Coyotes are considered a troublesome, non-native species in South Carolina, but they certainly have made themselves right at home in the Palmetto State.
Since migrating eastward and first making a documented appearance in the state in the late 1970s, coyotes are now found in all 46 counties in the state and in surprisingly large numbers.
“You can ask anybody at [S.C.] DNR, we’d just as soon they not be here,” said Charles Ruth, Deer and Wild Turkey Coordinator for the agency. “But the fact remains they’re here in all counties and in many instances at relatively high densities. We might as well get used to it.”
Roper Wilkes, owner-operator of 707 Deer Processing in Socastee, is concerned with the effect coyotes are having not only on the deer population in the state, but the overall ecosystem in the woods.
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“The coyotes are the worst thing to the entire ecosystem in South Carolina that could ever happen,” Wilkes said. “They’re killing native species and taking food away from them.”
Just how many coyotes are inhabiting the state of South Carolina? There’s not an easy answer, but Ruth uses the number of coyotes killed annually by deer hunters as a reference point.
“It’s been running about 30,000 harvested altogether per year by deer hunters alone,” Ruth said. “That doesn’t take into account the trapped coyotes, nuisance permits, depredation permits. We estimate it’s about 1.2 or 1.3 [coyotes killed] per square mile [of deer habitat] by deer hunters. There has to be at least 2-3 times that many animals on the landscape.”
Coyotes are very opportunistic predators with no real enemy and are constantly on the hunt for food. That is where they raise the ire of mankind.
The list of the problems caused by coyotes searching for food is very long.
The most publicized is their habit of feeding on the fawns of white-tailed deer when they are vulnerable soon after birth. There also have been documented cases of coyotes taking down adult deer.
They also feed on numerous other wildlife species, with special concern on their impact on the state’s rabbit population. Coyotes are also a major threat to displace the native red fox in the ecosystem. Turkey hunters have a good chance to call up a coyote instead of a gobbler.
“What their impact on other less high profile species is, the agency doesn’t know,” Ruth said. “Coyotes are as new in South Carolina as they are in other eastern states. We haven’t seen where they are catastrophic to non-high profile species but we just don’t know.”
Livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats along with poultry can fall prey to coyotes.
“For anybody who raises livestock, coyotes can potentially could have some impact on them,” said Jay Butfiloski, DNR Furbearer and Alligator Program Coordinator. “Calves, cows giving a long, labored birth, even the adults can possibly be [targeted].”
Residential homeowners are not immune to troubles, even heartbreak, caused by coyotes, which occasionally kill pets and have a particular taste for cats.
S.C. DNR’s regulations, or lack thereof, on coyotes makes it very easy for concerned citizens to take on the task of hunting or trapping them.
Coyotes are not a protected species in the state and there is no closed season, bag limit or weapons restrictions on private land during daylight hours for hunting them.
There is a three-month trapping season from Dec. 1 to March 1 and a free Predator Management Permit is available to landowners for trapping during the other nine months in the calendar year. Depredation permits are available for damage or nuisance situations for landowners.
Some residents, including Wilkes, would like to see a bounty system instituted for coyotes, but there are currently no plans for such a system in South Carolina.
“If you look at the history of coyotes and the amount of persecution they have seen throughout history, it didn’t cure anything,” Ruth said. “All the bounties they’ve had out west, all the various programs, they did such a good job trying to control them out there, now we’ve got them here.”
As for South Carolina’s valuable population of white-tailed deer, Ruth is all for limiting coyote numbers through trapping and hunting. But he feels changing harvesting habits of deer will have the biggest impact on helping their numbers increase on the heels of a steady decline in the population over the last 15 years.
“If you look at history, [trying to control coyote numbers] has not been very successful,” Ruth said. “We need to look at other side of the equation: how we manage deer. The key is better manipulating the doe harvest. If landowners are not seeing as many deer, I tell them, don’t shoot as many does. The new crop is not as big as it used to be.”
Coyote Control Program
Butfiloski is heading a series of programs designed to inform residents of techniques for controlling coyotes on their property.
The first event is Tuesday at University Center Auditorium in Greenville. Events are scheduled in Horry County on March 3 and Georgetown County on April 14 but the details have yet to be determined.
For more information, call 803-734-4024.
SAFMC Public Hearing
A South Atlantic Fishery Management Council public hearing will be held Tuesday from 4-7 p.m. at Kimball Lodge at Hobcaw Barony, located at 22 Hobcaw Road just north of Georgetown.
Input on Snapper-Grouper Amendment 35 will be accepted during the meeting.
Tiger Anglers Outdoor Expo
This fishing seminar will be held on Saturday, Jan. 31 from 8 a.m. to noon at Eastern Sales, located at the intersection of Highways 501 and 544 in Conway.
The event will feature speakers on bass fishing and hunting. Proceeds go to the Tiger Angler Fishing program of Conway High, Conway Middle and Whittemore Park Middle schools.
For more information, call 843-902-4274.