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I have been none too surprised at the number of calls I’ve received lately concerning coyotes and their mysterious wanderings. It happens that February and March are the mating-breeding months for these opportunistic canines, and that also means that last years’ pups must now move on to find their own territories. This is why you’ll notice more single coyotes roaming around. They’re looking for a place to set up housekeeping, and when much of the state is already at its coyote carrying capacity, these dispersals are going to cause problems (for humans as well as coyotes).
In late winter, coyotes are already hungry, so when you force a yearling coyote out of its home territory, he’s going to be looking for something to eat, and “something” for the omnivorous coyote could (and often does) include cats, dogs, puppies and livestock of any kind. You can’t always prove that a coyote is the culprit, but these clever canids find domestic animals and birds to be easy prey, just what a lean, stressed coyote needs at this time of year. Sheep, cattle, chickens and other barnyard denizens are always on the preferred list of winter coyotes, although most of their diet consists of small mammals, birds and vegetable matter. Of course, they’ll eat deer, fresh, frozen or road-killed, but then so would you if that’s all you could find in the middle of winter!
This young-of-the-year dispersal activity begins as early as October, and could explain why so many of the thousands of coyotes taken in Maine each year by hunters and trappers are immature specimens. Young coyotes wandering aimlessly out of their home territories are easy marks for a trapper’s baited set or a hunter lurking in good small game or deer cover. But this is also why coyote numbers are not diminished by this annual harvest – we scarcely touch the breeding population of adult coyotes. And, because female coyotes in good habitat have been known to produce 14 young in a litter, there’s not much population reduction going on when all you remove are yearlings or non-breeding adults.
All this is leading up to a report circulating recently about a 115-pound coyote that was killed in New York during the last few months. The Internet scam (spam scam?) indicated that the animal was killed by a hunter and would be declared the New York state-record coyote, and probably the world’s record, because no larger coyote has ever been recorded.
Well, knowing a thing or two about coyotes (I’ve hunted, trapped and observed them for decades), I thought I’d do a little investigating. In fact, I’m generally suspicious about the wildlife-related stuff I see on the Internet because some really dumb people put some really dumb things out there, stuff that casual observers think is true. Too often, it’s not even close!
Such is the case with the “world’s-record” coyote. There was a photo of the dead coyote lying next to an 8-point buck (albeit a New York buck) and the coyote actually looks bigger than the deer! There’s a clue right there, because the average wild coyote weighs a solid 40 pounds or so, and a big one is anything over 50 pounds. There is no recorded proof of any coyote weighing over 100 pounds, and hunters and trappers have taken many millions of them over the centuries.
A look at the dead “coyote” shows that the animal certainly resembles Ol’ Wile E. except that it has a very “cute” dog-like face with a rather wide nose – another good clue that something is amiss.
The Internet site claimed that the coyote was certified as such by a New York biologist and is going into the record books as the biggest ever taken in New York, but one call to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s furbearer unit dispelled that notion. My sources there tell me that no New York biologist ever saw the animal and, in fact, the animal wasn’t even killed in the Empire State! It turns out that the coyote was shot in Pennsylvania, not far from a farm where (what do you know?) a person was raising dog-wolf hybrids as pets (and allegedly for fighting stock, though that has not been proven). So, this animal was not a coyote at all, but a hybrid canine of non-coyote parentage.
My contact in New York has this to add: “A DEC biologist talked to the Pennsylvania biologist who examined the animal and determined that it is a wolf-dog hybrid that had been turned loose or escaped. Also, the animal had been surgically neutered!”’s often possible to mistake a large, gray, long-tailed, dog-like critter as a coyote, but I know of no state that captures, neuters and releases coyotes (though that might be the only possible way to eliminate a coyote population). Someone went to a lot of trouble to put a false story about a monster coyote on the Web, and I’m sure lots of people read and believed it. That’s too bad, because misinformation of this sort gets into peoples’ heads, and the next thing you know they’re in the voting booth on the verge of making important decisions that will affect sportsmen and wildlife for years to come.
It just happens that wildlife, misinformation and a trip to the polls is the hot combination this year in Maine as well, although the topic of contention is much larger – the black bear. Before you vote, consider your sources, find out what’s real and true about bears and bear hunting in Maine, and make your decision based on what’s best for the resource. Remember, voters in Massachusetts made the mistake of listening to untrained “experts” a few years ago and a ban on trapping was approved. Well, guess what? Now that rabies is rampant due to overpopulation of raccoons, foxes and skunks, pets are being eaten by uncontrolled wild predators and homes are being flooded by unmanaged beaver populations (all of which was predicted by the state’s wildlife management division), a move is now on to rescind the trapping ban. What a shame that such a costly mistake had to be made in the first place!
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