Hooked on coyotes

Lincoln man Les Wood is

"self-taught coyote professional"

Part 2

[NOV. 7, 2000]  Les Wood likes to talk about coyotes. Heís learned a lot about them, which helps him in his business of wildlife nuisance control. Heís also learned to respect this intelligent animal that can make its home just about anywhere.

[click here for Part 1]

The coyote, one of the most clever and adaptable animals in nature, is a close relative of the wolf and the dog. Once thought of as a Southwestern animal, it has been steadily expanding its range and can be found today in New York City, in the Canadian wilderness, in the middle of Death Valley and high in Coloradoís Rocky Mountains. It has keen hearing and a sense of smell at least 100 times better than a human being has. Although it cannot see color, it has excellent night vision. Also, it will eat just about anything.

 


[A stuffed red fox holding a rabbit helps attract coyotes. Les uses only live traps to capture nuisance animals, including coyotes.]

Weighing between 30 to 40 pounds, the coyote has yellowish gray fur, a bushy tail and prominent ears. Les says it looks a little like a German shepherd but is smaller than a shepherd or a wolf (wolves can weigh up to 300 pounds).

 

The first time Les saw coyotes in Logan County was 1972, in a place called Polecat Hill near Middletown. He believes there are at least 200 coyotes in the county now, probably more. Itís hard to tell because when they "sing" at dawn and dusk, three or four animals can sound like 30.

Coyotes are highly territorial and social, and they use their calls to communicate with each other. They hunt individually or in pairs and do not travel in packs unless the winter is so hard they canít find food any other way except to "pack up" and take down a large animal.

 

They mate for life and take excellent care of their pups. If one of a pair dies, other coyotes will help the remaining animal raise the young ones. Mating is in mid-February, and pups are born in April or May. The male coyote digs four or five dens for the female in the fall, and when it is time for her to give birth, she chooses one of them.

 

[to top of second column in this section]

 


[A coyote den]

Like wolves, they have a social "pecking order." The alpha male and alpha female, the dominant coyotes in the group, eat first. The others wait, tails curled under their bodies as a sign of submission, until their turn comes. When the alphas have finished, the other coyotes are allowed to eat.

 

Surprisingly, a favorite coyote food staple is mice. "For the most part, they are mousers," Les says. He describes a coyote in winter, hunting mice in the snow: "It stands there alert, listening, ears pricked, then it pounces. It can hear the mouse under the snow and digs it out.

"They also love rabbits and pheasants, and there are not too many stray cats around now because coyotes like them, too," Les says.

 


[Pictures and statuettes of coyotes decorate his home. The needlepoint picture on the left was made by Les' wife.]

"I go out early in the morning or late at night to locate them. They are nocturnal animals, and before they go hunting at night, they have a Ďgroup howl session.í" Once he knows the general area where the coyotes are living, Les uses his coyote calls to get them to come to him.

(To be continued)

 

[Joan Crabb]

Lincoln Ag Center
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Lincoln, IL
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What makes him howl!

Lincoln man Les Wood is

"self-taught coyote professional"

Part 1

[NOV. 6, 2000]  Les Wood is hooked on coyotes.

"Hardly a day goes by that Iím not talking to somebody about coyotes," says the Lincoln native. In his home are photos of coyotes, statuettes of coyotes, books about coyotes, and just about every coyote caller that was ever made. He has published two articles about coyote calling in sport and wildlife magazines and is being encouraged to write more. And this "self-taught coyote professional" spends a good part of his time hunting coyotes, both because he likes to study and videotape them and because in his business of nuisance wildlife control he sometimes has to get rid of animals that are killing farmersí livestock.

Lesís obsession with coyotes started in 1984, when he went to the National Trapping Convention, which met that year in Peoria. "Bill Austin of Rawlings, Wyoming, a government predator control agent, gave a seminar on coyote calling, and I got hooked," Les says.

 


[Les' license plate on the truck he uses for his nuisance animal control business is "I howl."]

He had been involved in hunting and trapping since he was a boy. "My grandfather, John B. Wood (known as J.B.), was a trapper and ran his own business as a fur buyer in Lincoln for 15 years," Les remembers. "He bought furs in the winter from local hunters and trappers. He would skin and stretch the fur, and at the end of the season he would sell it to a New York fur house.

 

"As a boy, I would help my grandfather run his traplines. He mostly trapped farm ditches for muskrat, mink and raccoon. Growing up around this lifestyle, I became interested in trapping and hunting too. Each year I would get permission from local farmers to trap on their property. In 1984 the fur market hit an all-time high. Raccoon pelts were going for $30 to $40 each. A local trapper could make good money during the season," he recalls.

But in 1985, when the Russian economy took a nose dive, the bottom also fell out of the fur market. That was because 90 percent of the fur harvested by Americans was sold in Russia. Local trappers and fur buyers went out of business.

 

Before long, Les saw the need for a new line of work. With urban expansion and the increasing populations of animals (due in part to the reduced fur harvest), conflicts between humans and animals increased. There were raccoons emptying garbage cans, squirrels nesting in attics and chewing up woodwork and electric wires, and coyotes killing farm stock. Sometimes the animals had to give.

 

[to top of second column in this section]

 

Les took a wildlife biology test and got a commercial trapping license from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in 1985. Then he started Wood Wildlife Service, specializing in nuisance animal control. Heís so busy these days he can hardly sit down for a meal without having to get up and answer a phone call from a potential customer. Often itís somebody with skunks in his barn, begging Les to come out with a couple of live traps.

 


[Heads of a deer and a coyote taken by Les hang on the living room wall.]

Skunks are the number one carrier of rabies, and when they are trapped, state law says they have to be exterminated. Raccoons are the number three carriers of rabies (bats come in second), and they also carry the leptospirosis virus, which gives human beings a chronic disease that cannot be cured. By law, raccoons must also be euthanized when trapped. Les says there has been no rabies in Logan County for many years.

In the summer, Les gets many calls to trap animals with distemper, which they can pass on to pets and other domestic animals. Diseased animals must also be euthanized.

Others, such as beaver, opossum, and squirrels, can be live trapped and released far away from the site where they are caught. Les always uses live traps, which do not injure the animals.

 

Farmers want to get rid of coyotes because they kill livestock, especially in the spring when young animals are born. They prey on lambs, baby pigs and even newborn calves. At one Logan County farm, two coyotes killed 18 lambs in one night, and at another they killed a newborn calf before the mother cow could get to her feet and protect it. Les sometimes traps and releases coyotes, but often farmers want them permanently disposed of. Then he has to call them and shoot them.

 

Before he can get rid of the coyotes, Les has to find them. Knowing the habits of these animals helps him do that. It also got him hooked on coyotes.

(To be continued)

 

[Joan Crabb]

[click here for Part 2]

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