With abundant huntable coyote populations across the country and electronic calls within the budget of just about anyone, predator hunting is as popular as it has ever been. That's the good news.
The bad news is that many predator hunters think they can put out an electronic call, grab a rifle, play some rabbit-in-distress calls, and slay dogs left and right. Coyotes are incredibly smart, and not only are you unlikely to kill a coyote that way, but also you'll probably ensure that no one else will, either.
As social animals, coyotes react to a far wider spectrum of sounds than dying animal noises. Vocalization, sounds that coyotes make to communicate among themselves, is a key element in successful coyote hunting.
When the dying rabbit is no longer getting it done, it's time to branch out. Challenge, locate, invite, mating, and distress calls are all great alternatives to that call you've been using without success. Integrating appropriate vocalization, in addition to non-rabbit distress sounds, into your calling may be the key between success and failure when it comes to hunting educated dogs.
Take Us Through The Basics
Mark Zepp, the owner of Zepp's Predator Calls, has been chasing predators for decades. A native Midwesterner, Zepp called in his first fox with a mouth call at age 13. That taste of success hooked him on the chess game played between two predators and sent him across the world in search of more.
Zepp literally lived and hunted out of a van for years, moving from spot to spot across the western United States in search of the best predator hunting he could find. He landed in Tucson for a while before migrating back to the nation's center to live, work, and raise a family. The depth and breadth of Zepp's experience makes him one of the greatest resources around when it comes to learning about successfully hunting predators. We asked Zepp to take us through some of the basics.
"With the advent of inexpensive and good electronic calls, lots of hunters are in the predator game," Zepp said. "The result is coyotes with PhDs in not getting shot. Guys overdo it with rabbit calls and educate the dogs. Vocalization is a good way to salvage a hunt on an educated coyote. Patient, sparing calling using a lonely howl, pup in distress, or other vocalization call is something that coyotes cannot resist."
We asked Zepp for the single best tip for a beginner. "Biggest things that people, especially beginners, mess up are not playing the wind and the setup right," he said. "You have to play the wind like you're hunting a Boone & Crocket whitetail with a bow. You see these guys like Michael Waddell or the Drury Brothers — if the wind isn't right, they don't go into that stand at all. You need to be the same way with coyotes.
If the setup isn't right, don't call or you'll just educate them. Once a coyote associates your scent or a gunshot with a call, he's educated. "Patience is also really important, most guys way overcall. You need to give it a rest. The first time that I ever hunted with Randy Anderson, I was amazed at how little he called. He'd howl and then sit there and do nothing for ten minutes. I thought for sure that we wouldn't see a thing, but I was wrong."
Vocalization can be a great way to trick that educated coyote that has learned the rabbit call means a human with a rifle. "When you use something like a lonely howl and you're patient, maybe calling once every few minutes or so, they just have to come and see. They can't stand it. Curiosity didn't kill just the cat, it's killed a lot of coyotes."
Zepp believes a lot of hunters overthink the timing of vocalization — only using certain calls during certain months. According to Zepp, vocalization works year-round, though that can vary by location. "There are no hard and fast rules on what works during what month," he said. "Most of them work all year. You'd think that the mating calls would only work from January to March when they are mating, but they really work all year because of their curiosity. From my experience, the lonely howl, pup yips, Ki-Yi [injured coyote] — they all work really well any time of year. Some guys think you scare off younger coyotes by using certain calls during the mating season. Maybe that's true, but I just haven't seen it."
Another factor Zepp suggested we keep in mind is how far your calls carry. A 50-acre farm may allow only one calling setup per day, while on a larger property, multiple setups are possible. "In the West, the giant ranches give you tons of places to set up and move, while in the Midwest and East, there simply isn't as much ground to cover." Too much vocalization in too small an area is a good way to tip-off a coyote as to what you're up to. We're using vocalization to defeat that educated coyote, so we need to be careful not to add another call to his list of human tricks.
Rabbit-In-Distress - Try Something Else
We wanted to get more than one opinion on this subject, so we reached out to Fred Eichler, the host of Predator Nation on the Sportsman Channel. Eichler has been hunting and trapping coyotes for 30 years as a damage-control trapper, a commercial coyote trapper and hunter, and a television host. He spends a lot of time in the woods chasing predators and a lot of time filming their behavior. He has some definite opinions on what works and what doesn't.
"A lot of people get discouraged with predator hunting, and, honestly, it kind of bums me out," Eichler said. "I'll do a coyote seminar and ask how many people went out for a coyote hunt super-excited and never called one in? The majority of the hands go up. Then I'll ask how many people use a rabbit-in-distress call and almost everybody's hand goes up. When I ask whether anyone has used anything other than a rabbit-in-distress call, almost no hands go up. It boggles my mind that guys who have electronic calls that have multiple calls available to them are hesitant to even try them."
To highlight this issue of educated coyotes, during his seminars Eichler shows a video filmed in Nebraska. In the video, he turns on a rabbit-in-distress call and three coyotes immediately sprint in the opposite direction because they equate the call with danger. When Eichler shuts the call off, the coyotes stop instantly. When he switches to a pup-in-distress call, all three dogs ran back through the ravine as fast as they could toward the call. For this reason, Eichler hardly ever uses a rabbit-in-distress call.
"I had a buddy in Iowa that had coyotes all over, but he couldn't get them to come into the call," Eichler said. "I went out with my cameraman, and the very first morning we called in three and killed two of them. I wanted him to go on thinking that I was the most amazing predator hunter in the world, but I finally asked him what call he used. He went with rabbit-in-distress, and there you have it. I think I've shot coyotes in 18 states now, and a lot of them in states where people told me they didn't have very much luck there. I've called them in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, a bunch of states that people don't think of as coyote states — but not with the rabbit-in-distress."
Know Your Area And The Calls To Use
Eichler has had good luck using calls that mimic animals that coyotes commonly prey upon in specific areas, such as calf bleats, fawn bleats, and puppy yelps. "In areas where they've been pressured, I've had success with the calf bleats. A lot of people have little farms or run a few cattle. Almost every coyote that lives in a rural or semirural area where there's a few cows around knows that calf bleat sound. I've had coyotes just charge in, throwing caution to the wind, in areas where I couldn't call them in with a rabbit-in-distress because they were familiar with that."
When it comes to vocalization, Eichler uses those calls more sparingly than Zepp and uses them more seasonally. "I'm a little more picky when I play my challenge calls or with some of my coyote vocalizations," Eichler said. "The reason is that I'm targeting every coyote. A lot of times, a young pup isn't going to run into another pack sound or a challenge howl of
another coyote. The majority of the coyotes you're killing are probably first-year dogs. They're younger and not as educated, and they aren't really going to come into a challenge howl because they're gonna get their ass kicked. I'd rather appeal to every coyote as opposed to just a large male or dogs that are more dominant."
When it comes to the aggressiveness of calling, Eichler also relies on what his video evidence has taught him. "With a mouth call, I'll call for maybe two minutes and then sit for five. With an E-call, I'm super-aggressive — I do not shut it off. I spend so much time hunting in open country where I can see the coyote's reaction, and when you shut that call off, many coyotes will stop and lose interest and move on. And it's even harder to get them coming back in. From what I've learned, I keep the call going. I'm letting that sucker play."
Best Calls To Bag Eastern Predators
Not all of us live in the wide-open spaces of the Western and Plains States, so we asked Eichler whether there was a call that worked really well in the East. He thinks the turkey-in-distress is one of the best options. "If there's turkeys in the area, that turkey in-distress will call them in way before a rabbit will," Eichler said. "Most every coyote has heard a rabbit call, whether it's a mouth call or an electronic call. As predator hunting is really gaining in popularity, a coyote's education level is soaring exponentially."
I thought it would be interesting to know the one call that an experienced hunter like Eichler couldn't live without. If he could use only one call for the rest of his life, what call would that be? "Puppy in-distress," he said. "If I had just one, that would be it. It's a great curiosity; it's not just the food."
Zepp and Eichler don't agree on every aspect of predator hunting, but they are on the same page when it comes to getting past the rabbit-in-distress: better to leave that call at home. Tailor your calls to the area you're hunting and be sure to work some vocalization into the mix. Get the setup right, or, regardless of the call, you'll educate another generation of animals and get nowhere. The fundamentals of camo, scent, and movement will always be part of the predator setup, but mixing up your calls will take your experience to the next level.