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

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
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
Atlanta 6:00 PM
Cleveland
Phoenix 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Dallas 6:30 PM
Detroit
Utah 6:30 PM
Miami
Orlando 6:30 PM
Boston
Brooklyn 7:00 PM
Toronto
Memphis 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Portland
Houston 9:30 PM
Denver
Indiana 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Ottawa 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Boston 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Dallas 9:00 PM
Vancouver
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 3:00 PM
St Francis-NY
James Madison 6:00 PM
Ball State
SIU Edwardsville 6:00 PM
Campbell
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
Duquesne
North Florida 6:00 PM
Florida State
Catawba 6:00 PM
George Mason
Ferrum 6:00 PM
High Point
Hampton 6:00 PM
Illinois
Gardner-Webb 6:00 PM
Jacksonville
Longwood 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
Arkansas State 6:00 PM
Miss State
Tennessee 6:00 PM
NC State
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Ohio State
Manhattan 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Robert Morris 6:00 PM
Toledo
Char Southern 6:00 PM
Wofford
Kennesaw St 6:00 PM
Youngstown St
Barber-Scotia 6:00 PM
NC Central
Detroit 6:30 PM
UCF
Liberty 6:30 PM
UNC-Wilmington
TX A&M-CC 7:00 PM
Denver
Ark-Pine Bluff 7:00 PM
Houston
UT Martin 7:00 PM
Illinois State
Milligan 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Abilene Christian 7:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago
USC Upstate 7:00 PM
Memphis
Alcorn State 7:00 PM
Murray State
Central Mich 7:00 PM
Northwestern
Georgia State 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
TX-Pan American 7:00 PM
Saint Louis
Ill-Chicago 7:00 PM
SMU
Texas State 7:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
SC State 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
Missouri State 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Chicago State 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Morehead State 7:00 PM
Green Bay
Northern Colorado 7:00 PM
Nebraska Omaha
Winthrop 8:00 PM
Auburn
New Mexico St 8:00 PM
Baylor
San Diego St 8:00 PM
Cincinnati
Eastern Mich 8:00 PM
Michigan State
Loyola Marymount 8:00 PM
Stanford
Incarnate Word 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Northeastern 9:00 PM
Cal Poly
Central Arkansas 9:00 PM
New Mexico
Howard 9:00 PM
Pepperdine
Portland 9:30 PM
UNLV
CS-Northridge 10:00 PM
Oregon
Grambling St 10:00 PM
Washington
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
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 8 1st Half 16:03
Campbell 5
Akron 3:30 PM
UCF
Richmond 3:30 PM
UNC-Wilmington
Montana 4:00 PM
Seattle
(7) Stanford 5:00 PM
Chattanooga
Florida A&M 5:30 PM
Southern U
Oklahoma 5:30 PM
(13) Duke
Savannah State 5:30 PM
Auburn
Northern Colorado 6:00 PM
South Florida
Youngstown St 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
Siena 6:00 PM
Sacred Heart
Vermont 6:00 PM
St Francis-NY
(1) South Carolina 6:00 PM
Hampton
Fla Gulf Coast 6:00 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Texas Southern 6:00 PM
Houston Baptist
Northwestern 6:00 PM
UNLV
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Appalachian St
NC Central 6:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
Drexel 6:00 PM
Quinnipiac
Cincinnati 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Alabama State 6:00 PM
Georgia Tech
Morehead St 6:00 PM
USC Upstate
Arkansas State 6:00 PM
Kent State
American Univ 6:00 PM
Manhattan
UNC Greensboro 6:00 PM
St Bonaventure
Arkansas-Monticello 6:30 PM
Northwestern St
Prairie View 6:30 PM
Sam Houston St
McNeese State 7:00 PM
(3) Texas
Yale 7:00 PM
Wagner
Oakland 7:00 PM
TX A&M-CC
Eastern Kentucky 7:00 PM
Alabama A&M
SIU-Edwardsville 7:00 PM
Northern Ill
McMurry 7:00 PM
TX-Arlington
Portland 8:00 PM
Eastern Washington
North Texas 9:00 PM
San Francisco
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close