Jan 10, 2019

Calling Canids

Tips for luring in coyote out in Wisconsin’s woodlands

By Matt McHugh 

Calling coyote in Wisconsin is a great way to hone one’s hunting skill set, beat cabin fever, and protect all the species that might fall victim to a strong predator population. Hunting coyote in the Badger State is as much a challenge as anywhere in the country, and offers year-round action to those up to the challenge.

I have studied and hunted coyote extensively for many years and have been humbled by them too many times to count. They don’t always follow the rules. There are several ways to call coyote proficiently – and while I’ve hunted them all over the country using a vast array of techniques, equipment and tactics – there are a few underlying conclusions about coyote response to sound stimulus. 

Think like a coyote

First, a caller should take in a calling scenario through the perspective of the critter they’re pursuing. It’s kind of like playing chess. What activity are they doing that time of day or night? Are they feeding, gathering or loafing on high alert? What are, or have been, the weather conditions?

Coyote activity is heightened when the barometric pressure is moving either up or down. Are they, or have they been, laying low due to extended unfavorable conditions? Wild canids are most active nocturnally. As a result, a bright clear night without the security of total darkness will cause them to be less responsive, and a bit more apprehensive on their final approach. Coyote prefer wind in prevailing directions at a speed where they can trail by scent. Such wind speed also allows them to hear well, and circle downwind a point of interest, all the while maintaining their ability to ascertain scent information.

Build your calling scenario around what drives a coyote’s survival. Are they hungry? Not as often as you would think in the Badger State. Most of the time coyotes in prey-rich environments such as Wisconsin respond to prey distress calls – a territorial response to find out what is eating something in their “kitchen.”

Are there larger predators present in the area? Coyotes and wolves dooften inhabit the same ecosystem. However, it’s in a coyote’s best interest to steer clear of a wolf, especially one that is in the middle of a meal. Likewise, it would be unfortunate to have a wolf arrive to the scene of a struggling prey animal after the coyote is already enthralled in its meal and distracted.

Of course, the reproductive motivation of coyote and the territory protection of an established pair trying to establish and maintain a safe and prey-rich area to den leads to some phenomenal calling experiences, as well. 

Planning a route

Local reports of coyote activity, cover and subsequent prey density help me determine where to establish a stand to call coyote. The location certainly does not have to be perfect to get the job done, but I’ve found that the more of these components present, the less likely one is to get busted by a coyote. Then I’m more likely to be presented with a safe, ethical shot at success.

An ideal position begins with me being able to park, walk in and set up with the wind in my face. I seek out terrain features coyote will likely use when paired with a particular wind direction in an attempt to get downwind for investigation while presenting themselves for a shot in a safe direction.

Quite often, I look to use the edges of fields, ponds and open lanes through woods to tighten their approach while giving them the comfort of cover almost all the way to the proposed “X” on the map. I don’t expect they will bolt across an open field or frozen pond, however, they don’t always follow the rules, and I need only wait until they are in a safe direction on their approach to stop them for a shot in the open.

I set my FoxPro upwind or crosswind of my position at anywhere from 35 to 100 yards, often calling from my position, but also use the E-caller to draw attention from my position on final approach.

There are many variables to consider when crafting a stand. Consider that coyote will often work to get downwind of the calling stimulus, and when possible, work to high ground to assess the situation prior to executing their approach. The combination of a covered route to high ground, while remaining downwind of the calling stimulus without crossing any of my scent to get there, is a recipe for success. Planning the route a coyote will likely use to access the area downwind of the sound stimulus focuses the “X” into a pretty tight area, allowing shooters to use rifles, shotguns or archery equipment to harvest, or cameras to capture a close encounter. 

Ears of a coyote

As far as calling sounds are concerned, don’t get too hung up on the old trusty, rusty rabbit call. There are oodles of critter sounds to use on a calling stand. Though a rabbit on a loop for an hour will yield coyote, I like to call for a total of about 18 minutes with no response before I pack up and head out to the next “X” target.

In an effort to draw those coyote in fast and hard, I use a bunch of sounds in different combinations to capture attention, keep interest, and shake the fear of commitment. Coyote vocals are great, but use them wisely as they can also discriminate against fox, coon or other coyote.

Considering again the coyote’s perspective, if you are falling on the ears of a young coyote – a single transient male or a young pair – you may very well scare them away from the threat of conflict by using mature coyote sounds, or the use of multiple coyote voices.

A safe bet when calling coyotes is to break the silence with the voice of a passive coyote or the immature cracking voice of a young coyote. I try to refrain from using group or pair howls. I want to paint the picture that I am a strange, non-threatening coyote “knocking on the door” to see if there are any coyotes around that would be upset if I slipped through the area looking for a meal. If there are active coyotes on that slice of the landscape at the time, this will elicit a response.

If the resident coyotes are call shy, or concerned about giving up their location to wolves, they may not make a peep and perhaps even leave. They may also slip into the calling scenario quietly to utilize the element of surprise or stealth to investigate. On the other hand, they may blow up with aggressive, staccato barks and howls telling the trespasser to get lost.

The latter is the easiest to play. The residents know there is a strange coyote present whom they just clearly told to leave, so after about two minutes of silence with no response, I apply the prey distress sounds. This illustrates that the interloper hasn’t left and they are attempting to steal a meal. Better still, at the moment the thief is pouncing on the prey while distracted. This often gives the residents extra motivation to pile in. 

Reflections on defeat

Lastly, it would be a disservice to callers everywhere not to briefly discuss the “warning howl.” This sound is one all callers have heard whether seasoned or not.

When you have a coyote or two within 500 yards or so, answering everything you throw at them with continuous strings of abrupt, powerful, often repetitive howls will give you away. It’s extremely difficult to pack up and walk back to the truck, but you are helping yourself and all other local callers by not showing those coyotes your whole playbook.

Use the walk of shame to reflect on what gave you up. Were the coyote lying around surveying their turf when you arrived and saw you park? Did you slam the truck door? Did you walk up the lane they used to get to you? Did they come from across the road and run right into your truck? Did they circle you undetected further downwind than you anticipated? Do they remember your game from last weekend?

Learn from them and how well suited coyote are to thrive in their element. Respect the proficiency with which they play chess, and you will undoubtedly put more of them in check. 

Matt McHugh hangs his hat in northeast Wisconsin and has been night hunting since he was able to walk and carry a flashlight. He started calling coyote in high school and fell deeply in love with the sport. He moved on to further study coyote while pursuing his degree in wildlife ecology from UW Stevens Point.

He’s won the All-Around World Predator Calling Championship in Texas, the NRA’s Predator Calling Contest in Pennsylvania, and is the current World Prey Distress Calling Champion. He serves as field staff for FoxPro and has contributed predator, prey and whitetail sounds to their electronic sound library using his natural voice and diaphragm calls.

He found his calling as an instructional predator calling guide and shares his craft through seminars throughout the country. He and a colleague put on Moondog Madness, the largest coyote calling tournament in Wisconsin. He’s a husband and father of three aspiring natural voice callers.