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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Coyotes, dogs, rabbit hunting and blood tracking

Last night I went to bed late as I watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC. I lived in Canada for many years (1981-1994), and actually I am a Canadian citizen. I will always hold a very soft spot in my heart for Canadians and their beautiful and generous country.

Just when I tried to fall asleep, a coyote nearby started to vocalize. His yips, barks, and howl sounded so close.

Today in the morning I took pictures of the coyote's tracks. He came to our yard, and turned around just 15 yards from our kennel ( the kennel is empty at night as all our dogs sleep in the house with us). We are visited regularly by red foxes and coyotes, and I am not surprised any longer to find their tracks in the morning. Sometimes, when lucky, we can spot them. The other day a red fox was mousing in our field but fled before I could take a picture. Coyotes, being crepuscular, are hard to spot, but they can be heard almost very night. Sometimes I can pick up their eyes in the darkness with the flashlight when I let dogs out before we go to bed.

A coyote's tracks next to our house, barn and shed

My respect for coyotes' resourcefulness and resilience is overshadowed by the fact that they pose a real risk to our dogs. Over the years we have lost two dogs to coyotes. John lost Banner, a small Jack Russell terrier, when he was out in the woods with several dogs after dark. For a few minutes Banner lagged behind the pack, but that was long enough for coyotes to move closer and pick him up. We have never seen him again. Banner's death marked the end to John's coonhunting. Then, three years ago, Vamba was killed by a coyote in our fenced-in field when she was hunting rabbits. After having looked for her all day I found her body at 11 pm on a cold October night. Just recently I have come across the pictures of her remains, and my throat tightened as the vivid memories of that horrific night overcame me.

Probability of coyotes coming to our enclosure over the fence is quite low (though it can happen as Vamba's death proved), but every time we take dogs out to hunt rabbits outside the fenced-in area, in the fields and woods surrounding our property, we know that we take chances. We use Garmin Astro collars on our dogs but still when our beagle Rip is a 1/4 mile ahead running a rabbit, we would not be able to help him if he were attacked by a coyote. Our beagle club, where over 100 acres are fenced, was forced to put a hot wire on the top of the fence to prevent coyotes from coming over.

Three weeks ago we attended a short workshop on wild canids given at DEC Five Rivers Environmental Center in Delmar, NY. It was quite interesting, and we learned some new things about coyotes and foxes. We have known from another seminar and publications that the eastern coyote has infusion of wolf's DNA, and therefore is quite larger than the western coyote, which I encountered in Alberta. We were told that some coyotes in Maine had 90% of wolf's DNA. Hmmm... in this case wouldn't they be wolves with some addition of coyotes' DNA?

Actually Jonathan Way, Ph.D., a wildlife biologist who started Eastern Coyote Research argues that eastern coyotes should be called coywolves as they are clearly hybrids between coyotes and wolves. I am going to order his book Suburban Howls to learn more about eastern coyotes as we all know they are here to stay. I have my doubts about the publication though as I detect anti-hunting attitude on the author's part. His advice on how to avoid interactions between coyotes and dogs sounds good on paper but is not very realistic:

"1. Do not let dogs (especially small breeds) outdoors loose without constant supervision. Fences should be at least 5 feet tall and there should not be any places where coyotes can crawl underneath. While a fence does not guarantee total protection, it is a good deterrent to coyotes or humans who would snatch or harm pets left outside alone.

2. Dogs taken outdoors by their owners should always be leashed unless in a fenced yard, where they should still be supervised and checked regularly.

3. Dogs should not be tied outdoors unfenced and unsupervised in coyote-prevalent areas. Accidents have happened.

4. Cats should be kept indoors unless trained to remain at home.

5. Dogs and cats should not be left outside for any period of time unsupervised, especially at night, even in a fenced enclosure.

6. Invisible fences do not protect your pets from predators. While they may keep your pet in your yard, they don’t keep predators or other animals out of your yard."

But what about hunting with dogs? It does not seem like hunting with dogs, off leash, loose in the woods following rabbits, is a viable option at all from his point of view. There must be a way...

A friend of ours from the beagle club has been hunting coyotes this winter with good results. So far he has taken 5 of them on the land adjacent to his property in Voorheesville, NY. This is a picture of a fifty-pound male.

Interestingly, the coyote had almost no teeth left. None in the front top or bottom and only a few in the back.

Trackers of wounded deer are reminded of coyotes' omnipresence often. In John's experience one third of wounded deer left in the woods overnight is lost to coyotes. Yet, a decision to track soon after the shot might not be a simple one. After the tracking season 2009 Kevin Armstrong wrote: "I have decided NOT to let the presence of coyotes force me to go after deer earlier. I've concluded that a deer that is not pushed, goes a few hundred yards and beds leaves a shorter trail for the coyotes to find than one that is pushed hard and tracking might have to be suspended overnight. The coyotes are here to stay. I think we just have to accept them like we accept wild rose scratches, wet feet, and nuisance deer permits."

The picture below shows what happened overnight to a wounded deer in Kansas.

Coyotes' impact on non-wounded deer is analyzed in the 2010 QDMA's Whitetail Report posted at It is a highly recommended reading!


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Anonymous said...

We live in the Village of Voorheesville and were awoken this morning by what we think could have been a pack of coyotes. Not sure what they were I came upon your informative article. Great post!