These coyotes are hung up on Curry Road 19 north of Ned Houk Park off of 209. Ranchers and farmers do this to deter other coyotes from coming onto the property. (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)
By Ryn Gargulinski: CNJ staff writer
They’re cunning. They’re clever. And they’re everywhere. The critters in question are the coyote — and area hunters revere them as some of the smartest varmints they have ever met.
Roy Tivis of Portales recalls sitting out on a hunt with his usual partners, sons Rodney and Richard, and calling a coyote with the distress signal — a plastic whistle that imitates the sound of an injured rabbit.
“The next thing I knew, a coyote jumped right over the top of me,” he said.
They are also known to circle the hunter — like a shark, said Tivis, who has hunted coyotes for three decades. “When they can’t see you but they sense you’re there, they try to pick up your wind.”
Coyote are can also be cunning in the way they capture their prey, he said.
“They know when an animal is at its weakest point,” Tivis said, pointing out coyotes will attack young cattle on the back of their leg, ripping out their hamstrings. No longer able to stand, the crippled calves collapse in a heap. Tivis also said he has seen coyotes snatch the calf from a cow giving birth.
“One coyote will distract the mother,” he said, “while another one snatches the calf.”
A carnivorous animal not much bigger than most family dogs, the coyote is one of the most adaptable yet hated animals in the Southwest.
The coyote is always in season and no special license is needed to hunt it, said Roy Rocha, store manager of Big 5 Sporting Goods, where hunting licenses are sold. Rocha said that when there’s nothing else going on in the hunting world, he gets six to 12 people per week coming in to buy coyote calls. The popularity, say hunters, is in the attitude of these creative creatures.
“Even if they’re not the smartest, they’re the most entertaining,” said veteran Clovis hunter Steve Hodges.
Hodges said he lets the coyotes get close enough “to come untie my boot laces if they will.” Then he aims and fires.
“People don’t like the coyote hunter,” Hodges said, even when they go through proper channels to obtain permission from landowners.
Alan May, assistant state director from the USDA Animal Plant Health and Inspection Services/Wildlife Service, said the demand is so great to eradicate coyotes that USDA employees are sent out daily to follow up on complaints from farmers and ranchers who say their livestock is being slaughtered by the obsequious beasts.
One of the roles of the USDA office is to help resolve problems such as coyotes preying on livestock. Their hunters use traps, guns or cyanide.
Ron Jones, who works for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and New Mexico State University, has been trapping wild animals since he was a child.
Pete Walden, the extension agricultural agent at the Quay County Extension Office, said he directs ranchers to Jones when they are having problems.
Walden said losing cattle to coyotes is a major concern that can cost ranchers hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year.
Jones said he can tell by looking at a calf’s hide whether a bobcat, coyote or mountain lion killed the calf.
“About 95 percent of the time I find a dead calf, coyotes have probably killed it,” he said.
Jones uses cyanide gun traps to kill coyotes on area ranches.
The guns shoot a small dose of cyanide into the coyote’s mouth after he takes a bite of the bait. The cyanide turns to gas in his mouth and kills the coyote within 30 seconds, he said.
Some hunters and ranchers hang the corpses from a fence or nail them to a post to deter additional coyotes from lurking around the livestock.
Coyotes are known to dine on cattle, sheep, pigs, cats, chili and watermelon according to May. Included in their buffet are occasional poodles and Chihuahuas, according to published reports.
Freedom Newspapers writer Tova Fruchtman contributed to this report.
• The coyote (canis latrans), a member of the dog family, is native to North America, being found primarily in areas previously occupied by wolves.
• Native American myth holds the coyote to be clever “tricksters,” a trait which matches their adaptable nature and relentless predatory skills.
• Unlike the gray wolf, the coyote has enlarged its territory in the face of human encroachment, living now in 49 of the 50 states and in much of Canada and Mexico. The coyote has been a successful inhabitant of areas stretching from coast to coast and in all types of terrain and climate.
• Characteristically coyotes are solitary animals but are opportunistic and will hunt in small packs or pairs when necessary.
• Through DNA evidence, it was discovered that coyotes are the predecessor to the gray wolf, contrary to prior belief.
• Smaller than its close relative the gray wolf, the coyote stands less than 2 feet tall, weighing from 20 to 40 pounds and can often resemble the domestic dog, another close relative. It’s size is comparable to a medium sized collie with a round, bushy tail that is carried low.
• Capable of running faster than 40 MPH and able to jump over 8-foot-high fences with relative ease, the coyote is an illusive and agile creature.
• A coyote’s home range can vary anywhere from 2 to 21.3 square miles.
• Scent marking is a method of communication for coyotes. Messages conveyed by scent can range from territorial warnings to mating calls.
• Omnivorous, the coyote will eat virtually anything. Their opportunistic dietary habits include fruits, seeds and berries, insects and a variety of prey small and large. They have also been known to engage in scavenger behavior, taking advantage of carcasses and other less savory items.
• Ranchers and farmers have a strong disdain for coyotes, often referring to them as “varmint” and systematically hunting them. A southwestern tradition — the carcasses of coyotes that have been killed are often hung on fencelines. It is thought to be done to serve as a warning to other coyotes and as a tally of successful hunting.
• Coyotes are the top predator in New Mexico. From 2001 to 2004, predators caused $916,000 in confirmed damages to livestock according to New Mexico Wildlife services. Of these losses, coyotes are considered to be responsible for 77 percent with cougars taking second at 12 percent.
n Unprotected by the state, the coyote can be hunted or taken at any time.
• Predatory Damage Management is conducted by NMWS and its cooperators in an effort to reduce the damage caused to livestock and wildlife populations by coyotes. USDA has concluded that PDM is a cost effective measure towards avoiding loss and price increases within the livestock industry. PDM can involve large scale planned hunting efforts in an attempt to reduce population numbers of predatory animals in addition to small scale hunting efforts.
• Monogamous for life, the coyote pack is a tight knit family unit controlled by the “alpha” pair, the only breeding pair among them. The pack consists of older pups from prior seasons who have not yet left the fold. All members share in the care of pups with the “beta” or young adults defending the territory and the pack.
• Breeding takes place in February with four to six pups born in late April to early May.
• Infant mortality is high for coyotes. As a result of their extreme vulnerability in their first months of life, coyote pups often succumb to natural and human threats. Less than half of a coyote litter will survive their first year
• At 1-year-old, a coyote is sexually mature. Some members of the litter will disperse at this time to join or form other packs, while some will stay behind as non-breeding members of their familial group.
• Coyotes live an average of six years.
— Compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson from New Mexico Wildlife Services and New Mexico Game and Fish