Getting There Before the Coyotes

Getting There Before the Coyotes

By John Jeanneney
January 2008

Coyotes are putting pressure on some of the traditional ways of finding wounded and dead deer in the woods. Let me explain. The North and the South, broadly speaking, have always been a bit different in some of their deer hunting traditions. The pioneer tradition of doing everything by and for yourself has generally been very strong up North, whereas in the southern states hunting has been more of a group enterprise of clubs and deer leases where people help one another out, especially when it is a matter of finding a wounded deer.

In my country, up north, a hunter will try to find a wounded deer himself for many hours. In New York State eye-tracking is considered a fundamental part of bowhunting. The result of all is that I get many deer calls from hunters who have tracked until midnight, on their own, and then have given it another hour or so at daylight the next day. Of course this means that the tracking dog has to work an old, cold line that has been thoroughly muddled up in advance by the hunter and perhaps one hunting partner. This would be a no-no in the South or in Europe, but I have found that my dogs can deal with it by starting at the hit site, tracking to the hunter’s point of loss and then hanging some big circles around that last, especially tracked up area, to pick up the line and get it moving again.

As dog trackers of New York’s Deer Search, most of us have gotten along by billing ourselves as the “agency of last resort”. “Call us to find your deer after you’ve tried everything else.”The coyotes got there first and Billy finds that there’s not much left.

Now “northern tradition” trackers are in a bind and the root of our problem is spelled COYOTE. The migration of this predator into New York and New England has been going on for more than half a century, but the big population build-up has come only in the last 20 years. Originally these coyotes fed primarily on small mammals but scat analysis suggests that they have shifted more and more to a venison diet.

Coyotes were always ready to scavenge gut piles left in the woods, but now it seems to me that they are becoming more specialized. If a deer is left out overnight by hunters who can’t track it themselves, there is a very good chance that roving coyotes will cut the sparse blood trail, or the scent line, and track down the deer. The coyotes seem to have learned that this is a very productive method of “hunting”.

Two of the deer I found this season were almost totally destroyed as the photo shows. There was no point in dragging the carcasses out of the woods. Another hunter told me in the evening that he wanted to look again himself the following morning before I came to help him. In the morning he called to say the coyotes had found it first.

Overall, the damage rate on deer left out over night is about 30 per cent. Coyotes stay out of sight, but in built-up areas they seem ready to devour the venison shot by bow hunters even more than in open farming country.

Maybe our hunting traditions have to change in areas newly invaded by coyotes.

Do hunters still have the time to eye-track at the rate of 200 yards and hour or less? With a gut shot deer it is better, ideally, to wait over night, but can we afford to do so when the coyotes have learned the tracking game so well?

One thing is for certain. Tracking dogs are becoming more important than ever.

We hope that hunters will learn to call us in time.