|Friends of mine from all over Maine have been complaining about the high numbers of coyotes they have been seeing (and hearing). Coyotes have been in Maine for 40 years or more and are here to stay, but that doesn't make them any more welcome! Experienced hunters, trappers and wildlife “controllers” have been hard at work for many years, trying everything short of poison and dynamite to beat them and, guess what, there are more coyotes in Maine now than there were to begin with! It's the same story in the West and South, wherever coyotes decide there's enough food and cover to set up housekeeping.
Much is made of the “wily” Maine whitetail, but as we all know coyotes eat them for breakfast. If you want a real sporting challenge and a chance to find out just how clever a Maine coyote can be, now's the time to get out there and make your mark in the snow, so to speak.
For the record, it is legal to hunt coyotes at night using a variety of methods. A $4 permit may be purchased (and is required) to hunt coyotes at night from January 1 to April 30 in addition to a current hunting license. Permit holders may hunt coyotes from 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise. Hunting must cease at midnight Saturday and may resume at 12:01 a.m. each Monday. Hunters must be in possession of an electronic, hand-held or mouth-operated predator calling device. Coyotes may also be baited, day or night.
Well, that sounds like we have the upper hand, doesn't it? Fat chance! I have hunted coyotes at night since the special season was implemented some 20 years ago and quickly discovered that it's not easy to fool a coyote night or day! So far in America it has been possible to over-hunt some of our most popular game species (deer, waterfowl, turkeys and pheasants) and so we have very restrictive seasons on them to keep their populations growing (which they are). But, “the law” has been off coyotes nationwide for more than 100 years and, surprise; we have more coyotes than ever! Hunt them by day, hunt them by night, use guns, baits, traps or snares . . . it does not matter to the coyotes. For one thing, they are very difficult to fool and, for another, if you start killing too many coyotes the will simply make more! The average coyote litter is six to eight pups, but if mortality increases so does fecundity, and the next thing you know the average female will produce 10 to 14 pups. That's not easy to keep up with!
In Maine, coyote harvests have averaged around 2,000 animals per year for decades. Last year, tagged pelts totaled 1,985. Most guys who hunt or trap coyotes do it for the challenge, though there is some (not much!) money in it. Pelt prices for coyotes have ranged from $12 to $16 over the last 10 years, a far cry from the $70-plus prices a prime hide brought back in the 1970s. And here's an interesting kicker. To even begin to reduce the number of coyotes in Maine you have to eliminate the breeding female, which is the true leader (territorially) of the pack. Most years, some 90 percent of the annual harvest is young-of-the-year coyotes or non-breeding yearlings, which means we have not even touched the breeding population. By spring, you have just as many coyotes as you had before you tagged 2,000 of them!
The most productive way I know to hunt coyotes is to pick a spot upwind of an open, moonlit field and, just before sunset, sneak into position behind a stone wall or backed into a thick pile of brush or evergreens. You must be dressed warmly and be able to sit still (dead still without moving) for at least 30 minutes. Coyotes make their living half by sight and half by scent, so be in position and under cover to get started. Then, put out a few cotton balls scented with a commercial skunk, rabbit or fox scent as a cover. Put your saturated cotton balls five or 10 yards to either side of you and downwind. Incoming coyotes will follow the wind so face that way, sit still and be ready to shoot at all times.
To get started, you can call coyotes with any commercial predator call that sounds like an injured rabbit, squirrel or bird. Anything that makes a piteous, screeching wail is fine. There are digital or taped calls available but the equipment needed to get into that aspect can be expensive. Start with a hand-held call and see if you can win the game!
Sitting still, facing downwind, gun up and ready, make two or three loud, desperate wails on your call. Begin calling just after sunset if you can, or any time after dark. Utter just a few calls - not an endless barrage of sound. That's not natural and the coyotes know it!
After calling, sit still, be quiet and watch for at least 20 minutes. At this point any coyote in hearing already knows where you are (precisely), so keep your gun up, don't move and be alert. Somewhere downwind you'll see movement, perhaps hear some howling. When this happens, aim generally downwind and do not move! Any incoming coyotes are going to show up downwind and looking right down your gun barrel. If you move (if you blink, if you twitch, if you wiggle) they will see it and be gone, and now all you've done is educate another coyote - you won't fool him again.
Wait, wait, wait for your quarry to move into range. This may take two minutes or 20 minutes, so be patient. A coyote coming to investigate a call is as suspicious as a teenage girl's father on prom night, so don't blow your cover. If you do things right, the coyote will come close enough for a shot. Don't hesitate or get greedy - shoot the instant you know you can make the shot.
If an area has not been hunted you should see or hear coyotes on the first trip. These animals range far and wide in search of food so you may not find them around for a day or two - the average is about three days for them to make their territorial circuit. Be there when they are, stay alert, sit still and pay attention.
Don't expect to single-handedly eliminate the coyote population in your area. It can't be done. But, you can make a small dent, satisfy your urge to “do something” and, hopefully, learn a whole new respect for one of the most challenging game animals in the state.
One successful night hunt and you'll agree, any Maine coyote is worth a lot more than the $12 fur price suggests!