I knew the spot was choice before I ever turned on my predator call. To my East, a brushy creek wound its way through the wide-open West Texas country — a perfect spot for bobcats and coyotes to hunt for mice and small birds. Plenty sign of both littered the area. I settled in next to a bush — 70 yards up a slight slope from the creek — before calling with a jackrabbit-in-distress call.
Ten seconds later, a coyote exploded from a patch of salt cedar. She ran straight at the call and paused for a brief moment — just long enough for a photograph or two — before running back to the salt cedar.
A month or so later, Realtree pro staffer and fellow Texan Byron South showed up at my Panhandle home to go coyote hunting. South grew up near here in Childress, Texas. He understands how to hunt both big-country coyotes in the West and big-timber coyotes in the East.
The countryside opens a lot to the left of the one-hundredth meridian. Broad landscapes and big skies dominate and coyotes are abundant in areas where cattle outnumber people. Case in point: I was on a piece of property in mid-October and saw six coyotes from an elevated deer blind and heard at least 10 more — all on a 400-acre area.
As the sun came up, I could barely hear coyotes wailing to the Southeast. Like dominoes falling, the sounds of coyotes barking and yapping grew closer and closer — each coyote triggering the next to howl in a grand game of leapfrog — until the song dog symphony reached a crescendo around me.
No doubt — I am in good coyote country. On the coyote hunt with South just a few months earlier, we were on a promising setup within minutes of our arrival. South likes hunting coyotes out West and on this hunt, he liked what he saw.
“Since coyotes have less contact with humans in the western states, they are often easier to call,” he said. “Combine this naivety with the fact that out West you can choose a setup that offers you better visibility to see the coyotes you do call.”
South prefers coyotes in wide-open country because eastern coyotes are fewer in number and live in closer proximity to people. They’ve learned to evade humans and live undetected. Since eastern coyotes are super elusive and they often live in wooded, undulating terrain, they’re trickier to call. But western coyotes can be just as tricky in some locations.
“Western coyotes that are pressured by ranchers and hunters can be tough as well,” South said. “The key is to never underestimate the coyote’s intelligence and consider the variables he’s adapted to (hunting pressure and terrain). Use this information to form a plan. Even though hunting strategies may be a little different when comparing eastern coyote hunting to western coyote hunting, the basics of the hunt remain the same.”
“It’s really kind of simple. I look for out-of-the-way areas that should hold coyotes,” South said. “By ‘out of the way,’ I mean areas where coyotes feel safe from human contact, like heavy pockets of brush. I then look for a way to get close and go undetected in order to get to a vantage point.”
South said while most people look for scat and tracks to confirm coyotes in the area, he prefers to get his intel from ranchers and farmers who are on the land every day and can advise where they see most of the coyotes. Walking through an area and scouting is a good tactic if first-hand observations aren’t available. However, South believes it’s not a good idea to scout and hunt on the same trip, as predators are sensitive to any disturbance in their habitat.
“If I scouted a place by walking through it, I would probably wait a few days before coming back to call,” he says. “Keep in mind that coyotes adapt very quickly. Your best bet to call him is the first time you attempt it. If you go back and repeatedly try to call and kill the same coyote, he will become educated to your tactics.”
These scouting principles apply to both western and eastern setups. The difference: it's easier to gain permission and access to property in the western states. Regardless, good scouting will often put coyotes in your lap. Don't make rookie mistakes.
“I keep my gear list simple,” South said, “as I want to be as mobile and quiet as possible. I use both electronic and mouth calls to add some variety.” South uses FoxPro electronic calls and Haydel’s manual calls. Due to the small size of the FoxPro, it’s easy to carry both types of calls into the field to mix up audible offerings.
South’s rifle is the Byron South Signature Series Remington R-15 predator rifle. He also carries shooting sticks and dresses head-to-toe in Realtree camo.
Of all his gear, the shooting sticks are especially important. “I’ve found that shooting sticks are a critical part of my gear," he said. "The sticks keep my muzzle up and pointed in the direction I suspect the coyote will appear, and this keeps movement to a minimum. In addition, the sticks keep one hand free so I can blow my call or run the remote for the electronic caller. Finally, the stability of the shooting sticks aid in making a clean shot.”
The day South and I hunted coyotes, we were also joined by call maker Rod Haydel and Remington Arms brand manager John Fink. South’s usual setup is relatively straight forward: a high vantage point so he can see over the open sage prairie and the wind in his face. We set out for just that type place.
The route to where we set up wasn’t a direct one. Instead, in an attempt to remain out of sight and ear shot from any coyotes, we carefully used the terrain and snaked our way through the brush to our location. It is important not to travel through the area in which you intend to call.
South led Fink, Haydel and me around the property in textbook fashion. While our first two stands were busts (as often happens when calling smart coyotes), the third stand was interesting. Overlooking a broad creek bottom carved into a sigmoid and lined with juniper, prickly pear and other semiarid plant life, we eased into place on a point where two draws feed into the bottom. After a few minutes, South cranked up the call, and the awful sounds of an injured rabbit filled the land.
Since there were four of us together, our setup was a bit unorthodox. Haydel sat up front because he was the primary shooter. South was behind him as he filmed the set and operated the call. Fink sat behind South to cover the left flank in case a coyote slipped in from behind us. Me? I sat a few yards behind them with a camera.
A few minutes after calling commenced, I saw movement to our west. At first, I thought it was a coyote slipping through the little bluestem burnished orange by winter’s tinge. Instead it was a raccoon lumbering down the game trail.
Initially, I thought the raccoon was simply attracted to the sound out of curiosity and perhaps an easy meal. In the few seconds I watched him, I surmised that as soon as he winded us or saw Haydel huddled behind the tree, he would scamper away. As the raccoon rounded the juniper, however, he eyed Haydel for a moment and attacked. Chaos ensued, and it took about a half dozen point-blank .223 rounds to stave off the blitz. In fact, Haydel used the rifle’s muzzle to initially halt the raccoon’s offensive.
While I watched in disbelief, Haydel caught his breath and laughed nervously about what transpired. While our coyote hunt was over, it didn’t matter to any of us. The spectacle we had just witnessed will probably be a first and a last for any of us.
Good thing Byron had his camera rolling for his Coming to the Call video series.
Predators can hear your calling from a long way, so always begin your setup on low volume. Many inexperienced callers, particularly those using e-callers, make the mistake of calling way too loud. Listen to animals around you — squirrels barking, birds chirping, etc. Your predator calls are made to imitate prey animals of that size, and their sounds don’t drown out everything else around them.
Once a predator is responding to your sounds, a “coaxer” call, like a mouse squeaker, can mean the difference in a 100-yard poke through the brush and a 25-yard chip shot. Some squeakers are operated like squeeze bulbs. Savvy predator hunters often tape them to the forends of their guns so they can make those last few subtle sounds without much movement.
Editor's note: This Realtree.com predator hunting feature was first published Dec. 16, 2015.