Coyotes can be hunted year-round in many states—and some say they should be in order to protect livestock and pets, along with fawns and other game animals. But coyotes are elusive critters and they’re tough to hunt even in areas where populations are high. That’s why some of the most diehard coyote hunters use coyote hunting dogs. A well-trained coyote hunting dog can be used to locate, chase, and sometimes even catch coyotes. But the most intriguing and deadly tactic is to use dogs as live decoys.
Known as “decoy dogging” or “tolling with dogs”, this technique is all about triggering a coyote’s territorial response. Hunters use the dogs to draw a coyote (or a whole pack of them) into shooting range. This gives the hunter more and better shot opportunities. Beyond that, it’s flat-out fun to watch working dogs do their thing, and coyote hunting dogs are no exception.
When to Use Coyote Hunting Dogs
Rusty Gamble has been chasing coyotes in Idaho for most of his life. The winner of last year’s World Championship Coyote Calling Contest in Elko, Nevada, Gamble is an expert caller and an all-around coyote slayer. He says he started using coyote hunting dogs about 12 years ago, and he now hunts with them almost exclusively during the spring and summer months.
It’s during this period, from roughly the end of February through August, that coyotes decoy the best, Gamble explains. Coyotes are territorial by nature, but during breeding season in the spring and summer, they’re extra aggressive and protective of their turf. This is key, because the whole idea behind decoy dogging is to get the coyote fired up enough to chase down a dog.
“It’s a territory thing, and they’re coming to kill the dog. But since you’re there you don’t let that happen,” Gamble says. “You just want them chasing back and forth, and the more interested the coyotes are in the dogs, the less interested they are in you, the hunter.”
This might sound like a risky tactic for the dog, but Gamble never lets his dogs physically engage with coyotes, and he’s never lost a dog to one. Most of the time, the coyotes and dogs will just chase each other back and forth, which allows the hunter to take their time and choose their shot. In Gamble’s case, he enjoys filming the whole back-and-forth. Since the coyotes are distracted, he’s free to pull out his camera or just watch from afar. The exception is when a big alpha male comes in to play.
“They come in straight on a string with hackles up,” Gamble explains. “They aren’t running at the dog and then away like most coyotes do. They’re there to kill the dog and you can tell 100 percent. So, when that happens, you just shoot ‘em.”
How to Use Dogs as Decoys
Some hunters train staghounds and other bigger, faster dogs to actually run a coyote down and kill it. Others will send a dog out after a faraway howler and have the dog find the coyote before teasing it back into range. However, Gamble uses his dogs strictly as decoys, which means he does all the calling to bring the coyotes in (just as you would during a typical coyote hunt). As soon as his dog can see the coyote, he cuts the dog loose and the game begins.
As you can see in the video below, Gamble hunts in open country so he can see the action unfold and keep track of his dogs. You’ll also notice that he’s not hidden quite as carefully as you would on a typical coyote hunt, since the coyotes are so focused on the dogs.
The type of calling that Gamble does is also important. While distressed rabbit calls and other traditional prey calls will certainly draw coyotes (and other predators) into range, a coyote that responds to a howl, a pup in distress, or the sound of coyotes fighting will decoy a lot better. Their territorial response is already triggered by this point, and by the time they see the dog, they’re ready for a fight.
The other most important piece of gear, according to Gamble, is a good electric collar. He signals a beep on the collar to turn his dogs around when he needs to. Sometimes this is to give himself a better shot, and other times it’s for the dog’s safety. At first the dogs will chase the coyotes farther afield, then when they get called back, the coyotes will chase the dogs back to the shooter.
“The biggest thing is being able to beep your dog and have them turn and come back,” he says. “That’s really the hard part. Because once a dog starts chasing something, they want to keep after it until it’s either gone or they’ve caught it.”
How to Train a Decoy Dog
Aside from e-collar training, Gamble says that getting a dog to engage with a coyote isn’t all that hard. All the pups he’s trained have taken to it right away, and he thinks that a dog’s willingness to chase a coyote is just as natural as a coyote’s instinct to protect its territory.
Breeds do matter, though, and Gamble mostly uses smaller working dogs for decoying. He started with a heeler and now relies on a string of mini-Australian Shepherd crosses. He’s also used Jagdterriers. He says that one of the best coyote hunting dogs he’s ever had was a Mountain Cur named Striker that was born to give coyotes hell.
The Benefits of Using Coyote Hunting Dogs
Gamble uses dogs for the same reason that bird hunters, coon hunters, and mountain lion hunters do: it’s fun and effective. He says an ideal scenario that proves this point would be calling in a pack of four coyotes into shooting range.
A good rifle hunter will be able to put at least one of the coyotes down, but even the sharpest shooter will struggle to kill more than two before the pack scatters and heads for the hills. With a dog working as a decoy, however, there’s a good chance you can re-trigger that territorial response and get the coyotes to come back into range after the first shot.
“If you do it right, you can shoot one coyote and then the other three coyotes will run off,” Gamble says. “The dogs will run after them, and after a while they’ll start chasing each other again. Then you can beep the dogs back and the coyotes will follow. Then you get another shot, and you just keep repeating that process until you’ve killed all four.”
There’s no doubt that using coyote hunting dogs is a more brutal way to hunt—after the shot, the dogs typically tear into a coyote. But Gamble says that the point of hunting with dogs is that it simply enhances the overall experience. Anyone who’s ever walked behind a pointer, sent their lab on a retrieve, or ran after a pack of hounds has felt that primeval bond between man and dog, no matter what type of game you’re after.