A week before the opening of the Olympics, 759 Pennsylvanians paid $25 each to participate in a sport that would never be a part of any international competition.
These Pennsylvanians carried shotguns, whistles, and electronic calls; most also used dogs to search out their prey.
The prey was coyotes. A “reward” of $100 was paid for each coyote killed; whoever killed the biggest coyote in each of the three-day hunt received $250. Most of the coyotes killed weighed 30–40 pounds, about the size of a Brittany Spaniel; the largest weighed 51 pounds.
This hunt was organized by District 9 Pennsylvania Trappers Association, which covers seven counties in the north-central part of the state. Other hunts are organized by community organizations and volunteer fire companies in several states. January and February, the months when most organized hunts take place, is when the coyotes breed; gestation period is about two months.
Decades ago, hunters killed off the wolf population. Ever resourceful, coyotes filled the void. In Pennsylvania, as in most states that have coyotes, every day is open season. Last year, more than 40,000 coyotes were killed in Pennsylvania, about half of all coyotes killed throughout the country. However, eliminating coyotes is impossible. When threatened by predators, including humans, coyotes will breed and overproduce. When not threatened, they maintain the size of their packs.
In literature, the coyote is the trickster, not unlike Br’er Rabbit who could out-think (and scam) any other animal. Among Native Americans in the southwest, the coyote was revered as “God’s Dog.”
Those who trap rather than shoot coyotes use leg-hold traps and neck snares, which causes severe injuries, pain, and suffering,” according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Another problem with traps is they often capture domestic animals. But there is even a greater problem than the traps.
“Because coyotes are nocturnal animals, and look like dogs at night, people hunting coyotes will kill domestic pets,” says Sarah Speed of the HSUS. She says there are “thousands of cases” of what is dismissed as “mistaken identity.”
Coyotes pose no threat to humans, and will avoid human contact when possible. Contrary to hunter claims, coyotes usually avoid killing deer and elk, except in extreme winter when food is scarce. To the coyotes, size does matter, and scoring dinner of mice and berries is far easier than taking down an eight-point buck.
Those who kill coyotes claim coyotes, one of the most intelligent and resourceful of all animals, kill fawns, causing severe stress to the deer families. So, like the true humanitarians they are, these citizens of a state founded by a man opposed to killing, spin the fiction they are not only preventing an overpopulation of coyotes, but are also saving fawns, cottontails, mice and, apparently, fruits and berries, coyote favorites in the summer, from the coyote population. The Pennsylvania Game Commission says there is no evidence coyotes have any significant impact upon the deer population.
Farmers say they don’t like coyotes because they kill hens, which produce eggs and then are slaughtered. Coyotes deprive not only Colonel Sanders from income but also sports fans from the thrill of slobbering barbeque sauce over their hands and mouths during “Wing Nite Mondays.”
Most hunters who kill deer say they do so to provide their families with meat; they say the skin provides for warmth. They don’t say why they have a testosterone-fueled need to stuff a buck’s head, complete with antlers, and display it like a trophy. Nevertheless, coyotes have no meat value. Although their fur can yield a maximum of $40 a pelt, women aren’t salivating for a Valentine’s Day gift of a coyote stole.
Hunters whose intelligence and ability to survive in the woods aren’t as good as a coyote’s can still kill them. Several game farms offer special hunts. For $399 a day, pretend-hunters can sign up with Kansas Predator Hunts for “guided and all-inclusive” hunts that includes lodging, food, and a guide to do everything except to take the actual shot.
Many hunters refuse to kill coyotes. Mark Giesen of Northumberland, Pa., a hunter for 40 years, refuses to hunt coyotes or anything that does not have meat value. He says he believes incentivized killing, where people are paid to kill animals, “whether it’s coyotes or pigeons, is wrong and very unsportsmanlike.”
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, composed of part-timers who earn a minimum of $82,026 a year plus as much as $159 a day when they are actually in Harrisburg, passed a bill, 111-78 in December, which would pay a $25 bounty for every coyote killed. The Senate has not yet voted on the legislation. Because there is open season on coyotes, more than 40,000 a year are killed, and numerous wildlife officers are on record as saying that bounties are not effective in controlling the coyote population, the bill appears to be little more than a special welfare program to benefit hunters and trappers. The cost to the state, which is already in financial distress, will be up to $700,000 a year for the bounties, plus additional administrative costs to process a program that adds another layer of bureaucracy and still not solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
Camilla Fox of Project Coyote told The Wildlife News that “Killing coyotes and wolves for fun and prizes is ethically repugnant, morally bankrupt, and ecologically indefensible. Such contests demean the immense ecological and economic value of predators, perpetuating a culture of violence and sending a message to children that life has little value.”
For whatever reason people say they kill coyotes, it has nothing to do with sport or ecological necessity, and everything to do with the sheer joy of killing.
[Dr. Brasch has been an award-winning journalist for four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the effects of the shale gas industry upon economics, health, and environment.]