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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Coyotes Thrive Despite Pressure

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 20, 2010.)

Hunters have never created
a shortage of canine yodelers.
Two eyes reflected in the headlights. Deer? No. The eyes were too close to the ground as the animal slinked across the road.

Although we have lots of coyotes throughout eastern North America, that’s about the best glimpse most ordinary people get of the eastern coyote. Although coyotes are common, most people haven’t yet had a good look at one.

When I was a kid, coyotes created ambiance for 1960s Rawhide television episodes. As the cattle driving crew gathered around the campfire at night, with the chuckwagon as a backdrop, you’d hear the lonesome song dogs howl. At the time, few people knew they were also colonizing eastern states, including Pennsylvania.

That was proven to me by Wildlife Conservation Officer Dave Titus before he passed away. He showed me the March 1941 issue of Pennsylvania Game News containing a brief account of a group of hunters from Venango County who discovered some coyotes during the 1940 deer season. After deer season they went back out to hunt them, and in January they killed several. A couple of old-timey photos documented the event.

Back then coyotes were rare, living in isolated pockets in Venango, Tioga, and a few other counties. But they were busy breeders, and by the 1970s they had strengthened their foothold in the state.

By the 1980s hunters discovered that pursuing coyotes was challenging, and sportsmen’s clubs began to organize coyote hunting contests. In the first few years not many were killed because hunters hadn’t yet learned how to hunt them. That has all changed.

Today, coyotes are thriving. Nearly every hunter who uses trail cameras gets an occasional photo. Hunters sometimes harvest coyotes while hunting deer, turkeys or woodchucks, and those who deliberately target the predators succeed with a variety of methods. They’re here, they’re plentiful, and they’re a prized animal.

Now, the Mosquito Creek Sportsman’s Association in Clearfield County conducts the largest coyote hunt, but it’s just one of many clubs throughout the state that organize hunts. Last year Mosquito Creek held its 18th annual hunt, and 3800 registered hunters harvested a total of 173 coyotes in 40 counties.

Some contests do not limit the methods used, and contest records reveal that trapping, running with dogs, calling, standing, driving and even tracking can be successful. And it’s common for top hunters to take two, three, or more coyotes.

In the 2008 Mosquito Creek hunt one hunter brought in three in a single day and a total of seven during the three-day event. The heaviest coyotes bring hunters a rewarding payday. The winning animals often weigh more than 50 pounds and can be worth thousands in prize money.

The average non-hunter might think these organized hunts and contests threaten the population of these big predators, but wherever coyotes have existed, hunters and trappers – no matter how successful they have been – have never created a shortage of canine yodelers.

Throughout the history of the United States, coyotes have habitually expanded their range and have proven themselves resilient despite the best efforts of hunters and trappers. Pennsylvanians are demonstrating again that coyotes thrive despite relentless pressure.


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