Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Open Letter to Hunters in the Northeast

I posted the following on the Withywindle Blog, and feel passionate enough about the topic (coyote hunting) that I'm cross-posting it here.

An Open Letter to Hunters in the Northest

I spoke at a tracking conference last weekend ( and MassWildlife had a past issue of their publication (from 2009) on display. I was disappointed to find that one of the main articles in this issue was about hunting coyotes – the tricks and tips hunters use to more effectively kill this animal.

I have written an open letter to the hunters of Massachusetts (and the other northeastern states, if this comes their way) in response to this article. I don’t know what the chances are of it getting published in MassWildlife's magazine so I'm posting it here and at my personal blog (Off the Path Journal).

To the hunters of Massachusetts:

Let me open this letter by stating that I am pro-hunting. I have friends and family members who are hunters and I appreciate and advocate for (most of) what they do. I believe that hunting must be done safely and responsibly, and that most of the time that is the case. I also really appreciate the work that MassWildlife does to help educate hunters about safety, regulations and the intricacies of their sport. I’m an even bigger fan of subsistence hunting – consuming the animals taken or (as my father has done on occasion) giving that animal to someone who subsistence hunts and could really use the animal(s) that someone else killed in a season.

However, I do have a problem with predator hunting; in particular, the killing of eastern coyotes (coywolves). Of the hunters I know who kill coyotes, none of them consume the ones they kill (unlike the deer, squirrels, rabbits and turkey they take). They do it simply because (as was stated to me by more than one individual) “it was there”. So what? I find the concept of killing something “just because” troubling. Not to mention the killing of a social, intelligent animal with no regard for the role it fills in its ecosystem and family structure.

Eastern coyotes are the closest thing the northeastern US has to a top-level predator in our natural world, and disregarding the importance and relevance of that role by people who love the outdoors is distressing. All of the hunters I know are avid outdoorspeople. They love the natural world and being a part of it. If that’s the case, why do they show so little understanding or caring of eastern coyote’s role in that world? They are labeled as ‘varmints’ and ‘pests’. There’s no bag, possession or season limit on them in the state of Massachusetts (but there are for squirrels and frogs and almost everything else except crows – can you think of an animal that’s more abundant then the grey squirrel??).

Additionally, the eastern coyote is a very social animal. It takes a mated pair to raise a litter of pups, and if you kill one parent the pups’ chances of survival are decreased (I realize that that isn’t much concern for someone who doesn’t care for this species to begin with, but it’s worth knowing). Coyotes often mate for life and bond strongly with their mate. If you have a dog at home think about how your dog shows love for its ‘pack’ (you & your family). Coyotes are canines, and show just as much affection for their coyote pack as your dog does for its ‘pack’ (in case you think I’m anthropomorphizing here, I’ve supplied resources at the end of this letter – this behavior has been noted by biologists and casual observers for decades). When you kill a member of a coyote pack you disrupt their social structure and the whole pack knows the loss.

Killing coyotes will NOT reduce their numbers here, or anywhere else. I just can’t say this enough. There are over 40 years of scientific research to prove this point (see resources). In fact, many times the opposite happens – coyote numbers increase in a given area when an individual(s) is killed. At the risk of making this long letter even longer, I won’t go into the biological and ecological reasons for this, but see the book Suburban Howls (info in resources) for some very specific observations of just this phenomenon. The eastern coyote is a creature that has been created by human interference in the natural world. If we don’t like how abundant they are, we have no one to blame but ourselves (these facts are also proved by scientific observation and data). And killing all you want won’t make a difference. They’ll just keep coming back.

I understand (and support) the need for control on wild animals that live in and around densely human-settled areas, become too habituated to people, and as a result become dangerous. Educating people how to live safely around ALL wildlife will go a long way towards reducing human/coyote interactions (Mass Wildlife has a terrific publication on living with coyotes on their website). But when hunters kill coyotes in the northeast, they’re often not hunting the ones in the suburbs – they’re out in state forests and conservation land.

So my question to the responsible hunters out there – whether I know you or not – is this: why do you still kill coyotes? You aren’t going to control their population. They aren’t going to decimate the deer population (seriously – have you seen the number of deer in the northeast?). And you’re most likely not going to eat what you kill. So why are you really doing it? Ask yourself. There are plenty of game animals out there for sport and consumption. Is it ‘just because’? And if so, what does that say about an individual who kills just for the sake of killing? That’s what I find disturbing.

Cynthia Menard, Naturalist
Withywindle Nature Programs


Beckoff, Marc, ed. Coyotes: Biology, Behavior and Management, Academic Press Inc., 1978 (The book has since been reprinted by the Blackburn Press, 2001)

Parker, Gerry, The Eastern Coyote: Story of it's Success, Down East Books, 1995

Way, Jonathan, PhD., Suburban Howls, Dog Ear Publishing, 2007 

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