FINS, FUR & FEATHERS Looking for new targets?

These last few days of the year are days most of us hunters dread. Hunting opportunities are getting fewer with each passing day. Many hunters have put up their rifles, bows and shotguns. For the few that are willing to try something different, there is a season that may just ward off the first signs of cabin fever.

Popular in many mid-western states, coyote hunting is not practiced by many people here in the Evergreen State. With few natural predators, our population of yodel dogs continues to grow every year. With most of the gear you use for big game seasons, you too can enjoy an additional opportunity this winter.

Coyotes are the most adaptive animals on the face of the earth. They are at home whether they are prowling the rural areas of Island and Skagit Counties, or stalking the outskirts of Bellingham and Everett. They are resourceful enough to switch from country to city fare. Because of this adaptability the outlook of future coyote generations looks bright. Like everything in nature, there must be balance. When there is and abundant supply of prey, the dogs flourish, but if prey becomes scarce, they will venture into populated areas in search of garbage or pets. Interactions with human populations will increase until a die-off will bring the predators back into balance.

Even though we do not have a major problem with coyotes roaming the sub-divisions preying on our beloved pets, the canines can still upset the balance of predator and prey here on the island. Coyotes will prey upon many birds during their vulnerable nesting time. Large populations of dogs can quickly lead to a decline of many songbirds, gamebirds and waterfowl. Hunting the dogs is a valuable game management tool, but too few of us do it.

You don’t need elaborate equipment to hunt them. Most of what you use for deer and elk hunting will work great for coyote. Just as you would for big game, match your camouflage to the terrain you are hunting. If you wish to purchase a new snow camo outfit, then coyote hunting is the perfect excuse. Most big game hunters have a quality set of binoculars and these will be a necessity. Coyotes will usually show themselves quite a distance away, and spotting them before they spot you is key. Calling the dogs is the most popular method. You can go to most sporting goods departments and find a bunch of predator calls. Some will mimic a wounded songbird, while others will sound like a rabbit in distress. To call, conceal yourself as best you can. Try and place yourself so that your scent is not carried to them. Just as your favorite pooch sniffs the morning air, the coyote too will check air currents before moving in. Some hunters use a decoy to match their call. A rabbit combined with a distress call may fixate the dog’s eyes on it and allow you to get into a proper shooting position.

As for shooting, any legal weapon can be used. Since the distances can be quite far most hunters use a rifle. A 22-250, .223 and .220 Swift are popular dog rounds. Almost any round will do except for the .22lr or .22WMR. You can even use your favorite deer rifle, just step down to lighter bullets. Hollow points work best, since penetration is not a major concern. Since rifles are not legal here on the island, a twelve gauge stoked with #00 buckshot will work at close ranges, but expect there to some pelt damage. Taking a coyote with a bow would be a major challenge, but for the die-hard archer, it would be great practice.

The winter months are the prime time to hunt coyotes. Their pelts will be in prime condition and with good shot placement and field care; they will make fantastic mounts or can be turned into some great garments. We have ample public land on which to hunt them, but some of the best hunting will come on private agricultural land. With the right approach, many landowners will welcome somebody removing some of the chicken coop raiders. This is a great way to start a relationship with a landowner for future opportunities during other seasons.

The long dark days of winter do not need to be the end of hunting seasons. Coyote hunting gives you the chance to spend more days afield, make new friends, all the while helping restore the predator/prey balance so we all may enjoy our state’s abundant wildlife.

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