Canis latrans are members of the dog family, with adults weighing 20-40 pounds. They prey on a wide variety of animals including rodents, rabbits, deer, game birds and livestock. They also consume vegetation such as prickly pear apples, mesquite beans and persimmons; and readily consume corn and protein feed meant for deer.
Coyotes are monogamous and breed during February and March. After a gestation period of about sixty-three days, the female gives birth to an average litter size of five to seven pups, but larger litters are not uncommon. Large litters tend to occur in areas of low coyote density or where food is abundant.
Dens may be located in steep banks, rock crevices, thick underbrush, or relatively open areas. Both parents share in raising the litter. Pups remain in or near the den until they are about two months old, when they may accompany the parents on short trips. Adults and pups usually remain together until late summer when the pups tend to disperse. Annual mortality rates average about 60 percent for young coyotes, and average life expectancy is six to eight years. People cause the majority of coyote deaths, but they are also susceptible to most canine diseases and parasites.
Coyotes form packs that are based around a mated pair, which are the only breeding individuals in the pack. The other pack members may be non-breeding offspring from the previous year, pups from the current year, and non-related individuals. The coyote’s society consists of two kinds of individuals: territorial and transient animals. Territorial coyotes tend to be mature breeding animals, while transients are typically yearlings or very old individuals. In South Texas, about two-thirds of the population are territorial and the rest are transients. Coyotes establish and maintain territories through direct means (aggressive encounters with intruders) and indirect means (howling, scent posts). For the most part, coyotes hunt in pairs or alone but pack hunting occurs occasionally in late winter.
Coyotes are creatures of habit, establishing regular travel routes in the area in which they live. These routes are usually along ranch roads, livestock trails, canyons, ridges, or any other place that offers good visibility and easy travel. They are most active at night and in the early morning and late evening hours. They bed in areas of tall grass or brush and do not use dens except for raising young.
Their acute sense of smell and keen eyesight are relied upon for hunting prey and avoiding possible danger. Coyotes are perhaps the wariest and most intelligent animals found on Texas rangelands. They are difficult to trap, a tribute to their intelligence and keen sense of smell. They may become educated or “trap-shy” by unsuccessful attempts at control.
Oftentimes, coyotes maim deer by attacking the hindquarters, flanks, and head, and rarely kill as cleanly as mountain lions. It is important to look for additional evidence such as tracks/scat to confirm identification of the predator but coyote kills are very messy and usually involved a large struggle scene. Deer observed without tails are usually those that narrowly escaped a coyote attack.
Coyotes hunt more actively during the early summer because the demands of rearing pups increase the parents’ food needs and because more fawns are available during this season. Another period of high predation is during mid to late winter when bucks are physically weakened from rutting activity and present a vulnerable target. Researchers at Sul Ross State University found that coyote diet studies indicated 37% of their summer diets are deer fawns, 26% are rabbits and 22% are livestock. In the winter months, those figures changed to 28% vegetation, 36% rabbit, 34% livestock and 2% big game.
Several research studies pertaining to coyote population densities reflects that South Texas has the highest density of coyotes in the United States at four (4) per square mile. Actual aggressive coyote control work in South Texas reflects that there are at least nine (9) coyotes per square mile in some areas and this is a 125 percent higher population of coyotes per square mile than what has historically been published.
An experimental coyote removal study on the famed King Ranch in South Texas compared extensive predator control efforts on 5,400 acres and a separate 5,400 acre research area with no predator control. The 5,400 acres which did not receive extensive predator control reflected a 74 percent higher loss of deer fawns versus the 5,400 acre area which did receive extensive predator control. The following year, the same study reflected a 61 percent greater loss of deer fawns on the 5,400 acre plot where no predator control measures were conducted.
In 1977, Fred Guthery and Sam Beasom removed 132 coyotes from a 3,830 acre study area in Zavala County during 1975 and 1976. They also compared to another control area where fewer coyotes were removed. Fawn/Doe ratios did not differ on the two areas during the study, but numbers of fawns produced per unit area were 70 percent and 43 percent greater where coyotes were reduced during 1975 and 1976, respectively.
Several other research studies have reflected that approximately 70 – 90 percent of all bobwhite quail chicks and wild turkey poults do not survive to adulthood because of wildlife predation and coyotes make up a large percentage of the problem.
Given their status as a top-level predator and their ability to adapt to changing conditions, coyote populations can quickly begin to negatively affect deer numbers. Lethal control methods are the only effective solutions to keeping coyote numbers in check. Through trapping, snaring and shooting, constant control efforts must be made on a year-round basis in order to achieve and maintain adequate control.
A number three or four double-spring leghold trap with offset jaws is one of the most effective trapping tools for controlling coyotes. Live traps (cage-type traps which catch the animal unharmed) are ineffective.
As with any successful trapping endeavor, you must first locate travel routes in order to make trapping efforts pay off. Coyotes establish regular travel routes along livestock trails, ranch roads, canyons, ridges or any path that offers easy travel and good visibility. A trapper can find these travel routes by looking for coyote signs such as tracks or droppings. Coyote tracks can be distinguished from dog tracks by the shape and impressions of claws. Coyote tracks are usually longer than they are wide, while dog tracks are usually as wide are they are long. Dog tracks are round with the toes spread apart and are usually larger than coyote tracks. In most situations only the front two middle claw marks are visible on coyote tracks, as opposed to all four claw marks on dog tracks. Also, coyote tracks appear more in a straight line, while those of a dog are somewhat staggered.
Coyote droppings, also called scat, contain animal hair and bone fragments; and sometimes feathers, plant material and seeds. Fresh coyote scats are about the diameter of a cigar and black in color, but turn gray or white as they weather.
Coyotes establish scent posts by urinating at various locations along their travel routes. These scent post locations may be tufts of grass, small bushes, animal carcasses, skeletons or other objects. Often there are scratch marks near a scent post which help identify it. Natural scent posts or ones created by a trapper are good locations for trap sets. A scent post set is most effective when placed near a highly visible object along a trail, such as a skeletal bone, tree stump or lone tuft of grass. Coyotes are very curious animals and the trapper should take advantage of this trait when choosing sites for trap sets.
A dirt hole set must also be close to the coyote’s path, and placed so that the wind will carry the scent of the bait to the approaching coyote. To make a dirt hole set, dig a slanting hole 3 to 5 inches wide and approximately 8 inches deep at the base of a grass clump or embankment. The trap should be placed 6 to 8 inches in front of the hole. A fetid bait is placed in the hole and lightly covered with dirt or grass.
The blind or trail set is useful where coyotes are crawling under a fence, regularly traveling a certain trail, or have become wary of scent sets. No scent or bait is used with the trail set. An excellent place for a trail set is where coyotes step over a rock, stick or any other object on the trail. A disadvantage of the trail set is the livestock and other wildlife using the trail may interfere with the trap.
Coyotes, along with other animals, often feed on fresh carcasses. Traps set in the area of a carcass are effective. To avoid trapping non-target animals such as vultures, opossums, skunks, etc., the trap sets should be located along trails leading to the carcass but a short distance away.
A snare consists of a wire loop with a locking device that tightens around the animal’s body as it passes through the loop. Snares are usually set where coyotes crawl under a fence, but they can also be set in trails in the brush, or at a den entrance. In areas with netwire fencing, the use of snares is a common and very effective means of control.
Snares are easily set and maintained and do not require the same level of user skill as steel traps. But, fencing must be in good condition (that is, there should be only a limited number of holes that allow passage through or under the fence) in order for snaring to be most effective.
Snares made of 5/64” or 3/32” diameter flexible cable 30-36” long work well. The 5/64” cable is much faster and slides more easily, resulting in less “refusals”, or missed catches.
To set a snare on a hole under a wire fence, loop the anchor end around the bottom wire of the fence, passing the entire snare through it. This makes a loop that ties itself to the fence. Open an eight inch loop in the other end of the snare wire and suspend it with a bobby pin (girls’ hair pin) from the bottom fence wire so the loop hangs down in the hole. An eight inch loop will usually prevent other larger, non-targets from getting caught and fit perfectly around the coyote’s head and neck.
The key to a good snare is for it to slide quickly and easily before the target animal knows something is wrong. A bobby pin can be used to hold the top of the snare onto the fence wire, while the rest of the snare loop hangs freely in the hole. The pins are light, quick and the snare pulls through and off the net wire easily. The animal is caught before it feels the wire tension. If you hook or tie the snare top onto the fence, the snag or tug pressure will cause a slow-moving predator to stop and possibly back out of the hole, ending in a missed capture and educated animal. The bobby pin clips easily onto the net fence wire, takes about two seconds to install and is very cheap and effective. Even a trapper with minimal experience can set up a good snare under a fence with only the snare and a bobby pin in about thirty seconds. And that equates to less time on site, less handling, and less human scent left behind, also resulting in a higher percentage of catches, especially on trap-wise coyotes.
It is best to check snares on a daily basis. After a coyote has been caught, a new snare should be used at the trap site. Once caught a coyote usually will bend and twist the cable and the snare so that it cannot be used again.
A good, short, simple snare with fast action, opened in an eight inch loop, with bobby pin for hanging loop from fence.
NEVER set a snare on a hole this size:
The above trail is too wide. Everything uses this trail—coyotes, bobcats, badgers, javelina, feral hogs, and maybe even deer. Never set a snare like this one on a hole like this one or you will be shocked at what all you can and will catch. Also, if your snares continue to be knocked down and to the side, it is usually by larger animals and the crawl hole needs to be narrowed down.
Instead, reduce the larger hole down, like this one above, in order to avoid snaring non-target animals. If you have questions about what animals are using this crawl, use cut pieces of cattle/hog panels on both sides of the hole to choke it down so that only a coyote or bobcat can fit. Choke the hole down but don’t set a snare on it. Come back one week later and set the snare and you will catch only the coyotes and bobcats using it with no chance of catching other non-targets.
A closer look: Note the bobby pin holding the snare loop to the bottom fence wire, and the snare passed through its own loop on the anchor end, hold it to the bottom fence wire.
Coyotes can be called into range and shot, or pursued and dispatched from aircraft. While calling can be effective in some areas, coyotes tend to become “call-shy” in areas where calling is frequently used or used improperly. Also, calling coyotes within shooting range requires a lot of time, skills and experience to be effective.
Helicopters are commonly used in the open brush areas of Texas for controlling coyotes, as well as feral hogs. It is a very effective method for reducing coyote numbers quickly, especially those that have become trap-shy or otherwise educated to control efforts. But it is regulated by state and federal authorities, and a permit must be obtained from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Coyote control works only with prolonged effort. One year’s effort to remove coyotes is simply exercise and a good use of a few bullets. It does little, or nothing, for the local deer herd in the long term. To be most effective and efficient, efforts need to be maintained over time to keep the coyote population low and unstable. Keeping their hierarchy, dominance, home range, and territory completely unsettled forces them to spend more time settling their dominance and territorial issues than predating
Coyotes are, by nature, opportunistic feeders. Wildlife managers are much more specific and deliberate in their approach to holistic management so any coyote you can remove will only benefit a wide range of wildlife species on your land.