Look well at the face of a coyote.

It seemingly has on its lips a sly smile, a blatant smirk suggesting confidence that it possesses superior woodscraft, patience and talent than a human hunter, and that cynical superiority carries over into its fiendish, yellowish, eyes.

A hunter will have to go back to work, stop hunting at dark or just quit out of obligation to life or love. But the coyote lives on the land and owns the day and the night. 

For the time being, the songdog is paws-down the apex predator of Mississippi’s wilds.

Hunters kill a few coyotes every year, and automobiles probably kill just as many. Each winter, a few hearty souls operate a trap line and eke out a meager wage selling coyote hides, along with a few other furbearers. They do deer hunters a great favor, but when push comes to shove, few of those hunters will stand in their corner and defend the use of leg-hold traps. 

Perhaps it’s time for deer hunters to know the facts, that coyotes are to deer what raccoons are to turkeys — death on four legs.


Havoc on fawns

At a recent meeting of the Mississippi Trappers Association, Chip Davis, the organization’s president, told attendees that in areas of high predator concentration, up to 70 percent of fawns dropped are killed by coyotes. Davis said that during the fawning season, coyotes will kill one fawn a day to feed their pups.

July is the peak fawning time in Mississippi, a fact not lost on the opportunistic coyote. Maybe they can smell the does as they go through the birthing process; maybe nature has given them the knowledge that a single doe in July may be about to drop, kicking into gear a centuries old game of follow the doe, hang back until she has to deliver, then grab the fawn as easy pickings.

Based on a study of coyote scat — found during the summer on so many dirt roads — fawns are very high on the menu. While a coyote’s diet hasn’t reached the level of the feral pig, it is coming perilously close. Carrion, rodents, insects, domestic pets, fruit and berries all share equal billing. During deer season, gut piles are frequent feeding stations.

“Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores; they prey upon resources that are most prevalent and most accessible, depending upon the time of year,” said Ricky Flynt, a wildlife specialist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “They will also scavenge upon any carcasses they come across. They are extremely adaptable and can become well adapted in an urban environment. 

“Coyotes rarely attack humans, as they will avoid human activity at all costs, even in urban areas. Coyotes are known to occasionally prey upon pets — particularly during the denning season when they are protective of their young — and any other animals that may come near their den site. Some of the more common prey species are cotton rats, mice and insects — and they’ll eat soft mast. Coyotes get the blame for many issues with game populations by association; however, most often, issues with game animals are more closely related to habitat conditions.”


Creatures of habit

Ivan Pavlov used dogs in his study of conditioned response. The Russian would feed a dog, and at the same time, ring a bell. Over time, the dog would start to salivate when he heard the bell, even if no food was presented.

In a similar situation, coyotes have learned to associate the sound of haying equipment with free food. The mower removes the tall grasses, exposing field mice, which scurry about the field seeking cover. Some coyotes have become brave enough to follow the tractor and mower while the farmer is working just feet away.

Garath Henry of Forest operates a haying operation in Scott County and has seen plenty of coyotes hunting his fields in broad daylight. Much of his farm borders the Bienville National Forest.

“The first few times I witnessed the occurrence, I was surprised by the animal’s brazen bravery,” Henry said. “I started keeping my pistol in the cab of my tractor and have managed to kill several over the years. When baling last year, one kept climbing onto freshly rolled bales to get a better look around for fleeing rodents. It ignored me in the tractor approaching on the next windrow. 

“I didn’t figure I could get close enough for a shot with my pistol, so the next day, I brought my .17 HMR in the cab of my tractor. The coyote skipped a day but was back on the following day. I eased open the door to the cab of the tractor and shot it with the .17 HMR. Sure breaks up the monotony of bailing hay.”

Other predators may be a bit older and wiser, waiting until the humans and their machines leave before moving in for the kill. Not all those are shooters. Hawks, owls and buzzards are attracted to freshly cut fields as well. Bobcats have a tendency to wait until dusk before they prowl the edges to search for easy pickings. The same thermal-imaging equipment used in hog hunting does a masterful job on these cautious cats, which can be taken only during the Oct. 1-Feb. 28 season.

“Deer hunters may find some hay producers who will allow them to deer hunt in exchange for killing coyotes,” Henry said. “Those who lose calves to coyotes every year might welcome the sharpshooters. I don’t keep cows, but I know some farmers who have lost calves to hunting packs of coyotes. I do deer hunt and loathe the thought of those yellow devils killing fawns.”


Calling all coyotes

Predator calls range from simple to sublime. A hand-held mouth call is about as basic as they come. Blow into one end, and with a little practice, it will sound like the wailing of an injured rabbit. A fawn bleat will also work, but caution: deer could show up as well and bust your setup. 

Electronic calls offer a wider range of options that may include crying puppies, squalling kittens and distressed chickens, and of course, wounded rabbits and other rodents. Most electronic callers have volume controls and advanced loud speakers for a more effective range.

Turkey hunters get a shot at coyotes in the spring. Annette Orr Whatley was hunting the Bienville National Forest near Forest late in the season when a large coyote became fixated on her decoy set and soft yelping.

“The woods were quiet and still, and I was calling about every 15 minutes trying to get a late afternoon gobbler to fire off,” Annette said. “I saw movement directly beyond my decoy and almost immediately saw the big coyote. It was so focused on my decoy, I shouldered my shotgun before he responded to my movement. 

“I could have killed it, but at the expense of my new decoy. It wheeled around and was gone in a flash. I have since talked to many hunters who have had coyotes and bobcats respond to turkey calls.”

Charles Golden of Taylorsville has a place on his farm, not far from Fisher Creek, where he disposes of deer carcasses, gut piles, the remains of cleaned fish and the cleanings out of the freezer. It is within sight of his house and across a small pasture.

“More often than not, buzzards find it first, but other critters, including coyotes, know the place is there,” Golden said. “I put up a trail camera there one day in the fall after killing a deer. After skinning and gutting the deer I took the hide and guts out to dump them. Coyotes were on the pile within an hour. I keep a .243 handy at the back door for just such occasions.”


Even on the Gulf Coast

Dr. W.M. Hawkins of Gautier lives within sight of the Gulf of Mexico, in a suburban setting. A wildlife enthusiast, Hawkins suspected animals were coming into his yard at night, searching for scraps and morsels of food. Knowing raccoons had been coming to cat food that was outside, he put a trail camera near a large live oak and baited the location. Much to his surprise, a coyote showed up several nights in a row, looking for a handout.

“There is a lot of coastline that does not have wide beaches, and I’ve seen coyote tracks there on a regular basis,” Hawkins said. “I believe the coyotes have learned that dead fish or other creatures they can eat wash up during the high tide and are deposited when the tide goes out. That may be the next place I hang a camera. 

“We are not allowed to discharge a weapon inside the city limits, and the coyotes appear to be somewhat transient. I have discovered that on the nights when I get pictures of the coyotes on my trail camera, my outside cats sleep in the live oaks in the yard.”


The trapping option 

Justin Rogers, owner of Bienville Outdoors, a company that specializes in trapping equipment, scents and lures, said coyotes will respond to lures year around. 

“Cautious dogs will often circle a call until they can pinpoint the best approach, possibly busting the hunter’s location,” Rogers said. “But they respond more directly to a scent, using their highly sensitive olfactory system to process the scent. In summer, coyotes still travel log roads and game trails, so placing traps in these locations remains a good option for removing them from an area. Scents will bring them to the set more dependably.

“For summertime coyote trapping, there are several things to keep in mind. When at all possible, set traps in the largest amount of shade available in an area, especially areas shaded from noon until late evening. This keeps the animals from overheating and causing unnecessary suffering.” 

Rogers said that when choosing the type of bait and/or lures to use, stay away from tainted baits and lures with a heavy skunk undertone. These strong-tainted baits are more likely to attract non-target species, including opossums or skunks and even buzzards, and are more suited for winter conditions. Also, lures that are heavy with skunk essence have a tendency to spook summer coyote. Fresh baits and curiosity lures such as beaver castor and even sweet, fruity lures are very effective. 

As a trapper, Rogers said coyote pelts are no good in summer, but removing dogs in the warmer months may give a fawn a chance to grow into adulthood. It’s important to remember the summer heat when trapping, and check traps on a daily basis.


Summer trapping regulations

Mississippi law allows for the taking of nuisance animals on private property during summer; however, readers are encouraged to contact the MDWFP or visit www.mdwfp.com for specific information concerning trapping licenses and restrictions. Nuisance animals include: coyotes, feral hogs, beaver, nutria, skunks and fox. Bobcats are not considered nuisance animals.