Over the past couple of generations, we have directed considerable time, money and other resources toward so-called threatened and endangered species.
In many cases, those birds or animals had suffered declines because of pollution, habitat degradation or other manmade causes, so better environmental stewardship beginning in the late 1960s brought about remarkable recoveries for many affected species. The restoration of the bald eagle is one of the most notable success stories, although plenty of other species remain in peril in spite of our best efforts to help them.
And then we have the coyote. Here is a critter that is, and always has been, generally despised wherever it is found. Since their first encounters with coyotes, humans have shot, trapped, burned, snared, poisoned or used any other possible means or method to kill these cunning canines at every opportunity.
Yet, despite more than a century of all-out efforts to eradicate it, the coyote is not only holding its own most places but also expanding its range as well.
I saw my first coyote more than 20 years ago on a visit to Yellowstone National Park. We were driving through Gibbon Meadow one afternoon when someone spotted a coyote a couple hundred yards off the road. At that time, I didn't own a telephoto lens powerful enough to get a good photograph at that distance, so I was content to watch the animal through binoculars as it hunted mice in the tall grass there.
My first coyote sighting here in Pennsylvania came about a decade later. I was driving along the Little Juniata River in Huntingdon County on a foggy spring morning when a coyote sprang up the riverbank, dashed across the road just a few yards in front of me and disappeared into the woods on the other side.
While classified as the same species, the eastern coyote is generally larger than its western counterparts. Recent DNA research also indicates that eastern coyotes may have hybridized with wolves at some point. Both coyotes and wolves were believed to have existed in Pennsylvania during colonial times, but little reliable information is available about their actual numbers or distribution back then. Most records indicate wolves and coyotes were finally eradicated here by the late 1800s.
Coyotes began to show up again occasionally in some northern Pennsylvania counties during the early 1940s. During the late 1960s, coyotes became established throughout northern Pennsylvania, probably from animals that migrated there from New York's Catskill Mountains. Coyotes continued to expand their range in the 1970s and could be found statewide by 1990.
Like many hunters, I've had mixed emotions about the presence of coyotes and what effect these large, efficient predators might have on other species, especially deer. One thing is certain, however, and that is coyotes are here to stay so there is probably little use in fretting about. I hope more efforts will be made to study eastern coyotes and how they fit into the ecology of Pennsylvania.
In the meantime, the mindset toward the coyote here in Pennsylvania is the same as most other places: kill them all, all the time. Coyotes can basically be hunted 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The use of bait and electronic calls and decoys is also permitted. In spite of the liberal seasons and regulations, coyotes can be extremely wary and difficult to hunt, making them the ultimate challenge for many Pennsylvania varmint hunters.
As a result, coyote hunting continues to gain popularity, especially during the late winter when other outdoor options are somewhat limited. Many sportsmen's clubs hold organized coyote hunts this time of year as fundraisers.
One such event in our area is hosted by my friends at the Blair County Game, Fish and Forestry Association Inc. in Riggles Gap, who will hold their sixth annual coyote hunt on March 9-11. Entry fee is $10 of which $5 goes to the prize fund and $5 to the club's habitat improvement fund. All legally taken coyotes presented by registered hunters will receive an equal share of the prize money.
Registrations must be received and processed before 5 p.m. on March 8. For complete rules and a registration form, stop by the club at 301 Riggles Gap Sportsmen Road, Altoona; visit the club website, www.blaircountygame.com; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 814-946-9315.