Hunting the Coyote Rut

Article By: Jerry McPherson, Founder of Montana Decoy

I founded Montana Decoy on the simple premise that if a bull elk saw visual evidence in addition to hearing a realistic call from a hunter, he would likely walk on into bow range. That same principle guided the product development for the deer, turkey, antelope and predator decoys to follow. I am a firm believer in keeping things simple. While it’s easy to second-guess tactics when I predator hunt, more times than not, playing the odds results in success.

Like nearly every other hunting endeavor, victory over wily predators comes down to solid scouting, realistic calls and decoys, patience, and the ability to choose the right setups. Here are some tips for hunting coyotes during their mating season:

TIP: The Mating season for coyotes begins in Late-January and runs through February in most of the country.


It’s best to start your search for coyotes with a map.  Look for rough breaks, cut banks, or brushy draws when searching for coyote hot spots, as this is where they will bed down for the day or dig their dens. I was also once told that coyotes will den within a ½ mile of water, so stock dams and water sources should also be somewhere close.

Cote tracks in the snowCorrectly identifying coyote tracks will let you know they are in the near vicinity.  Just remember coyote tracks are more oval in shape and domestic dogs tend to be more round.

Once I pinpoint a good area, it’s time to put boots on the ground. I will look for scat and tracks. When I scout, I like to go in the afternoon. That way, even if I don’t find any sign, a locator call may tell me what I need to know. Use a greeting howl call to locate coyotes at night. If you get a response, you know they will be somewhat in the vicinity come shooting light the next day.


The array of calls and decoys can be overwhelming to the casual coyote hunter. If you are hunting during the coyote rut (a.k.a. mating season), you’re best off with two coyote decoys, a howler call and a rabbit-in-distress call to create a realistic setup. If you plan to hunt them other times of the year, add a rabbit decoy to the arsenal when food is largely dictating their movements. I would recommend using an electronic caller. There’s no learning curve to produce a perfect sound every time and you can position the call close to the decoys. This definitely creates a more realistic setup. 


There is a rhyme and reason to choosing certain types of calls and decoy setups when hunting coyotes, largely depending on the time of year. Coyote calling and decoying caters to three specific factors during mating season – food, mating, and territorial dominance. That said, some tactics work better than others throughout the mating phase when coyotes are looking for mates or defending territory.

Early on, use lone invitation and non-aggressive howls to entice potential mates. Later on, once pairs are established, imitate a dominant male trying to steal a mate or a pair taking over some new territory. My favorite setup incorporates all these scenarios, along with a prey-in-distress call for good measure.

Using two coyote decoys to hunt coyotes during their mating seasonA coyote hunter sets up with two Kojo Coyote Decoys in open country hoping to capitalize on the lovesick dogs.

If I know the location of some old den sites, I like to set up nearby with a couple Kojo coyote decoys. I’ll call to sound like a new mating pair moving into the territory. Placing both decoys 50 yards in front of me and about 15-20 yards apart from each other.  I start out with a male and female serenade of howling for about a minute and a half, then sit quietly for about three minutes. If the local breeding pair can hear me, they will likely try to run me out of their territory. If nothing shows, I will serenade again, this time for about a minute before sitting quietly for five minutes. If nothing shows, I will throw out a few male challenge howls and sit for another five minutes. As a last resort, I will use a prey distress call and try to make it seem like the new pair just caught dinner in the local pair’s territory.


A very good question I get asked a lot is, “How long do you give a setup to ‘work’ before moving on to a new set?”

I have had coyotes come into the call and decoy in less than a minute and as long as an hour. However, I would say the majority of coyotes will show around the ten to 20-minute mark, but if you’re not in a hurry or don’t have much ground to hunt, don’t be afraid to sit it out a little longer.

Doubling Down

Chances of getting a double in late-winter and early-spring are pretty darn good because coyotes have paired up. By the time the coyote(s) are in range, you should have already spotted the other one if they are in fact working as a pair. In my experience, they will usually be within 100 yards of each other. Most of the time, one will parallel the other about 50 yards apart or lag slightly behind. If you can’t locate a second one before it’s in range, don’t wait to shoot!  This is why and when hunting with another gunner is a real advantage.

A mating pair of coyotesCoyotes will often travel in pairs throughout the mating season.

Remember the Basics

While it’s easy to get caught up in making the right calls and using the right decoys, keep these principles in mind: Pay attention to scent control and always keep the wind in your face. Remain focused and be ready to make quick shots. Finally, remember that you will not be successful every outing. You will have some great days and days when you come home empty-handed. But one thing’s for sure, the fresh air sure beats the stale glow of a TV when you’re cooped up inside.

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