Scott Huber of Kadoka, South Dakota has spent decades as a full time predator control professional in South Dakota and Wyoming. He’s always been fascinated by coyote behavior and is a keen and inquisitive observer. His collection of coyote literature and scientific papers is vast. The combination of his decades of field experience and careful observation, his relentless study of all things coyote and his sharp inquisitive mind make him a wealth of coyote knowledge and insights. I’m proud to call him my friend and I’m grateful that he has agreed to give me some of his time to pick his brain about coyotes so I can share it with all of you.
Coyote Basic Instincts
DAA: There is an old saying that “a coyote is a coyote”. Not everyone agrees though. There is a school of thought prevalent among eastern coyote hunters that they are dealing with a different animal, or at least an animal with different behavior than coyotes out west.
Let’s just say for the sake of this discussion, that we are talking about coyotes and leave the question of how much wolf blood is in some eastern coyote populations for another time.
What are your thoughts on coyotes across their geographical range, is “a coyote a coyote”, wherever they live?
SH: Some of us have had many, many discussions relating to that saying.
Eastern coyotes vs. western coyotes, Northern coyotes vs. Southern coyotes, Chicago railroad coyotes to Northern wilderness coyotes. LA dumpster coyotes to Yellowstone coyotes.
What behavioral aspects are the same and which are different?
Here’s the meat and potatoes of some of those discussions.
We separated coyote basic instincts from other coyote behavior that will change to adapt to different environments.
From the standpoint of their basic instincts for survival, a coyote is a coyote.
From a behavioral standpoint, coyotes adapt their behavior to their environment in order to survive. Let’s start with the basic instincts first and we’ll carry on with the behavior discussions later.
Another favorite old saying of mine is, “if a coyote can’t eat it, can’t piss on it, or can’t screw it, it probably doesn’t interest him”. I am sure that could be subject to debate but there is a lot of realism in that statement in how it relates to the basic survival instincts of a coyote. Those are the driving forces.
From the standpoint of basic survival instincts, here’s some of the constants with coyotes:
1. Food instincts
They have to eat.
2. Territorial instincts
No matter where they are, mature coyotes once settled into an areas will elicit territorial behavior TO A POINT. Variables that affect their territorial behavior is prey availability and coyote populations in a given area.
3. Reproduction instincts
This should be self-explanatory.
4. Survival instincts
Behavior related to survival instincts becomes fascinating…
Hiding, nocturnal travel, avoiding danger, when and how to obtain food, traveling unseen, approaching and hunting against the wind, limiting vocalizations, taking advantage of vantage points, reacting to the reactions of other wildlife, scent markings, etc. etc.
Yeah, coyotes can certainly get to the point where they have no fear in certain situations but mostly when they have no need to fear.
Some will run from a pickup and not give a man on horseback a second look.
Some will watch you drive by when they are on a trot but if you slow down or stop they’re gone.
At times they’ll mouse right along side the tractor and not even look up.
Most coyotes will run from gunfire but some associate gunfire with food where prey animals such as prairie dogs are being shot.
I have seen them watch for traffic before crossing in both L.A. and on I-90. I have also seen them become road pizza. LOL!
I have seen adult pairs that lay adjacent to the calving pasture come in as soon as the rancher leaves in the morning like clockwork.
Important point: Many of these coyotes will be in a position to overlook the cattle during calving. Think about it!
I have seen coyotes lay flat in bare winter wheat fields and let cars go by then get up and trot across the road.
The term that I find to best describe varying coyote behavior is, it’s a “CONDITIONED RESPONSE”.
There’s an interesting story related to a coyote study in Chicago. One of the radio collared coyotes was laying down wind of a golf course. The lady doing the study who placed the radio collar on it could see the coyote. The coyote would watch the golf carts go by and maybe stretch and yawn periodically. She walked up wind of the coyote and it immediately recognized her smell and started barking. Now I have racked my brain trying to come up with a theory on this besides that this coyote identified HER, but I can’t.
5. Social instincts
Coyotes are interested in their own kind.
6. Maternal instincts
The maternal instincts of a coyote are second to none. They will go to great lengths to keep their family safe and well fed. A female will “usually” dig many cleanout holes while preparing to give birth. She can and will pick up and move at the first sign of disturbance.
Any experienced ADC man can tell you there is no coyote more difficult to hold in a trap than a wet female trying to get back to the den
DAA: Dang, that’s some good stuff Scott! I think I could keep asking you questions about appealing to each of those basic instincts from the perspective of a recreational caller for a long time. I hope we can circle back and talk about some of that in a future session.