Column by Dan Geddings: Coy dogs


The shot caught me completely by surprise. It came from behind me, straight down the old railroad bed. I knew it was Mike. His was the only stand in that direction. And it was about the right distance. For a moment or two I wondered, "Did he shoot that nice eight point I had passed on a few days ago." Or even worse "Did he shoot the bigger one?"

It was very early, just after daylight. Perfect timing for a chance at a buck. Then "ding" my phone alerted for a text. It was Mike. "Hope I didn't mess up your hunt, had three coyotes chasing a doe through the pines around me. This one came out to sniff the corn pile, bad idea." He sent me a picture of a dead coyote on his tailgate.

I was immensely relieved. I was hoping to get a shot at that big buck I had seen earlier. Of course, I would be happy for Mike if he got him, but I was also glad that he got a coyote instead.

"Glad you got the coyote. Didn't mess up my hunt at all," I replied. Now I could get back to watching for that buck without worrying. But it did worry me some that those coyotes had been chasing a doe. They take a heavy toll on the deer population.

There aren't too many coyote hunters around, and most coyote kills are by deer hunters, as targets of opportunity. There is some coyote trapping that happens, but I suspect it's not significant.

Years ago, we hunted deer at the Savannah River Site near Barnwell. The deer population there was out of control and was a safety threat to motorists. There seemed to be no limit to the number of deer that could be harvested. Then suddenly the deer population plummeted, and the hunts were suspended. I was puzzled as to what had happened until I read an article that outlined a study that revealed an interesting fact. Coyotes were killing the fawns.

Hunters at the site could not harvest enough deer to make much of an impact on the herd over a long period of time, but coyotes had moved into the area, and there was a sudden and drastic impact on the deer population. Coyotes have since been changing that dynamic all over the state.

Coyotes prey on other wildlife as well. Turkeys, small game, rodents and birds. There haven't been any studies done that focused on the effects coyotes have on those populations. Of course, they also prey on pets and livestock. They will eat your lap dog, cat or calf if given the chance.

The first coyote that I saw in South Carolina was standing on the shoulder of Interstate 95 between Summerton and Santee. Cars and trucks were whizzing by, but the critter was just standing there seemingly unconcerned. It was in the early 90s. I saw another one later that year near Goat Island. At first, I thought it was a scrawny dog but quickly realized it was a coyote. That one was much more elusive and attempted to hide from my sight. I've seen more and shot a few over the years.

Several years ago, I attended a deer management seminar hosted by the Quality Deer Management Association. One of the topics was about coyotes. A leading biologist stated that he had not been too worried about coyotes invading our state from the west. He knew that we have canine diseases here that would impact the coyote population. But he came to realize that they could survive long enough to reproduce, maintain and possibly increase their population. That population may still be increasing.

I've heard coyotes howling in the woods at sundown while deer hunting and in the fields around my home at night. They are pretty much everywhere. Personally, I don't think that the coyote population here is as high as some people think. They are rarely seen and seldom killed by traffic on the roads.

They are in our corner of the world now and will be with us rather we like it or not.

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