Should Game Wardens Be Allowed to Kill Coyotes?
By Luther Choate

When I got out of the army in the fifties I returned to Washington County. There were deer "everywhere" and it stayed that way into the mid sixties.

At that point the situation started to change quite rapidly. Some people will tell us that the reason that deer were so thick in the forties was the fact that all the hunters were gone to fight World War II, which is possibly somewhat valid, but this would be only the tip of the iceburg.

Letís take a look at some of the things that affected the deer. I have been a trapper and hunter for over sixty years, spending most of my time in the woods and on the water in the state of Maine, so I have seen many of the things that have changed since the forties. Back when there used to be quite a few beaver trappers in Washington County, some of the guys would regularly burn just about every meadow they came across so that they didnít have to walk through the three foot high dead grass. We knew that the "burns" kept the brush down and brought in new maple and popular sprouts for the deer and beaver. Also, many of the hunters that I knew carried a good big pocket full of stick matches and burned a lot of dead leaves and meadows during hunting season. In addition, during the blueberry "burning season", some fires burned up into the edges of the woods. This cleaned up a lot of brush, allowing new sprout growth. Lets face it, "rolling smoke" was kind of a way of life and an accepted practice.

Right from the time people started growing blueberries commercially, burning was done during the winter and early spring months so it would not destroy nesting birds or cause damage to woodland. Now there is no more "free burn". I feel sure that this factor is adversely affecting the deer. Today, if a hunter stops in the woods to light his pipe or "boil tea" there will soon be a bear in the air dumping water on him. It has been said many times that the deer and moose follow the fires and the power saw. There is very little wild life other than red squirrels and pine marten in virgin timber. Another factor that I feel has a negative impact on the deer population is aerial spraying of pesticides and herbicides. Of course, this is not a popular subject to bring up, especially in Washington County, because when blueberries are in the equation wild life will come in a bad second.

Bears kill a lot of deer and the larger bob-cats kill some deer. Fisher will kill some, and even a fox will take a few newborn lamb deer. Dogs running loose in the winter will kill some and poaching will account for the loss of quite a few deer, especially when deer are thick, although I have to believe a poacher would starve to death if he had to depend on deer meat in Washington County right now. Motor vehicles take a toll on many deer as well as other wildlife. Clear cuts that are too large are not good and lack of good cedar swamps for winter deer yards has taken a toll on the deer herds. I donít believe any one can doubt that these things that I have mentioned have had a negative affect on the deer, but I have to think that if you added them all up, the number of lost deer would not come close to the number being killed by coyotes. And we have to realize that the coyote has a more devastating effect now that the deer numbers are down.

I remember quite a few years ago talking with a legislator from this area. I suggested a bounty on the coyote in addition to closing the deer season for about three years to give the deer a chance to rebound. He told me that the state would never part with any money for a bounty and that closing the season for three years would put the sporting camps out of business. I have recent pictures of some of these hunting camps. They have not been used for many years and are crumbling into the soil. It appears that the end result was the same. The state has since enacted a bucks only law and it does not seem to help, so now I donít know if closing the season would have helped after all. I donít have all the answers to the lack of deer or the decline of the moose heard. I am only trying to bring out some of the possibilities.

Perhaps the deer had ideal conditions for a period of time and flourished and as conditions changed the deer started to decline for aforementioned reasons. It is believed that the clear cuts and forest fires of yesteryear brought in a lot of popular and maple sprouts and this meant a huge amount of feed for deer and moose. Now many of the trees are too tall for the moose to reach and more areas are open to hunting. My wife and I have covered thousands of miles, from the ocean to far above Route 9, hunting, fishing and trapping and we see less and less moose every season. It is my opinion that there have been too many moose taken and they will soon follow the deer into oblivion.

I have at times wondered if everything that is done in Fish and Wildlife has to do with what is good for wildlife or if it is all about money. I hope it is not the latter. On the positive side, to be fair to the Fish & Wild life people, they have done some positive things. Under the direction and wisdom of Commissioner George Stobie during the thirties and forties the fisher and pine marten season was closed for many years, until in fact they recovered. Also, the beaver and moose were brought back from near extinction in the area. These accomplishments were the result of very good long term decisions, leading me to believe that some time in the past there must have been some people with a fair amount of wisdom in the Fish and Wild life Department.

I hope that there are still some of these people still in the department with a measure of common sense, but I have to wonder how much they are restricted by politics. Perhaps it is time to cut back on the deer and moose seasons some and put a lot more effort in declaring war on the yodel dogs while there is still enough deer and moose left to bring back some of what we had in the seventies.

I recall that a few years back the wardens were told they could not snare coyotes. Now I believe they have been told that they can not shoot coyotes while on duty either. This seems counter-productive to me. A dead coyote can not eat a deer. The coyote is the great white shark of the woodland, eating everything it can overpower. As a trapper I would gladly sacrifice what coyote pelts I could sell if we could cut down on the odds favoring the coyote. In order to have an effective campaign on the coyote the hunters, wardens and trappers canít be effective with one hand tied behind their backs, which is what the current regulations are doing. Let the wardens shoot coyotes where ever they see them, allow trappers to use both foot traps and snares in the unorganized territories, promote hunting coyotes with hounds like it is successfully being done in the Harrington and Addison areas and not only will we put a good dent in the coyote population, but also the rest of wildlife will benefit.

Trappers are some of the few people that actually see what really happens in the wilderness and the real world is not at all like Bambi and the Land of Make Believe as some of these perhaps well meaning but ignorant people would have us believe. I would have liked to have had some of these people with me when I found a doe deer, still alive, with part of her hind quarter eaten away and her intestines hauled out through a gapping hole in her side . (This is the real world of the coyote!)

When I first started beaver trapping during the winter of 1959 I donít remember ever seeing a coyote track in Washington County. A few years later my brother and I started finding beaver skulls on the ridges up away from the flowages and wondered what had dragged them up there. We also saw canine tracks around brush piles and spring brooks that appeared to be hunting rabbits and muskrats and observed that the tracks appeared to be too large to be foxes. I remember mentioning to my brother George that I wondered if the tracks could be coyotes. As I recall, he thought they belonged to dogs that were running loose from a nearby town. I believe I corrected him on that at a later date! I also recall that a hunter shot one of these "phantom animals" the next fall in the Saco area of Columbia and a biologist at the time called it a coy- dog. As the years went by more of these canine tracks started to show up and more partly eaten deer were found. In addition the rabbits and muskrats started to get scarce and we wondered if it could have been caused by disease or pesticides. During this period in time trappers were having muskrats pulled out of foot traps, leaving just the entire hind leg in the trap. Everything else was gone. I think at the time we blamed it on bears. Also we were having the jaws pulled out of number two coil spring fox traps so we started replacing them with larger traps. Then we found out what had been escaping from the smaller traps. Indeed, it was what Fish & Wildlife finally decided were coyotes, not "coy dogs". Now I understand that the proper name is brush wolf . Whatever anyone wishes to label these animals, be it coyotes, brush wolves or big foot, they are eating up the wildlife in Maine and I believe there could be a day coming when it will be rare to see a deer in Washington County if drastic and serious measures are not taken.

A short time after the Fish & Wildlife Department recognized the coyote they put on a seminar to teach Maine trappers to snare coyotes. Snare experts from out west came in and showed us how they did it out there and we started snaring coyotes. We were getting pretty good at putting a neck tie on the coyotes when the do-gooder "animal rights people", who thought they knew more than the professionals, put pressure on Fish & Wildlife because they thought snaring was in humane. Well, you got it, the commissioner caved in and canceled the snaring and the "yodel-dogs" continued to feed on the deer. At present about the only thing a coyote has to be concerned about in Eastern Maine is a sprinkling of trappers and about a dozen lobster fishermen who have nothing to do all winter but shoot coyotes. These guys have hounds with g .p s. collars and have been quite successful at killing coyotes, although they occasionally have a hound killed by a coyote as well. What these guys have done with their dogs has made a difference with the deer herd right here on the coast but the effort is not widespread enough. The coyote has to be shot, snared and trapped all over the state to make a difference but I doubt that the state will put any effort into it unless the coyotes start eating politicians and biologists. It is not easy to make regulations that will satisfy all the sportsmen and women, but if Fish & Wildlife think they can make the coyote into a game animal that can be put into a neat little box controlled by sport hunting alone, they are wasting their time. If we are going to hunt deer and other prey animals we have to take a lot more predators than are being taken now and it will have to be a concentrated and wide spread effort.

Luther Choate is a veteran trapper and woodsman who lives in Downeast Maine.

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