12/1/2012 7:00 AM
By Jennifer Merritt Virginia Correspondent
Braced in his tree stand, the hunter watched the pair approach, their tawny fur just visible at first light. Weaving in and out along the ridgeline, they made the rise, and he realized with a start what the German shepherd-sized animals were.
While the hunter looked on, the pair worked their way up and down the fence line. Finally the larger yipped a single short bark, and they headed back the way they’d come.
Coyotes are making themselves at home in Virginia. Not a native species to the commonwealth, coyotes were first observed in the early 1950s in the far western part of the state.
Virginia’s coyotes, along with those in the surrounding states, are larger than their western counterparts, weighing around 45 pounds, about the size and weight of a medium-size dog. It’s not uncommon for them to weigh in at 60 pounds. More than half of the adult females breed, with litters averaging around six pups.
They are opportunistic hunters, favoring an easy meal to a specific type of prey. Increasingly, that easy meal comes in the form of livestock or other domestic animals, and coyotes are becoming an expensive problem for farmers in southwest Virginia, killing calves and poultry.
Coyotes are legally classified as a nuisance animal and can be killed any day except Sunday with a gun, firearm or other weapon. They are trapped for their pelts, but with populations increasing, counties are looking for a way to encourage hunters to shoot the animals.
Virginia operates a Cooperative Coyote Damage Control Program and there is a bounty counties can choose to implement.
When the Bedford County Board of Supervisors tasked the local Ag Economic Advisory Board with finding a solution, however, the board decided to try something new.
“When we looked into it (using a bounty program,) it didn’t seem very successful,” said Jeff Powers, chairman of advisory board. “It’s hard to police and it costs taxpayers money. And the wildlife expert who spoke to us said it hadn’t been very effective in reducing the number of coyotes.”
The board was looking for a solution that didn’t cost the taxpayers and offered enough incentive to get hunters interested. Bounties in other counties are often as low as $25 per animal or $50 for female coyotes. They came up with a coyote lottery, and local businesses and organizations put up a $2,000 jackpot.
“That deer hunter in the tree stand doesn’t want to shoot a coyote and risk missing his 10-point buck,” said Don Gardner, from the Coyote Lottery Committee. “But if he knows he could win $2,000, he might take a chance.”
The lottery opened on Nov. 1t and extends until March 1t.
“What we’re hoping for by running it until March is that hunters might go back to their stands after deer season to hunt coyotes,” Powers said.
When they were coming up with the rules for the lottery, the committee learned from some of the striper contests held on nearby Smith Mountain Lake. There is one check-in point in the county, and hunters get one chance for every animal they bring in. The animals must be killed in the county, and if the hunter doesn’t own the land where the animal was taken, they must provide written permission from the landowner.
In order to discourage cheating without damaging the animal’s pelt, carcasses or the coyote’s head must be brought to Bedford Southern States, the check-in point, and the tongue clipped at that time. Twenty animals have been checked in during the first few weeks of the program.
“We’ve had a pretty decent response,” said Tim Houston, from Bedford Southern States. “We’ve started to get some people interested.”
Powers hopes the interest continues to grow faster than the coyote population.
“Our cattle are skittish and we don’t see nearly as many deer and rabbits as we used to,” Powers said. “This (the lottery) is a start. Hopefully in the future we can expand it.”
“More than likely, coyotes are here to stay,” said Scott Baker, Bedford County Extension agent. “Maybe programs like this can help control their numbers. The community has really come together to put this (lottery) together. It’s nice to see.”
More information and the rules for the Bedford County Coyote Lottery can be found at www.bedfordeconomicdevelopment.com