Solo-hunting the perfect predator

  • Joe Judd Contributed photo

Published: 3/13/2019 8:50:32 PM

After a successful deer-hunting season in December, New Year’s Eve absolutely slammed me to the concrete as back-to-back cases of vertigo laid me out horizontally for the entire month of January! I even missed seminars that were scheduled for me at the Yankee Classic Sportsman Show in Essex Junction, Vt. First time that has happened in the 15 years I’ve been going there.

Despite the show organizers being gracious about the whole thing, I still felt horrible having to pull out on them at the last minute. However, I really had no choice, as I was pretty much down for the count. In addition, it wasn’t until the beginning of February that I really started feeling well enough again to get out and into the woods to start hunting eastern coyotes or, as I refer to them, brush wolf.

 January and February are the months I chase these critters as often as possible. And while it's not quite on par with deer and turkey hunting, I love it just the same. The challenge of chasing and calling to this creature not only extends my season but also, without a doubt, makes me a better hunter as matching wits with this “perfect predator” one on one is a definite challenge.

Think about it. They have perfect eyesight, incredible hearing, and survive mainly by their sense of smell. Put this all together and you have a “perfect predator”, making it very difficult at times to hunt them solo. That said, this shortened season was becoming another lesson in frustration, as I couldn’t seem to get into them at all, even though I knew they were here in the area I was hunting. My calling efforts had been just as dismal up to this point as only twice during this period did I have responses. But not once did I have an opportunity for a shot.

Other methods of hunting can make the success rate look a lot better. Guys like Digger Neipp and Brad Bardwell hunt them with dogs, which in truth is a great way to put them down in numbers, especially if you are a farmer having trouble protecting your livestock. You can baitthem, which manypeople do with various rates of success. But for me, hunting them solois the only way to go.

I was originally taught to hunt them this way.Moreover, it would take more than vertigo — or a poor year or two — for me to change something that has served me well for many, many years.

All that said, it was the middle of February and I’d been back after them now for about 10 days. On this morning, I was moving up into a spot where I was hoping to set up and do some calling. I felt very comfortable being here again, as I had hunted the area successfully many times. The night before had brought about 4 inches of new snow, and tracks of all kinds were everywhere.

However, the cold air was bitterly cruel that morning, and was biting me in very unkind ways, as I moved up and into this area where I was hoping to have some luck. This cold air was distracting me in ways that it normally doesn’t. I wrote it off as not being myself yet after the tough January and continued on. But whatever was going on with me that morning, it was clear that I wasn’t hunting smart, as my mind seemed to be in other places rather than on that ridge, focused on the moment. So, it shouldn’t be hard to believe that I was completely caught by surprise when two good size coyotes appeared in front of me, about 90 yards out.

I was caught totally off guard as I watch them loping through the hardwoods above me. Two quick shots did nothing except frighten them off that ridge, quite possibly for a good long while. After checking to be certain, it became obvious that I’d missed them both clean. And I kicked myself mentally, knowing that I was pushing now, while using the fact that I’d lost the month of January, with the season quickly coming to an end, as an excuse. Let’s be honest, I was lucky to even see those animals, much less think I would get one of them … because I was hunting stupid. And that’s something you simply cannot do when you hunt eastern coyotes alone.

Hunting these animals solo is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done as hunter. I’ve been chasing these creatures this way for over 30 years, and if you happen to be hunting them solo yourself without much luck, or if you’re trying to decide if you want to, you need to think about what you’ve been doing thus far, and then re-think the whole process before you get started or change the tactics you’ve been using up to now. 

Do you sometimes watch coyote hunts on TV and wonder how these people seem to call them into the gun every single time they make a call? If you do, then rest easy on that issue, because you are not alone. I’ve wondered the same thing myself many times. Especially if I’ve been hunting hard for days, only managing to call in an occasional crow looking for an easy meal. Or if my ears are ringing from imitating the constant screams of a dying rabbit repeatedly with nothing to show for it. Because, for me, hunting these, “cocky sons-a-guns,” while consistently having an opportunity for success, is the name of game. Believe me when I tell you that it’s not easy, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

You would at least like to know that your doing the right things when you’re out there…right? That was a big problem when I first started. If it hadn’t been for Dennis Kirk (the best fox and coyote caller I’ve ever heard in the northeast) teaching and encouraging me that there was hope, chances are I would have quit the sport years ago and never picked up a predator call again. Oh man, what I would have missed had that happened. Therefore, in the spirit of giving back a little, here’s a few quick ideas (that I had to learn the hard way) which may get your juices flowing for coyote hunting. Or, perhaps, it might just persuade you to try something a little different than what you’ve been doing up to now. If your hunting like I did when I first started this madness — and chances are you’re doing it much better than I was way back then — you’re probably making moves that is simply keeping the coyotes away from you. All you have do is figure out what that is…and that is where the fun starts.   

Confidence is something I never had much of when I first started hunting coyotes. Over the years, that’s changed drastically as confidence, like anything else you do, is something you gain over time. In this game, confidence has a dual meaning to it as the animal your hunting must also be confident as it approaches you. If a moving coyote feels confident, they feel comfortable. When they feel comfortable in what they’re hearing and sensing, then they aren’t as concerned with their safety.

This all begins with your approach. For me, this begins at my truck, because as it is with anything we hunt, you can’t consistently have an opportunity for success if something is aware of your presence. Especially with these, “clever beasts,” who have excellent senses. 

Whenever possible, I park my vehicle where coyotes, or anything I’m hunting, can’t see it or hear it. Sounds from a vehicle can travel a long way in the quiet of the morning or in a very rural setting.Slamming a car door, which a pressured coyote has probably heard a hundred times or more, can be an immediate alarm to them. When I’m quiet leaving my truck, when I’m playing the wind the best I can on the way to my stand — which means not only being aware of the wind direction but also wearing some type of Scent Shield along with a cover scent that gives off no threat whatsoever to a nearby coyote — then I know I’m hunting smart. Speaking of cover scents, fox urine gives me confidence in being able to approach my set-up as effectively as possible. I guarantee that you will never have decent luck solo-hunting coyotes if you aren’t paying attention to these, and other small details.

If you want to instill confidence in your setups, you need to incorporate calls that coyotes find not only non-threatening, but also interesting. On cold winter days, I like to use what’s called, “the lonesome howl,” to sometimes get things started. This long, non-threatening howl proclaims that a coyote is in the area but not looking for a fight. Coyotes are curious by nature. And in February, during breeding season, this call can sometimes work magic.

Once in the woods heading to your calling site, you must keep track of the wind, especially when setting up to call. I made this mistake repeatedly in my early days of coyote hunting and I paid for it many times over. Coyotes hate human scent. They won’t tolerate getting a snoot full of you. If possible, always try to remain upwind of your scent, even if this requires extra effort. A place where your scent is apt to travel either away from where you think the critters might be, or, where the wind will potentially rise over their heads when you’re approaching your stand, is ideal.

In the early years of predator hunting, I used to read whatever I could find about calling, which was very little at the time. I read how western hunters called for 15 minutes and if nothing responds, move to a new site. Dennis Kirk set me straight on that the first time I predator hunted with him in New York. Kirk taught me that often, especially in New England, your dealing with educated, and many times, paranoid coyotes. He told me, “sometimes they’re going take longer coming to a call simply because of the hunting pressure their often under.” I took that advice to heart and from that point on things really started to change.

My rule of thumb these days is to sit and call for 20 minutes in a three-set sequence with at least five minutes of quiet between calls. I start with a hard strike that sounds like an animal in real distress. I often use a cottontail rabbit call for this. But I’ve also used a mouse squeaker, coon squaller, and at times a fawn in distress call. After five minutes, I hit that call again, only this time maybe half as loud because I’m trying to give the impression that the rabbit is weakening. Then, after another five minutes or so, I hit the call one last time, weaker still now, simulating a rabbit in real trouble.

When I blow these calls, I try to keep calling for one to two minutes. Which is a long time to blow one of these steadily. After that, I wait and watch for at least another 15 to 20 minutes. If nothing shows up within 45 minutes, then I’m up and moving out of the area, racing for a new location and another set-up. That usually means setting-up again at least three-quarters of a mile away. As more and more coyotes become call-shy or call-educated, it also becomes important to formulate your calling strategies to fool these paranoid coyotes. Mixing it up is a good strategy. Try not to call in the same location night after night, especially using the same calls. I never hunt in the same locations two days or nights in a row. These days, I try to hit a location every third or fourth day/night as rotating locations and using different calls when you’re there can really mix them up. Especially if you use some calls that are different than what they may be normally hearing.

So, to wrap this up (because there’s so much more we could get into with this) remember that coyotes are opportunistic. They may not always know what they’re hearing, but they seldom pass on a chance to eat. Keep in mind how important it is to be patient, which isn’t always an easy endeavor. Especially when its teeth-knocking, bone-chilling cold. It takes both skill and patience to have consistent opportunities when you solo huntcoyotes. Take these tips, learn more if you can, and apply all of it consistently. Be patient, and hopefully your hunt for a ’yote will end in success, sooner than later.


Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and outdoorsmen. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and consultant. Joe is currently an active member of the Quaker Boy Game Calls, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's Pro-Staff.


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