Veteran hunters — those whose hunting memories date back several decades — often speak of the bounties that were placed on many predators and how they felt that was a big reason why small game thrived.
Offering a financial incentive for hunters to take foxes, bobcats, coyotes, weasels, and even owls and hawks was a way to keep predator populations in check, they said.
But was it right?
In the late 1960s, the last of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s bounties were phased out. Raptors are now federally protected and predators such as foxes, bobcats and weasels are managed by the agency through trapping and hunting.
Now, after almost 50 years, bounties may be back.
The House Game and Fisheries Committee approved a bill (HB 1534) on Wednesday that would allow the Game Commission to enact a $25 bounty on coyotes.
Rather than use the word “bounty,” the bill calls the concept the “coyote control incentive program.” I guess that sounds more tolerable than bounty, but it’s still the same thing.
The author of the bill, state Rep. Michael Peifer, stated his area of Pike County has a high coyote population that needs to be brought under control. By doing so, according to Peifer, public safety concerns would be addressed and the deer population would receive a boost.
That sounds fine, but I don’t believe that bounties — while they may be effective — are the most ethical way to go about managing the coyote population.
On top of that, I don’t think we should wage a war on coyotes in a desperate attempt to save the deer population.
Instead, it’s better to manage coyotes, and there’s no better way than trapping and hunting.
Peifer’s bill passed the committee by a 21-3 vote, and two local legislators — Gerald Mullery (D-Newport Township) and Kevin Haggerty (D-Lackawanna) cast two of the “no” votes.
Mullery raised some interesting questions about the measure, including if deer and turkey hunters would be willing to give up their hunt and shoot a coyote for $25 if the opportunity arose.
When it comes to the first day of the rifle deer season, I’d say the answer is no. If I’m on stand and seeing deer, I’m not going to rattle the woods by taking a shot at a coyote.
Coyote problem or not, any day I spend hunting deer or turkeys is worth more than $25.
Mullery also asked another, more important question — is the intent to wipe out the coyote population?
Peifer referred to the wariness of the coyote and said he didn’t think that was possible.
I agree. But still, if that is the intent of the bill — to wipe out coyotes — then it’s an irresponsible approach. As hunters, we should never attempt to wipe out anything.
We should, however, strive to manage.
Placing a bounty on coyotes really isn’t anything that’s not being done already. Coyote hunts offer bounties indirectly by awarding cash prizes for hunters who shoot one of the canines.
Such hunts are immensely popular and they are a great late winter activity. They are also an indicator as to why bounties on coyotes may turn out to be a fruitless approach.
The hunt held by District 9 of the PA Trapper’s Association in Tunkhannock is a big event. It attracts more than 800 hunters who spend three days hunting in several counties here in the northeast.
How many coyotes do they harvest? Anywhere from 20 to slightly more than 50.
How effective will a $25 bounty be if hundreds of hunters concentrated in several counties over three days can only shoot several dozen? It goes back to Peifer’s remark about the wariness of the canine. Coyotes aren’t easy to hunt or trap.
No one like to see coyotes kill deer, and they do. But it’s part of nature and coyotes are a native species to this state.
We can’t stop coyotes from killing deer, but we can control how many they take by managing the population through trapping and hunting.
When it comes coyotes, management and tolerance are the better options as opposed to taking a step back in time with bounties.
Perhaps that would be a step forward, as opposed to taking a step back in time with bounties.