The coyote is the most adaptable and resilient of all furbearers. Widely distributed throughout North America, coyote populations are abundant throughout a huge range of environmental and habitat conditions.
Coyotes are close relatives of wolves and dogs. In fact, coyotes in the Northeastern U.S. apparently hybridized with wolves as their populations migrated eastward and wolves became overharvested and extirpated in the East.
Coyotes average between 20-40 lbs, and look and act similar to a large domestic dog or small wolf. Their hair coats are typically light grey, but can vary considerably based on location and genetics of a particular subspecies. Some coyotes have more red, black or white color to their coats. Coyote fur consists of dense underfur (in northern subspecies) with long, coarse guard hairs making up the outer coat.
Reproduction, Diet & Habitat Requirements
Coyotes are quite prolific, with an average of six young born only two months after mating. A young coyote reaches adult size at only 8-9 months of age. These characteristics allow coyotes to become very abundant when food is available, or after their populations have been suppressed through harvest. Coyotes typically remain in tight family groups or solitary individuals and do not form packs like wolves, though some northeastern coyotes have been known to form larger hunting groups during the winter months.
Though once most common to the open plains of North America, the adaptable coyote has expanded its range into timbered areas and other habitats. They feed on a variety of items, depending on food availability in a particular habitat type and season. 90% of the coyote’s diet consists of other animals. This can include anything from grasshoppers and mice to deer, moose and elk. In areas of deep winter snow, coyotes are able to track down and kill deer with efficiency.
Coyotes are known to prey heavily on domestic sheep and goats, necessitating the use of livestock guardian dogs and predator control operations in major livestock production areas of North America. Trappers are often called upon to harvest coyotes to prevent damage caused to livestock from predation.
Trapping the Coyote
Coyotes have a reputation as being one of the most difficult animals to trap. They are very smart and often wary of human sign or scent. Trappers often have coyotes dig up traps at their set, pull out of traps, or shy away from trap sets. When done right, however, coyote trapping can be made relatively simple.
Coyotes will almost never pass through bodygrip sets or enter cages, so they are only effectively captured with foothold traps or snares. Coyote snaring is only legal in some places, but is very effective on farm/ranch lands and near winter deer yards. The majority of coyotes are caught in foothold traps in dirt hole or flat sets.
The dirt hole set is a classic fox set that works well for coyotes. Basically, the dirt hole imitates a hole created by another predator with food stashed in it. For coyotes, the trap should be firmly bedded approximately 7-10 inches back from the edge of the hole. Most types of meat work well, along with a coyote lure and fox or coyote urine to help cover other scents.
The flat set is similar to the dirt hole in that it uses visual attraction, though instead of a hole, the flat set uses an object such as a bush, stick, bone, skull, or other object with some urine and/or lure on it and the trap bedded off to the side. A coyote usually won’t pass up the chance to investigate, and usually urinate on, the object. A well bedded trap at the right location should catch a coyote.
Much has been written about coyote trapping, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. The learning curve to becoming a top ‘yote trapper is pretty steep, but once you’ve figured out all the details, things become much simpler.