February 01, 2017

I’ve tent camped and hunted “Out West” many times where I’ve always enjoyed the coyote serenade each evening at sundown. The yips, yipes, and howls always made the trip into a genuine Western experience. It was fun then. But, coyotes aren’t fun anymore.

Once considered a Western animal, coyotes have been quietly moving eastward over the last 30 years. They are now found in every state in the continental United States. Coyote populations in the Eastern U.S. have basically exploded in the last 10 years.

A couple of decades ago, it was considered uncommon to see a coyote in Michigan, but today we have become accustomed to seeing coyotes almost anywhere, even in urban settings. Although considered by many people to be a “beautiful natural predator” others are concerned that the rapid increase in coyote numbers may soon have an undesirable impact on Michigan’s deer herd.

Recent studies in Eastern states attribute coyote-fawn predation as a direct contributor to falling deer numbers. Dr. John Kilgo, research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station, conducted a study which showed coyotes taking a tremendous toll on whitetail fawns. Of 60 fawns monitored, 36 (60%) were either confirmed or probable victims of coyote predation within their first month of life. Outdoor writer, Kenny Darwin, wrote in the December issue of Woods-N-Water News that, “One U.P. fawn predation study shows 44% of fawns are killed by coyote within the first 20 days of birth.”

The author with what was left of his archery buck after waiting a couples hours before taking up the blood trail. photo by Author Photo.

In 2014, lawmakers in Pennsylvania proposed placing a bounty on coyotes to encourage their destruction for the sake of the deer herd. “The concern is that coyotes may be changing the established population dynamics of white-tailed deer herds through increased predation on fawns,” said Duane Diefenbach, leader of the PA Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. “Besides predators, the other major source of mortality in fawns is hunting. Thus, reduced hunting can be used to offset mortality from natural predators.”

Seriously? Will we really need to reduce deer hunting opportunity in the future to satisfy the hunger of coyotes? I guess that is something for conservationists, hunters, and wildlife managers to contemplate.

Fawns aren’t the only venison that coyotes enjoy. As Darwin pointed out in his article, coyotes are fully capable of taking down adult deer as well. It has been said that a coyote will eat anything that can’t eat him first. Sadly, that includes a hunter’s deer when available.

Several of my friends and relatives have lost legally taken deer to coyotes in recent years. The once common practice of leaving an arrow shot deer overnight, to be trailed in the morning, is now avoided. More than one hunter has followed a blood trail to the skeleton of his trophy: the meat entirely eaten by coyotes during the night.

Coyotes aren’t even waiting for darkness anymore. My own coyote troubles began in the bow season of 2015 when I made a good shot on a buck with my bow and arrow. The mortally wounded deer plowed a half circle for 50 yards out into the swamp grass where I saw him crash. Immediately, a flash of movement caught my eye. A coyote was running full speed right to my deer. He reached the deer within seconds after it fell. As I watched, the coyote warily circled the deer as if to make sure it was dead. Then he moved right in and began to feed on the deer. As he attacked a hind quarter, I whistled and waved my arms to get his attention. He stopped what he was doing and turned to glare at me.

“Get out of here!” I shouted. The coyote turned and disappeared into the high swamp grass.

As I approached my buck, I saw that the coyote had pulled several mouthfuls of hair from the hindquarter, actually cutting the hide, but hadn’t reached the meat before I scared it away. Since I witnessed the whole event, I’m sure the damage was done in just a minute or so. I’m glad I didn’t wait the customary hour before tracking the arrow shot buck.

I was able to salvage all the meat from that deer, but things got worse in 2016. On an early November morning I shot a buck with my recurve bow. The arrow passed completely through the deer, low in the chest. After a half hour wait, I took up a heavy blood trail which led through a small cornfield to a grassy ditch. Blood was hard to see in the tall grass and as I circled around searching for the trail I moved the deer out of a brushy ditch corner. By the looks of the new blood trail I was confident I would recover the deer.

A couple of hours later my grandson, Chance, and I returned to take up the trail. We followed decent blood sign where the buck had traveled along between the ditch and cornfield. Glancing out into the corn, I spotted the remains of a deer. “Is that him?” I asked.

“Can’t be him,” Chance answered.

“I think this is him,” I decided after reaching the spot. “This is all fresh and there are coyote tracks all over here.”

I’m staying on this blood trail just to be sure,” Chance replied. After following a short distance he announced, “Here’s where they got him.”

Between us the ground looked like a 20 foot long deer hair carpet. Long strips of deer hide appeared to have been cut out with sharp scissors. The carcass had been completely skinned and the hide turned inside-out. Everything from the knees to the chin had been completely eaten, including all of the innards, leaving only the hide and skeleton. My arrow hole in the hide was proof that it was my deer. The area was covered with coyote tracks, making us wonder how many had been involved. It must have taken a large pack to have consumed an entire deer in such a short time. And, in daylight no less!

My emotional high, from a well conducted hunt and taking a nice buck with a traditional bow, was now dashed to a discouraging low, from losing my venison. I don’t feel that the hunt was successful when I couldn’t recover the valued meat.

In a decade, the Central Michigan area has gone from a coyote being a rarity to coyote packs so large that they can consume a hunter’s venison before he can claim it. We joked that you wouldn’t want to cut your finger out there. There are so many coyotes that if you were bleeding you might not make it back to your truck.

I think Michigan may be facing a serious coyote problem. Coyotes just aren’t fun anymore.