Coyote Basic Instincts – A Coyote Is A Coyote!

Scott Huber

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.

Scott setting trap in Wyoming
Scott setting trap in Wyoming


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.


Coyote eating mouse
Coyote eating mouse

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.

Wyoming alpha male during denning season responding to vocalizations
Wyoming alpha male during denning season responding to vocalizations

3. Reproduction instincts

This should be self-explanatory.

Mated pair with pup
Mated pair with pup

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.

Pair travelling on ice
Pair travelling on ice

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.


Pair on evening hunt
Pair on evening hunt

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.


Coyote Basic Instincts -  A Coyote Is A Coyote!
Article Name
Coyote Basic Instincts - A Coyote Is A Coyote!
Interview with Scott Huber, discussing the instincts of a coyote and what makes a coyote tick.
Publisher Name
Publisher Logo

9 thoughts on “Coyote Basic Instincts – A Coyote Is A Coyote!”

  1. Wow Dave, that was a great read! Thank you very much and also thank you to Scott. My only complaint is that I didn’t get to read more so I will definitely be awaiting the next write up. It had me hooked and I just wanted to keep reading and reading. I’ll bet that he’s one heck of a guy to talk to.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Chad. I’m sure Scott will appreciate them too. I’m already working on him for part two lol!

  2. “CONDITIONED RESPONSE”, yep I believe that. I also think individual personalities play a role in their behavior. Just like domestic dogs having very individual personalities. Times of the year when food is plenty and their existence is not just survival mode, I’m sure they have a playful existence most hunters never see.

    I’m sure you have seen it while out with your camera. Awesome pics as usual.

    1. Absolutely agree. They are all individuals with personalities on a continuum from submissive to aggressive, from curious to nouveau phobic, excitable to calm, impulsive to cautious and so on.

  3. Dave, great article BUT, too bad that you’ve once again cow-towed to the scumbags at Predatormasters. These same degenerates have banned many of your friends over the years, yet keep going back.

    1. I’m sorry you see it that way. I get it though. Several of my friends feel similar. Not that I’m kissing somebody’s butt, my friends know that ain’t happening, they just hate some of the people there so much they want the place to die and they think me posting there is somehow helping to keep it alive. I can’t change the way they see it. But I sure don’t see it that way. I have met a lot of good folks on that board. The only people I ever hunt with besides my partner Tim are guys from there.

      Life is way too short. For myself, I just let go of all that old bad business a long time ago and never even think about it except when someone else brings it up, like right now.

      I participate there for my own enjoyment. Sadly, there’s not another predator hunting board, not that I know of, that gets anywhere close to as much activity as that one. Forums are dying out in general, predator hunting boards especially. That one gets more activity than all the others combined, but it still isn’t much compared to what it used to be. I’m sure most of my friends will live long enough to get their wish and see it die, lol!

      Appreciate the comment. Can even appreciate the sentiment. But I’m going to post where I want to and it’s nobody else’s business.

  4. Dave,
    As a fellow Utah coyote hunter I love to follow your stories on PM and here as well. I have much to learn about coyote hunting and want to thank you for sharing your insight. You are clearly doing something right because I swear Utah coyotes seem to be the most educated dogs you can ever hunt! If you ever need a calling partner I’d love to tag along some time.


    1. Thanks Vance. Appreciate the comments! Utah coyotes definitely see some pressure. Quite a bit of it. And it can make for some tough calling even when you’re right in the middle of a bunch of them.

Comments are closed.