It’s February, and love-struck coyotes are looking to pass on their genes. Yes, howling works well and should be your go-to tactic. Still, coyote talk works even better when you find where February and March dogs hang out. That involves coyote hunting on cattle farms.
Just take my own recent hunt, for example. It was the fourth pair in six stands—easily the best day of howling-in song dogs I’d ever experienced. Aside from some sup-par shooting by yours truly, my hunting partner and I harvested six of the eight dogs that came into our howling efforts.
It was late February, which is peak breeding in my neck of southeast Colorado. We didn’t see single males coming to female whines, whimpers, and howls. They did respond to mating pairs, showcasing a combination of curiosity and territorial defense.
The Where: Cattle Pasture Is King
I could go on about the correct howling language to speak at different periods of the breeding cycle, but that topic has been beaten harder than a garage rug. Our coyote crew has developed a system, and believe it or not, that system was created after hours of studying our HuntStand maps to see where we were killing February and March dogs and reading our notes about each encounter.
What we discovered is the where mattered more than the how. Meaning, while making natural-sounding coyote talk was important, creating those sounds in areas where mating or looking-to-mate coyotes were frequenting was the key component to consistent success.
It became crystal clear that when we found cattle, we found coyotes. That statement can be confirmed many times during the year but is predominantly factual during mating season.
The Why: Easy Meals
February and March mean calving season in many western locales and other areas around the country. When calves start hitting the ground, coyotes know it. Of course, they will take full advantage of a sick calf or mama, but mostly, they eat the afterbirth. Afterbirth has a massive concentration of minerals and vitamins, which is why cattle consume the placenta at certain times. The placenta is an organ that connects the mother and baby’s circulatory systems. When they can, coyotes slip in and have a leisurely meal fit for a king.
Once you find a bunch of cows dropping babies, you can bank on the fact that there will be coyotes nearby. When food is easy to come by, paired-up coyotes can do their business, loaf, and not have to spread out in search of rabbits, rodents, or other game.
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Aside from the afterbirth, it’s expected for a mama cow or two to perish either during the birthing process or after. This is especially true when you find a pasture rich with heifers. A heifer is a female cow that has not had any offspring, which makes for an increased chance of birth complications. When hunting private land or government lands leased by ranchers, I get in touch with them and find out about their herd. Most will grant you permission and be thrilled you’re on the prowl to protect their livelihood. Public and private land info is easy to access through HuntStand.
Coyotes are generally monogamous, and a breeding pair might stay together for several years. Depending on the size of the cattle-rich area you’re hunting, there may only be a single breeding pair in the area. The alpha male and alpha female will breed, but it’s common to find a pack that includes this year’s and, often, the previous year’s young.
The How: Late-Winter Coyote Calling Tactics
Our general rule of thumb is after we call around a group of cattle, we move between 3/4 and 1 mile before making another stand. Of course, we often drive long distances between pieces of property holding cattle. If we find pockets of pronghorn or mule deer at any point during our driving—which are two species common in my area—we make a stand. No, speed goats and muley mamas aren’t dropping young in February and March, but they are prey animals, and whenever we find abundant prey, we typically call a dog or two with howls.
From late February through March, our go-to howls are male howls. Our thought process is that most coyotes are paired up during this timeframe, and some pairs run a pack. Typically, the alpha male won’t tolerate a new male dog encroaching on his territory, and often drags the female along with him. We also like to use lots of whines and yelps to play on the curiosity of resident coyotes.
I advise avoiding prey sounds, especially if you’re hunting near cattle that are dropping young. The dogs in that area are getting an easy meal, and by this point in the season, most dogs have heard every call in the book, including bird, prairie dog, and other sounds that seem to work like magic during the fall months.
It’s important to remember to give February and March stands time to produce when coyote hunting on cattle farms. I’m an impatient hunter, and when using prey sounds, if I don’t have a coyote in my scope or binocular after 20 minutes, I pull the plug and move. During the breeding season, I extend my sits to 45 minutes. Sometimes it takes a while to strike the right nerve, and often, unlike screaming into a distress call, dogs come slow and methodical to the sound of a howl.
Case Study: Ending Where We Started
I do realize that it’s easy to lose interest if you sit down to make a stand, let out a few interrogation howls, and don’t get a response. It’s even harder to stay put if you make a few howls every three or four minutes after making those initial howls and still don’t get a response. Vocality confirms a coyote’s presence and fills us with confidence; however, lack of vocality doesn’t mean there aren’t coyotes in the area or on the way.
So, let’s go back to how this article started—the four pairs in six stands. Two pairs never made so much as a whimper, and both took over 35 minutes to come to the call. The other two pairs emerged like they were shot out of a canon and were very vocal. After our interrogation howls, males challenged, we challenged back, and they came on a run.
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We sit in areas where dogs can’t get the high ground, sit down, and scan for the calls. Much like a bull elk coming to the sound of a bugle, a male coyote will stop, look, and leave the second he knows he should see the other noisemaker and doesn’t. If one must give up some high ground, we make sure it’s within 400 yards of the setup.
Overall, cattle are not the end-all-be-all of capitalizing on breeding coyotes. Like many things I’ve learned in hunting, it’s a tool that gives me an advantage. And when I find cows dropping calves, it’s time to howl some dogs into range and pop some pelts.
Gear Bag: Coyote Gear to Get
Every hunter has slightly different gear preferences. That includes coyote hunters. When certain items perform well, outdoorsmen and women go back to those things. They work with what they know works well. Here are some items to consider.
Howling season is a great time to use a coyote decoy. A trained, live dog, or a decoy like Montana Decoy’s Sitting Coyote or Song Dog Coyote, are great tools. I prefer a decoy in open country and hilly terrain where dogs get the high ground. Both decoy options are affordable, especially for the added advantage they offer. MSRP: $69.99
Those searching for a great caping and skinning knife can find it in Cold Steel’s Click ‘N’ Cut Hunting Kit. This kit serves numerous purposes and offers multiple types of blades ranging from 3.5-6 inches. With it comes a 3.5-inch caper blade, 4-inch skinning blade with gut hook, 4-inch general purpose blade, 5-inch boning blade, and 6-inch bone saw. It features a textured handle and handy case. MSRP: $99.99
The Mantis Pro 100 by HME is an excellent e-caller. This compact, handheld option is remote controlled. It is pre-loaded with 100 sounds, including numerous calls coyote hunters benefit from. The Mantis Pro also offers 32MB internal memory and 4-inch high-output speaker with volume up to 110db. It even has an external power jack and sync connector with mounting bracket for a motorized decoy, and much more. MSRP: $119.99
Those who prefer a more traditional hand-held our mouth call might consider something else. The Hunters Specialties Johnny Stewart Coyote Hooker Predator Call is one. This option from Johnny Stewart is a great for those learning to use this style of call. It implements an internal reed design and external molded membrane to easily moderate the pitch of the call. MSRP: $11.99