-mile apart.
• Keep an eye out downwind. Coyotes are often hesitant to respond in windy conditions because the efficiency of their senses is diminished. Not only is it more difficult for them to hear and respond to danger, their sense of smell is compromised by swirling winds.
• Hunt buddy-style. Position a shooter downwind of the caller as far as 100 yards so he can intercept circling coyotes.
By the time we got up the next morning the wind had diminished a bit. I teamed up with Kayser and Gerald Stewart, son of famed predator hunting pioneer Johnny Stewart, and we hit the ranch roads just as the eastern sky began to lighten. And even though the wind had kicked back up by midmorning, we stuck with it and each of us had a coyote on the ground by day’s end.
While calling in the wind can be difficult, sometimes you have to play the cards you’re dealt. By hunting smart and hunting hard, you still stand a good chance of turning a marginal day into a productive one. And don’t despair … a bad day hunting coyotes really is better than a good day in the office.