May 1st, Turkey hunting season begins. This is also the time when we start to hear stories of how a hunter was sitting in camouflage clothes, making turkey noises for an extended period of time and then was suddenly approached by a coyote. Sometimes, the coyote will actually make contact with the camouflaged blob, and then we have a “coyote attack on a human”. Hmmm…. A camouflaged blob making turkey noises attracts a coyote….. no surprise there.
Because it is the pup season for coyotes, it is perfectly normal for a female with hungry pups to become interested in a continuous turkey noise coming from a single spot. It sounds like an easy meal to any intelligent animal. However, all too many times, the female is then shot for responding to what is a food call for her. This type of encounter is what creates the orphans we get every year, as well as the illegal pet coyotes that are confiscated by conservation law enforcement from time to time.
Coyotes are attracted by noises, but hunt primarily by sight and movement. A non-moving camouflaged blob is unidentifiable to a coyote. If a hunter realizes that he has called in a coyote, the best thing to do if he wants to let her know that he is indeed a human is to simply stand up and wave his arms and say something, such as “hey, I am a man!” , or whatever utterance he feels is appropriate. This allows her to realize her mistake and leave, though somewhat embarrassed. Unfortunately, many of these coyotes will be shot and their babies left to die of starvation. Certainly a good conservationist wouldn’t wish that upon any living being?
Lets talk turkey. Studies have shown that coyotes do not have a negative impact on the turkey populations. They actually help keep the populations healthy by catching the slowest of the flock. The slowest turkey of the flock is usually the bird that is coming down with a disease that could decimate the entire flock. It is impossible for a coyote to kill off an entire flock. It is simply impossible. Turkeys roost in trees and coyotes can’t climb, so catching them asleep won’t happen. Any turkey hunter will tell you they are a very wary bird. It is the rare coyote that can sneak up on a flock of turkeys, and if he does, as soon as he gets close, they will take off, the slowest one becoming the most likely victim. The others won’t hang around to watch and become victims themselves, and the experience will make them all the more wary and wise. Some people believe that coyotes will take a hen off a nest of eggs. The more likely predator is the Great Horned Owl. Hen turkeys sit on their nests very quiet and still. I have rode two feet from them on horseback without them moving. Because they are quiet they don’t attract coyotes . Because Hens sit still and coyotes hunt by movement, a coyote could just as easily walk to feet from the hen without noticing her. The only affect that coyotes have on the turkey population is that they keep it healthy.
Coyotes are often blamed for killing off “all of the fawns”. Not true. Fawns lie perfectly still and have no scent. A predator must literally stumble upon them to find them and what are the chances of that? Slim at best. We all hear tall tales of guys with cameras setting them up near coyote dens and counting high numbers of fawns dragged to the dens, yet so one ever seems to be able to produce these photos. Lots of talk, no authenticated proof. One would wonder why if these photos are so fantastic why no one has a copy, or better yet, no one has posted them on the internet. No doubt, someone will now take the time to create them with Photoshop…
Of course there will be triplet fawns who become weak and are abandoned by the doe, there will be fawns whose doe is hit by a car, there will be ill fawns. These fawns may become coyote food because instead of lying perfectly still, they will walk about and bleat, attracting coyotes, domestic dogs – and worse yet, humans who will bring them into their homes, over handle them, feed them cows milk, try to raise them as pets, etc.. etc.. So yes, a small percentage of fawns will become coyote meals, but most of them were doomed to die by some other means anyway- something called Compensatory Mortality.
The other morning I listened to a female fox in distress for hours because a turkey hunter was sitting near her den. She squalled from 5 am until 11 am, and obviously the hunter didn’t notice or care that that he was causing such a disturbance with his presence. Would have it been so difficult to get up and move to a different spot? I, the fox, and her babies I am sure thought him quite inconsiderate.