Silencing the Song Dogs

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Photo by Dru Bloomfield/Flickr.

While sly, the coyote isn’t a silent species.

The wild canines are often described as one of North America’s most vocal mammals and are often called “song dogs” because of their expansive section of sounds, which includes high-pitched yips, loud barks and echoing howls.

South Carolina has launched a program to silence those sounds.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources is tagging and releasing 16 coyotes across the state. And anyone who claims one of the tagged coyotes and verifies it with SCDNR will receive a lifetime hunting license, which typically costs about $300.

The program was designed to increase the number of coyote hunters in South Carolina by giving them a chance to receive a significant reward for killing one of the tagged coyotes, according to Jay Butfiloski, a wildlife biologist with SCDNR. The S.C. Senate approved the program in June after hearing complaints from constituents about coyotes.

“People are concerned because coyotes are getting closer to their homes, which is where their children and pets are,” Butfiloski said. “This is the Legislature’s way of trying to calm those concerns by reducing the population.”

South Carolina’s surging coyote population can be traced to two sources.

Coyotes, which are not native to South Carolina, migrated to northeast Georgia from areas west of the Mississippi River. Coyotes then appeared in areas of northwestern South Carolina in the 1970s.

Photo by Rebecca Richardson/Flickr.
Photo by Rebecca Richardson/Flickr.

SCDNR and federal authorities reported cases of hunters illegally importing coyotes into the state under the guise of hound running in the 1980s. Coyotes were released into large pen enclosures for the purpose of training foxhounds as well as hunting.

Coyotes have since migrated to all 46 counties and are now considered nuisance animals. Farmers complain their domestic livestock is in danger, and homeowners say family pets are threatened as coyotes migrate to suburban neighborhoods.

Coyotes have been spotted in urban areas around Greenville. In September, a bus driver for Woodland Elementary School spotted a coyote behind the school’s playground. The sighting prompted an indoor recess for students.

State wildlife officials say coyotes pose a threat to the deer population. “South Carolina’s deer have declined by more than 30 percent since the late 1990s. Coyotes aren’t the only reason for the decline, but they’ve definitely played their part,” said Charles Ruth, deer and turkey project coordinator for SCDNR. “They’re a significant threat to fawns.”

Ruth and Dr. Jim Kilgo of the U.S. Forest Service tracked the lifespan of 216 fawns at the Savannah River Site near Aiken from 2005 to 2012. “Coyote predation accounted for 80 percent of all mortality,” Kilgo said. “That translates to 62 percent of all fawns born, most of which would have survived had coyotes not taken them.”

Deer harvest numbers continue to fall across the state.

“Coyotes are well established in South Carolina, so they should be expected to play a role in deer population dynamics at some level. That factor combined with extremely liberal deer harvests that have been the norm in South Carolina are clearly involved in the reduction in deer numbers in the last decade,” Ruth said.

Ruth added that coyote numbers have increased dramatically since the 1980s. A survey revealed that hunter-harvested coyote numbers have increased from 2,500 then to more than 30,000 in 2015. Those numbers have leveled off.

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Coyotes will likely survive the new management program. “Cockroaches and coyotes are going to be here when we’re gone. They are extremely adaptable,” said Ruth. “Similar programs have been tried out west. However, they’ve had little effect on coyote populations. Trapping isn’t the best option either.”

From 2010 to 2012, Ruth and Kilgo removed 474 coyotes from three different 7,900-acre parcels and monitored 163 pregnant deer, which eventually gave birth to 192 fawns. But coyotes ate most of the fawns, despite the trapping efforts. “The best way to ensure that more fawns survive is to shoot fewer does during hunting season because that means more fawns will be born the next spring,” Kilgo said.

South Carolina adopted new deer harvesting regulations in June.

Under the new law, with the purchase of a license and big game permit, resident hunters will be issued eight antlerless deer tags, which are valid only on specified dates. Hunters will also receive three antler buck tags at no charge.

The law, which takes effect in July of next year, requires hunters to tag all harvested deer. SCDNR will enforce the law and issue citations for those who transport deer without tags.

Hunters will also have the option of purchasing two more buck tags at $5 a piece. Those tags come with antler restrictions. The buck must have a minimum of four points on one antler or a minimum 12-inch inside antler spread.

Photo by Harvey Barrison/Flickr.
Photo by Harvey Barrison/Flickr.

 

Those funds will be used for the coyote management program.

SCDNR has hired four licensed trappers to capture the 16 coyotes. So far, the trappers have captured nine. The agency plans to release four coyotes in each of the four game zones. “The idea is to spread the coyotes around so that everyone has a chance,” said Butfiloski. “We hope to trap the remaining coyotes before December.”

The program has garnered 1,400 registered participants so far. SCDNR plans to survey participants next year to gauge their overall interest in coyote hunting and improve the program, according to Butfiloski.

For more information, visit dnr.sc.gov.

Coyote Facts 

  • Southeastern coyotes are smaller than their western counterparts and typically weigh about 35 pounds. But they can exceed 50 pounds.
  • Coyotes are mostly grayish-brown to reddish-tan; black is not uncommon.
  • Coyotes produce five to seven pups per litter each winter.
  • There is no closed season on private lands.
  • A hunting license or permit is not required to shoot coyotes on your property within 100 years of your home.
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