2011-12-03 / Outdoors

Like it or not, coyotes here to stay

By Jim Zoschg
Outdoor Writer

Coyotes are excellent predators and do significant damage to the area deer population, making them a favorite target for trappers. Coyotes are excellent predators and do significant damage to the area deer population, making them a favorite target for trappers. Organized coyote hunts have been growing in the region, including the Sinnemahoning Sportsmen’s Association hunt, which enters its sixth year and is expanding into multiple states.

Coyote hunting, and predator hunting in general for that matter, is one of the fastest growing types of hunting in Pennsylvania. Those who participate say there is something fascinating and mysterious about hunting a large predator.

Coyotes are one of the few animals that have thrived in the post-settlement landscape of the eastern United States. They are very adaptable and in Pennsylvania can be found in every county.

There are several theories as to how coyotes became established in the eastern United States. One theory is that they were always here. When wolves were extirpated, coyote populations were no longer being suppressed, and they expanded their populations.

An ever-popular conspiracy theory, discounted by most, is that the Game Commission stocked coyotes into the state.

However, the theory most recognized by the scientific community is that once wolves were eliminated in the East, coyote populations from the Midwest began spreading eastward. Genetic testing supports the idea that coyotes interbred with remnant wolf populations. This explains why eastern coyotes are quite large compared to their western cousins and why they often hunt in packs, which is uncharacteristic of western coyotes.

Whatever the case, in Pennsylvania coyotes have gone from being unheard of in the early 1900’s, to being rare in the middle of the century, to being well-established now.

Studies confirm that coyotes are preying on whitetail deer populations, particularly fawns. What isn’t known is how much coyotes impact adult whitetails.

Under certain snow conditions when deer are exhausted, some adult deer are surely being taken by coyotes. The problem is compounded in some areas by sub-optimal deer habitat.

Once a coyote population is established, controlling it is an extreme challenge. For years, ranchers in the West have tried to eradicate coyotes from their lands. Efforts to trap, poison and shoot coyotes have failed.

Biologists have found that they adapt to such adversity by increasing birth rates to produce more pups.

With this predator firmly established in northcentral Pennsylvania, the Game Commission hopes that its open hunting season, which include Sundays and night-hunting, will provide some measure of control.

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