Coyotes caught in wolf hunt's cross hairs

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2012 - 12:04 PM

The common coyote is tough to distinguish from its bigger relative.

Long the poor stepchild of wild canines, with few friends and even fewer fans, the coyote in northern Minnesota may soon suffer a final indignity: being confused with its bigger, meaner and more charismatic relative, the gray wolf.

And being shot dead as a result.

In past deer seasons, Minnesota hunters occasionally have targeted horses and cows thinking they were whitetails, and have even fired upon fellow hunters wearing blaze-orange jackets believing they were deer.

So it's inevitable, experts say, that when deer season begins Nov. 3, some of the 3,600 whitetail hunters who also hold lottery-issued wolf permits will shoot coyotes, canis latrans, thinking they are wolves, canis lupus.

"We fully expect it will happen,'' said Department of Natural Resources wildlife program manager Steve Merchant.

In this case of mistaken identity, the stakes could be high.

Because many hunters who shoot "wolves'' will identify their trophies themselves and register them by phone or online, days or even weeks could pass before pelt inspections required by the DNR show some of the animals to be coyotes.

Meantime, the 200-animal quota set for the first of two wolf seasons offered this fall and winter could be reached and hunting shut down by the DNR, perhaps not to start again regardless of misidentifications.

"I have significant concerns about reopening the season under those circumstances,'' Merchant said. "That could get us into a big mess. As soon as we say some number of coyotes were killed by hunters thinking they were wolves, someone is going to say to us, 'Prove they are coyotes.'

"And I don't want to get into a position of doing genetic testing on, say, 100 carcasses to do it.''

Misidentifying the two species is understandable. Their social structures are generally the same, and in eastern Canada the two even hybridize.

And while adult wolves can out-heft adult coyotes by 60 pounds or more, some wolf pups born last spring will weigh only about 40 pounds in November, the same as adult coyotes, whose prime winter pelts developing just now can make them appear larger than they are.

"Trying to identify a wolf pup from an adult coyote is tough under the best conditions,'' said Chris Granrud of International Falls, whose party of five hunts deer near Crane Lake in the heart of the state's northern wolf country. The group holds two wolf hunting permits.

"But it can be nearly impossible if one of the animals is moving quickly by a deer stand,'' Granrud said.

Further confusing the issue: Ranges of the two animals in northern Minnesota are increasingly overlapping, despite the wolf's zero tolerance of other canines -- wild or domestic -- invading its hunting grounds.

"Historically, coyotes could be found in northern Minnesota around towns and people,'' said John Hart, a wildlife biologist in Grand Rapids with the U.S. Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services. "Wolves typically have stayed deeper in the woods and wetlands, away from human habitation.

"But those ranges have blurred in recent years. Wolves have learned to live closer to people in Minnesota than they did 10 or 20 years ago. I wouldn't say wolves have replaced coyotes in those areas. But they've moved into areas that traditionally were coyote range.''

The differences

Relative abundance plays a key role in the way Minnesota wolves and coyotes are hunted.

With a statewide population of about 40,000, coyotes can be found in every county, while Minnesota's estimated 3,000 wolves generally are spread across the state's northern tier.

The state's first-of-its-kind wolf hunt has been structured, the DNR says, to ensure the animal's population isn't reduced significantly. Wolf hunters will be allowed a maximum of 200 animals during the season running concurrent with deer hunting, and another 200 in a second hunting and trapping season in December and January.

Meanwhile, coyotes can be hunted statewide, year-round, with no limits. They can also be chased by hunters using hounds.

Yet it's the public's attitudes toward the two animals that are most dissimilar.

The cartoonish coyote immortalized in popular culture as a crafty but desultory low-life engenders virtually no popular appeal, while the wolf is regarded as a wilderness icon unrivaled except, perhaps, by grizzly bears.

Still, Matt Steffen of Osseo -- like most trappers -- respects coyotes, which seem every bit as smart and wily as wolves.

Steffen has a wolf license and will trap near the North Shore.

"During deer season you're going to have a lot of rookies with wolf permits who have never seen a coyote or a wolf,'' Steffen said. "They probably figured they'd be deer hunting anyway, and why not put in for a wolf permit? So, yes, they easily could mistake wolf pups and adult coyotes.

"But I've seen lots of coyotes in my traps, and I'll know the difference between them and a wolf.''

About reputation

Since biblical times, the wolf bore a reputation as a marauding villain, from whom neither henhouses nor young girls in red riding hoods were safe.

The transformation to today's regal status, renowned Minnesota researcher Dave Mech said, accelerated as the environmental movement blossomed following the first Earth Day in 1970, and after the wolf was placed on the federal Endangered Species List in 1974.

"The public glommed onto the wolf,'' Mech said. "And for good reason. It's a very charismatic animal, and domestic dogs evolved from wolves. That's part of the appeal. Wolves even look like dogs.''

But so do coyotes, after a fashion.

Yet these unfortunate animals can't seem to catch a break.

"Poor, out of luck and friendless'' is how Mark Twain once described them.

And now suffering an identity crisis, too.

Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424

  • related content

  • Complete coverage: The Minnesota wolf hunt

    Sunday November 4, 2012

    Minnesota will hold its first-ever state-managed wolf hunt Nov. 3.

  • FILE - In this undated photo provided by Jayne Belsky via the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, is a gray wolf in a wooded area near Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 101 FINAL
Orlando 94
Charlotte 109 FINAL
Philadelphia 91
Brooklyn 91 FINAL
Cleveland 95
Washington 105 FINAL
Miami 103
Minnesota 98 FINAL
Boston 114
Toronto 110 FINAL
Detroit 100
Chicago 103 FINAL
Memphis 97
Portland 129 FINAL
San Antonio 119
LA Clippers 106 FINAL
Denver 109
Oklahoma City 86 4th Qtr 9:23
LA Lakers 83
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 3
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Ottawa 6
NY Islanders 2 FINAL
Detroit 1
Boston 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Calgary 1
Wilberforce 71 FINAL
Youngstown St 92
Jackson State 49 FINAL
Tulane 56
Siena 66 FINAL
Radford 76
Stillman 49 FINAL
Alabama 69
Case Western Reserve 65 FINAL
Bucknell 88
Niagara 62 FINAL
Buffalo 88
SD Christian 46 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 69
Concordia (MI) 60 FINAL
Central Mich 97
Northern Ill 55 FINAL
Dartmouth 58
North Florida 83 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Hiwassee 71 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 91
Tennessee St 54 FINAL
Hampton 66
NC A&T 57 FINAL
Kent State 71
Central Penn College 65 FINAL
Liberty 94
Eastern Ky 72 FINAL
Miami-Florida 44
Northern Ky 83 FINAL
Morehead State 60
Northern Ariz 62 FINAL
Norfolk State 81
MD-Eastern Shore 43 FINAL
Old Dominion 60
St Marys-CA 47 FINAL
St Johns 53
Clemson 45 FINAL
South Carolina 68
Tenn Tech 58 FINAL
Tennessee 61
Washington-MD 46 FINAL
William & Mary 86
Bethune-Cookman 46 FINAL
Mercer 67
Furman 78 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 83
South Dakota St 53 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 49
Milligan 53 FINAL
Lamar 80
LSU-Alexandria 71 FINAL
ULM 76
Southern Utah 57 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 73
Chattanooga 58 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 68
Seattle 57 FINAL
Minnesota 92
Lipscomb 55 FINAL
Princeton 77
Winthrop 71 FINAL
SE Louisiana 81
Dickinson State 48 FINAL
North Dakota 78
New Orleans 56 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
TX-Pan American 60 FINAL
Creighton 75
Colorado State 85 FINAL
Denver 84
Alabama A&M 49 FINAL
Marquette 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 51 FINAL
Texas Tech 72
Eastern Wash 67 FINAL
California 78
Idaho State 56 FINAL
Utah State 69
Arizona 38 2nd Half 12:52
Texas-El Paso 38
Hawaii 38 1st Half 5:17
Chaminade 26
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Jacksonville St 70 FINAL
Charleston Southern 43
Louisiana 64 FINAL
Alcorn State 57
Denver 63 FINAL
Wright State 72
Blue Mountain 30 FINAL
Central Arkansas 71
Texas State 51 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 40
Albany 62 FINAL
Pepperdine 36
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Houston 56
Yale 66 FINAL
Bucknell 73
Northern Colorado 56 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 69
Belmont 86 FINAL
Mercer 83
Massachusetts 66 FINAL
Georgia State 71
George Mason 69 FINAL
Winthrop 57
Portland State 33 FINAL
Princeton 104
UCLA 71 FINAL
Samford 52
Mobile 30 FINAL
Alabama State 66
Nicholls 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 76
Toledo 65 FINAL
Nevada 56
UMass Lowell 48 FINAL
(13) Duke 95
St Marys-CA 49 FINAL
Virginia 62
McNeese State 55 FINAL
Rice 57
McMurry 49 FINAL
Houston Baptist 69
NJIT 62 FINAL
Seton Hall 74
(6) North Carolina 65 FINAL
Maine 36
Lafayette 58 FINAL
Stony Brook 60
Siena 62 FINAL
Binghamton 53
Longwood 56 FINAL
Clemson 72
Savannah State 51 FINAL
Florida State 97
(19) Syracuse 72 FINAL
(9) Baylor 74
Buffalo 68 FINAL
Manhattan 58
Canisius 43 FINAL
Michigan 79
Davidson 66 FINAL
NC State 82
Northern Ky 63 FINAL
Delaware 58
Saint Louis 81 FINAL
Austin Peay 86
(25) DePaul 64 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 98
Ohio U 74 FINAL
La Salle 63
Florida Atlantic 60 FINAL
Long Beach St 85
Miami-Florida 65 FINAL
Tulane 70
Miss Valley St 39 FINAL
Memphis 62
Ark-Pine Bluff 56 FINAL
UAB 65
Bowling Green 58 FINAL
Illinois State 54
Arkansas State 78 FINAL
Missouri State 62
ULM 42 FINAL
Wichita State 57
(16) Oregon State 71 FINAL
Southern Ill 55
Pacific 67 FINAL
New Mexico St 62
No Dakota State 79 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 86
Utah State 92 FINAL
Sacramento St 102
Bethesda (CA) 61 FINAL
Fresno State 83
Utah Valley U 44 FINAL
Montana 68
LSU 78 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 45

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Will Christian Ponder ever be a full-time starter in the NFL?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close