Growing coyote population is hard to outfox

OUTDOORS

February 28, 1993|By LONNY WEAVER

At a local sportsmen's club meeting last month, a couple of fellows got into a conversation about fox hunting, a subject that interests me.

Back in my salad days, I considered myself quite a fox hunter and just happened to be growing up in an area that overflowed XTC with red foxes. One year, I managed to call enough into .22-rifle range to finance the purchase of my first quality shotgun.

Anyway, 10 minutes or so into this discussion, the gentleman at my right elbow said, "Well, we may be knee deep in foxes right now, but I'll bet that 10 years from now, after the coyotes establish themselves around these parts, a red fox will be a rare sight."

L This man may have been closer to the truth than he realized.

So far, I have seen two coyotes in Carroll County. The first time was nearly four years ago when groundhog hunting one mid-spring morning near Uniontown. At first I thought I was watching a large fox carrying home a rabbit breakfast, but it just didn't look right. Puzzled, I focused my binoculars on the leisurely pacing animal and got a good look.

I called Pete Jayne, who oversees the Department of Natural Resources' fur-bearing animal programs, and described the animal. Jayne said it was a coyote, but not the first he knew of in Carroll County. He knew of a trapper who took one in the Manchester area as early as 1986.

I saw my second coyote, again while groundhog hunting, last August around Middleburg. By the time I positively identified it as a coyote, it was out of the sure killing range of the little .17-caliber varmint rifle I happened to be carrying.

The coyote was not found in the East during colonial times. Fossil records indicate their presence here in prehistoric years, but they appear to have vanished at least 1,000 years ago. Around the turn of the century, coyotes began drifting back across the Mississippi River and by the 1930s they were found in eastern Canada. DNR biologists I have talked to say coyote numbers also were spreading into the southeast states and by 1965 they had arrived in Virginia.

Both of the coyotes that I spotted had yellowish coats, but their coloring can range from light cream to nearly black. The ones turning up in the East are reportedly heavier than their western counterparts and can weigh as much as 50 pounds. They stand 20 to 24 inches at the shoulder and are more slender than a dog of the same height. The tail is similar to that of the fox -- very bushy.

Their dens are made in brush-covered slopes, steep banks, rock ledges and hollow logs. Unlike foxes, coyotes will travel in packs, Jayne has told me. I think if I see one while chuck hunting this year, I'll be prepared to take a shot.

Marilyn Mause, our regional wildlife manager, told me, "Because they compete with the fox, coyotes will virtually eliminate the fox from its native area. They will eat just about anything, but their favorites include rabbits, groundhogs, rodents, carrion, insects and plants. They also occasionally prey on poultry and sheep, but sometimes calves and pigs."

Jayne said, "We suspect that a number of reported kills by wild dogs and foxes are actually kills made by coyotes."

Officially, the coyote is unprotected in Maryland, and the more you bag the happier most authorities, farmers and sportsmen will be. Calling a coyote into range is quite a challenge and the fur is valued.

Deer forum scheduled

Carroll County's Hap Baker, representing the Western Maryland Sportsmen Federation, will join Russ Nichols, president of the Maryland Bow Hunters Society, outdoor writer Bill Burton and representatives of the DNR for a public forum concerning the two-week deer firearm season at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Annapolis High on Riva Road.

The forum is sponsored by the Conservation Federation of Maryland, and Allan Ellis, host of WCBM-650 Maryland Outdoors radio program, will be the host.

Hearing for hunters

The Department of Natural Resources has scheduled a hunter hearing for March 16 at 7 p.m. at North Carroll High School in Hampstead.

The hearing -- one of four scheduled throughout the state -- provides the public an opportunity to voice views on this year's proposed hunting seasons and regulations.

Safety courses offered

A boating safety course is scheduled to begin March 20 at Piney Run Park. Call (410) 795-3274 to sign up or get details.

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