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Old 11-27-2005, 09:17   #1
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Coyotes come out of wilderness and into Bay Area's backyards
Adaptable animal spotted more and more in urban areas but rarely threat to humans
- Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, November 27, 2005

There was no mistaking the high-pitched yipping, and Cathy Donaghey wasn't about to stick around to investigate.

The 37-year-old resident of Tamalpais Valley, an unincorporated section of Mill Valley, was jogging one recent foggy day on a ridge near her home when her dog, Buddy, ran into some coyotes.

Donaghey picked up her pace when Buddy tore out of the brush, apparently in full flight. To her horror, she could hear the coyotes running behind her, yipping as they closed the gap.

"I was so terrified," said Donaghey, who lives on Skyline Terrace. "I was running, and they were getting closer and closer the whole time. I don't know why they didn't catch us. Maybe it was a game to them."

These days, her story isn't as unusual as it might seem. Coyote sightings and confrontations with humans have increased dramatically over the past few years in the Bay Area, according to wildlife experts, although they say coyotes are still rarely a threat to humans.

Nobody seems to know exactly why, but the wily canines seem to be hanging around where people can see them, sometimes even sunning themselves on driveways or poking around the backyard.

"Increasingly, coyotes are being seen in the urbanized areas," said Camilla Fox, director of wildlife programs for the Animal Protection Institute in Sacramento, and a noted coyote expert.

"Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores and, given a chance, they thrive on the urban wildland fringe, where there is an abundance of food, water and shelter."

Coyotes are one of the most adaptable animals in America. Farmers and ranchers have, for more than 100 years, attempted to exterminate them -- poisoning, trapping and shooting them almost indiscriminately. Yet there are more coyotes in North America today than ever, according to Fox, who co-wrote the book "Coyotes in Our Midst."

She thinks the attempts to kill them have actually increased their populations by disturbing the pack hierarchy and, in turn, allowing more coyotes to reproduce. In a pack, only the alpha coyotes mate. When the pack is dispersed, all the animals can breed.

Coyotes, which weigh between 25 and 45 pounds, will prey on small animals, Fox said, but they usually avoid humans. There has only been one documented case of a coyote killing a human in history, she said, while family dogs kill an average of 20 people a year.

But coyotes can adapt to people, especially if they leave garbage or pet food lying around. Rats, one of their favorite foods, live in populated areas, Fox said, and when the going gets tough in the hills, small pets can also provide a hungry coyote with an easy meal.

Coyotes have been spotted recently in the most unlikely places, including one particularly bold specimen that was seen several times playing with dogs in the Bernal Heights area of San Francisco.

But Marin County seems to be a particular hot spot. Fox believes the bushy-tailed canines are being pushed south from Sonoma County by increased urban sprawl and the resulting habitat fragmentation.

The Marin Humane Society has received numerous phone calls over the past year from residents in Mill Valley, San Rafael and Novato complaining about coyotes.

Jeff Hamilton, 44, of Novato said his first encounter with a coyote was in June, when he was walking his dog along some railroad tracks near his home in the Bel Marin Keys area.

"It was accelerating toward me, and it got close enough that I got a little alarmed," Hamilton said. "It seemed almost like it was on a mission, so I threw a rock that hit the tracks and made a big noise, and the coyote shot off.

"I've walked in the hills my whole life, and I've never seen a coyote," he said. "That's 44 years. And now I've seen three since June."

The nighttime yipping has been particularly noticeable in neighborhoods near what's known as Horse Hill and the Alto Bowl Open Space Preserve that separates Mill Valley and Corte Madera.

The Alto Bowl area is where a family of coyotes took up residence in 2001, the first time anyone could remember coyotes in the area.

That same year a cuddly, 12-pound lap dog named Cassie disappeared from a home on Greenfield Court, near Horse Hill. The family didn't realize their pet bichon frise, a known escape artist, had been killed until the father chased a coyote away from the house and found Cassie's lifeless body lying next to a tree.

Since then several house cats and at least one small dog have been reported missing in Marin. Rob Ruiz, the chief ranger for Marin County parks, said a little schnauzer was killed by coyotes in Lucas Valley last year after it ran up into the hills one dark morning. Its collar and head were later found by a neighbor who chased off a coyote.

Yowling coyotes have been heard on a regular basis in the Tamalpais Valley area, where one particularly large one was spotted several times trotting down the middle of Shoreline Drive.

The coyotes Donaghey ran across may have been from the same pack, which originated in the Alto Bowl area and then spread out.

Cindy Machado, the animal services director for the Marin Humane Society, said the coyotes were probably interested in Donaghey's dog, a Labrador/collie mix, because it had disturbed them. In fact, she said, almost every recent human encounter with a coyote in Marin County also involved a dog.

The Humane Society has spent a lot of time vexing, or chasing away, coyotes from populated areas in the past couple of years, Machado said. The organization has a policy of using only nonlethal means of controlling coyotes, she said, but the California Department of Fish and Game permitted one coyote to be killed in the Alto Bowl area after it was spotted near a school.

Donaghey said she was spooked by the incident, especially because she has a 21-month-old child. Still, she said, she would not like to see coyotes removed from the area.

"We have to live mutually and coexist," she said. "It means not letting my child out by himself and not letting him outside at dusk and dawn."

Researchers have placed radio collars around at least three coyotes in the Tennessee Valley area of Marin County, Machado said. What they found was that the animals mostly stayed within the boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area but regularly patrolled the outskirts of urban areas.

Coyotes, which can each make 11 different vocal sounds, are generally solitary until breeding season in late spring and summer. The vast majority of recent sightings in Marin and elsewhere have been between June and December, Machado said.

"There are fruit trees and water and recycling bins and garbage cans, which attract rodents," she said. "The cats go after the rats; the coyotes go after the cats. It's a cycle."

Fox, Machado and other experts say the best way to keep coyotes away is to make sure no garbage, dog food or other edible debris is left around the neighborhood. And, they say, never feed coyotes or other wild animals, the primary cause of conflicts.

"These are predators. That is their job on the Earth, whether we like it or not," Machado said. "The trick for us is that we are living in their neighborhood, so we have to train people to coexist."

Keeping coyotes at a distance
Coyotes are drawn to neighborhoods either because of human encroachment into their habitat or the availability of food, water and shelter, according to Camilla Fox, director of wildlife programs for the Animal Protection Institute in Sacramento. She offers these tips for avoiding confrontations:

-- Secure garbage cans with bungee cords or rope, and store bins inside enclosed structures.

-- Put garbage out the morning of pickup, not the night before.

-- When composting, use well-secured bins. Don't add dog or cat waste, meat, dairy or eggs.

-- Pick ripe fruit off trees, and keep fruit off the ground.

-- Keep bird feeders from overflowing.

-- Fence vegetable gardens, or use a greenhouse.

-- Install outdoor lighting triggered by motion sensors.

-- Clear bushes and dense weeds where coyotes may find cover and small animals to feed upon.

-- Close off crawl spaces under porches, decks and sheds.

-- Fence your property or yard. The fence must be at least 6 feet tall with the bottom extending at least 6 inches below the ground and/or 1 inch outward.

-- Cats and small dogs can be seen as prey, while larger dogs may be viewed as a threat.

-- Keep pets and livestock inside at night, and do not allow pets to roam free.

-- Never leave or store pet food outside.

-- Spay or neuter your dogs. Coyotes can mate with unsterilized dogs.

-- Walk your dog on a leash. If your yard is unfenced, use a leash on your property. Do not leave your dog unsupervised while leashed.

Camilla Fox of the Animal Protection Institute offers the following suggestions for people who meet up with a coyote.

-- Never feed or attempt to "tame" a coyote.

-- Do not turn your back on or run from a coyote.

-- Make loud noises, make yourself look big and, if necessary, throw sticks or small stones to scare it.

-- Stay between a coyote and small children or pets.

-- Carry a deterrent such as an air horn, whistle or walking stick.

E-mail Peter Fimrite at [email protected].

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2005 San Francisco Chronicle
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Old 11-27-2005, 17:00   #2
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Very good read Kkina. What an interesting critter. They literally are everywhere now. 30 yrs ago you had to watch a Road Runner cartoon to see a coyote in Alabama. Now they are in the cities. #1 inspiraton for me to get a Mini to begin with.
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Old 11-27-2005, 21:10   #3
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SEE! the yotes know about the ban on weapons. as soon as it goes into effect they are going to take over the town! oh sure they might not seem threatining now till everyone is unarmed!

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Old 11-28-2005, 09:11   #4
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I think I've seen more dead yotes on the road than deer this year. I feel like I'm not doing my job and killing them with my mini.

" If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would send an entertainer..... our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent a Savior."
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Old 11-28-2005, 11:32   #5
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Originally posted by Dorkface@Nov 28 2005, 12:10 AM
SEE! the yotes know about the ban on weapons. as soon as it goes into effect they are going to take over the town! oh sure they might not seem threatening now till everyone is unarmed!

That's exactly what I was thinking.

If'n I were a yote the Bay Area would be my Mecca

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Old 11-28-2005, 11:54   #6
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Great read.I lived in the Vacaville Ca. area for years and had the coyotes come close to my house often.My house was out side of the town 4 miles.I gew up in Kansas on the plains and saw them there quite often also.I've never heard of one bothering a human.They are very wiley and try to avoid humans at all times,in my experience.They were sacred to the Plains Indians;their term for them was "Little Brother".If you've never heard a chorus of them in the desert late at night with a full moon shining,your'e missing a great part of the American experience. B)
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Old 11-28-2005, 12:56   #7
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Remember, carry a loud horn, a stick, or a whistle with you, so they can run off and get their buddies. Carry a gun if you want to protect yourself. This goes for coyotes too.

Chuck-who needs to go yote hunting
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Old 11-28-2005, 18:51   #8
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They're in Maryland, too!

The coyotes among us
All of Maryland is now a hunting ground for the Eastern coyote, which has been known to attack pets, farm animals and humans

By Frank D. Roylance
Sun reporter

November 18, 2005

You say the cat's gone missing, and your nights are haunted by eerie yips and howls? Could be coyotes, pardner.

Eastern coyotes - descendants of familiar Western varmints who picked up some weight and wolf genes on their century-long trot eastward - have become a growing nuisance in Maryland.

Truth be told, coyotes have been here for more than two decades. But their range and numbers are increasing. They're active in every Maryland county now, especially Washington's suburbs. They've settled Rock Creek National Park and roam nearby streets in the capital itself.

Coyotes generally avoid people and stick to small mammals and rodents for dinner. But as their numbers grow, so can their predations. Coyotes have killed and harassed Maryland farm animals and snatched pets from backyards. Their increasing presence in the suburbs is a growing worry.

"Once they become habituated to humans, in areas that do not allow [hunting], they do become fairly bold," said Robert C. Colona, fur bearer project leader for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"They're seen during the day. They may den under the shed, eat out of the cat's bowl and then eat the cat," he said. And sometimes "they do attack humans."

Such attacks are rare. We're thousands of times more likely to be bitten by dogs. But Maryland and Delaware were the last two states on the continent to be colonized by coyotes, so we can see our future in the 47 others.

In February, a 44-year-old Cape Cod, Mass., woman was bitten on the hand by a rabid coyote as she tried to shoo it away from her tethered dog.

In October, a 76-year-old man in Northborough, Mass., wrestled a 45-pound female coyote to the ground after the animal attacked him and his 4-year-old grandson on a nature trail. He held the struggling coyote down until police arrived and strangled it.

Earlier this month, a guard patrolling a country club in Mashpee, Mass., was bitten by a coyote he surprised as it rooted through bags of garbage.

And that's just the news from Massachusetts. Coyote complaints are rising nationwide as development encroaches on old coyote habitats and the wily canines adapt to an environment enriched by our animals, vegetables, trash and inevitable rodents.

Maryland has no count of its coyote population. But Virginia, with a similar habitat, estimates that its coyote population is growing 29 percent annually - despite hunting, trapping and full-time control efforts. Some researchers say that when hunters kill more coyotes, the survivors have bigger litters.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's nuisance animal hot line for Maryland logged 132 coyote-related calls in the year that ended Sept. 30. Counts for prior years were unavailable.

Most coyotes in Maryland are west of its urban centers, but most complaints come from the Washington suburbs, said Kevin Sullivan, state director for USDA wildlife services. One trapper who specializes in nuisance animals had so far taken 17 coyotes in Montgomery County, he said.

Callers also reported $5,000 in damage to livestock in four incidents involving calves, chickens, adult sheep and lambs and one household pet.

The dollar figure is tiny compared with other states. But not everyone with a problem calls the USDA. And "I can tell you," Sullivan said, "the calls are going to go up; there's no doubt about that."

Some Maryland residents might welcome a new top predator - especially where deer have become a headache. But for others, including state wildlife managers, coyotes are a costly nuisance.

As such, they may be hunted legally in Maryland year-round, with no bag limits. Trappers enjoy an 80-day coyote season from November through mid-January. Most use state-approved, but still controversial leghold traps, and dispatch the animals with gunshots. Trappers say coyotes won't enter cage traps.

Goats helpless

Curtis Firey, a 31-year-old Washington County resident, has been catching coyotes for nearly 10 years. He's one of 200 state-licensed nuisance-animal trappers.

"It's just been getting steadily worse," he said. Farmers used to talk about all the foxes on their land, but "anymore, they're just talking about the coyotes."

Five or six years ago, Firey typically caught two to five coyotes a season. "Then the last several years, it went to seven or eight, and up to 21 last year," he said. He's nabbed eight so far this month.

One of his customers is Donald Bragunier, 64, of Clear Spring, who raises cattle, corn and wheat on 3,000 acres in Maryland and West Virginia.

He also has a herd of goats he bought to eat unwanted brush in his pastures. Coyotes "just killed all the little ones, the big ones too," he said. His 80 goats have been whittled down to about 30.

"Goats are helpless when it comes to coyotes and dogs," he said. Four or five coyotes will gang up on one animal. "They nip their legs, and bite them to get them down on the ground" for the kill.

Coyotes have also gone after his cattle and sheep, "especially during calving in the spring of the year," he said. "Anytime you've got blood around, you've got coyote problems."

Firey has trapped six or seven coyotes for Bragunier. Unlike neighboring states, Maryland does not yet provide coyote management services. Residents do their own or hire private trappers.

Eastern coyotes are bigger than their Western cousins by at least 8 to 10 pounds, biologists say. Males are typically about 35 pounds, females about 30 - but some are even larger, said Walter J. Jakubas, a biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Some Maine coyotes have topped 50 pounds, and an 85-pound animal was trapped there in 1996. "When it starts getting that big, you really start wondering what they're looking at," he said.

A study last year of 100 Maine coyotes looked at 10 genetic markers and found that only 5 percent of the animals matched with true Western coyotes. Another 5 percent had more than 30 percent wolf ancestry. One 27-pound female was 89 percent wolf. The rest fell somewhere in between.

"It almost looks like Eastern coyotes are kind of their own separate population, and they're evolving a little on their own," said Jakubas, a co-author of the study. (Despite the folklore about "coydogs," there is little evidence that wild coyotes breed with man's best friend.)

Eastward move

Biologists' best guess is that Western coyotes (Canis latrans) began moving east in significant numbers about a century ago, after settlers had eliminated most of the wolves as competitors.

Genetic profiling revealed that the ancestors of Maine coyotes, who entered the state in the 1930s, had bred along the way with the Eastern Canadian wolf (Canis lycaon).

Much less clear, however, is whether the Eastern coyote's wolf genes affect its behavior or appearance. "These [genetic] markers are not expressed in the animals in a way we can see," Jakubas said.

For example, biologists don't know whether Eastern coyotes are larger than their Western cousins because of their wolf genes, a richer diet, or natural selection that favors individuals that can tackle larger prey, such as deer.

The Eastern coyote's taste for venison is either a problem or a boon, depending on your viewpoint.

"There's a very strong correlation between deer populations and coyote populations," said Ron Leggett, a Boonsboro trapper. "Eighty percent of the coyote's diet during fawning season is deer. They eat the fawns and any sick deer or any deer they can chase down."

Leggett once helped remove the carcass of a deer that a friend thought had been hit by a car. It hadn't.

"The deer was chased by coyotes, and got entangled in a fence," he said. "The coyotes ate through the flank, disconnected the hind quarters and dragged the rest to her backyard, where they ate a third of the body."

Leggett suspects that higher coyote numbers are responsible for what hunters have told him is a scarcity of deer west of Interstate 81 in Washington County. But he concedes that coyotes might be more welcome farther east, where deer dine on suburban shrubs and stroll into traffic.

Colona, at the DNR, isn't so sure - he says there are too many deer for coyotes to have an impact. On the other hand, he said, "I've noticed a marked decrease in red fox populations in areas where coyotes have become established."

Humans must adjust

With coyotes here to stay, Maryland's human population will have to adjust, too. Wildlife officials say an early clue to the presence of coyotes nearby is the disappearance of neighborhood cats. Residents are told not to leave pets or pet food outside.

Grizzly Leach, of Grizzly's Rescue Service, in Walkersville, said he was called last year by a family south of Thurmont whose pet rabbits disappeared from a pen.

"They thought it was a domestic dog, but it wasn't," he said. "It was a coyote, and it tore out from underneath the wire mesh, and took the rabbits away." The coyote was later killed by a car.

Farmers are advised to bring livestock into the barn at night, and buy "guard animals."

Five years ago, Art Williamson, a 63-year-old retiree from Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant, moved to Keedysville in Washington County with his wife, Judy. They were looking for peace and quiet, but soon found their 120-acre retreat, and their 70 Boer meat goats, surrounded by coyotes.

"A very close neighbor saw four coyotes on their farm and had all their chickens and ducks wiped out," Williamson said.

So he bought two miniature donkeys. They produced two more. He has since added two llamas, who gave birth to a third. Both breeds are highly aggressive toward canines.

"All I can tell you is I've had no losses due to predation," Williamson said. "One neighbor lost livestock, and I've not lost anything."

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Old 11-29-2005, 06:45   #9
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Lots of the Eastern Coyotes in New York too. I saw two road kills near Mendon Ponds Park near Rochester than must have weighed 50 pounds. Long legged critters that were almost as tall as a wolf. I drive I90 a lot and see them occasionally too. Much bigger than the ones you see out west.

What we need is to import wolves. Since wolves were introduced to Yellowstone, 50% of the coyotes have been killed. Went to Yellowstone in 1992 and 1993. Never saw a coyote. Went back to Yellowstone in 1998 after the wolves were introduced. Saw a lot of them along the roads where the wolves won't generally go.
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