Locating Coyote Dens

Predation can frequently be resolved by locating coyote dens and removing the pups and/or the adults responsible for depredations. Denning may also be warranted as a preventive control strategy if coyote predation has historically and consistently occurred in a particular area during the lambing season.

Breeding pairs of coyotes are extremely territorial. They vigorously defend their territories against other canine intruders. Coyotes often den year after year in the same general location. If a particular denning pair of coyotes has a history of existing with and not preying on livestock, it may be to the producer’s advantage to leave them alone. Their removal will open up a territory that may become occupied with coyotes that are more likely to prey on livestock.

Although tracking a coyote from a livestock kill back to its den requires skill and persistence, it is probably the most foolproof method to locate the den of the offending animals. If tracking is not feasible because of poor tracking conditions or lack of the required skills, there are alternatives that may be used.

Coyotes will usually howl in response to a howl from another coyote near their den. One or both adult coyotes will often be near the den between 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. A response can be elicited by voice howling, blowing a coyote howler call, or broadcasting recorded calls from a tape player. It is usually best to wait 30 minutes to 1 hour between howls because the same coyotes may not respond again within that period.

Once the approximate location of a den is determined, careful planning is required to ensure the best chance of immediately removing the adult coyotes. The hunter should approach the den unseen and downwind to within calling distance, armed with a high powered rifle and/or repeating shotgun loaded with heavy shot. A call that imitates the whines or yelps of a coyote pup can be very effective under these circumstances, especially when used in conjunction with a dog to act as a decoy. A small-to medium-sized dog moving in the vicinity of the den gives the coyotes something to focus on and reduces the likelihood that the hunter will be detected. The sounds of a pup in distress along with the sight of a dog so near the den will cause most coyotes to display highly aggressive behavior, frequently chasing the dog back to within close proximity of the hunter.

After the adults are removed, the pups can be killed by fumigating the den with a gas cartridge registered for this purpose, or the pups can be dug out by hand. If attempts to shoot one or both adults are unsuccessful, the chances of trapping or snaring them are improved if the pups are left alive and confined in the den. This can be accomplished by driving stakes 2 inches (5 cm) apart down through the den entrance. Carefully place blind sets in the den trails or at the den mound. Capture will often result when the adults return to investigate the area. If the adults are not captured within a reasonable period of time, the pups should be destroyed. Removal of the pups is often effective in stopping predation even if the adult coyotes are not removed.

An airplane can be used very effectively to locate coyote dens when depredations occur in spring or early summer in open prairies or sagebrush terrain. Early morning hours provide the best light conditions for locating adult animals near the den site or as they return from hunting. The low angle light reflects on the coyote and provides good contrast with the surrounding vegetation and soil. Actual den sign, however, shows up better during the middle of the day with light coming from directly overhead. Dens are most easily located after the pups have begun venturing outside. The pups soon trample down the vegetation around the den, making the site more visible from the air. If aerial shooting is legal, it is often possible to remove the adults and pups in one operation. In open terrain, landings can often be made within walking distance of the den.

Although denning requires special skills, training, and often considerable time, the advantages can be significant. A cost-benefit analysis conducted during one study determined that the cost to remove a den of depredating coyotes could be recovered if only 3.6 lambs were saved. In the same study, the average number of lambs killed by each depredating pair of coyotes was 4.9 per week. While these findings indicate that denning could be cost effective after only a few days, the benefits actually continue in most instances for the duration of the season. Denning can be very selective for the offending animals and can resolve some depredation problems at relatively low cost.

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