Coyotes: Here To Stay
The ability of coyotes to adapt and persevere through the years has been documented many times. We've all read about how coyotes have moved into areas that they weren't previously established in, and how they've thrived there. I frequently hear eastern trappers say they've had to become coyote trappers after coyotes moved in and pushed red fox out.

In the West coyotes are often a main topic of conversation at gas stations, cafes, and of course trappers' conventions. Their cunning, perseverance, and tenacity has to be admired. When the West was being settled, the wolf was usually the main target, and the coyote secondary. When the wolves were pretty much under control, the focus turned towards coyotes, and rightly so.

I remember well the first day I was in Montana, in the fall of 1983. I was traveling across the state, and was amazed at the amount of antelope and mule deer I saw along the highway and in adjoining pastures. I was in heaven, and when I pulled into a little gas station and found the locals talking about coyotes, I was all ears.

The time for shipping the area ranchers' lambs to market was approaching, and there was some apprehension on how good the head counts would be. Men and women alike had stories of coyote predation. With their paycheck for the year on the line, they made no attempt to hide their dislike for coyotes.

The bulletin board on the wall had photos of game taken in the area, and one in particular caught my eye. It was of a coyote that had been shot coming out of some sheep. It was obviously a "wet" female, and the caption told how many pups she had produced. It also said the name of the ranch it was taken on, and that it had been taken with the aid of a local pilot and his Super Cub plane. When I resumed my trip their conversations, and the intensity with which they had talked about their ongoing struggle to survive in business alongside coyotes, stuck in my mind.

Several years, states, and coyotes later, I got the chance to return to that area, and work for some of the people I had listened to that day. I had been hired as the new county trapper, and had come there to make my own mark as a coyote hand. The pictures on the board had been replaced, but the "battle" continued on. Sons had taken over the ranches in a few cases, but the name on one of the photos that stuck in my memory still ran lots of sheep. I found the ranch, and over the years got to be great friends with the owner. His stories of coyotes, and his attempts to stay in the sheep business despite their perpetual presence, fascinated me. Lesser men would have thrown in the towel. Over the years I learned as much about coyotes from him as I did from anyone. He never was a trapper so to speak, but he could catch them, and he knew their habits well.

One day I stopped at his place for coffee after a long day of checking traps, snares, and M-44s. Eleven coyotes, all from his ranch, were in the pickup. He came over and leaned against the pickup tailgate to visit, and the look on his face said it all. We laughed, exchanged stories, and admired and cussed coyotes for quite awhile. That day I knew I had found my niche in life, and wanted to do nothing else.

Fast forward 20 years, and I'm typing an article about coyotes and their ability to survive. I hope the instances I relate will be some insight beyond the normal methods and trivia passed around so much today.

The first thing that comes to mind is one of my personal 'trophies' that I never tire of showing people. It's a radio collar I retrieved from a coyote I snared in the Missouri Breaks of Central Montana.

One winter it turned cold, but stayed fairly open as far as snow was concerned. My partner and I were running snare lines that covered a big piece of country, and it seemed to be a constant battle keeping up with thawing coyotes to skin, flesh, and stretch, not to mention catching them. The collar sat around for a day or two before I contacted a friend to inquire about it. The response really floored me.
The number 3494 was clearly etched in the metal housing of the transmitter. The original response was that it had to be from a coyote study in another state, since Montana hadn't done any studies on them in recent years. Then, several days later, I got a letter from the biologist who had been involved in the study that radio-collared that coyote. It read, "John, your coyote was one of ours. We trapped and tagged it on May 19, 1979. That makes him a minimum of 13 years, 10 months old in January of 1992. Attached is a hand drawn map of our locations of him over a 5-year period."

I remember thinking, "A 13-year-old coyote? Is he serious?" I've often thought about how that coyote had survived the fur boom, the callers, the airplanes, and the diseases for all that time. The snare I caught it in was only a few miles from where it had been tagged originally, so it hadn't ventured far in all those years.

This past spring I had the chance to break what had been a record for me, and possibly for anyone. Predator control work for coyotes includes denning, the harvesting of pups to reduce the overall number of coyotes, especially close to lambing and calving areas. Even earlier preventive work in denning areas can be particularly effective, too, especially since any coyote taken late in the spring might not get replaced soon by other coyotes looking for a place to set up housekeeping.

Back in April, a fence snare set in a water gap produced a female coyote that I won't soon forget. I knew as I cut the cable to take her out of the snare that and moved the coyote off a way to see how many pups she was carrying. I made the proper cuts, and started counting. The final count was 14! I inspected them individually, and all appeared healthy. The average litter is about six, with nine or 10 the usual high. This female was a very rare exception!

I called various friends around the West who are involved with coyote control, and they all agreed that 14 is possibly a record high.

Also this spring I had the chance to spend a great day with my wife and kids near our new home in eastern Wyoming. While in Nebraska looking at new 4-wheelers for my son, Tristan, who is well on his way to becoming a coyote trapper, we visited the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, Nebraska, and stopped at another museum in Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Even though my kids have grown up in dinosaur country, they still love to look at more of that type of thing. We were expecting the usual bones and casts and such when we went inside, but what we saw was a surprise to us all. The main display was the skeletons of two very large wooly mammoths, engaged in battle. These were recovered locally, I believe in 1961. The mammoths had died in battle together, and were basically entwined and had stayed there for about 12,000 years or so, covered with many layers of dirt, before being found.

What I really found interesting was a very nice mural painting of the battle between these two beasts on the wall, and in the upper corner of the mural was a coyote, intently watching the fight. It struck me as odd that the artist would put a coyote in the painting, and I mentioned it to the lady working there. She laughed, pointed to a small display, and said, "Go look in that glass case."

I had to laugh too when I read the little plaque on the case. It explained that the skull inside was of a coyote that had been recovered from under the two mammoth skeletons. There was speculation as to how it got there, but one theory was that it was possibly involved in the fight, or at least a curious onlooker. In any case, it clearly showed that coyotes were on the prairie many thousands of years ago.

As we drove back to Wyoming, I had to think about the never ending ability of coyotes to survive and thrive. I've spent most of my life around them, and I have no doubt they'll be here 12,000 years from now, too.