Posts Tagged ‘predators’

Killing Coyotes the Exception not the Rule

January 29, 2017

Originally published for Bullet News Niagara October 26 2012 but that website has since disappeared along with its contents. Hopefully this story will have a longer life here on wordpress. 

coyote-teeth

As the gums on this roadkill coyote recede the teeth that strike fear in parents and pet owners are exposed. There is no need to fear these teeth if you give coyotes proper respect.

There seems to be an unwritten rule that if you are deer hunting and a coyote graces your stand you must shoot it. I checked the Ontario hunting regulations and found that there were no limits and the season was open all year in Niagara but failed to find the part that said all coyotes must die. When I took the Ontario Hunter Education course I specifically remember being told that we’d be more welcome by landowners if we killed coyotes. When I asked my first landowner if I could hunt his land he said yes but informed me there was no need to shoot the coyotes. He and his wife enjoyed watching them mouse the fields as they sat and observed from the back deck.

It didn’t take long to get my first coyote in the crosshairs. I had no intention of shooting it; I just wanted a closer look through my scope. I was after deer and I hadn’t seen any good recipes for dogs. This majestic creature sat pretty while my arrow pointed at his chest. His fur was absolutely perfect as he looked beneath my stand with anticipation. A leaf I had kicked from beneath my feet provided just enough noise to trick him into looking for a mouse in the leaf litter. He left so I dropped another leaf and once again he returned to entertained me with his curious glare.

Some deer hunters will kill coyotes because they see them as competition for deer. The Ministry of Natural Resources issued 1000’s of additional deer seals throughout Niagara over the last decade because there are too many deer. Some hunters shoot coyotes because they scare deer away. There are many things that scare deer because deer are prey animals and by nature they are very wary. Hunters scare deer as do the birds they stir up and even other deer can scare their smaller counterparts away. Coyotes only add one more challenge and element to the experience. If one doesn’t like the challenge they can buy deer meat from a wild game farm.

Ask any hunter why it is important to control deer numbers and most will point to biodiversity. A large deer population will eat their landscape causing a browse line on the forest floor. The overall diversity of the forest suffers. Coyotes are part of that biodiversity and are important scavengers. Who else will be as efficient at cleaning up our deer entrails we leave in the field? With the diverse diet of the coyote, nothing goes to waste. When you see an image of Wile E Coyote carrying a lunch pail remember coyotes do have an important job to do. Some claim biodiversity suffers when a large coyote population eats too many small mammals but when the small mammals disappear so does the coyote.

deer-carcass

A dead deer left in the center median of the QEW where vultures could not reach it was dragged across the busy lanes by coyotes to a place where it could safely be picked clean. Nothing went to waste.

Coyote numbers were not always as high as they are today. Historically coyotes in Niagara were around 25 pounds compared to today’s version which averages just under 50 pounds and is a cross between a western coyote and an eastern wolf. They are an open plains animal so when we cleared the land for farming we encouraged this and other animals like the white tail deer. How dangerous the coyote is depends on who you talk to.

The coyote enthusiast is someone who loves them and wants to see coyote hunting stopped. They elude that without the coyote we would be overrun by vermin and they would have you believe coyotes rarely kill pets. They claim that when you see one with kitty in his mouth it’s more than likely kitty was hit by a car and the coyote simply took the free meal. That isn’t logical because kitty is just another small mammal to a coyote however if urban food waste was not available the coyote would likely never venture into the areas our pets roam.

I saw one of these coyote hugging groups sharing a photo of several hunting dogs holding down a coyote and the coyote was in obvious pain. You are never told that the hunter reaches the coyote as quickly as possible so the dogs do not damage the fur. The responses to that picture were the familiar people hating comments. These coyote sympathizers seem to like to share any bad hunting press as if they are trying to alter the image of hunting in general. These same coyote enthusiasts would never share a picture if the tables were turned and the photo showed 6 coyotes eating a family dog alive. Coyotes often prey on foxes but have been seen killing, playing with and even mating with domesticated pets.

Coyotes don’t always afford their prey a quick death. They can disable and disembowel an animal and the prey can suffer a horrible death as it is eaten alive. This is nature and it is a cruel reality most of us humans don’t want to face. Everything these sympathizers tell you about the coyote paints a rosy picture of a predator that is as dangerous as any other wild animal in Niagara. If you corner a raccoon or grab a hold of a mink you’ll be reminded what the definition of wild is right before a trip to the emergency room. If you chase a coyote it will run so fast its back legs will pass his front ones. However if you corner one you will witness their potential.

The coyote hunter on the other hand would have you believe these dogs might be waiting at the corner woodlot to ambush our children; spreading rabies and that they are breaking farmers by eating too many livestock animals.  The big bad wolf hysteria needs to end. I have been alone in the dark while covered in blood after gutting a deer. I was followed by 3 coyotes but they never came within range of my firearm. They wanted my deer but they are scared of people. Attacks have happened but are far rarer than attacks by family dogs.

mange

When coyote numbers bloom mange infests the population and they slowly scratch themselves bare until winter freezes them to death.

The number one reason coyotes and people’s paths cross is because of feeding. Deer hunters see more coyotes when they bait and residential areas host more coyotes when food is made available. Available food sources in urban areas include outdoor pet food, unsecured litter receptacles, spilled bird seed, road-kill, the bread you threw out for the birds, whatever small critters that aren’t wary enough to spot the approaching danger and much more. Feeding deer, birds and other wildlife means feeding coyotes. Repeated feeding only encourages the frequency of visits by coyotes and over time they lose their fear of humans and actual start to relate people to food. This is when coyotes need to be closely watched or even destroyed. Feeding wildlife encourages wildlife conflicts and lures them across busy traffic areas and into neighbourhoods where they are not safe or welcome by all.

Coyote breeding increases when they are hunted. Research shows that when food sources are up and the coyote count is down they breed more and have bigger litters to compensate. Too many coyotes and other natural factors can cause the food abundance to drop and they struggle to survive. Many will starve or lose their battle with disease as they weaken.  I questioned this research and both Mark Rykman and Anne Yagi agreed. Mark is a Wildlife Biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers & Hunters and he stated that hunting coyotes to keep their numbers in check actually may have the opposite effect. Anne, our local Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist in Vineland Station said there are other mammals that display this same breeding characteristic so it’s not out of the question.

Ken Durham a local coyote hunter from Grimsby disagrees. Ken told us he was called by the Niagara Regional Police for help after a women and her dog were attacked by a coyote while walking her two children to the school bus. Grimsby is blanketed by a no fire zone so when there is no wildlife management, populations can balloon and conflicts occur. Ken contacted the Town and they confirmed he had permission to hunt the coyotes with firearms. Ken said over 4 years his crew killed over 60 coyotes the first year, 50 or less the next, about 25 the third and the fourth year they were down to single digits. “Does this sound like their numbers increased?” asked Ken. “You can’t take that many females out of production and expect the population to increase.” Ken admitted that if the hunting stopped the population would quickly rebound as long as food was available.

The OFAH biologist said populations are hard to control through hunting. “Coyotes have a density dependant population” said Rykman. This claim does however have a double edged sword for the coyote because it suggests that coyote hunting is sustainable. Those that hunt them for their pelts have no worries about the populations dropping off as they are a naturally renewable resource. Coyote hunters generally hunt in the cold months of February and March during the height of breeding season. This ensures a good winter coat and is a time when pups are not present and most other game species are closed to hunting. Soon after the hair becomes loose as their coat starts to change for the season.

So where does this leave the deer hunter in the grand scheme of coyote management? The Niagara whitetail deer season happens during the months of October through December. Is it really our job to eliminate the area’s top predator for the farmer? Clearly the research suggests we are just spinning our wheels in this losing battle. If the coyote is here to stay and current practices increase populations then farming operations need to be brought up to modern standards. There really doesn’t appear to be a need to shoot for population control so if you’re not a fur hunter then why kill them?

Hunters have a code of ethics when it comes to all animals. You do not let an animal you killed go to waste. You afford them the quickest possible death and do your best to use the entire animal by saving as much meat as possible. You donate, tan or return the hide to its origin to be consumed by the surrounding recyclers. For some reason the coyote has escaped this general respect by many hunters. Too many deer hunters are simply shooting coyotes and leaving them to spoil in the field. You can’t eat them but there should be an attempt to save the hide.

“I’m seeing it everywhere” says Anne Yagi “and they are not even keeping the hide and that’s not the intent”. Rykman agrees and said that hunters should be trying to utilize the pelt or take it to market. Durham on the other hand reminds us it is not always possible. When Ken was asked to help reduce animal numbers the coyotes had mange; a highly contagious parasitic disease that affects the skin. “One coyote had nothing left but a little patch of fur on his hind end.” Putting this animal in his truck or taking it back to his farm to process could transfer it to his livestock. You never bring a diseased animal to a livestock operation. “When populations are high they compete for space and some are forced to take up shelter in barns and sheds where they come into contact with livestock operations” says Durham. This also causes conflicts. “There are less coyote hunters then there used to be and a deer hunter requires a trapper’s license in order to sell a pelt” said Durham.

So why has the coyote garnered so much public hysteria and disrespect from hunters? Rykman explains that when populations peak nuisance calls increase. “That animal is perceived as a nuisance instead of the majestic creature it is and we’ve seen this with the increasing black bear population as well.” Rykman does remind us however that the coyote does deserve the same respect as any other animal and hunters need to act in an ethical manner.

We as hunters need to encourage a general respect for coyotes and as residents an understanding of how conflicts are created and how they can be avoided. No animal deserves the disrespect the coyote has been given as they are part of the natural landscape and they are here to stay. The coyote enthusiasts are spot on with their advice on how to best avoid these conflicts in urban areas but everyone has to be on board. Feeding wildlife in your back yard encourages visits to neighbouring yards as well. This is an animal we need not fear but proper respect should be given so we shouldn’t attempt to become friends either. Keeping the fear of man in coyotes may also help avoid conflicts.

For more information on coyotes and tips to deter them or protect livestock visit the Ministry of Natural Resources website http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/FW/2ColumnSubPage/STDPROD_089105.html