COYOTE VOCALIZATIONS ARE AN EFFECTIVE
HUNTING TOOL FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR
By Steve Criner
The light was dimming fast and I was getting ready to shut the camera off. It was the last stand of a long winter day filled with rain, sleet and snow. We had hunted hard and, with just one kill on film, I was starting to get disappointed in how this last day had gone. Still thinking about the four coyotes we killed on film the previous day, we began to see our Missouri segment coming to an end. It truly had been a good couple days of calling.
Then, 300 yards away, a few coyotes started yip howling. Could this be an indication that we were spotted walking in? Or were these coyotes responding to the coyote I had portrayed earlier in the stand? Either way, I was just excited that we had coyotes respond on the last stand of the day.
I slowly reached down for my caller remote and started the grown cottontail sound back up, keeping it at a low volume. Then my mind was working. As I told my cameraman, Eric, to record the ambient sound, I asked myself what sounds I should use. I decided to howl.
After about five minutes and every vocalization I could think of, I had three coyotes shot. This was my first triple and I was ecstatic. It was one of the most remarkable hunts I’ve ever been involved in and it was all caught on film.
Letting the Dog Out
Hunters tend to think howling is only effective during the breeding season. In my opinion, this is not true. I start hunting at the end of September and usually quit in March, and I use howls every day I’m in the woods. I’ve had young-of-the-year coyotes, older male coyotes and female coyotes all respond to howls at one point or another, often not during the breeding season.
In my eyes, you don’t need to know everything about coyotes to start howling and you don’t need 10 different types of calls either. It’s important to remember, however, that while howling is a tool that can make your hunt a success, if it’s misused, your hunt will become a lot more difficult. You must learn the essential sounds and how to keep those sounds productive.
The yip howl or group howl is a very promising sound. Even though I only use this sound on about 5 percent of my stands, I use it most of the year. The best part of a stand is a known population of coyotes and this is definitely the sound to use to determine if any coyotes are around. I spend a lot of time driving roads in the early morning before sun up and a lot of nights after dark to locate coyotes using the yip howl.
Don’t discard this sound completely during a stand though. The yip howl has been the demise of a lot of coyotes all the way from Missouri to Arizona. One of the most well-known howlers in the country, Rich Higgins, uses this sound quite a bit, whether it’s from one of his custom handmade howlers or an electronic caller.
This sound is very important in the coyote’s social structure. Excited yips are sharp-sounding barks and are used all year long, whether it is in playfulness or by a female demanding attention during the breeding season. This sound has been coined a breeding sound by some in the industry, but keep in mind it is a vocalization used by the coyote all year long. Breeding only takes place once a year.
I use this sound on about half of my stands. I might yip throughout my sequence a couple times and this will be in a four- or five-yip succession. I use this sound solely to show a subtle coyote presence. We all have seen the cartoon with the big bull dog and the little Chihuahua. The little dog is always bantering back and fourth screaming, “Hey, Spike, Hey,” and aggravating to no end. Well, this is how I visualize my sound of a pup or female yipping at another coyote.
I have had coyotes respond after yipping and I’m not sure they would have if I hadn’t used that sound. I often notice that the coyotes responding to my excited yips seem to be very enthusiastic. This might have just been luck, but it’s worth noting.
This is one of the most essential sounds in my arsenal. I use the subtle howl on 95 percent of my stands.
Some think that howling could scare off another coyote, and this is true. Some also think that coyotes are not as vocal in some states as others. This is also true. Furthermore, some think that howling doesn’t work in areas where coyotes are not vocal. I’ve found this to be false.
There are several different howls out there including ones coined as a lone howl, female invitation howl, interrogation howl, congregation howl and so on. If these howls truly do have these meanings, and I’m sure they do, how can we decipher this language of the coyotes? And if we’re unable to decipher this, why not keep it subtle? That’s my philosophy.
I try to keep my howls higher pitched and tapered off from a low to high and back to low to assure the subtleness is being received. This sound usually lasts seven to eight seconds from start to finish.
I usually bark once or twice with these howls before or after the call to add to the realism, but I am cautious with this because it is very easy to become aggressive while howling, especially when barks are thrown in. I always recommend that newcomers leave the barks out until they become better acquainted with the vocals and their particular howler.
I use this sound on every stand, whether I’ve called in a coyote or not. If I haven’t had a reaction from a coyote on the stand, I will use this sound to try to trigger a response. If I have killed a coyote on a stand, I use this sound to try to draw another coyote out for a double. And, last but not least, if I have more than one coyote come in, I will get on the call immediately after the first shot to try to lock up the second or third coyote.
I typically use a diaphragm call to reproduce this sound. That way I don’t have to reach for any calls after the first shot. I just ki-yi.
This sound was one of the major keys to the success of the triple mentioned earlier. I had killed two of the three under 30 yards and got the third one at 200 yards while it was bouncing and looking back as I ki-yi’d. The ki-yi is definitely one of the most deadly sounds a caller can use.
We all know what puppies sound like when they’re hit by a door swinging shut as they try to get into the house. Well, this is what I try to reproduce. It is typically a lot less noisy and a little higher pitched than a normal canine-in-distress. I try to reproduce this with a diaphragm in such a manner that one would think a puppy was lost or possibly hurt.
This is a good sound to imitate a coyote presence without the possibility of alarming another coyote, depending on pressure levels, of course. And it works on several different coyote triggers including territorial, hunger, social structure and greed.
Pup-in-distress is easy to produce and can be a key call. A friend of mine once gave me an analogy, “If an adult person falls down and is hurt, everyone just stands around and looks, but if a kid falls down, everyone runs to the fallen youngster.” I use this sound on about 90 percent of my stands.
The Challenge Howl
I very seldom use the challenge howl. This is about a three-second, high-pitched howl from low to high accompanied with a lot of barking. The howl is very easy to reproduce and very easy to accidentally reproduce.
I use this sound less than five times a year, usually only when a coyote responds to my calls by challenging me. Trust me though, I have used all other options before I use a challenge howl. The howl is used to call and kill alpha coyotes, and very seldom works even then. It is just too aggressive for me to use on a regular basis.
I’m not saying a challenge howl won’t work. I am just saying it shouldn’t be your every day sound. I don’t use it often because of the aggressiveness and the missed opportunities on non-alpha coyotes you will experience.
Of course, there are no absolutes in coyote calling. As a last ditch effort on that Missouri stand I talked about, I used challenge howls in the middle of several sequences of pup in distress. Was it that sound that lured the three amigos in? Who knows?
Time to Vocalize
After a few really subtle howls, I will continue to call with the prey sounds until I howl again. During a typical 15-minute stand, I will usually howl three to five times. Of course, due to various factors or matters of pressure, I might howl then call or just howl. Also, keep in mind that you might have to change your style or typical stand altogether depending on your sequence results throughout the year.
Typical Reactions to Howling
It is hard to pin down the type of reaction you will get while howling. Some coyotes bark, some howl, some run right in, some run right off and some walk in. This is really altered by the time of year you’re hunting and usually due to pressure or the cycle the coyotes are in.
Early in the year, it is typical to have coyotes run right over you responding to stands with howling involved. Later in the year, you will probably have to lengthen your howling stands and spend most of your time looking downwind. This is just something that varies and there is no way to predict how the coyotes will respond. I will say this though, over time, you will see averages and normalities forming and you can apply this to your set ups. That’s part of being a hunter.
Tailor Your Sounds
Steve Criner, of the Hunter’s Specialties Pro Staff, is an experienced coyote hunter from Missouri.