My buddy Davy Hite, the bass pro, called one night a couple of weeks ago. We had been trying to set up a time to shoot photos to go with his Lunker Lines column, but the talk quickly turned to deer hunting, which is near to the hearts of a lot of sportsmen across South Carolina.
It’s been documented in these pages that the Palmetto State’s herd is in decline, with the harvest down better than 35 percent from the record harvest in 2002. Habitat loss and change, past overharvest and the explosion of the coyote population are most-often fingered as the cause for the decline.
At this point, sportsmen can’t stop having formerly wild areas covered with concrete, and they can’t affect on more than a local level the quality of deer habitat. They can do two things: decide not to kill as many does, and/or try to kill more coyotes.
The coyote problem has increased steadily in South Carolina. Biologists’ best guess is, if the population keeps growing, they’ll be eating close to half the fawns dropped every year.
Trapping is acknowledged as the way to really put a dent in coyote populations, but fact is, a lot of sportsmen know nothing about trapping, and it can be an expensive undertaking. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has held, in conjunction with Clemson University, seminars to acquaint landowners with methods for controlling coyotes.
But at its core, it’s up to sportsmen to really do their part. How can that be encouraged without requiring a significant financial investment? SCDNR can’t possibly offer a bounty on coyotes; the agency is running on a shoestring budget as is. Davy and I came up with an idea that night.
I remembered many years ago reading about a café in the Midwest running an annual contest for its pheasant-hunting clientele. Hunters would bring in the tailfeathers off the pheasants they killed, and at the end of the season, the hunter who provided the longest tailfeather — presumably from the biggest, oldest, cagiest bird — won the contest.
What would happen, I asked Davy, if every general store, gun shop or sporting goods store across South Carolina that runs a big-buck contest — and there are plenty — would run some kind of coyote contest? Offer a prize for, say, the longest coyote tail presented at the store. With a set of camouflage clothes, a case of shotgun shells or a portable tree stand as a prize, how many hunters are going to kill every coyote they see and even look for more opportunities to hunt coyotes? Stores are quickly going to profit from the additional traffic.
Unless you’re a coyote, it sounds like a win-win deal to me. Better deer hunting is what everybody wants, including retailers in the hunting industry. Whatever individual hunters can do to help can’t possibly be anything but a positive step.