The annual Lull
This conversation took place recently on my friend Leonard’s predator hunting forum at huntmastersbbs.com. His forum is frequented by some of the most experienced and successful predator callers in the nation. Guys that don’t post very often, but when they do, it’s usually on huntmasters and it’s usually worth paying attention to! Leonard himself is an extremely accomplished predator hunter with 50 years of experience with most of it being at night. Scott Huber, you should know from his previous contributions here at coyotestuff.com – he’s been a professional coyote man for decades and his insights and observations never fail to arouse interest and cause us to think.
So, here’s a conversation with Scott and Leonard, discussing the fact that the calling always gets slow this time of year and what if anything you can do about it.
Our friend Fred, of .220 Redline fame, actually got this one started.
Scott and Leonard, I’d like to get your take on the big slow down in calling that happens every year in my area. This lull in calling success starts right after Christmas and goes all through Jan. and continues into Feb. I’m not sure when it normally ends as I typically am done calling for the year by mid Feb.
My thoughts are that it’s caused by a combination of factors at work.
My opinion, the two biggest factors are that the coyote population is near its annual low and there isn’t a coyote still alive in my area that hasn’t been called already by the week after Christmas.
So, my theory is, there are fewer coyotes than any other time of the year. You have a higher percentage of the remaining coyotes recently experiencing hunting pressure and exposed to calling than any other time of the year.
In my area there is always a fresh influx of callers right after Christmas too. There are more callers and more calling pressure being put on the coyotes around New Years than any other time of year. Many of these callers are busy with big game hunts earlier in the year and are just getting their attention turned to calling around Christmas. And… All the new callers and rifles and stuff guys get for Christmas, it’s real. Many of them are on Christmas vacation and have time to get out. The weekend after Christmas, in the valleys just west of Salt Lake there are comical numbers of guys out calling and a lot of them appear to have no experience or knowledge of how to do it.
And, last but not least, the contests get going full strength once big game seasons are done too.
Add it all up, you got a lot more guys hunting a lot fewer but more educated coyotes.
And on top of all that… Mating and breeding season takes a lot of attention, energy and time for some of the coyotes. It does nothing to help the calling. Yeah, I know, use vocals. That’s what everybody says. It’s what I say too. But I have never seen voclas work anywhere even close to as good this time of year as rabbit does before Christmas. I mean, like, NEVER. Never even CLOSE.
Okay, one should never say never, with coyotes. And I just did. I’m sure I’ll have to pay for that, LOL!
So I’d like to get your thoughts on my theories and opinions about the lull that many callers see starting around New Years.
I don’t have a lot to add because that matches my experience pretty well Dave, and we hunt the same areas. Well, not totally, because I hunt way north and way south, as well. But when I consider the northern aspects, that’s what I see. Also, I have always felt that the best calling of the entire year is September and October.
But, another thing. as far as the moon phase argument goes, that’s a little complicated. I think the night hunting is best under a new moon. I also think that daytime calling during a new moon is somewhat retarded, and damned if I know why but I’m just basing it on 50+ years of casual observation. So, don’t ask me to produce the proof.
Another corollary, I think is that calling, all things being equal, is a little better during both sides of a full moon. I have heard some say that it is because coyotes are afraid of their own shadows at night under a full moon. Might be an old wives tale for all I know but fact is, coyotes are a lot more spooky under full moon conditions. Of course, the main thing is….they can see you!
I don’t care how slow the movements or whatever you are wearing, but with very little moonshine, a coyote can see you while making a stand, at night. I know that you don’t really care about night hunting, (and that’s a shame) but it all ties together, in my opinion.
Most coyote calling topics have been literally beat to death but this (“lulls”) is not one of those topics.
In fact, I would venture to say that the topic of what factors/variables create success and which factors/variables lead to failure is probably the most relevant and least understood topic of all within the coyote calling discussions.
Dave, I hope you don’t mind if I copy/paste a couple of your statements and respond to them directly. I believe they are worth repeating and expounding upon and I don’t want anything lost in translation.
“Lulls” can be weekly, monthly, and they are definitely seasonal for some of the reasons mentioned. Success and failure also varies from area to area depending on numerous variables some of which I will elaborate on.
Dave said: “So, you have fewer coyotes than any other time of the year. You have a higher percentage of them recently experiencing hunting pressure and exposed to calling than any other time of the year.”
Dave said: ” And on top of all that… Mating and breeding season takes a lot of attention, energy and time for some of the coyotes. It does nothing to help the calling. Yeah, I know, use vocals. That’s what everybody says. It’s what I say too. But I have never seen voclas work anywhere even close to as good this time of year as rabbit does before Christmas. I mean, like, NEVER. Never even CLOSE.”
I agree here too (mating and breeding interests and distress vs. vocalizations) BUT when considering less coyotes and more call shy coyotes from primarily distress calls, as you mentioned, vocalizations become more important at this time of year for that reason alone. Now combined with the fact, as you also mentioned, that coyotes are now pairing up and they are becoming more interested in their own kind, I have found that coyotes will respond better to vocals, in comparison to prey distress sounds, at this time of year better than at any other time.
There is another factor here that must be considered, as the segment of the coyote population that was born the previous spring reaches a higher level of maturity, they become less fearful and more attracted to other mature coyotes. Adult coyotes will show an interest in vocalizations at any time of year but that attraction is not the same for a young dispersing coyote as it is when they reach a higher level of maturity and confidence.
Coyotes are always interested in their own kind but never more than when they are mating, breeding, and picking out their den areas. You can use that to your advantage if for no other reason than just to know where they are and get moved in closer to them.
When I was hot and heavy into coyote calling, I was very disappointed if I didn’t average a coyote on every other stand. I remember a well known TV and youtube celebrity tell me he averaged a coyote on every third stand. Well for most callers, those days are gone unless you have exclusive access or are just lucky enough to have an area to yourself. Most places are overrun by the FOX PRO army and that’s just a fact of life. Anyone who has done any amount of coyote calling in places open to predator hunting has seen a dramatic drop in success simply based on the volume of coyotes exposed to it.
Now for those guys/gals who never experienced calling success like some of us have and they don’t have those experiences to compare to, they might be thrilled to death to call a coyote on two stands or less out of 10 stands.
The changes in the coyote calling game in recent years are overwhelming. Between YouTube and TV, there is a host of overnight sensations in the coyote calling world. Coyote calling contests have led to guys leasing up land for these contests. I have also heard of guys leasing land for exclusive coyote calling rights.
Guys with no interest in legitimate predator control work are now using decoy dogs and trying to convince themselves that they are helping the predator situation in a given area by leaving one of a pair of coyotes to attend to coyote pups in a den somewhere. Many calling techniques that have been closely guarded within the ranks of ADC men for many years now find their way into the private sector through YouTube and TV where they can be abused by the masses for celebrity status. Don’t care if I offend anyone with that statement or not, that’s just the way it is.
In summary, the biggest challenge here is to figure out what the coyotes in a given area have been exposed to and change your strategy accordingly.
Leonard said: “But, another thing. as far as the moon phase argument goes, that’s a little complicated. I think the night hunting is best under a new moon. I also think that daytime calling during a new moon is somewhat retarded, and damned if I know why but I’m just basing it on 50+ years of casual observation.”
Scott’s response: A friend of mine and I had a real good discussion recently on the moon phase topic as well as weather changes (barometric pressure changes) and how they affect coyote behavior independent from each other.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of good studies and information available on how coyote behavior changes according to moon phase and weather changes. At least not that I have seen in print.
What I can rely on is my own observations as well as the observations of others who have shot and trapped enough coyotes to draw some tested, valid conclusions.
Here is what I know for sure, like many other animals, coyotes can detect weather changes before they arrive. These weather changes will see many animals out searching for food before a major change in the weather.
My friend, based on acute trapping observations and a tone of critters taken over many years, believes this activity will peak about 72 hours before the weather system arrives and taper down to the time of it’s arrival. I found that very interesting and I really trust his knowledge and understanding of coyote behavior. We both believe the intensity of this activity will be directly proportionate to the intensity of the arriving weather/storm.
Coyote callers who are not paying attention to the behavior of all animals are really missing an important element in predicting coyote calling success.
What I personally know to be true on this subject is that coyote activity reaches it’s peak about 72 hours after a major change in the weather particularly a significant new blanket of snow. We have seen this for years based on aerial hunting success to the point where it is not even subject to debate anymore. One would think the peak of coyote activity would be immediately following the storm but that is not the case.
My friend’s support for this theory on the 72 hour activity following the storm is based on how long he believes it takes coyotes to really get hungry after being laid up and not moving much during the storm. I have to agree that this theory makes perfect sense. To expound on this further, I also believe this time delay after the storm has to do with a behavioral adjustment to this dramatic change in a coyote’s environment. There is so many of the coyote’s natural food sources which are now covered up with snow. That fact prompts an increased need to travel in colder temperatures which leads to more energy requirements which leads to a greater need to obtain food.
My friends theory of the peak of this coyote activity preceding the weather change starting 72 hours prior to the weather arriving was an interesting observation. I cannot either confirm or deny this change in behavior being that much in advance of a major weather system but I have enough trust in his observational skills to support it. The 72 hour follow-up activity is undeniable.
We also discussed how animals in search of food during the period of time preceding a major weather change can be so intense that they will often throw normal cautions to the wind. In this situation, they place their survival instinct to obtain food ahead of their survival instinct to fear man and his electronic rabbits. This is particularly noticeable before a dramatic weather change such as a major blizzard.
Coyote behavior is always a battle between survival instincts and caution. The more desperate the situation, the more that survival instincts will win over normal cautions.
Food preparation before a big change in the weather and movement and obtaining food following that weather change are two factors that should be worthy of consideration.
Moon phase…..my friend and I also visited about moon phases. It is common knowledge that coyotes see better than humans can see at night. With that said, I do not believe coyotes can see as good on dark nights as humans can see during normal daylight hours. In other words, we both believe that obtaining food on moonlit nights is easier for coyotes than on dark nights ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL (olfactory considerations). Therefore we both believe there is more movement on darker nights.
When coyotes rely equally on their noses as well as their eye sight, they are going to be more successful in hunting and therefore have to move less on nights where they can see better ALL OTHER FACTORS BEING EQUAL (prey availability).
Now, once social behavior becomes just as important as obtaining food (December – February), the game changes again.
Too bad someone hasn’t really broke this down with gps radio collars on coyotes.
A lot of this is just theory based on observations!
Leonard responds: Good points Scott.
Something to bear in mind if like me, you can’t always hang around in hunting country for 72 hours before and after a weather front. But, I will say, if I’m caught in it and wait it out, I have found that coyotes do the same thing as the deer do and that is, seek lower elevations, valleys and creek bottoms, that sort of cover. And if not strictly holding in cover, in place, and they do drop down, sometimes they decide to hunt, if they have managed to get into the lee of the wind. So, that’s what I do, drop down and hunt the back side of the mountain. I especially like to catch them when it stops snowing. For me, that’s a stimulation without regard to a three day waiting period which I can’t afford to wait out.
In fact, I have developed methods for dealing with severe weather that a lot of guys would consider a bit too extreme. But, in a contest, when you know that other teams might have better conditions than I do, I sometimes feel like I have to hunt in that crap and it’s not especially sporting, but it involves getting them to look at you and I will let you ponder what you have to do, to get a coyote to get up and look at you. But, sometimes two coyotes is a big deal when everybody else is sipping coffee at the diner.
Scott responds: Yeah Leonard, I concur with you on the places to hunt immediately preceding, during, and immediately following one of these major weather systems. They will either be tucked into cover or hunting where they are out of the wind.
I am simply suggesting that if you are limited in when you can go coyote hunting and you are going to try to select the best days, the 72 hour theory may prove to be the biggest movements and provide the best responses ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL. Sorry for that constant disclaimer but there is just too many other variables.
Not suggesting for anyone to wait the system out or not to hunt during it. As you suggest, if you are limited to only certain days when you can go calling or if you are in a coyote calling contest, you can’t pick your days.
Dave replies to both: Great stuff, both of you. Thanks, I appreciate it! I’m sure a lot of guys will find some really useful information here that they can put to real world use.