When I look outside there is an ever deepening world of white. Snow is piled up from snow plows, my snow blower piles more snow on those piles, and of course nature adds to the pile. Before winter hit I should have spent a little more time hunting. Winter was slow arriving and I could have gotten in a few more bird hunts, but once winter was here it planted both feet firmly on the prairie and its fierce winds, with swirling devils of snow announced its plans to stay. I cleaned my guns and put them away.
For a lot of hunters however, winter does not mean the end of hunting. This weekend the Finley Wildlife and Gun club is hosting their annual predator hunt. Hunters enter the competition by paying a small entry fee and the hunter (or team of two hunters) who brings in the most coyotes and foxes wins the cash. Sometimes, the club gives away door prizes but the annual predator hunt is not about door prizes and the hunting so much as it is an opportunity for hunters coming from the surrounding small towns to hunt coyotes during the day and in the evening enjoy a meal of venison chili that is served by our club members.
A person would think that with all those hunters roaming the surrounding countryside a lot of coyotes would be killed. Not so, most of the hunters don’t bring in a single coyote, they pay their entry fee and show up for the camaraderie and food.
When I first joined the Finley Wildlife and Gun Club I avoided the annual predator hunt because these mid-level predators are necessary in any eco system so I didn’t support hunting them, besides, the coyote is my totem animal. Killing the predators, I firmly believed, was opening the flood gates for the growth of unwanted scavenger species. But the predator hunt, I now realize, has about as much population impact as pouring a shot of water from a full bucket of water. The number of coyotes has increased exponentially throughout the region and their nightly yipping at the edge of town is an affirmation of nature’s nearness. Interestingly, with the increase of coyotes there has been a flood of rural legends, and one of the most popular is that ranchers have reported finding coyote dens with several dozen fawn skulls outside its entrance. Without supportive physical evidence and little contrary to the claims these stories are hard to disprove. To date not a single “witness” has come forward with the needed evidence, such as the location of these dens. Frequently these claims come from hunters who blame coyotes’ deer depredation for their failure to see (kill) deer during the hunting season. Now, however, they are being proven wrong by a University of North Dakota study of whitetail mortality. Fifty whitetail deer (mostly does) that were fitted with telemetry collars showed that hunters accounted for only four does of the dozen deer killed in the first phase of the study. Hunters just weren’t effective—the deer outsmarted the hunters! As for the biggest deer killer—it was the automobile, not predators.
This common coyote/deer misinformation reared its head at a December public forum for North Dakota Game & Fish officials hosted by the wildlife club. The coyote predation question was a central topic and the claim was made that area ranchers had found coyote dens surrounded by fawn skulls. The problem is that as with most rural or urban legends, the story is one that is passed on from one person to another and there is no photographic evidence or an actual person who can produce the den. The wildlife officials did admit that coyotes are responsible for a lot of deer (and other game) depredations, but there are more “tales” than facts. There was one point that both the wildlife officials and the audience agreed on and that was the number of coyotes in the area had increased and that more hunting pressure was needed. I don’t know how much of an impact our annual hunt will have this year because of the sub-zero cold and deep snow, but there will be predator hunters who will try. I suspect that those who benefit most from this year’s hunt will be local towing services and farmers who pull hunters’ trucks out of drifted snow—for a price. Myself, I’ll just enjoy the chili.
10 months ago