By Jason Herbert
“Honey, get the kids inside quick! Where are the dogs?” My wife’s frantic screaming from the other end of the house caught me off guard. I’ve been married long enough to know that I should just react rather than ask questions. Like an early pioneer dad saving his family from a grizzly bear attack, I hollered at all the kids to come back inside.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“There’s a huge coyote in the backyard,” she replied with genuine concern.
Chuckling, I replied to her, “Don’t worry, he’s not going to hurt anything.”
I finally had time to peek out the window to see what she was so worried about. Standing proud and tall in broad daylight, gently strolling through the field behind my house, was the biggest coyote I had ever seen. I got on the back deck and started yelling at him. The coyote just looked at me without a care in the world and trotted off. With the way the wind was blowing this particular morning, I could tell he was scent-checking the deer bedding area behind the picked bean field that I am fortunate enough to call my backyard.
That encounter with Mr. Coyote was in the middle of winter, and I assumed that he was probably worn out from breeding, cold and pretty hungry. I understood his needs; that didn’t mean I approved of the way he planned to go about meeting them, though. I don’t really appreciate coyotes that close and comfortable to my home and farm. With a house full of young children and pets, plus my livestock, I don’t want to have to worry about any loss to predators. Also, let’s not forget deer, wild turkeys, rabbits and other game animals that I encourage to live on my property. I quickly realized that the Mr. Coyote needed to go.
My philosophy when it comes to predators is simple — the farm isn’t big enough for the both of us. Either we eat or they eat. I knew my priority; so, it was time to set some traps.
“He’s huge! Please tell me you didn’t trap a German Shepherd!” My wife exclaimed a few days later. On a whim, she decided to check the trapline with me one Sunday afternoon. Not long into our hike, we walked up on that same huge male coyote that had been caught in a neck snare. She was right — at 58 inches from nose to toes and weighing in at almost 40 pounds, this giant male was certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Some may ask, “why hunt and trap predators?” Predators of all shapes and sizes are a problem in Michigan. With a huge garden and barns full of livestock, I don’t want predators tearing up my sweet corn or killing my chickens. As an avid hunter, whose family depends on the venison, wild turkey and rabbits that I harvest each year, I don’t want predators eating the meals that are supposed to go to my family. Another good reason to be a fur taker is that selling pelts is one of the few outdoor sports where someone can actually make money to offset the cost of the other hobbies.
As far as predator hunting goes, I only hunt coyotes. I’m privileged to have hunted around the world and can honestly say that I have never met a more challenging adversary than a coyote. The name “Wile E. Coyote” is famous for a reason. They are incredibly difficult to lure close enough to get a good shot. Not only is predator hunting and trapping just plain fun, it makes sense. With the deer fawns in Michigan being born from late-April to early-June, coyotes have a six-week period to feast on them. It is also astounding how many healthy adult deer a coyote can kill each season. In Michigan, coyotes are not our only concern; ask any Yooper what the wolves have done north of the bridge — the problem will become clear.
Raccoons, possums, skunks and feral cats are terrorizing wild turkey nests and their young poults, too. Not only is trapping and hunting predators a great way to beat cabin fever, it’s the least we outdoorsmen and women can do to help populations stay in balance and better manage our properties for game species.
I’m convinced that most predator hunts are over before they start because of noisy, careless hunters not accessing their setup properly. As I said, my predator of choice to hunt is the coyote; but, some Michigan hunters may also have a crack at bobcats — and depending on the year, wolves. Either way, setting up for a predator hunt is the same, and the devil is in the details. I don’t know if we humans will ever truly comprehend the power of a predator’s nose, but in a nutshell, it is wise to remember that these animals live and die by their sense of smell. They also have incredible hearing and eyesight, which makes them one of the hardest animals on the continent to hunt consistently.
To successfully hunt a predator, you’ll first need to find one, which isn’t hard to do. A bit of scouting for fresh tracks and scat will help you pinpoint where the predators are hanging out. Listen at night for howling, and talk to neighbors. Usually, everyone in the neighborhood knows where the coyotes are. Once you realize where the animals are, it’s time to formulate a plan. When hunting predators, take the geography and wind direction into consideration. In my opinion, there is no perfect setup for predators, but there are some things to check off that can put the odds in your favor.
Look for is an area that you can quietly sneak into downwind of where you think the animals are hiding. My number one trick is to exploit the animal’s natural instincts. The ideal setup is to get where there’s no possible way the coyote can get downwind of you or the call. The shot usually will come when the animal is trying to circle downwind. In some situations, I’ve also had them just come running in to see what’s going on. Unless that animal has just had a fresh kill and is already full, or they’re sleeping in the den and they can’t hear the calls, they will come in running very quickly. Like I said, the devil is in the details, and in theory, hunting coyotes really isn’t that hard as long as you pay attention and get the right set up.
An example of my favorite setup is on a farm that borders a large river. The coyotes have a den on this particular farm in some thick brush upwind of the river. The predators also hunt rabbits and birds all over this thick area. I park far away, along the road, and I will walk in directly to the river — on a southwest wind. Then, with my scent dropping into the river, I will quietly turn to the west and approach the thick, nasty area where I know the coyotes frequent. I always hunt in a team, and without a sound, I will set up my electronic caller between my hunting partner and myself. Generally, within five minutes of the first call sequence, we will either have a coyote down on the ground or we’ll be tracking, if we’ve done everything right.
I primarily focus on trapping raccoons, possums, skunks and coyotes. I equate trapping to bottom-fishing in the ocean because you never know what you’re going to get. That being said, there are different setups for large and small predators. Be sure before setting a single trap that you are very familiar with the local laws because there are a lot of them. For trapping coyotes, we use one of two things: neck snares and/or legholds.
When snaring coyotes, the trick is to find a place that they’re already traveling. In the circumstance I described above where we got that giant male, my dad had pinpointed his tracks in the snow exactly where he was crossing a fence line. Then it was as simple as some scent-free rubber gloves and few pruners to brush-in the gap nice and tight. Next, we wired a snare to a nearby tree and simply waited. We checked our traps daily. Not only is it the law, but it is the only humane way to trap. By the second day, we had him.
Look closely and you will see a legal Michigan neck snare. In Michigan, each trap needs to be tagged with the owners identifying information. Also, a “deer stop” needs to be installed above the end, which prevents the snare from closing too tightly and possibly snaring a deer’s leg.
Everybody has different opinions when it comes to setting coyote neck snares, but I like to make the snare loop about 10- to 12-inches in diameter and hang it about 8 inches off the ground. Generally, when snaring, we get the coyote by the neck or the front leg and the neck. Be ready to dispatch the animal because I guarantee you they are not going to be happy when you walk up on them. We usually just bring a .22 long rifle with us, and a quick shot to the head means lights out for the animal. Although a lot has to go right to successfully snare a large predator by the neck, it is a great and inexpensive way for someone to get started trapping.
The most effective way, in my opinion, to consistently catch large predators his to utilize leghold traps. Neck snaring brings the trap to the animal, where a leg hold brings the animal to the trap. When running legholds, most people utilize some sort of bait set up to get the animal to cooperate. We’ve had good luck fastening our trap to a small tree and building some sort of backstop of brush against the tree. Then we will dig a small hole, drop some scented bait lure into it and set the trap a few inches away. We cover the trap ever-so-slightly with pine needles, dirt or some other sort of debris to keep it covered up. It is important not to be too heavy handed on it, ensuring that the trap will still fire, holding animal’s leg securely when they do step on it. The reason we use a backstop is that it only allows the animal to access the scent from a certain direction, increasing our chances of a possible snare up. In areas where there are no trees, you’ll need to use an earth anchor. Also, dig a deeper hole for the bait and pile the extra dirt on one side of the hole, creating a situation where the coyote still has to step into it from a certain direction. Practice setting the traps long before you actually use them. Also, traps should be good and rusty so that they don’t shine, and they need to be dipped in wax to keep any human scent off them. I really recommend getting on the internet and watching trapping videos because there are tons of great sources of information out there. Ask experienced trappers for help, too. They tend to be a quiet bunch, but every single one that I have met has been very eager to share information with me when asked.
Just the slightest touch of the pan can fire a well-set leghold trap. Here we can see a closeup of a coyotoe’s leg. The blood on the fur indicates that the animal was dispatched before the picture was taken. By law, a person must check these types of traps each day to ensure that the animal is ethically harvested and dispatched.
Like I mentioned before, when it comes to eating, it’s either us or them. We also protect our summer sweet corn and tomatoes as well as our chickens and turkeys from predators. We use a different setup, though, and simply live trap them in the spring and summer. We set the live traps in the corn patch or the tomatoes and check it every morning. When we do catch one of the hungry rascals, (hoping it’s not a skunk) we throw in the back of the truck, drive it a couple miles away and let it go on the side of the road. At this time of year, these animals are full of fleas, their pelts are not prime, and we have so many other things going then we don’t even need to worry about furs. What we do worry about is keeping them out of our garden. Although all small compared to a coyote, skunks, possums and raccoons will eat a lot out of our garden and can eat multiple chickens in one night.
On a side note, you might hear all about a way to poison raccoons, possums and skunks from old farmers in your area. Not to make this a lecture, but don’t use poison. I just read about a farmer who got into a lot of trouble with the DNR because he was poisoning raccoons. When running poison, you can’t control who will come drink and you don’t want to find your neighbor’s dog dead in your garden.
If you’re going to get serious about predator control, you owe it to yourself and the animals to learn how to skin and prep their hides for sale on the open market. In a nutshell, it is important to quickly skin the animal, remove any leftover flesh and fat from the hide and get it on a stretcher to dry as soon as possible. From there, collect your dried hides all winter long to sell at a fur harvesters auction. If you don’t want to hassle with furs, another option is to simply find a trapper who would appreciate you donating anything you kill to them. There are also fur buyers who will simply pay you for the dead animal carcass. You won’t make as much by selling the dead animal, but it’s better than nothing at all.
To keep it simple, several trapping companies are making pre-packaged predator trapping kits for land managers. Pictured are the contents of the Dakota Line Complete Land Managment Predator Package.The package includes leghold traps, neck snares, several trapping tools, lures and bait, plus instructional DVDs.
Give predator control a try this winter. Not only will you have fun getting out-of-doors and learning a new hobby, the game species on your property will be better because of it. All of creation belongs in our natural environment, but without regulated hunting seasons on certain things, their population could get out of control. It’s our job as sportsmen and women who truly want what’s best for the environment to continue to manage predators.