In the past 40 years, the coyote (Canis latrans) has become established east of the Mississippi River.
Kentucky coyotes are living and reproducing in rural woods and farm fields, as well as suitable cover (brushy areas, woodlots and parks) on the suburban outskirts of major cities.
Distinctive in appearance, coyotes have pointed noses, pointed ears that always stand erect, and fluffy tails, typically held low. Males can weigh up to 50 pounds, but most coyotes are smaller. In the eastern US, coyotes are typically darker in color, with tan, brown and black fur.
Coyotes spread their range eastward from the Plains and Mountain West, filling the ecological niche of the gray wolf and red wolf, native species that no longer exist here. Researchers believe the migration of coyotes into the southeastern US began in the 1950s, with coyotes moving into Kentucky, from states to the north and southwest, in the 1970s.
“Coyotes are very adaptable. They are now found in all 120 Kentucky counties,” said Laura Patton, Furbearer Biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “I suspect there are higher concentrations in agricultural areas.”
It’s not unusual to hear coyotes howling at night, especially during the fall, when family groups break up, and in the late winter, when coyotes pair up and mate.
Coyotes will prey on deer fawns in the spring, and livestock farmers can suffer losses when a problem coyote gets a taste for lamb or newborn calves. Livestock depredation is highest in the spring when coyotes need extra food for their young. Sometimes depredation problems also occur in the fall, when juvenile coyotes disperse, and are on their own, looking for food.
Because coyotes are in such abundance, interest in hunting them is growing.
Coyotes are wary and often difficult to hunt because of their keen sense of sight, smell and hearing. While they don’t hunt in packs like wolves, it is not uncommon to see family groups of coyotes together, especially in the late summer or early fall.
There is no daily bag limit, and coyotes may be taken year-round by licensed hunters, or trapped by licensed trappers during the winter furbearer season. Landowners with livestock depredation problems can get permission from their local conservation officer to trap coyotes whenever they are a problem.
Hunting coyotes is legal during daylight hours only, and both mouth calls and electronic calls that imitate wounded prey, or coyote challenge howls, are legal. It is also legal to hunt over animal carcasses.
Legal hunting methods and equipment includes: archery gear (long bows, recurve bows, compound bows and crossbows), shotguns and rifles.
When calling from heavy cover where shots are usually at close range, hunters often prefer shotguns.
Major Larry Estes, assistant director of the department’s Law Enforcement Division, cautions hunters that shotguns used to hunt coyotes “must not be larger than 10 gauge, and must hold no more than three shotshells (typically one in the chamber and two in the magazine, in pump or autoloading shotguns).” Lead or non-toxic shot of all sizes, including buckshot, and shotguns slugs, are legal for coyote hunting.
There are also specific rules for the use of rifles. Full-automatic rifles are prohibited, but coyotes may be hunted without any caliber restrictions with rimfire or centerfire cartridges, and there’s no limit to a rifle’s magazine capacity.
There are also non-lethal deterrents to coyotes. “Farmers can reduce coyote activity within pastures by putting fencing on gates and reinforcing existing fencing, to close holes,” said Patton.
In recent years, coyotes have made suburban areas their home, and are often observed in back yards, or prowling neighborhood streets during the night. To discourage coyotes from hanging around, keep pets and pet food inside during the night, and put trash secured in garbage cans.
For a fee, licensed nuisance wildlife operators will help landowners with problem coyotes. Search for a nuisance control operator in your area.
Suburban residents should take note that coyotes will kill and eat domestic cats, but Patton said attacks on small dogs are often related to territorial issues, than feeding.
Coyotes are omnivorous, feeding on both plants and animals, and are very opportunistic. “Coyotes eat everything from grasshoppers to garden vegetables,” said Patton.
During the winter, the bulk of their diet is mice, voles and rabbits, but they will also eat carrion (dead animals), especially fresh road kills. In warmer months, grasses, fruits and insects are also consumed.
There is no bounty on coyotes in Kentucky and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources does not employ paid trappers or hunters.