John's Journal...

Coyotes: Helpful Predators or Deer Killers

A Deer Hunt Ruined

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Hunting deer is hard enough, but when a coyote is stalking the same deer that’s in your sights, you have to act carefully and make quick decisions. Today, I’ll tell you how a coyote ruined my morning deer hunt.

Shafts of light knifed through the canopy of gold, yellow, green and orange leaves, creating white bars that stood on the forest floor in the early-morning light of early deer season. Here in mid-November, the usual warm weather of my home state of Alabama had a hint of Santa Claus in the air that sent the trees a message to releaClick to enlargese their leaves and prepare to enter their near-death state of winter. Eating a big breakfast of sausage, eggs, grits and light-as-a-feather biscuits complete with butter and homemade preserves had put me in a somewhat-dormant state. My eyelids dropped down. But then I had my quiet meditation and near-sleep condition interrupted by a rustling in the leaves behind my tree stand. I thought for sure that deer were running from behind me toward my tree stand. I cocked the hammer on my black-powder rifle and readied for the shot after standing-up and turning to face the deer. I waited patiently and listened as the crashing of the hooves against the crisp leaves and the rotting limbs sounded louder. Just before the deer reached my stand site in the clearing, I heard them stop, although I couldn't see them, probably checking for danger in the opening before they crossed it. A doe with a spotted fawn came into my sight. I legally could take a doe, but I held my shot in hopes of later bagging a buck.

As I watched the doe and the fawn vanish in the woods, I heard another animal approaching. I readied for the shot, feeling confident that a buck must have followed the doe. However, as I turned my head shaClick to enlargerply to the right, I quickly recognized a small patch of black fur as a coyote. The song dog had its nose to the ground, moving at the quick step along the trail that the doe and fawn had traveled. "You won't eat venison today," I said to myself, sliding my finger to the trigger and pointing my rifle at a small opening through which I knew the big coyote would have to pass. The wolf-like creature's head came through the opening first, but I waited for a shoulder shot before I squeezed the trigger. The .50-caliber bullet put the Click to enlargebig coyote down so quickly he never knew what hit him. "Well, I guess my deer hunt for the morning is ruined," I said to myself as the black smoke drifted out of my tree stand toward the fallen coyote. But I felt good about the shot and the fact that perhaps I'd saved at least the fawn from becoming a meal for the coyote.

The coyote population in my home state of Alabama has explodedover the last 25 years. Folklore tells us several ways coyotes came to the Heart of Dixie, Alabama's nickname.  Some say fox hunters from Georgia brought the coyotes into the western part of their state because they wanted a new game for their fox hounds to run. Some of the coyotes then probably crossed the boundary line between Georgia and Alabama. In north Alabama, the story goes that fox hunters decided the Georgia folks had a good idea. Evidently north Alabama fox hunters paid big bucks for westerners to ship live coyotes to the hill country of north Alabama. Other reports mention the migration of coyotes from the west to the east, which means they moved through Louisiana and Mississippi from Texas and then into Alabama. Today, my home state, like many of the eastern states, has a large number of coyotes, which I feel certain must impact the deer population. But when you ask whether coyotes affect deer herds negatively or positively, various state biologists and hunters view coyotes in different ways. Generally coyotes take the young, the sick and the old from a herd, which helps to somewhat keep deer numbers down.

Tomorrow: Why Coyotes Spread Across the U.S.

Check back each day this week for more about "Coyotes: Helpful Predators or Deer Killers"

Day 1: A Deer Hunt Ruined
Day 2: Why Coyotes Spread Across the U.S.
Day 3: To Shoot or Not to Shoot Coyotes
Day 4: How Coyotes Have Affected Deer Herds in Different States
Day 5: More on How Coyotes Have Affected Deer Herds in Different States


Entry 457, Day 1