A Moveable Feast

The realization that I was only half-armed for coyote hunting came to me during a hunt in western Connecticut. The hunt began on a cold, bleak December morning about a half hour before sunrise. The ground was covered with 8 inches of new, soft snow and I walked quietly a quarter mile from my Jeep to the power line I intended to hunt. My vantage point was a couple of hemlock trees from which I could see at least 150 yards in all directions.

After waiting about 20 minutes to let the woods calm down, I decided to try a tape produced by Johnny Stewart Wildlife Calls that mimicked the sound of coyote pups in distress. As I was about to turn on the player, I heard the distinctive yip-yip-yipping of several coyotes in the distance.

Sound carries on a cold, still morning, and the pack was farther away than its serenade indicated, but I still became confident that this was the right day and best place to hunt. The feeling did not last long, however. Long minutes passed and the coyotes ignored the tape. It was useless. Finally I tiptoed back to my Jeep for a sandwich and a cup of coffee. When I trudged back to my makeshift blind less than an hour later, coyote tracks punctuated the snow all around it.

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT

I was discouraged, but certain that they hadn't seen me or discovered my scent through all the masking fox urine I had sprinkled on my boots and around my blind. Obviously the coyotes had heard the tape, but they needed more persuasion than just sound. They had come in cautiously and slowly, and by the time they reached my setup I was already gone for coffee.

That's when I decided never to hunt pressured coyotes again without having more going for me than just calls. Often, the sound of a squealing rabbit without some sort of visual reference isn't enough. Like a gobbler that expects to see a hen where it hears a hen in an open woods, a coyote that doesn't spot anything that looks like the animal in distress it has heard is doubly wary.

Motion decoys, which had just hit the market and were growing in popularity, were my solution. After doing a bit of shopping, I bought a Predator Supreme, which is activated by a Decoy Heart, a small plastic ball powered by a single AA battery. An interior spinning assembly supplies movement. The ball is weighted off-center to make it wobble erratically. The deal-closer is the fake furry animal with beady eyes and a long tail that fits over the ball. The kit includes a sharpened dowel to mount the decoy in place.

The first time I assembled and switched on the Predator Supreme, I was sold. A coyote would have to be blind or dead to ignore its provocative come-on.

My next hunt was on the edge of a 6,000-acre wilderness area that skirted the towns of Goshen, Norfolk and Canaan in northwestern Connecticut. I set up as usual with a background of dark trees behind me. The forest here is mainly composed of hardwoods with a scattering of pine and hemlock.

I positioned the Predator Supreme on an old stump so soft with age that the dowel pushed into it easily. Then I turned it on and it began its dance. With the speaker of my calling rig hidden nearby, I started the tape. The ground was bare of snow but the low temperature frosted the fallen leaves, and I knew they would crunch like cornflakes when anything approached. After about a 10-minute wait, I heard an animal drawing closer and then caught a glimpse of reddish orange moving in. At first I thought it was a red fox, but instead a 35-pound coyote with a red coat emerged from the undergrowth several yards away. He didn't stop moving until he was only 2 feet away from the little battery-powered fur ball.

RESULTS DON'T LIE

With a quizzical look on his face, he started to circle the stump warily. His focus on the decoy allowed me to shoulder my rifle. The scope had been adjusted to 9X since a round of benchrest shooting, so I saw nothing but a blur, as the coyote was a mere 25 feet away. All I could do was look down the side of the barrel, aim behind the animal's shoulder and fire.

A few moments later I was admiring the coyote's coat up close. I couldn't help but smile at the thought that I had spent hours at the range fine-tuning my varmint rifle to shoot 1/4-inch groups at 100 yards, and wound up getting a shot at less than 10 yards away. In addition to luring a coyote out of hiding, the moving decoy drew the coyote's attention away from me and focused it on the decoy. It's never a good idea to shift position when hunting coyotes, but a moving decoy helps cover such mistakes.

COYOTE-HUNTING BASICS

Experience has taught me that, with or without a moving decoy, a coyote hunter must observe all the rules of the game: full camo, a scent suppressor and a cover scent, such as skunk urine.

Camouflage shouldn't be limited to patterns that blend in with a green or brown background. A lot of coyote hunters like to wait for at least a dusting of snow before venturing out. If white is the background color, then snow camo, a white lab coat or even a white bedsheet wrapped around your body is a better choice.

As for scent control, follow the same rules that most bowhunters do: Wash your hunting clothing with a scent-suppressing detergent, dry it separately and store it in a scentproof plastic bag. When you reach your destination, change into your hunting clothing, spray yourself with a scent suppressant and apply a cover scent to your boots. When you sneak in to your hunting area, maintain a low profile and stay off ridgelines. Keep the wind in your face as you move to your first setup position. Once you're well hidden in a blown-down tree or similar cover, inspect your surroundings. If you don't have clear shots in most directions, trim a few limbs away or break over a few weeds to provide shooting lanes.

It's also important to consider the lay of the land and set up downwind of the area where you expect coyotes to appear. The perfect setup has the decoy in plain view, with you hidden from the coyote's likely approach route by a low hill within shooting range. Of course, it's hard to find the perfect setup when hunting coyotes, since you can never be sure from which direction they'll approach. A big male coyote will almost always circle downwind from a perceived meal before coming in, hence the need for odor eliminator and a cover scent.

Even so, the tempting sight of a moving decoy promising an easy meal often causes even the most cautious coyote to ignore his inhibitions and approach on the run.

Alternative Motion

Gerald Stewart of Johnny Stewart Wildlife Calls once told me that one of his favorite tricks for predators involves tying one end of a length of thread to a turkey feather and then tying the other end to a tree branch or wire fence. Combined with calling, the dangling feather's erratic movement in the slightest breeze is a deadly decoy for all predators.

It's easy to improvise. For a while, I used a fake crow that I bought in a costume shop to decoy the real thing. The first time I used the phony crow, I attached it to a branch directly above my blind and bobbed it up and down with a length of black fishing line attached to a tree limb. As a Johnny Stewart crow tape played, I bagged a dozen crows in about 30 minutes.

A simple metronome also can be used as the motor for a moving decoy. It requires no external power and can be set to tick back and forth at various speeds. Simply attach a long colorful feather on the vertical arm of a metronome and you've got yourself a decoy. Modern metronomes are battery-operated and can be purchased at most music stores for about $20. Wind-up metronomes cost about $45.

Decoy Options

Sources for moving predator decoys:

--Feather Flex offers the Rigor Rabbit, a molded decoy mounted on a motorized base. The speed of movement is adjustable. (About $45 from Cabela's; 800-237-4444; www.cabelas.com)

--The Predator Supreme Decoy, which incorporates the Decoy Heart, sells for about $40 and is also available from Cabela's.

--Big Head Robotic Decoys offers a bouncing bunny similar to the Rigor Rabbit. It is packaged in an unbreakable molded case for ease of transportation. ($98.95; 800-245-9276; www.bigheaddecoys.com)