Coyotes are in our world, like it or not

By DAN GEDDINGS
Posted 12/10/17

The scrappy-looking coyote was standing broadside in the logging road at about 150 yards. I hesitated for just a moment, but it was enough to give the coy dog an edge. He turned and trotted away, down the road.

It was midmorning, and I was …

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Coyotes are in our world, like it or not

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The scrappy-looking coyote was standing broadside in the logging road at about 150 yards. I hesitated for just a moment, but it was enough to give the coy dog an edge. He turned and trotted away, down the road.

It was midmorning, and I was sitting in a tower stand looking for a buck when the coyote suddenly appeared. My rifle came up automatically, and I quickly found him in the crosshairs of the scope. With the dog trotting away, it was a very narrow target, but I wasn't going to give this critter a pass. My shot kicked up dirt under the coyote's feet. It was a miss!

Coyotes are in our world now, whether we like it or not. Deer hunters encounter them probably more than anyone else, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources estimates that hunters kill at least 30,000 of them a year.

Some deer hunters won't shoot them, thinking that the shot will scare off the deer and ruin their hunt. Sumter resident Terry Barr knows better. He's shot six coyotes in Manchester Forest and two in Sparkleberry Swamp this year. He has shot a coyote, and a deer walked out of the same trail 30 minutes later.

Terry is certainly doing his part to help keep coyote numbers down. Trapping is another method that sportsmen and landowners can use to keep coyotes in check. Trapping is most effective in late winter and early spring, before fawning and nesting seasons begin.

Coyotes didn't evolve here with other native animals. They were a western species that invaded the East naturally, and in some instances, with the help of man. DNR thinks that some were brought to the upstate by houndsmen and released in fox pens. Others trickled into the state across the Savannah River.

I first encountered coyotes in Louisiana back in the '70s, when I was stationed at Fort Polk for Army basic training. I was surprised to see them in the piney woods. I thought they belonged in Texas and the western deserts. Years later I saw one on an interstate roadside closer to home.

The first one that I saw in South Carolina was near Goat Island in the early '90s. I thought that it was a wild dog until my mind reluctantly decided - it was a coyote. Now, I occasionally see them near my house off McCrays Mill Road.

My brother Matt and I attended a wildlife management seminar hosted by Plum Creek a few years ago. One of the topics presented by retired DNR biologist and Quality Deer Management founder Joe Hamilton was about coyotes. Joe said that he was not too concerned when coyotes first appeared in the East because he thought that common canine diseases would infect them and keep the numbers down. He was right, but he realized after a few years that the coyotes would live long enough to reproduce, and their numbers would continue to climb.

Coyotes are opportunistic feeders with rabbits, rodents and other small mammals comprising the majority of their prey. Studies at the Savannah River Site in Aiken County found that coyotes can negatively impact deer numbers by preying heavily on fawns. The study documented a 70 percent loss of fawns to predators, with coyotes taking 80 percent of the loss.

In more urban areas, coyotes prey heavily on domestic animals and pets. Small dogs and house cats are especially vulnerable after dark. Hunters can't operate in urban areas, and coyotes are more difficult to manage in residential areas. Trapping and hazing is used by towns and municipalities to keep coyote impacts somewhat manageable.

The eerie barks, yips and howls of the coyote are no longer restricted to the wild West. They are here in the Carolina landscape, and like it or not, a part of our world.

Reach Dan Geddings at cdgeddings@gmail.com.