Wildlife officials say March is a prime time for coyote hunting
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The last of West Virginia's major hunting seasons ended on Feb. 28, but state wildlife officials say hunters might not want to put away their gear just yet.
The state's coyote season is still open. In fact, it never closes. Coyotes are legal game year-round in the Mountain State, and from Jan. 1 through June 31, the wily canines can even be hunted at night.
Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said March is just about an ideal time to venture afield in search of coyotes.
"There are several reasons why," he explained. "One, coyotes' pelts are still in prime form, and prime coyote pelts are worth money."
At last year's trapper's auction in Glenville, coyote pelts commanded an average price of $19.46. Johansen said a motivated hunter in an area with lots of coyotes could earn a tidy little chunk of change.
"No one's going to get rich that way, but selling a few pelts could definitely help the bottom line," he added.
The second compelling reason to hunt coyotes in March is that they're easier to see at this time of year.
"Much of the state is still in snow right now, and coyotes stand out like a sore thumb against a white background," Johansen said. "With proper camouflage and hunting technique, hunters could do quite well."
March's cold and often snowy weather also contributes to Johansen's third reason for hunting before spring arrives.
"Late winter is a lean time for just about all wild creatures, coyotes included," he said. "They're going to be out on the prowl, looking for something to eat. They're always going to be wary and difficult to hunt, but when they're hungry they might be a little easier to call in."
Almost all successful coyote hunters lure their quarry in by imitating small animals' distress cries. Methods vary widely. Some hunters use mechanical calls. Others prefer pre-recorded electronic calls. Still others make do by sucking on a knuckle to mimic the squeak of a dying rabbit.
Electronic calls can't be used to hunt turkeys in West Virginia, but they're perfectly legal for coyote hunters to use. Modern electronic calls broadcast digitally recorded sounds through a small megaphone. The sounds don't have to be especially loud because coyotes' hearing is so keen.
"Any advantage a predator hunter can put in his tool kit would be worth investing in. Electronic calls are pretty darned good. But people who use mouth calls can do well, too," Johansen said.
Once a call gets a coyote's attention, a well placed decoy can help focus its attention away from the hunter concealed nearby. Tom Bechdel, a coyote-hunting authority from northwestern Pennsylvania, actually uses a child's toy, a gray plush bunny, that he sets atop a 3-foot stake about 25 yards from his calling position.
"The idea there is to attract the coyote and distract it at the same time," Johansen said. "Coyotes are extraordinarily cautious, and if they suspect a person is around, they will avoid the area. But if they see a decoy, it will catch their attention and perhaps draw them in — provided the hunter is using good calls, is properly camouflaged and has the wind in his favor."
Hunters can increase their odds by venturing out at night. West Virginia's night-hunting season for coyotes begins Jan. 1 and extends all the way through July 31. Participants must still pay attention to what the wind is doing, but the issues of camouflage, concealment and decoy placement all disappear because hunters are allowed to use powerful spotlights to illuminate and dazzle the coyotes.
When night hunting for coyotes first became legal, hunters were only allowed to use amber-colored lights, mainly because DNR officials were worried that people might pose as coyote hunters when their actual intent was to spotlight deer. Since then, though, the law has been amended to allow lights of any color.
A series of firearm restrictions now protects the deer. Coyote hunters are limited to using centerfire rifles or handguns of .22 caliber or smaller, rimfire rifles of .22 caliber or smaller, or shotguns firing shot no larger than size 2.
Johansen said coyote hunting is much more popular than it was a few years ago, mainly because there are so many coyotes and because some hunters believe killing coyotes is a goo way to help protect the state's deer population. A 2012 study of coyotes' stomach contents by West Virginia University graduate student Geriann Albers revealed that deer remains were found in 60 percent of them.
"I know hunters think they can help the deer population by killing coyotes, but they really can't," Johansen explained. "The coyote's biology is such that you can't suppress their numbers very much. When coyote populations drop, the females respond by having larger litters of pups.
"We think coyote hunting is a good idea, though, because it provides a tremendous recreational opportunity for sportsmen and sportswomen. If anyone would like to get out and get rid of some of the cobwebs that collect over the winter, now would be a great time to give it a try."