2012-02-04 / Outdoors

Coyote hunting has very little impact on population

In just two weeks, the Sinnemahoning Sportsmen’s Association will hold its seventh annual Coyote Hunt. There’s a new twist for the Feb. 17-19 event. It’s open to hunters all across Pennsylvania as well as those in New York, Maryland and West Virginia.

At a time of the year when things are a little slow for sportsmen, organized coyote hunts tend to draw a good number of hunters into the woods. Offering prize money certainly aids the growing popularity of organized coyote hunts. However, even more important is the underlying fact that there is something fascinating and mysterious about hunting a large predator.

Besides the challenge, the fact that the predator has suddenly become the prey draws the interest of many hunters.

Coyotes are one of the few animals that have thrived in the postsettlement landscape found in the eastern United States. They are very adaptable and in Pennsylvania can be found in every county.

There are several theories as to how coyotes became established in the eastern United States. One theory is that they were always here. When wolves were extirpated, coyote populations were no longer being suppressed, and they expanded their populations. Another theory, the ever-popular conspiracy theory, is that the Game Commission stocked coyotes into the state.

However, perhaps the most interesting theory, and the one most recognized by the scientific community, is that once wolves were eliminated in the East, coyote populations from the Midwest began spreading eastward and interbred with remnant wolf populations.

Genetic testing seems to support this idea. This theory explains why eastern coyotes are quite large compared to their western cousins and why they often hunt in packs, which is uncharacteristic of western coyotes.

Whatever the case, in Pennsylvania coyotes have gone from being unheard of in the early 1900’s, to being rare in the middle of the century, to being well established.

It’s unquestionable that coyotes are adversely affecting deer populations in northcentral Pennsylvania. The Quehanna fawn study several years ago was a real eye-opener to this fact. What isn’t well known is how much coyotes impact adult whitetails. During certain times of the year, such as under certain snow conditions and when bucks are exhausted during the rut, some adult deer are being taken by coyotes.

It’s likely that coyotes are killing adult deer to a greater degree than what most people realize. The problem certainly seems to be compounded in areas of suboptimal deer habitat.

Many hunters feel that organized coyote hunts are the answer. It seems simple. Shoot more coyotes and there will be fewer around to eat the deer. The truth is that there will be little impact.

For years, ranchers out west have tried to eradicate coyotes from their lands by trapping, poisoning and hunting. Biologists have found that they adapt to such adversity by increasing birth rates to produce more pups. Thus, eradication efforts are counteracted by the coyote’s own physiology.

In the end, any coyote eradication and population suppression efforts are futile. We are just going to have to come to terms with a new predator in our landscape and make the most of it by looking at coyotes as another hunting opportunity.

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