This winter’s weather has been different, to say the least. The majority of the hunting seasons are now history and fluctuating temperature swings have made local ice fishing opportunities sketchy at best.
Staring out the window at the snow-covered landscape, I yearned for something to do. Then came a welcome phone call from my friend Jim Baker.
“Want to make a stand this evening?” he asked.
He was referring to making a short trip hunting coyotes. An hour later, as the sun silently kissed the horizon, we took our positions next to a dense stand of underbrush. Paying particular attention to the wind, we were careful to place ourselves with a good view of the open weedlot surrounded by woods. Pushing the button on the remote control the Foxpro electronic call came to life. The woeful sound of a rabbit in distress echoed in the cold air.
Five minutes had barely passed when I noticed a silhouette cautiously making its way through the dried foxtail. It appeared ghostlike in the waning light. It wasn’t long before it too joined the growing list of coyotes taken this season.
The area surrounding Kokomo is no different than any other town in Indiana or across the United States for that matter. Once considered the “song of the west,” the coyote’s hair-raising wail is now considered the song of the north, south and east. They have become a natural part of life in urban America and have carved out a healthy existence in many rural and metropolitan areas.
The boom in Indiana’s predator cycle was boosted, in part, by low fur prices and corresponding lack of trappers. This is bad news to our small-game species, livestock growers and certain homeowners. However, this glut of wild canines has attracted more hunters to wintertime predator calling. This helps fill the void when other seasons close.
Coyotes affect our world with relentless precision and with that come controversy. Besides inhabiting rural areas, they also have taken up residence in densely populated areas. They have been heard howling in subdivisions, seen trotting across busy intersections and digging dens close to shopping centers.
For the most part, these distant cousins of the canine manage to operate unobserved due to their nocturnal instincts; although there are times they can be seen during daylight hours. They may even be visitors to your own backyard, but not while you’re awake. They are as wily and elusive as their reputation claims.
The month of February is one of the best times to see coyotes. One reason is because our second month happens to be the coyote mating season. They are known to cover vast areas in search of a suitable mate. Because of their increased mobility they are more likely to be seen during the day.
Another reason more coyotes are seen during February is due to snow cover. Their brown, black and buff colored coat makes them easily noticed against a white background.
Coyotes are by far the most challenging adversary for those who pursue them with mouth style or electronic calls. Many times hunters return empty handed. But when success does come, it is an adrenaline-packed, rewarding experience.
Secretive in nature, coyotes are opportunistic feeders and highly adaptive to their surroundings. They have continued to persist in large numbers because of their varied diet. They are attracted to readily available food sources. Mice, rabbits and deer make up the bulk of their natural diet, but in some instances have also been known to take livestock and small unattended domestic pets.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources does not tract population numbers on coyotes, but they do conduct an annual survey where selected deer hunters in each of Indiana’s 92 counties report all wildlife sightings. This has provided some insight on their growing population.
In 1992, the first year the survey was introduced, sportsmen reported seeing 10 coyotes for every thousand hours of hunting. That number has increased to 28 sightings and has remained stable over the past several years.
Coyote populations are kept at respectable levels through regulated hunting and trapping which has become more liberal over the past several years. Currently the season runs from mid-October through mid-March. In addition, Indiana law allows landowners or people with written permission from a landowner, the opportunity to take coyotes year-round.
• John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.