• Coyotes

    Bring up the topic of coyotes among a group of a dozen outdoorsman and you are likely to get some emotional responses. Coyotes have been a hot topic in the media over the past couple of years. A popular Toronto newspaper recently devoted a couple of pages and some headlines to the wily creature’s appearances in the GTA. Yes, that is right, coyotes in the GTA; someone call Elmer Fudd. In all seriousness, coyotes have stretched their range across virtually all of southern Ontario, and are quite common here close to home in Grey and Bruce. Some even claim that the number of coyotes in the region has increased exponentially and they now pose a problem.

    This time of year provides a cornucopia for local coyote hunters, and the latest winter weather gave me an excellent opportunity to see what hunting coyotes is all about. A phone call from my friend Chris Mink, and the invite to spend a snowy Saturday running coyotes proved to be quite the learning experience for someone like myself (admittedly a novice in the coyote game). I met Mink, local coyote hunting legend Ben Redmond, and his son Andy southeast of Owen Sound to put their hounds on a fresh coyote track and start the chase. The entire day was a true eye opener on hunting coyotes with hounds and I came away with a greater appreciation for both the hunter and the hunted.

    The concept of running hounds on coyotes is fairly simple. Find a fresh coyote track in the snow and let the dogs out on the track. The dogs find the coyote and chase it out of thick cover toward an area where the handler or hunter can get a clean shot. Three of the Redmonds’ hounds were brought along for the hunt. Each dog was fitted with a GPS collar which sends a signal back to a handheld unit, providing the hunter with the location of the dogs, their speed, and the distance travelled over the course of the chase, all overlaid on a digital topographic map. The dogs were let loose on a fresh track located on a concession that the group has permission to hunt which is covered in a mix of woodland and farmland. Instantly the hounds were ‘nose to the ground’ as they followed the footsteps of the coyote which had likely bedded down on a brushy ridge a kilometer away. Once the dogs were out of sight, it was time to watch the handheld unit and observe their travel patterns and speed. An hour later, two of the hounds changed course drastically and picked up the speed indicating they had “lifted” the coyote from its bed. The chase was on, and from the comforts of the truck parked in a farm lane, Mink described what was happening through interpretation of the video-game-like handheld.

    Here are a few highlights and truths from the hunt. No coyotes were killed. I opted to shoot with my camera instead of a firearm. The hounds ran a single coyote through two adjacent concessions. Of the three hounds, only one finished the day and he travelled almost 10 miles in total. Two of the hounds chased until they had torn the pads of their paws and were therefore pulled out of the hunt. We saw the wily coyote on three separate occasions without getting a clean shot. It made for a long day considering we had spent almost two hours in the morning trying to locate a “fresh” track to set the dogs loose on; apparently coyotes in this area were not populated to the point of being “everywhere” despite claims by some folks. When we finally packed it in and pulled the last dog off the track, he seemed pretty upset that we didn’t finish the job.

    Chris Mink getting the hounds ready to track a fresh scent.

    While discussing coyotes with Andy, Chris and Ben, it was apparent that these men put a great deal of time and dedication into running coyotes. Notice I said “running”, not “hunting”. The work that goes into caring for the dogs, as well as interacting with each other and the hounds during the hunt, seems to be the basis of the hunt itself. Harvesting a coyote and sending the pelts to market is a bonus. Ben, who has been hunting coyotes longer than most individuals in the province, explained the differences in types of pelts and the prices that they can fetch at market. Furs can range from $1 a coyote to upwards of $100 for prime pelts. Ben explained that this year the areas around the town of Tara have coyotes with poor furs, but at much higher densities, possibly an indication of sarcoptic mange. However, some areas, such as the one we hunted, have much lower densities and harvesting a dozen coyotes in the season would be a challenge. When I posed the question, “is there a coyote problem locally?” not one of the trio could provide me with a concrete answer. I contacted the MNR to see if they could provide some illumination.

    Jolanta Kowalski, Senior Media Relations Officer with the MNR took the time to respond to some of the questions for which I was hoping to find answers. Kowalski noted that “there is no comprehensive population tracking or widespread population monitoring program for coyotes in Ontario.” Populations of coyotes generally fluctuate based on availability of prey species and natural checks such as disease. The last major outbreak of sarcoptic mange took place in 2001, and “populations have generally increased since that time”. When stricken with mange, coyotes have greater food requirements, which will cause the animal to travel in search of food. This fact could be related to the density of coyotes in some areas across the local region. Primary food sources for coyotes in Grey-Bruce tend to be rabbits, hares, foxes, rodents, turkeys and other birds, amphibians, and young deer. During winters with deep snow pack, coyotes will feed on adult deer as well.

    Kowalski noted that “coyote populations cannot be managed through widespread population controls”, such as intensive hunting practices, and “wildlife disease and food availability are the two most important limiting factors to coyote abundance.” She did note that coyotes “can learn to feed on livestock”. This is the trait of coyotes which can obviously create conflict between farmers and the animal in farm country.

    While some like to paint the coyote with the brush of the devil, it seems that this wily predator is only filling its niche in the ecosystem. For the past decade, local deer hunters have been blessed with ample tag allocations from the MNR, an indicator of plentiful whitetail populations. Good deer populations provide coyotes with a large food source during winters with deep snow, much like we experienced last year. In addition, the establishment of wild turkey populations in the area have also created another menu item for coyotes, especially when other types of prey boom and bust in cycles. It seems to be simple; more food equals more coyotes. Eventually, cycles in prey populations will have an effect on predator populations and coyote numbers will reflect this. If the claims that there are too many coyotes in the region are correct, then eventually the population will check itself and numbers will drop accordingly; though I have a feeling that devoted “‘yote” hunters like the Redmonds will be spending the winter season with their hounds on the trail of the coyote regardless.
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