Outdoor Photography Tips 36 - Dr Dolittle Photography - Calling Wildlife

Capturing images in nature requires much patience and knowledge of the wildlife you are in pursuit of. Finding suitable habitat and locating animal sign is a solid preliminary approach to landing the desired results in your outdoor endeavors. But sometimes it takes more than just knowing the location and habits. Speaking the language can be a key component to acquiring images to very elusive subjects.

When I was a kid, I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and skills that I applied to hunting with a camera, by spending many hours hunting, fishing, birdwatching, falconry, and other methods of wildlife exploration.

One of the observations I made while birdwatching was going to turn out to be a significant and useful tool for me when I converted from hunting to photographing. The fact was that birds are great communicators. When I expanded my observations, I also noticed that mammals, herps (reptiles and amphibians), also utilized vocalizations to communicate.

Sound. Why had I not thought of it before? Simply because it is a concept and sense that we take it for granted. Like sense of smell, we use it all of the time, but never really give it much thought. I recently captured images of one of North America's smartest subjects, the coyote. They possess keen eyesight, and combine it with excellent hearing and sense of smell. Now you tie in a sharp brain to analyze the information, and you have a formable and difficult creature to obtain images from.

Coyotes use vocalizations to communicate with one another. They also have wonderful hearing enabling them to locate prey from a long distance away. If you have seen coyotes feeding in an open field, you would have noticed that they move slowly, then suddenly leap in the air and pounce on their prey. They are not using their sight. They are locating the prey by the sound as it moves through the grass. They are able to target the prey by listening to rustling feet and the soft fur as it brushes the passing blades.

You can use this to your advantage. Coyotes are opportunistic feeders as well as great hunters. You have probably heard about the use of duck and goose calls to lure in waterfowl. Coyote calls are a hand held call that you blow into that imitates the sound of a rabbit in distress. Coyotes hearing the call will often come to investigate the sound, possibly thinking they can take advantage of their size to take the rabbit from a smaller predator.

When photographing in Badlands National Park, I witnessed a coyote watching a Ferruginous hawk capture prairie dogs. When the hawk dived onto the prey, the coyote ran over and chased the hawk away and stole the rodent for itself.

Here are some tips if you want to call in coyotes for photography.

1) Wear camo clothing or clothing with dull colors. Try to match the surroundings a best as possible.

2) Cover your face and hands. Coyotes will pick out your facial features from the background and be in and out before you can execute a single shot from your camera.

3) Do not move while calling, and especially when a coyote is looking in your direction. I usually wait until the dog moves behind some brush, a boulder, or other barrier if you have to reposition your camera.

I have called in coyotes from over a mile away. Their hearing is exceptional. If you have to move, make sure you do so slowly and soundlessly as possible.

4) Try to call from the shade of some plant, tree, or boulder. If it is sunny, the coyotes eyes will be adjusted for the sunlight and it it will be more difficult for him to spot you in the shade.

5) Calling in the morning and evening are usually the most productive, except when it is cooler weather. If it is hot, they are usually lying in the shade and will not venture out in the heat of the day.

6) Days that have no, or little wind are good, as your scent will not alert the the animal until it is very close.

7) When choosing and area to call, make sure you are at least 200 yards from your vehicle...they know that people are related to vehicles and will often shy away. Your vehicle is also heavily ladened with your scent which they may pick up.

8) Be on the ready when calling. I have had coyotes show up within seconds of me producing a distress call.

9) When leaving your auto for the stand you will be calling from, don't shut the door loudly. This could scare a potential coyote away.

A final note about equipment. A 300mm lens will be a very effective focal length. If you are in open country, a longer lens will work if you have the time to focus on the incoming subject, but coyotes often answer a call with much vigor, and they will be in-and-out in a matter of seconds, leaving you with little opportunity to locate and capture images. The better you are concealed, the more time you will probably get before they take off.

A point to note. Coyotes are hunted throughout their native range. There are many people who call coyotes, so many areas are difficult to call them in. Best suggestion - get out and away from urban areas where hunting is allowed. It has probably been called by locale hunters anyway.

In the winter, coyotes can be called with calls that imitate their howls. During the breeding season, Dec-Jan, males set up territories and will answer challenge howls.

There are many videos and web sites devoted to calling coyotes. Although most of these are related to hunting, they are a valuable resource for learning what the calling sounds like, and they also provide more information about preparing the stand for calling.

In closing, it is useful to note that many of the filmmakers in the past have utilized calling for their wildlife imagery. Disney, National Geographic, and many others exploit the newer technologies via electronic calls to lure wildlife that would otherwise be too difficult to obtain footage of. Don't be surprised if a bobcat or fox shows up as well. The last time I was out, a Northern Harrier came in to investigate the distress call.(see below)

One last note. If you are calling coyotes, and have a limited number of locations to use, remember that coyotes have a very sharp learning curve. They may be called to a spot once, but that same coyote is not going to come to it again and again using the same calling sounds. They are too smart for that. I usually don't call from the same location more than once every two months as sometimes a new coyotes may be in the area, but I don't expect the same coyote to show up.

Now get out there and see if you can meet the challenge of calling the smartest predator in North America, the Coyote. And as always, happy shooting.

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