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At night, when the fire engines head out on a call, the coyotes start howling in Wilson County.
Hunter Bass can step outside his Wiggins Mill Road home and count the wild canines based on their howls.
“Just behind our house alone, you are talking six to eight, in a pack, just going crazy,” Bass said. “Once it would go off at night, it’s nothing to hear different packs of coyotes just going crazy howling at it. It’s just amazing how many there are and how close they are.”
“They are just a pest,” said hunter Ronnie Dew, who has heard them howling at night from his home on Hornes Church Road. “They are a varmint.”
According to N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission biologist Greg Batts, whose District 3 includes Wilson County, coyotes have been in all 100 counties across the state since about 2006.
“I just consider that they have filled every habitat niche across the state. They pretty much have saturated the state,” Batts said. “They have gotten to the point now that they have pretty much taken up all of the space that they can that’s usable habitat for them.”
Batts said the wildlife commission doesn’t have population numbers for coyotes.
“The only thing we kind of have an sort of inkling of is the harvest,” Batts said. “They harvest about 9,000 through trapping across the state in the year and we estimate that hunters take about 50,000, so you are looking at close to 60,000 animals that are harvested annually in the state, but that’s the only kind of information I can give you in reference to population. Without undertaking a study, we don’t know.”
Batts estimates that perhaps 6,600 coyotes were harvested last year in the 11 counties of District 3.
“Most certainly they are in urban areas,” Batts said. “People started calling me telling me they had seen a coyote or that one had been hit by a car or something like that. They have filled in these niches or out in the counties out in what you would call traditional habitat for them. They find that the living is good in urban areas. There is not a lot of harassment of them. People are feeding animals, they are feeding birds and feeding squirrels and stuff like that and protecting them from predators, so there are a lot of food resources in these cities and towns and the coyotes have moved right on into those areas.”
SMALL PETS CAN BE PREY
Batts said small pets are most vulnerable to being preyed on by the coyote. For larger pets, size is a deterrent.
“These things are 20 or 35 pounds on average here in North Carolina, so if you have got a pet that is 15 pounds or under whether that be a cat or a dog, they could be subject to being taken by a coyote,” Batts said. “From what I have seen, it is more that the cats were taken more so than the dogs. Certainly small dogs have been taken by coyotes.”
According to Batts the coyote is killing the pets from a territorial standpoint if they get close to where the coyote’s den is or they are using the pet as a food resource.
“Usually with cats, it is more of a food resource thing,” Batts said.
Batts called the coyotes very opportunistic.
“That’s why they live where they live,” Batts said. “They take advantage of whatever resources that are there about them, so if it’s squirrels, they are eating squirrels. If it’s an abundance of pets, then maybe they are using pets.”
Coyotes have been known to completely wipe out feral cat colonies.
Batts said the majority of their diet is made up of small mammals, squirrels and rabbits.
“When you look at diet studies, that is like 65 percent of their diet in a given year and you throw all of the rest of it on the top of that, whether that be a deer or a fruit or a cat,” Batts said. “That makes up the rest of their diet.”
FEBRUARY IS MATING TIME
Batts said coyotes will start paring up in February to mate and then they will start having pups in March and April.
“They will raise their pups through the summer and then around about September or October, they will kick the young out and make them find their own place in the world,” Batts said.
Batts said the warmer months are when people are more likely to see them out during the middle of the day.
“It’s going to be in the summertime and they are out in the middle of the day because they have got four or five mouths that they have got to feed because they have got pups or kits, their young, and they are out having to look for extra food to feed their young,” Batts said. “Generally if they are out during the day, they are out doing their business and trying to make a living.”
“A lot of people actually hunt them now because of the breeding season,” Bass added. “You are going to see them more in the daylight right now during the breeding season than you normally would.”
NO BAG LIMIT
According to the wildlife commission regulations, a permit is required to hunt coyotes. But there is no closed hunting season and no bag limit. Hunters can use electronic calls and lights at night. Harvests must be reported. Sportsmen can shoot coyotes 365 days a year.
“Your more serious hunters who are hunting them at nighttime, they will actually invest more money and get thermal imaging scopes. That’s several thousands of dollars. I have some friends who have bought some,” Bass said.
According to Dew, hunting the coyote is a challenge.
“Coyotes are very aware of their surroundings and very leery about people and anything else that they don’t know. You have to really be on your Ps and Qs to fool a coyote,” Dew said. “That’s how come hunting them at night has a whole lot better success rate than during the daytime.”
TOLL ON DEER AND TURKEY
According to Bass, many of the coyotes are shot while the hunters are trying to harvest deer or turkey.
“A lot of your serious turkey hunters cannot stand a coyote or raccoons. Raccoons would be more getting more into the eggs when your turkeys are laying their eggs. Your coyotes are more sneak approach and getting your turkeys that way,” Bass said. “A lot of your deer hunters, once they shoot their deer and clean them, they have spots that they will put their carcasses at and a lot of people that shoot coyotes, that’s where they will go. They will figure out when they are coming in eating on the carcasses and then they will hunt them that way at nighttime.”
Dew said he’s seen instances where a deer had been shot and escaped from the hunter after being wounded.
“I have seen the results of coyotes,” Dew said. “In less than a week, there would be nothing left but bones.”
According to Bass, the coyotes are so numerous that they will never all be harvested.
“You’ll never kill all the coyotes out. Never,” Bass said. “You could do a good number on a farm, but in just no time, they are right back.”
“For the betterment of our wildlife here, coyotes need to be taken out of the mix. When I see one when I’m hunting, I’ll shoot the coyote before I’ll shoot the deer. That’s just how I feel about it.”
Batts said rabies in the coyote population has been studied.
“Any mammal can get rabies, but when you look at the numbers, it is pretty astounding. I think the last numbers I saw were from 2016. We had something on the order of like 30 or 31 coyotes that had rabies and we had tested for and know (were) positive in North Carolina,” Batts said. “You could compare that to like 7,000 raccoons in the same time frame, so even more horse and sheep and goats and stuff like that had rabies at a higher rate than a coyote did. And though any mammal can get it, it’s a pretty low instance of rabies in coyotes.”