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Some Thoughts on Calling Coyotes.


By John-Henry

"My hunting buddy Vic has been after me to do some writing about calling coyotes. I think there are a lot of beginning callers out there that can use some help or advice from a few experienced callers. I'm not trying to suggest that we know everything that there is to know

Coyote about calling coyotes, but I'll none-the-less try to deal here with a few aspects of calling coyotes, i.e. camo, firearms, calls, strategy, terrain, and whatever else springs to mind. Of course, these will just be opinions that are held by a couple of guys, and not necessarily the best way to go about things. We live down in the desert country on the Mexican border, and the coyotes are thick in this part of the world. Most of the terrain is some kind of mesquite country, interspersed with farms, grassy flats, old cultivated fields, and patches of grease wood. The coyotes are dispersed across this country, and they follow their bellies from place to place. This time of the year the scatter is on, with the mature pairs driving off the grown pups. You'll see a lot of young dogs come to the call during this time. Often they come in wide open, anxious for a free meal, and the scramble can be on in a hurry when a pup tries to run over the top of you to get to the rabbit he just knows is somewhere in the bush in front of him. I have to start somewhere with this writing and if I'm going to hold to my plan, should state that I don't think any one thing that I'm going to talk about is more important than any other thing. To my mind, the philosophy that leads to successful coyote calling is one that involves cutting down the odds anywhere that you can, forcing that coyote to put himself in a position where you can whack him.

I guess camo is as good a place as any to start. There is an endless debate over the necessity and the efficiency of camouflage. Some people say that you don't need it at all, some say that you can't call without it, and some fall somewhere in between. I tend to believe that green underwear can't hurt. I have used big swatch's of camo netting, OD military stuff, charcoal on my face and hands, camo grease paint, and anything else that you can think of. Back in the days when I used a mouth call a lot, I had more than one coyote close in on me before I knew that he was there, and when one stands 10 feet away, cocking his head and staring a hole through your chest looking for the rabbit, it makes you a believer in camo. I have been using the ASAT 3-D camo from Brigade Quartermasters for the last couple of years, and I think that it is as fine a camo for the desert country as one can find. It makes the wearer look a lot like a dead yucca trunk, and it seems to fool the coyotes something terrible.

This year already I've had 6 or 7 pass me within 15 feet on their way to the electronic call, and they don't even spare me a glance. So, my thoughts on camo: Wear something that is vaguely the color of the surrounding vegetation. Cover your face and hands, either with a mask and gloves or with paint or charcoal (The mask and gloves are less messy). Use a sleeve or camo tape or spray paint (depending on how hard-core you are) on your firearm. Guns are shiny. Stock varnish, blued metal, bolts, scope lenses, and sling swivels all shine and wink in the sun, and that sudden flash of light will flare a coyote. Dull your gun and improve your odds.

Maybe the most important thing about camo is to make sure that you pick your stand in such a way that you help your camo work. You must have a backing that breaks your silhouette and allows you to blend into the larger mass of vegetation. If your head is outlined against the morning sky, it doesn't matter what color it is. The coyote will clearly see the shape and the motion, and you'll be out of luck. Make sure that the brush is high enough to conceal the movement of your head, and resist the temptation to get inside of a mesquite or whatever. As long as your outline is broken, your camo will melt you into your background, even though it feels like you are sitting in the big open in front of God and everybody.

The coyote will not always come from the front, so make sure that you have a good lateral field of fire as well. There is nothing worse than to have one standing to the side while you are trying to untangle your rifle from a limb hooked under the scope. Hold as still as you can, within reason. Turn your head slowly, and don't swat at flies, or fidget, or whatever. When you spot a coyote coming in, wait until his eyes are behind something, or turned away, before you shift your gun to cover him. If he makes you for some reason, try easing the gun up slowly. A surprising number of coyotes will stand and watch while you do that, not sure of what they are seeing. If he flares away, hurry up quicker, 'cause he ain't gonna be there long if he's spooked.

Here is the secret of the day: Often a coyote will spook, or flare, for one reason or another. He may run into your scent plume, he may overrun the electronic call or run right up to you as you're using a mouth call, he may catch some movement as you shift your gun, or he may just get a notion for no good reason. Now here's the secret, and those of you who have called some will know what I'm talking about. You beginners watch and you'll learn in a hurry. When that coyote flares away, if he assumes a choppy, rocking-horse kind of a gait with stiff legs and a lot of head movement, don't panic and throw a shot at random. Find that coyote in your scope and follow him, because 9 times out of 10 that coyote is going to stop and look back - he'll usually give you a standing shot. If, on the other hand, he flares and his top line drops and his whole profile flattens out, that coyote is leaving the country. If you want him on a stretcher you had better be for shooting right now.

I'd better quit while I'm ahead before I start to ramble even worse than I already have. I hope that this gives a few people some answers that will help them to get a few more coyotes. I'd been thinking about this article all day while I was running my traps before I wrote it. That same evening, my partner and I made a 45 minute stand as the light was going, It gave me some more time to think about what we do and why. There was really too much wind to expect much, and we didn't see a thing, but we were out there, and that is really the first step to getting something.

Johnny Steward Electronic Game Call We call almost exclusively with an electronic call. The exception is the mouth-blown howler, and that is really a whole separate category. There are die-hard mouth callers, and they will usually tell you that a mouth call allows you to rate an animal as he comes in, making it easier to get a bead on him, and they are right, as far as that goes, at least some of the time.

I use the electronic call for the following reasons: First, coyotes have wonderful hearing, and when they come to a call, their eyes are trained on the sound. If you are blowing a mouth call, the coyote is obviously looking at you, or in your direction, and if you are calling alone, you have that to deal with. With the electronic call, you can position yourself to take advantage of the lay of the country and the prevailing wind, and force that coyote to focus his attention away from you. I try to set up with a decent field of view to the front, with the breeze in my face and the call set to my left front. I'm right-handed, and although in a pinch I can shoot left-handed across my body to the right, I'm not nearly as accurate as I am shooting to the strong side. With a solid backing, coyotes that come from the rear side often pass by and offer a rear quartering shot with their eyes front. The ones that come from the front should be visible on the way in and give you time to get the muzzle up and on them. I use a call with a remote control to vary the volume, and I usually only use the remote control once after I start the call just to cut down the volume after a minute or two. I don't fool with it once a coyote is on the way in, usually because I'm too busy with the rifle.

I have a bunch of calling tapes, but I almost always call with a Circe jackrabbit tape. It seems to bring as many coyotes as anything, and I think that coyotes reflexively respond to a sound that to them means dinner. I blew a mouth call at a coyote in a hay field once that was carrying a jackrabbit in his mouth, and he dropped that rabbit and made a beeline for the fence line where I was sitting. Besides, some of the sounds that I've tried seem to crawl inside my head after about five minutes, and I can't stand to listen to them any more. The electronic call also never seems to run out of breath, no matter how long I decide to call. I've heard many people say that they call a maximum of 10 minutes, and while that probably picks up the coyotes in a certain radius, I usually call for at least 1/2 hour, and I seem to get my share 20 or 30 minutes into the stand. This may be just because I'm lazy, but I think that a coyote with an empty belly who is still moving around in the morning looking for something to eat is traveling at a fair clip, and he may move into hearing range of the call at any time during the stand.

A few points about setting up: I am blessed with good ears, and I was lucky enough not to ruin them with gunfire. I usually keep my eyes to the front, not looking at any particular thing but watching for movement, and I let my ears do the looking on the back side. Here in the desert a coyote's feet on the hardpan can be surprisingly loud, and if he's come any ways at all you can usually hear him panting. Remember, he's headed for that sound, and not for you, so sit still. Let him pass you and come into your field of view rather than turn your head and risk spooking him with the movement. When you can see his tail, raise the rifle. Coyote

As far as wind goes, when there is no wind play the terrain; that is, call to the country. Face the cover, or in whatever direction you think is most likely to give up a coyote. In a bare breeze I think that your scent pools like water, spreading down the wind in a cone, so I will face the breeze whenever possible. When the wind gets up I think that it tends to scatter and diffuse your scent, and often I will call with the wind, trading the possibility of the coyote smelling me for the increased range of the sound carrying downwind. I think that the least volume that you can get away with is the best, but I've seen coyotes storm over the top of a call playing at rock concert volume, so I don't know how well that holds, but it just seems logical to me. I think that if the call sounds loud to you, it would be deafening to a coyote with his superior hearing. One last point: If you are calling anywhere around civilization, as we do most of the time, remember that the coyotes in these areas are accustomed to people. Trucks and pump backs and tractors and scare guns make noise all of the time. With the sensitive nose and ears of a coyote, the air must be full of the scent and sound of dogs and cars and people. For that reason I rarely move after I kill a coyote, especially if he comes early into the call. I rack another round and sit quietly, and it is not uncommon for another coyote to show up. The gunfire does not seem to automatically make them go the other way.

Ten years ago I was calling with my back to a barbed wire fence and a wheat field. In front of me was a pasture of grubbed mesquite, and on the other side of it virgin mesquite reaching to the foothills. It was a rainy, foggy morning, and I killed a coyote a few minutes into the call, and another a few minutes later, and another one after that, and a fourth just before the tape ended 30 minutes later. That was the only time that I've ever taken four coyotes on one stand, but it could happen again tomorrow, and when I get fidgety on a stand, that memory helps me to sit still. I hope that you all can put some of this to practical use and up the # of coyotes that you get. If ever there was a true renewable resource, coyotes are it. About the only thing that will make a real dent in their numbers is rabies, but outside of that it does not seem to matter how many you take.

There is always lively debate when coyote hunters get together on the subject of guns. I've killed coyotes on a call with a shotgun, rifle, handgun, and three with a bow (and if that isn't a pain in the neck trying to draw without spooking the coyote). If you can shoot a handgun accurately, you can kill a coyote with one, but you'll miss your share too, especially if you are shooting an IPSC style auto and miss the first shot. Spray and Pray comes naturally into play, and it doesn't work any better on a coyote than it does on the plates. If you are calling with a buddy, though, he'll be giggling for the rest of the day.

I think that the best firearm to rack up #'s of coyotes per shots fired is a shotgun, but you have to use it correctly. A 10 or 12 gauge auto loader firing #4 buckshot is death on coyotes inside of 25 or so yards, and you don't have to worry about which end you are looking at. Hit in the rear, the pellets will usually break them down, allowing you to catch up and finish them, and frontal or broadside shots usually anchor them in place. You have all of the firepower that you need, a quick follow-up shot, and multiple projectiles, each of which has enough penetration (most of the time, and at a close enough range) to put em' down. When you use a shotgun you have to choose your stand accordingly. It does little good to call the big open areas and have your coyote hang up at 75 or 100 yards when you need him inside 40, and preferably half that range. I think that is one reason that calling with a shotgun is so successful, besides the ability to hit them moving and knock them down. When I use a scatter gun I call in the thickest brush that I can find, and often there are only one or two lanes that a coyote can use to reach the call, and when he does he has to come down the gun barrel. It tends to be something like shooting grouse; one second there is nothing and the next second you swing and fire and a coyote piles into the ground. Having said that, I have to say that I seldom use a shotgun, unless I'm intent on killing coyotes on a complaint call, and the country is right for it.

A center fire rifle gives you much more flexibility, and if you can hit what you call it'll let you do much more. I have a fistful of .22 center fires, and two .17 caliber rifles that I like more then anything else when it comes to skinning fur. Any of the .22 center fires will cleanly kill a coyote if you hit him right, as will the .17's. Elsewhere on the net, I've put up a couple of posts discussing the .17 Rem. and the .223, so I'll spare you here. The thing that you have to remember is this: Coyotes are dead tough when it comes to soaking up punishment. I shot a coyote going away in New Mexico years ago with a .223, and when the bullet slapped him I could hear his teeth click as he bit at his backside. I blood trailed that coyote horseback for an easy mile before I lost him, and the old rancher that I was working with told me not to worry, because we would most likely pick up that coyote in a trap when he got hungry because he couldn't run to hunt. Two weeks later I caught that coyote in a steel trap. I skinned him and looked carefully to see what had happened. That bullet (a Blitz, I think) had hit him high in the ham and exploded on the ball joint in the pelvis. There were bits of jacket and bone driven throughout the muscle tissue, and that joint was ruined, but the skin had closed over the entrance wound (or more accurately crater) and I'm convinced that coyote would have lived quite a while longer if he had not put his foot into that trap.

As I have discussed elsewhere, Vic and I have put a hound on more then a few blood trails, and it is amazing when you catch up and see what kind of damage they can take and still go. So, this is what I think: Use any of the .22 center fires, and shoot them in the chest cavity. On front quartering shots, be careful not to get into the ball joint in the front shoulder. It will blow up most .22 bullets, up to and including the .22-250 and the Swift, and sometimes no fragments will reach the lungs, and that coyote will travel a long way. When you shoot at a coyote, listen with both ears. The high-velocity stuff will make an audible "slap" when it hits, and sometimes that is the only indication that you have that you hit him. If he falls in his tracks, watch him with one eye until you are done calling. Sometimes nonlethal hits shock them down, but in a minute or two they can recover and hit the brush. When in doubt on a wounded coyote, my advice is to take your time and shoot him again to anchor him. It beats trailing him into the next county. If you knock one down and he runs, or if you slap one that does not fall, look carefully at the spot where you last saw him, and pick some landmarks so you can walk to that spot. A coyote with a .22 cal. bullet square through the lungs can go a couple of hundred yards before he falls, and they blend in pretty well. If you are unsure of your hit, hawk the spot where he was when the rifle went off. Look for hair, blood, or stool . High hits in particular take a while to saturate the fur with blood to the point where it starts to drip and hit the ground, so trail him off at least a hundred yards, and if you can't make any sign walk in the direction that he went and keep your eyes on the ground. I don't know about anybody else, but if I call a coyote and don't kill it when I have a chance it puts me in a foul mood for two days, so I make damned sure that I missed before I quit.

If you choose to shoot a .17, be even more careful. If you stay away from heavy bone, the .17's kill like a thunderbolt, and rarely do more then leave a pinprick entrance wound. If you are working on stock killers, or any coyote that you want to be sure of, you can step up to the 6 mm's or even bigger and give yourself an extra margin with those fringe shots. When I gotta have one, and I'm not sure what kind of a shot I'm going to be looking at, I use a .257 Weatherby and light 75 or 85 gr. bullets. It's overkill, all right, but bone or no bone that rifle puts them down.

A word about optics: I'm a scope snob, but I shoot Leupold - period. The Vari-X II 2X7 with the heavy duplex cross hair on my Sako .17 has killed a hundred coyotes or so, and I have several of the new Vari-X III 1.75X6 compacts on other varmint guns. Leupold makes a clear, bright scope that holds zero, and what more can you ask? You don't need more scope then 6X for the majority of calling situations, and my variables seldom move off of that setting, even up close. For calling coyotes (and everything else except dog towns) I like the duplex. It seems to lead your eye to the center, and it's easy to pick up running coyotes with. Make sure when you mount your scope that you have the proper eye relief. When that rifle hits your shoulder your head should be behind the scope with a full field of view. When a coyote is turning inside out to leave the country you don't need to be fooling around trying to find a sight picture. Another tip for the day: If you don't shoot with two eyes open, start. You should shoot your coyote rifle just like you do a shotgun. Unless you are cross-dominant, your master eye will take over and see the recticle when the gun comes to the shoulder. I thought that everybody shot with both eyes open when I started, but after watching enough people hunt for their target by sweeping the scope back and forth like a telescope I learned better. You should have both eyes on the coyote as the rifle comes up. When it settles into your shoulder, you should suddenly see a bigger coyote (because of the scope magnification) with a cross hair laying on him. If that isn't happening for you, take an empty rifle, make sure that the eye relief on the scope is correct, and walk around pointing at things. Soon you will be able to look at an object, raise the rifle, and see it through the scope with the cross hair centered in one natural motion. If it seems awkward or persevere, I promise you that you'll kill more coyotes that way.

You should now have a fair idea how to approach calling coyotes. So out you go with your call and your camo and your rifle. Play the wind correctly and ease into your stand and set up with good cover and a good field of fire. Start your call, being careful not to use too much volume, and 30 minutes later you haven't seen a coyote, or anything else for that matter except the hawk that made a pass over the call to see if he could pick up a free meal ask yourself "what happened? Was it some tricky little breeze that carried your scent the wrong way? Did you move at the wrong time to scratch your nose? Was there some tone in your call that sounded false and alerted that coyote not to come in? It could have been any of those things, but most likely it was none of them. I think that the most common reason that you fail to call a coyote is that there is no coyote within earshot to be called. In many places coyotes are common, but depending on the prevailing breeze, terrain, vegetation, background noise, etc., you have to be within a certain distance in order to pull a coyote in. There is lots of speculation as to what that distance might be, and I don't know how you can know for sure unless you radio collar a coyote and experiment, but you gotta have a coyote there to start with in order to call him.

That brings us to scouting. When you hunt a familiar area you tend to repeat patterns that have been successful for you in the past. I have stands in this valley where I have killed coyotes for almost 15 years, and sometimes I'll find myself a little frustrated when I've visited half a dozen of my favorite stands and not killed anything. If I start to pay attention, though, I'll realize what the problem is in a hurry. Coyotes tend to travel the same dirt roads that trucks do, and they leave sign. There is a particular part of this valley where a subdivision was planned years ago and never materialized beyond a grid of roads and some signs among the mesquite. Up until two weeks ago there was no coyote sign at all. When we drove out that way today the roads were thick with scat and tracks, and a little closer look showed why. There is a big animal down out there somewhere; a cow that a rancher hauled out and dumped, or more likely one or more deer that crawled off to die in the rifle season, and the coyotes are showing the signs of feeding on ripened meat in the form of the black squirts. They will be in there until that carrion is gone, and they will respond to a call there until they move out.

Many callers and trappers use a siren as a locator in the morning, and a mouth-blown howler or cassette tape will work as well. The resident coyotes will howl or bark back if they are in earshot. If you get a siren that will plug into the lighter socket of your pickup, you can cover a lot of ground in a short time locating coyotes. Once you find them, set up with the terrain and wind in mind and pull them in to you. You can also find coyotes by induction. If there is food, there will most likely be coyotes, and if there is food in conjunction with water and cover there will surely be coyotes. As I mentioned before, they will work the agriculture in season, and coyotes will eat melons and pumpkins and apples like deer when they can get them.

High rabbit populations, particularly in so-so years when the jackrabbits tend to crop up in pockets, will pull coyotes into an area, as will calves in season, when the coyotes will at the least hang around to feed on the afterbirths, if they don't take the calves themselves as they are being born. Take the time to scout and find the concentrations, and your #'s will go up. Remember, you can't call him if he can't hear you."

Good hunting.

Editor: Vic & John-Henry have an excellent web site at Vic & John-Henry's Coyote Calling Page It should be required reading by anyone interested in calling coyotes.

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