Learning to catch coyotes? Avoid these blunders to put more predators on your line
It’s a good thing my living wages didn’t depend upon my early trapping efforts. I’d have been one pitiful fur trader. When I started trapping a few years ago I caught some raccoons and opossums early on, but it took the better part of two seasons before I caught a single coyote. That first catch was exciting, but it didn’t do much to manage the predators on our farm.
Like many modern trappers, management is my ultimate goal, too. Though I do sell my fur when I can, today’s market won’t even cover my costs. Still, improving the habitat on the farms I hunt is a year-round endeavor, and for every incremental improvement made, the habitat becomes more attractive for all types of wildlife, including predators.
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Like most hunters, I’ve long been fascinated by these secretive critters. I believe Eastern coyotes are right up there with the most difficult-to-hunt animals in North America. You can have fun calling them in and shooting them, but you can’t control them like that.
Our success rate on large predators — coyotes, bobcats, and foxes — has increased from 6% two seasons ago to 44% this season.
And sometimes, control is what’s needed. Dense concentrations of predators take a toll on game populations. Studies in some Southeastern states — where the coyote is actually not native — have shown fawn mortality rates as high as 67%, with coyotes accounting for 42% to 60% of that.
Within the last decade on our farms, we started seeing a decline in turkey numbers in particular, but fewer fawns, too. All the while, we were getting more coyote photos than ever on our trail cameras. That’s anecdotal stuff, of course, but it was my impetus for learning to trap — and I’d say many new trappers are in a similar situation.
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I wish I could trap later in the spring, closer to the turkey hatch and fawn drop, but the trapping season closes in February here in Kentucky, same as in most states. So I make hay when I can
and run a trapline off and on from about Christmas to the end of the season. We’ve kept close track of our catches for the past several winters, and we average about 0.2 predators per acre, year after year. That includes opossums, raccoons, skunks, foxes, bobcats, and coyotes. On 250 total acres, it adds up to a lot of teeth removed from the landscape each winter. And again, based purely on observation, we’ve had better turkey hatches and are seeing way fewer predators on our trail cameras since we’ve started trapping.
All that aside, the trapping itself is a lot of fun. And it’s been especially enjoyable as our success rate on large predators — coyotes, bobcats, and foxes — has increased from 6% two seasons ago to 44% this season. That’s not because there are more large predators this year, but because I’ve gotten better at catching them.
I can’t offer “expert” trapping advice because I still have a lot to learn myself. Though I'm getting better with foot-hold traps, for example, I'm still clueless on using snares. Still, I can definitely elaborate on where I’ve screwed up. Looking back, I’m betting many of the mistakes I’ve made are similar to the ones a lot of new trappers make, too. So, here they are.
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