I cranked up the four-wheel-drive Ranger and made a drive through the Ohio River bottom lands last week. It was not unsuspected that I soon saw a deer running through a field of high weeds. It was not me who spooked him, for next I spotted – running along the same path the deer had taken – what I first though was a group of dogs.
But when I brought the field glasses into play, I could make out that they were coyotes. There were five of them, running as a pack, no doubt hoping to wear the deer down and eventually claim a venison dinner.
The bottoms, the woods, close by housing subdivisions – coyotes seem to be everywhere and growing in numbers.
I was mushroom hunting one early spring day in the woods off Beauty Ridge in western Greenup County. My beagle, the late Dany Jo, was running out ahead of me, hoping to scare up a rabbit to chase.
But unknown to the beagle, she had become the hunted. Two coyotes bounded out of the woods and headed straight for her.
I’ve had rabbit hunters tell me that coyotes will attempt to kill a beagle and other small animals and eat them, especially if there is a pack of them and they are hungry.
I pulled my pistol and fired, throwing up dirt in front of the coyotes. They turned and headed back into the woods. Danny Jo turned also and scampered back to me. She was excellent at tracking a rabbit, but gun shy. And coyote shy.
Their only Enemy
I don’t like coyotes, but my empathy doesn’t allow me to shoot them. I’ve had opportunities to do so while hunting wild turkey in the spring but declined. They look too much like a dog. I’m a dog lover.
But, in order to keep their populations in check, someone must do it. Man is the only enemy they have, other than disease.
Ohio and Kentucky hunting regulations allow coyotes to be taken year-round, day or night (with some exceptions governing nighttime hunting). There is no bag limit.
Ohio wildlife officials report coyotes are the most significant predators of livestock in the state. Coyotes eating livestock was originally recognized as a threat to the industry as far back as 1987.
Between 1991 and 2000 the Ohio Department of Agriculture paid livestock producers $330,000 for losses due to coyotes. During the 2000 fiscal year, 182 producers from 49 counties filed claims for 535 animals killed by coyotes, 75 percent of which involved sheep, cattle and goats.
Coyotes originally ranged in the short grass prairie regions of North America. They expanded their range eastward, taking advantage of a niche left vacant when the red and gray wolf populations were depleted.
The first confirmed report of a coyote in Ohio occurred in 1919.
They are a very adaptable animal, often seen in rural and urban habitats, fields and farmlands.
They are recognized by their thick bushy tail, long pointy nose, and pointy ears. They can be told apart from dogs because coyotes carry their tails low when running, whereas dogs carry their tails high.
An average coyote weighs about 30 pounds, but one killed by hunter Craig Budig in Greenup County several years ago weighed over 50 pounds.
Coyotes mate in February and dig a den under a tree, stump or rock. About 60 days later four to six fully furred but blind pups are born.
Both parents share in the responsibility of raising the young. Weening begins at three weeks and at 10 weeks they begin to learn to hunt. They leave the parents as capable young adults in the autumn (seven to eight months of age).
Portsmouth to Ashland
Adult coyotes with young may have a territory ranging in distance from Portsmouth to Ashland (30 miles).
Most of their diet consists of mice, squirrels, rabbits, grouse and wild turkey. They will also eat carrion, insects and fruit.
When in large groups, they might work together to down large prey, such as deer and cattle.
But they usually hunt alone or in pairs. They’re a cunning and intelligent critter. One coyote might distract and chase small game right into the jaws of another coyote, who has posted himself up ahead. They’ll take turns at being the chaser or the catcher.
A coyote’s life span in the wild is about eight years. In captivity, they might live 17 or 18 years.
Reach G. Sam Piatt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 606-932-3619.