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Coyote or Wolf – When Not To Take The Shot

By Staff | Dec 27, 2017

With most of the hunting seasons closed after Jan. 10 in Iowa, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources expects 10,000 to 15,000 Iowa hunters will turn their attention to pursuing in earnest the state’s top predator, the coyote.

Although coyote season never closes, coyotes are hunted most often during the winter. For four of the last five years, the number of coyote hunters and pelts harvested has been at record levels, thanks in part to predator hunting shows and the fact that coyote fur has held its value while most other fur prices have declined.

“Coyote pelts go for anywhere from $15-$30 per pelt depending on the quality and Iowa’s pelts are considered average. Last year’s price was $17,” said Wince Evelsizer, State Furbearer Biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Coyote fur is used as trim for hoods and coats in foreign markets.”

The coyote population is distributed fairly well across the state, with the highest population in western Iowa. Coyotes are habitat generalists. This means they can be found near large brush piles, timber and grass fields, but they especially like fields with switch grass.

A fresh layer of snow is preferred by hunters. This makes tracking easier and the white background of the snow makes coyotes easier to spot. Wind is also a critical factor when hunting coyote. The direction of the wind impacts where and how they set up for calling and pursing coyotes as coyotes have a keen nose and are naturally wary so many hunters will wear snow colored clothing to help avoid detection.

Hunters can use predator calls, hunt day or night, use rifles, hunt over bait and use groups of hunters and/or hounds to round coyotes up. There is no bag limit and coyotes can be hunted on a hunting or fur harvester license and coyote trapping is allowed, but it must be done during the trapping season. It is important that hunters review the hunting and trapping regulations for changes every year.

“We receive complaints from the public about coyotes’ impact on young deer, turkey and rabbits; harassing pets and farmers’ loss of livestock. So in respect, hunters provide an important service by hunting coyotes,” Evelsizer said. “That being said, they’re a very wary game animal worthy of respect. We don’t allow the use of artificial light for night hunting on purpose because we encourage fair chase and it could increase the incentive to misuse the technology to poach deer and other wildlife.”

Most coyote hunting takes place on private land, and occasionally hunters will cross property boundaries which lead to trespassing complaints. Hunters cannot pursue coyotes using a snowmobile, aircraft or with the aid of artificial light, regardless of light color. Hunters are reminded that the way they hunt reflects on all hunters. Following are a few dos and don’ts when coyote hunting:

Know the laws for safe shots

Be sure to get the landowner’s permission to hunt on private land and DO NOT trespass where permission was not given

Be sure to close all gates that were opened

Don’t shoot over any road right-of-way, gravel or paved

If running dogs, be sure to have permission from all landowners in the area where the hunt will take place

Be sure of the target make sure it is a coyote not a dog or a wolf.

“With our coyote hunters, we especially want to emphasize respect for landowners and their property lines. Take the extra time to close gates, obey the laws for safe shots and thank the landowner keep your interaction with folks while out hunting positive,” Evelsizer said.

While the chance is remote, coyote hunters need to be aware of the possibility that the animal they see through their scope is not a coyote but a wolf passing through the state.

Wolf sightings in Iowa have increased slightly over the years and four wolves have been shot in the last three years by coyote hunters. It is believed that these wolves were members of the Great Lakes population from Wisconsin or Minnesota and were wandering through. Wolves are protected in Iowa and there is no season for hunting this animal. Shooting a wolf has the potential to bring state fines. The last time a timber wolf or gray wolf was confirmed in northwest Iowa was Dec. 2015 in Osceola County.

“Hunters want to do the right thing. One of the first rules in safe hunting practices is to positively identify your target and what is behind your target before taking a shot. If what you see is larger than the average coyote, it is definitely worth another look before pulling the trigger,” Evelsizer noted.

Following are some main differences between coyotes and wolves:

Generally, wolves are bigger than coyotes and are taller in the shoulders with long front legs

The wolf’s snout is blocky, the coyote’s snout is pointed

Coyote ears are larger in proportion to the head size and are pointed, wolves have wounded ears (this is a key way to distinguish the animals)

For more detailed information on coyote and wolf characteristics, go to the DNR’s website at www.iowadnr.gov/hunting and scroll to the bottom and click on Iowa’s Occasional Wildlife Visitors.