June 18 • 11:30 AM

The coyoteis nature's opportunist

And they are closer than you may think

Coyotes are found all across Michigan, they have adapted well to suburban life.
December 03, 2008
Last Saturday morning I had all intentions of shooting a big ol' buck, a monster whitetail, you know, a real bruiser. I have these thoughts each time I go out hunting. Oddly enough, before the morning was over, I did just the opposite, by saving the life of a young whitetail.

Let me explain.

So there I sat, on the edge of a small lake, clad in orange, clutching my muzzleloader, 50 calibers of death at my disposal. I expected to shoot a deer this morning.

I sat patiently watching the morning come to life. It was a slow morning, seeing nothing except chickadees, squirrels and a muskrat. Not a big buck in sight. Truth is not a single deer. The bitter cold breeze that blew across the now frozen lake was putting a chill deep into my joints.

About 10 a.m., my hunting partner Tom Campbell had told me he'd make a one man deer drive. I had hopes he'd push a buck my way, so I held tight. My spot is a perfect ambush location, less than a hundred yards across the lake to a natural funnel the deer travel. I'd see something, I knew.

Tom's patented slow zig-zagging push worked, four deer appear across the lake. I check for antlers with my binoculars—none. Just my luck!

The matriarch doe stopped, the others did the same, nose to rump, not flinching, looking straight ahead. I didn't know what they were looking at until later. Suddenly, and just like that, they bolted onto the thin ice of the lake. Something had scared them and I didn't think it was Tom. Whitetails have learned by now how to deal with hunters. No, they wouldn't have run across the thin ice had it not been for real danger.

It happened fast, a few seconds perhaps, not much longer. The lead doe first, the rest followed.

A slapstick comedy routine unfolded and I chuckled to myself at the sight. The harder they ran, the funnier it got. The faster they ran, the less progress they made, as if they were running in place getting nowhere fast, their hooves clattering on the ice.

The old doe made it easily, the yearling was next to make it across, but the pair of fawns were like kids on ice skates for the first time. Legs going in four different directions, their bellies hitting the glass-like ice with a thump. They took turns falling, tumbling, slipping, sliding over each other, finally a third one made it to shore and firm traction. The fourth though couldn't regain her feet, legs splayed wide, obvious panic. Reaching land looked unlikely.

Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a coyote, head down, moving at a slow trot across the lake for the downed fawn. The very reason they had gotten onto the ice to begin with.

Coyote are known opportunists, certainly this was one, and I knew a slow and horrible death was sure to follow if somehow the fawn couldn't reach shore, where it could run like the wind to escape.

I watched nature unfold less than 30 yards from me. Nature is that way you know, unforgiving to say the least and unannounced.

I simply couldn't allow it, not like this, although I fully understand nature's way, and didn't blame the coyote for the role she plays in it. I drew a bead and shot the coyote, less than 20 yards from the panic-stricken fawn. A 25 or 30 pound coyote is no match for my muzzleloader.

The fawn somehow found shore and dashed off, all I saw was the north end of a southbound scared and wobbly-legged young deer.

Like their cousin the wolf, coyotes have long been known for preying on livestock and game animals. Coyote have been poisoned, trapped and hunted in every way imaginable.

When a ban on poisoning the coyote hit in the 1940s and 50s the population exploded. Coyote spread from the Midwest to populate the entire United States, Canada and Mexico. Some have estimated Michigan's coyote population has grown from a few in the 70s to upwards of 20,000 today.

The coyote as I mentioned is an opportunist, feeding mostly on mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, woodchucks and other small mammals. Coyotes also feed on domestic cats, birds, frogs, snakes and insects. It's also thought that a coyote will bring down one deer a year, mostly fawns.

A coyote weighs between 20 and 50 pounds, stands 24 inches at the shoulder and measures up to four feet in length, much of which is tail. They look similar to a small thin German shepherd with longer legs, pointed snout and yellow eyes.

Coyotes are persistent hunters usually working in teams, but more commonly in pairs. Coyote pairs often take turns in biting and running the deer to exhaustion. An attack is from the rear and flanks of the prey, which is exactly the angle the coyote I saw was taking. Occasionally they will grab the neck and head pulling the animal down to the ground. Successful attacks sometimes last several minutes to 20 hours or longer. Coyotes are built to hunt, they can run up to 40 mph and live 10 to 15 years in the wild. They adapt easily and are prolific breeders with litters of up to a dozen pups.

Coyotes have incredible observation skills, know the lay of the land, and understand likely ambush areas. Which no doubt explains their hunting success. They have learned to thrive in both suburban and urban areas.

I had no intention of saving a deer's life that morning. My intent was to shoot its dad or better yet, its grandfather. But I must admit part of me didn't want to see the harsh, cruel, slow and horrible death the coyote was about to inflict.

We certainly are not going to miss one coyote. There are more coyote than most of us realize. Now you may think I was cruel in shooting the coyote. Perhaps I should have let Mother Nature run her course. I later questioned what I would have done had I had my camera with me. Would I have taken photos and record nature's way? I'm not sure.

And don't think for a moment, because you seldom see coyote, they aren't there. They certainly are. The one I shot was less than a forty minute walk from the library in downtown Imlay City. Coyote are closer than you think.

If you have a comment on this story email me at:

Coyote Hunting Seasons: Statewide Jul. 15 - Apr. 15 (closed in Zones 1 & 2 during Nov. 15-30)

Coyote may be taken on private property by a property owner or designee all year if they are doing or about to do damage on private property. A license or written permit is not needed. See Nighttime Raccoon and Predator Hunting for specific regulations governing the hunting of these species at night.

Residents possessing a valid small-game license may hunt coyote during the established season.

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