Challenged By The Cunning Coyote

It’s been said that when the world comes to an end the last two living creatures will be cockroaches and coyotes.    While I have little experience with the bug, I certainly have a great deal of respect for the wily canine predator.   In fact, in just a few short decades the coyote has greatly expanded its range from mostly the southwestern reaches of Minnesota to now nearly the entire state.IMG5__00524

Yesterday, I attended a coyote trapping seminar held in Owatonna at Northwest Trapper’s Supply and given by renowned predator trapper, Mark June, from Nebraska.   June, who holds a master’s degree in wildlife biology, has spent a lifetime studying and teaching the ways of the coyote.   He was on hand to share his thoughts on how Minnesota’s trappers can better meet the challenge of catching coyotes.

Here’s a few key points gleaned from Mark June’s seminar:

  • Trapping coyotes and fox are two totally different challenges.
  • Coyotes are a family unit most often traveling in pairs.   Fox tend to be a solitary hunter.
  • Fox tend to have a small home range (within a section or two of land).   Coyotes, on the other hand, can range over several miles.   In fact, one in five coyotes are considered transient with no “home” range.
  • Juvenile coyotes from this year’s litter will be kicked out of the family unit sometime during the next month or so — creating more coyotes on the move.
  • Studies have shown you cannot adversely affect the coyote population by trapping.   Even if all the coyotes were removed from a section, within a matter of weeks new family units would move back into the available territory.
  • When coyotes disperse (or become on the move) the number one route of travel is along railroad beds.
  • Trappers should especially look for coyotes just outside of most city limits.   It may be more difficult to obtain permission, but these tend to be hot coyote population areas.
  • Also, look for major funnel points in the land’s topography.   Long fence-lines can also make for good zones of coyote travel.
  • When seeking landowner permission, use a business card and act professional.   #1. Tell the landowner who you are and where you are from.  #2. Explain to the landowner what you intend to do. (this approach minimizes landowner fears because people who are up to no good generally won’t tell you who they are)
  • In terms of trap placement, get in location and observe closely for coyote sign.   When you find it…place the trap there.   Coyotes are extremely neophobic meaning they have a fear of anything new.   It takes a coyote at least 3–5 days to acclimate to new objects.   Understand you can’t make a coyote do something they don’t want to do.
  • Set more traps in one location.   Because coyotes typically travel in groups they are susceptible to multiple catches.
  • Use a typical dirt hole set with a small backing.   The smaller the backing the more direct coyotes will come in.   Coyotes typically investigate things at a 45 degree angle.
  • When placing the trap…look for a spot in the landscape that isn’t too green.   Brown is better.
  • The typical coyote’s gait is about 12 inches, so when placing trap make sure the pan is 9 inches from dirt hole/backing and then 3 inches off center.   Studies have shown this distance will yield the best results for trap placement.
  • Be sure to use a small piece of wool to cover bait as it adds to the curiosity of the set.

Keep in mind that for many of us coyote trapping represents a unique challenge pitting our skills as outdoorsmen against one of nature’s most difficult animals to trap.   Even with fur prices expected to be substantially depressed this season, thousands of trappers throughout Minnesota will still be answering the challenge afforded them by pursuing this wily canine predator.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Alien Invasion: Deer Woods Under Attack By Buckthorn

I really hate to admit this, but in certain areas of my deer woods I’m observing little green monsters that upon first sight now send a shiver up and down my spine.   That’s right, I’m not talking about little green Martians, mind you…nope, instead I’m talking about another foreign nemesis that’s very real and oh, so aggravating to manage.   I’m talking about common buckthorn—a plant that seriously has to be one of the deer hunters’ worst nightmares.

I first noticed it several years back when a plant started showing up here and there that retained its green leaves well beyond when much of the other native foliage lost its leaves.   Of course, this should have been my first sign alerting me to possible trouble, but in my plant identification naivety I simply took note of the occurrence and that’s about it.   Eventually, that trouble blossomed into a problem of massive scales.

That’s the thing about buckthorn.   If the plant is first making its appearance in your woods the smart property manager will act quickly to avert a larger problem that surely will develop a few years down the road.IMG5__00314

Think of it this way.   If your tooth develops a cavity it’s just prudent action to see a dentist now and get the problem fixed.   Left unchecked, the cavity grows and eventually it could abscess causing a major body infection.   Consider the presence of even a few buckthorn plants in your favorite woodlot to be much like that cavity growing in a tooth.

Oh, sure, hindsight is always 20/20 and I certainly wish I had acted much sooner.   I have a few acres of prime, hillside real estate that the deer used to just adore.   It contained several great hunting spots, but thanks to my negligence in no time the land became virtually choked out by buckthorn.   Even if the deer still roamed the hillside—and they certainly did—it was too thick and gnarly to even identify their movements no matter what hunting season was underway.

So, now the work begins.   Last spring I took some radical action in an effort to reclaim the land by first hiring a bulldozer to clear some lanes.   The network of trails not only facilitated my movement throughout this tangled parcel of property, but it also opened up some great shooting lanes that immediately came in quite handy during the hunting seasons.

No doubt about it pulling buckthorn by hand and/or using approved herbicide applications for control is not a fun land management task.   Once established in an area, the seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 5 years so management really becomes a continuing effort to accomplish control.   Moreover, if you have buckthorn in certain areas of your property the primary goal should be to prevent it from spreading to other areas.

Buckthorn removal assistance comes in several forms.   For additional information on specific techniques and the proper use of chemicals, contact the DNR or your local extension office.   Another option is to seek assistance from private companies that will assist you on a fee for service basis in managing your land.   Several companies exist, such as Prairie Restorations, Inc., who will consult with you and/or actually provide the manpower assistance required to get the job done.

Take a lesson from me.   Don’t let your precious property become overrun by the creepy green alien invader called buckthorn.   Even though this creature may not be from another planet, if left uncontrolled the damage this plant can inflict to the quality of your woodlot will leave you screaming for mercy.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.


More Eco-friendly Ammo Choices Available

During the spring of 2008 the hunting community was forced to deal with a topic many big game hunters still find highly controversial.   Should we stop using lead bullets, especially when used in centerfire rifles while big game hunting?

Recall how thousands of pounds of food shelf venison was destroyed as agency officials from several Midwestern states scrambled to search for answers and to make sure all donated venison for the needy remained a wholesome food product.   Moreover, the concern for safety extended beyond the donated meat as these agencies also wanted to ensure hunters were not putting themselves or their families at risk for any bad effects from elevated blood lead levels.Barnes-TX-Cartridge

Well, here we are 16 months later and thankfully the choice on which ammunition type to use for hunting is still ours to make.   If you consult page 60 of the 2009 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook you’ll see the Minnesota DNR has a page full of recommendations on how to reduce the lead toxin danger.   The MN DNR also has an extensive section of their website devoted to considerations hunters need to make when using lead-based ammunition.   Check out these resources and make your future ammunition decision accordingly.

Keep in mind there are also several options available for shotgun (slug) hunters as well as muzzleloader hunters for using non-toxic ammunition.   Because these firearm choices deal with ballistics at somewhat lower velocities(as compared to a centerfire rifle caliber), it does not appear the lead fragmentation issue is as great of a concern with these weapon choices.   Still, even with these firearms the hunter has several non-toxic choices available from most ammunition manufacturers.

Today, however, I’m going to focus on some of the new, lead-free, centerfire rifle ammunition choices that will be on the store shelves for this fall.   Right now happens to be the perfect time to consider your ammunition options, and perhaps a great opportunity to pick up a few boxes then head to the range.

The Federal Cartridge Company has some exciting new non-toxic ammunition options for fall.   The Federal Premium Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet and the Tipped Triple-Shock X-Bullet appear to have some great ballistic capabilities sure to bring down that big buck.  Also check out the Federal Premium Barnes MRX-Bullet combining the benefits of both copper with a tungsten-based core.

Remington offers up its Premier Copper Solid in several popular big game calibers for 2009 as well as its Premier Green line, both incorporating a long history of proven centerfire rifle technology into a non-toxic ammunition product.

Winchester produces a non-toxic ammunition option in its Winchester Supreme E-Tip line.  Again, this product is available in several popular deer hunting calibers.

The Hornady Company also provides a Custom Gilding Metal Expanding (GMX) Boat Tail ammunition that is non-toxic.

As you can see there are several options available in the marketplace if you want to go lead-free with your big game hunting rifle this fall.   Keep in mind, however, the switch-over from lead to non-toxic ammunition comes at a premium price.   In most cases you can expect to pay 50 to 100 percent more for the eco-friendly rounds as compared to the traditional lead-based options.

Basically, what it comes down to is a choice each hunter personally needs to make.   If the continued use of traditional expanding lead bullets doesn’t bother you then use them, but be prudent by heeding some of the warnings just as a precaution.   In particular, if you have children in your household six years of age and under, be aware they are the most susceptible to lead exposure and will suffer the most severe effects.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to pay just a bit more for the lead-free cartridges now readily available you can take greater peace of mind in knowing the deer you’ll shoot this fall will be completely free of any ammunition-related contaminants.

© 2009 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.