The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, already looking to do something about a growing feral swine problem in the state, has added coyotes to its "hit list."

 The Commission, which offers year-round, permit-only hunting of wild hogs on private property, took a proposal to five public hearings in March that would allow night hunting of coyotes.

Coyotes and feral swine have become major problems during the past decade. Studies have shown that coyotes can be responsible for a large percentage of fawn mortality, while wild pigs destroy wildlife habitat by rooting for food.

The Commission previously allowed hunting of pigs and coyotes during daylight hours on private land during any open hunting season. It also hired trappers to remove wild pigs from some game lands, then recently offered permits for people to hunt pigs at night.

Dr. David Cobb, director of the Commission's Division of Wildlife Management, said that problems with coyotes and feral swine are similar, and it's almost impossible to eradicate them or lower numbers on a "landscape" scale. But on a smaller scale, he said, it takes intense, consistent efforts to reduce their numbers and keep them manageable.

"If you ever stop trying, it won't be long before you have the same problem again," he said. "Wild pigs and coyotes are very hard to eradicate, and you must be persistent year after year."

The Commission began considering different options for managing both species when it became that current tactics were having little effect on their populations.

At two meetings of the Commission's Big Game Committee in early March, three options for expanding coyote-hunting opportunities were discussed, and the Commission decided to take to public hearings a proposal that would allow year-round hunting at night for coyotes on private lands, with baiting allowed.

Officials with the N.C. Bowhunters Association said the proposal sets up the possibility of enforcement problems with regards to spotlighting deer and hunting turkeys over bait.

Tommy Kimball of Charlotte, an NCBA official, said his group had suggested limiting night-hunting for feral swine and coyotes to March 1-July 31.

"That would avoid setting up a situation where some people might use the  night-hunting permit to poach deer," said Kimball. "We figured the bucks already would have dropped their antlers by March 1. (And) a person could be aware of where was put out for night-hunting wild pigs, then return the next day and set up an ambush near the corn and kill turkeys…. If they got caught, they could say they didn't know about the (bait)."

Ramon Bell, NCBA's president, said, "It could be a nightmare scenario for enforcement officers."

Isaac Harrold, assistant director of the Commission's Division of Wildlife Management, said the potential poaching problems were discussed at the Big Game Committee meetings before the option taken to public hearings was selected.

Cobb said response at the five public meetings was positive, with landowners really wanting to do something about coyotes. He said livestock owners and beef producers spoke at a meeting at Statesville, along with private citizens worried about coyote predation of fawns, poultry, livestock and domestic pets.

"The majority of the speakers want to get rid of coyotes," said Cobb, who attended all five meetings. "We heard about possible poaching of turkeys and deer, too, from some people. Right now you can already on private land bait and shoot feral swine at night if you have a permit, so the only difference in this proposal is to shoot feral pigs and coyotes at night.

"If this rule is adopted the way it's been proposed, it will eliminate the requirement for a permit. But permits were suggested to be retained if we have (night-hunting) when deer have hard antlers."

Cobb said he didn't want to predict want the commissioners will decide.

"I can tell you we have gotten over 3,000 comments, and all of those (ideas) for modifications will be considered by the commissioners," he said. "But I don't know if (the proposal) is likely to change."

Cobb said if the proposal is adopted to allow night hunting with bait for coyotes and feral swine, the Commission likely will offer outreach programs to help landowners decide how best to control the animals at their properties, not just how to hunt them.