Learn a coyote's natural habits as the months change to know how to best trap for yotes every day of the year.
There are no cut and dry answers on how to catch coyotes every day of the year. There are some logical ways to think your way through it and be successful, but the same trick used to catch a coyote today may not work on the same day next year. Day after day, month after month and year after year, catching coyotes will be different, depending on what’s happening in that animal’s life at that time in his life.
Granted, you could set a dirt hole set using a skunky-type lure with a mouse-based bait in the hole and probably catch a canine most any day of the year. Will you be consistent? Will you catch mature yotes or yearlings? Will you catch several or just a couple? I would answer this way: What time of the year is it? What bait/lure are you using? What is a particular coyote looking for during this time of the year? Is that animal just curious? Is he looking for love? Is he looking for food?
I know you’re thinking that wasn’t an answer, but let me explain why it’s the right answer.
A good understanding of a coyote’s life and habits is paramount to being successful at catching him. The more you know about what’s going on in a coyote’s life at the time of year you are trapping, the more you can plan around that information as to how you can trap and be more successful.
One of the ways I studied a coyote’s life and habits was to break it down into time periods throughout a year when the coyotes were doing normal things they would normally do. Between reading, talking with expert trappers and actual time in the field, this is how I break it down. I focused on the basic life cycle of a coyote and learned how to use its habits against the coyote.
This “coyote year” helps me plan on how and possibly where to make my sets. I will add that my coyote year has been learned in the Southeastern part of the U.S. and will most likely change a little bit depending on which region of the U.S. you trap. However, I believe if you learn and focus on what’s happening in your coyote’s life at the time you’re trapping, your success will increase.
May-June: The pups should be emerging from the dens and exploring the areas close by. Mom is hunting more because she is weaning her pups, and they are eating solid foods. The male is still somewhat aggressive in protecting his family and constantly on the hunt. Fawns make up a large part of the meals, cattle and farm animals are always excepted, and smaller animals are on the menu, too. Other coyotes that are in the area must eat, too, so food-related sets will still be used.
If I ever get the slightest thought that the coyotes are backing off or getting educated to my sets, I will change up my food source. Sometimes I just add another set close by with another type of food offering. Some of the baits I change may include previous accidental catches like possum or raccoons. When it’s legal to trap these animals, consider freezing them for times of the year when trapping for them is not legal.
One of my favorite and easiest food choices is chicken gizzards. They are tough and hold up well. A quick stop in the local grocery store, and you can pick up a pack of gizzards for a couple of dollars. They are even better after riding around in your truck bed or being in the hole for a few days.
I catch my fair share of young adult (20 to 25 pounds) coyotes when I add gizzards. My larger and older coyotes are usually caught when I change up and switch to a rabbit bait. I look for a place along an edge and tightly wire a rabbit leg or carcass to a small tree and place a trap out front. I plan on him finding my trap while fighting to get the rabbit. A young wild pig works well, too. These natural baits are what the animals are used to eating, so they don’t throw up any red flags.
June-July: The pups should now be old enough to travel with the parents and are no longer needing a babysitter. They are learning to hunt and hide when necessary. They may spend time exploring away from the adults, trying to figure out who they are. The dominant male is not as aggressive toward other coyotes but is still in charge of his territory. The mating pair is still the head of their loosely formed pack but not always traveling together. At any given time, these animals may be found anywhere in their home range. In my area I usually set my traps at much farther intervals than when the animals are using smaller areas. This is a tough time to trap, but I suggest slowing down, reading all the sign you may find, and make your sets accordingly. If I find fresh sign, I set it ASAP.
Here’s a last-minute hint that I use often and especially during this time of the year. I most always set two (and sometimes more) traps at each location for animals traveling together. If the mama coyote is traveling with several of her pups and I can catch her, the pups will hang around the area. You can’t catch one if you don’t have another trap set.
August-September: The animals are running in loose family units. They shouldn’t be at their most aggressive toward other coyotes, yet they will still be defending their home range. The weather is hot, so activity levels are not as high. Easy meals are welcomed, things like fruits, seeds, insects, lizards, snakes, small mammals or livestock they can catch.
This time of year is not the preferred or easiest time to trap, but let’s think of a possible plan. I haven’t had a lot of success during this part of the coyote year, but I have trapped some nuisance animals using food as my primary bait. I used dirt holes with mouse-based baits and a handmade mouse nest covering the hole. These sets have been fairly productive.
Another type of set I have used during this time is to dig a small hole about 12 to 18 inches in diameter and 18 to 24 inches deep. Scraps from a local butcher were placed in the bottom of the hole and covered with an inch or two of dirt.
A couple of blind sets several yards away on trails leading to the bait hole has produced for me. In my opinion, food is the driving force this time of year. Keep good notes, and remember what works for you.
September-November: The older males know that breeding season is just around the corner, and they are getting more aggressive. A dominant male will run off all competing males, including the ones he fathered last year. Females are allowed to stay, but some will leave anyway. The animals that are run off are now looking for a place to live and are referred to as transients. Some 2-year-old coyotes that are not quite old enough to breed find themselves with this same label and are basically on the constant move. Some of these transients may form loose family type groups. They may sometimes hunt together.
The dominant female is pairing up with her mate and hunting more to prepare for birthing season. These two animals together can bring down larger prey, like adult deer, sheep, goats and yearling calves.
Food-type baits and lures should work well, but it’s noteworthy that the dominant pair are more aggressively protecting their family territory. As a trapper, I want to try and make them believe another coyote is in their space. This is a great time to try a urine post set. It’s great for sparking curiosity and aggression, especially for the boss male. This year, I even caught a female on a urine post. I guess curiosity got the better of her.
December-January: In my opinion, this is the best time of the year to put traps in the ground. This is the coldest time of the year, and the coyotes are breeding. The dominant male’s aggression is through the roof toward most all coyotes, other than his mate. The dominant female will be getting pregnant and locating and digging her dens. She most likely will have a few dens, so she can move her family when needed. There may very well be other coyotes in the area sneaking by, but they will steer clear of the boss dog or risk injury.
I have read studies that say some yearling females are allowed to stick around and even help raise the family. I don’t know exactly what they do, and I can’t prove the info wrong, but a coyote in a trap is welcomed no matter the reason, so I’ll make sets for them, too. Now let’s look at our info and develop our plans to trap this time of year.
The dominant animals will probably except easy foods they find, and the transients should scoop up a free meal. The yearlings are now hunting for the first time in their lives on their own, so a free meal will be welcomed.
A touch of coyote gland lure at your set might cause an aggressive reaction in dominant animals and/or curiosity in subordinate animals.
A urine post might say another canine or even a bobcat is visiting the area. A coyote’s nose can differentiate between all the animals that have used the post. All coyote’s senses are peaked at this time of the year, especially in the dominant animals. Don’t hesitate to use bobcat urine on some posts.
Since curiosity and aggressive baits work this time of year, it’s a great time to pick up coyote scat to use at your sets. I pick up scat from one tract and use it on another tract. It surely tells the local coyote population that there’s a new dog in town.
The mating females should be pregnant for 60 to 63 days before birthing begins. That will bring us to the next season of the coyote year.
February-April: This is the birthing season, so the coyote’s life, attitudes and way of thinking changes. The transient animals all know to stay clear of the family’s area. The pups are being born, and the dominant females are mostly staying in the dens. Her mate is hunting more to feed himself and to bring her food. Agricultural losses (sheep, goats, chickens, calves, etc.) will be on the rise this time of the year. One or two breeding pairs on a cattle ranch can and will drag down several young animals every other day or so during this time, causing the owners a huge financial loss. This is the perfect time of the year for coyotes to be having pups because lots of other animals are having babies, too. There are plenty of rabbits, pigs, fawns, etc. that are easy to catch. Food is plentiful, and the coyote will eat it all. Mother Nature has awesome timing.
During these months, I’m using food sets mostly, but I also set a few traps working on the animal’s curiosity, too. Every canine (including your pet) wants to smell where another canine has urinated, so keep that trick up your sleeve. I also use bobcat urine sometimes to change it up. If I find a coyote’s fresh kill, I’m thinking free bait. I usually wire it to a tree or root to keep it from being dragged around. Then I’ll set traps on any trails I find leading to it.
I do a lot of trapping on cattle ranches and in high-fence game preserves in Florida, and according to my notes, the breeding season is the most productive time for me, followed closely by the birthing season.
My partner and I found a calf that had been killed by coyotes and fastened it to the roots of a large oak tree. We set traps in the local area, and the first night we caught a very large male that had eaten more than half the calf. He stepped in our trap before leaving.
The next night, we picked up a large female looking to eat her share of the kill. The colder temperatures, the aggressive adults and the hungry transients are what I believe make me more successful this time of year.
The coyote year described in the above paragraphs is what I have learned in my area and should be very close to the same anywhere in the southeastern part of the U.S. These are the basics of the average coyote’s life and what they should be doing. Remember that all coyotes may not have received the memo of what they should be doing, so remain flexible, read the current coyote sign and run your trap line accordingly.
Be a thinking trapper. Use all the information you can, and remember to have a great time in the field and share it with a kid.
In Georgia, there is no closed trapping season for coyotes. Unless you’re trapping on your own property, you’ll need a $45 “Resident Commercial Trapping” license, regardless of what you plan to do with the coyote in the trap. Go to https://georgiawildlife.com/licenses-permits-passes/commercial and click on “Commercial License Application.” You’ll need to print out the application and mail it and your payment to: LBRU–Commercial Licenses, 2065 US Hwy. 278, SE, Social Circle, GA 30025.
For more information on trapping, go to https://georgiawildlife.com/regulations/trapping.
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