Many coyote hunters shy away from public land, believing it overrun with hunters, and that all the young, uneducated coyotes were killed early. Any surviving coyotes have either left the area or are super wary, having learned from previous run-ins with hunters just what those rabbit-distress sounds really mean.
Don’t believe it, don’t ignore public lands, just go in with a plan, according to Realtree pro staffer Mark Zepp of Zepp’s Predator Calls. In fact, if you keep in mind a handful of basic tips, you could be harvesting fur where other hunters are hesitant to tread. (An Ohio native, Zepp now lives in Indiana, but spent 12 years in Arizona, hunting the vast Bureau of Land Management and other public land. He’s been calling coyotes since he was 13.)
“There are different ways to approach both public- and private-land hunting,” Zepp said, “but there are two tried-and-true rules that apply everywhere.”
Tried-and-True Tip 1
First, Zepp said, is the wind. Whether you’re hunting public or private land, this must be a top-priority concern. “I can’t over-emphasize the wind aspect,” he said. “If the wind is not correct and blowing in the right direction, don’t go in. I tell hunters they need to think like they are bowhunting big deer when hunting coyotes and pay close attention to the wind.
"This is a concern when it comes to hunting public land," he said, because “many guys only hunt on weekends. They get to a place, but the wind is marginal and not what it should be. They only have a day or two to hunt, so they just go ahead and call anyway. If you were hunting a trophy-quality deer you’d never do that."
His advice? Respect the wind.
"The wind always has to be perfect. If you go into a spot and the wind is not right and you call and don’t see anything, chances are you slimed it up; the coyotes came in and smelled you. So if it is not an ideal situation and they smelled you, they are not going to come back to that sound they now associate with humans.”
He returned to the bowhunting comparison. “If you’re bowhunting out of a treestand and shoot and miss a big deer, what does he do every time he comes back to that area? He’s always looking up, always looking at that treestand and your chances of getting another shot at the same big deer from the same tree is highly unlikely. The same thing happens with coyotes,” he said. “Let’s say you go into an area the first time and you call and you kill one or two out of the pack that comes in. That’s good, but those others are probably not going to come back to that area, and once they hear that sound, they are not going to be nearly as likely to come into it again.”
Zepp said you need to get into your hunting area and your hunting position undetected. That's not easy to do with so many eyes and ears out there. “You’ve got to be very careful where and how you go in,” he said. “That means going into these places and staying low and setting up quickly. If you go over a skyline, do it quick. Don’t stand there glassing. Get down off that high peak a few feet before doing a bunch of glassing or looking around.” Or, better yet, don’t go over that peak or hilltop or ridge. Instead, sidehill it, being careful to keep your head below the top. Circle around, staying low rather than exposing yourself to the sharp eyes out there. And it is not just the sharp eyes of coyotes you need to be concerned about. If you alert deer or other animals to your presence, their alarm may alert all other animals that something is amiss.
The first two tips, as Zepp said, should be followed for hunting anytime, anywhere. But he also has tips for hunting public lands.
Tried-and-True Tip 3
Early in the season, starting, say, in early October in northern states, mid-October in others, when coyote fur is developing (“I always think in terms of fur value,” Zepp said), use sounds that play on coyotes’ hunger pangs, like animal-in-distress sounds that make them think a meal can be easily had.
Rabbit-distress, deer-distress, fawn bleats can be effective, he said, and they can be effective year-around, to a point.
The reason prey-in-distress sounds are so effective early on, he said, is because you are calling to younger coyotes, coyotes that were pups in the spring and haven’t heard such sounds before. As the year goes on, they start to hear those sounds over and over and that leads to the next tip.
As hunters take to the field more and more in the fall, coyotes hear the calls, especially the widely used rabbit-distress and similar sounds, more and more. “They get less effective as the year goes on,” Zepp said. “That’s one of the reasons I switch to coyote vocalizations.”
“As we get later into the season, like the first or second week of December, I use just coyote vocalizations,” he said. And by vocalization, he means howling, talking the coyotes’ language. Lone howling or group howling, he said.
A lone howl is an invitation to other coyotes “letting them know a coyote is in the area and wants to pair up,” he said. “A group howl is just that, a group of coyotes howling to other coyotes out there which hear all these new coyotes in their territory and they come in looking to defend their territory, looking to get into a barroom brawl.”
Electronic calls make great howls or you can easily make them with mouth calls too. If you’re hunting with a buddy or two, you can all howl to make authentic-sounding group howls, Zepp said. If you can tell by an answering howl that an adult is responding, you can try a challenge howl, which is a shorter howl than the lonesome howl, to challenge the coyote to come and defend its territory, he said. “Coyotes are territorial year-round, but by December it’s getting close to breeding season,” he said. “They are pairing up, thinking about breeding and they get even more territorial.”
Another reason howling works is that few coyote hunters use it, he said. “I think 90 percent of predator hunters don’t understand the howling aspect and how good it can be,” he said. “They have maybe tried it a time or two early in the season and it didn’t work so they don’t go back to it.”
Tried-and-True Tip 5
Scout the land you intend to hunt. These days you can do it without ever setting foot in the area, thanks to maps from DeLorme, which are available in state-by-state plat books or electronically through Garmin GPS units. The maps clearly delineate public and private lands, he said, and provide satellite imagery so you have a bird’s-eye view, which can help you plan your hunt. Zepp looks for places with cover, but have open areas where he can call coyotes out of the brush. He often films his hunts for his DVD series, so getting them in the open is essential. “The action can happen so quickly and the animals can get in on you and out so quickly that it not only makes it hard to film but hard to kill – and we’re not trying to just call these animals, we’re trying to call and kill them so I always look for open ground between thick cover.”
Plus, coyotes are naturally drawn to cover to loaf or bed down, plus prey species, like mice, rabbits, pheasants, and fawns all seek similar cover, he said.
Zepp recommends checking with state wildlife agencies for a guide to public-hunting areas. Many such areas attract deer, pheasant and other hunters who incidentally feed coyotes, he said. Deer hunters might field-dress their kills in the midst of the area, or drag it to the edge for field-dressing, leaving a tempting gut pile. Or hunters “might shoot some ringnecks and halfway through field dress those birds and that makes a great place for coyotes to be looking for food,” he said. “Plus, the coyotes are accustomed to the sound of hunters, firearms, dogs and beeper collars so they don’t spook as easily. Those can be great areas to try.”
And, don’t be afraid to call in and around the parking lots of those areas. “Keep in mind that a lot of times guys are throwing away bread crusts or leftovers from lunch and coyotes are always looking for an easy handout,” he said.