COLUMBIA, SC Hunters are being encouraged to shoot coyotes under a state program to control populations of the wild canines, which moved into South Carolina more than three decades ago from the western United States.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources will soon launch a program that rewards anyone who kills one of 16 coyotes the agency tags and releases, the agency confirmed this week.
People killing a coyote the agency has tagged can receive a lifetime hunting license and qualify for other prizes, the agency said.
Although some people question whether trying to kill coyotes is a good idea, South Carolina lawmakers approved the coyote bounty program during the last legislative session after hearing complaints about the animals from constituents. The DNR is now preparing to release coyotes it has trapped and tagged.
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While only 16 coyotes are to be let go, state officials want people to fire at coyotes in the hopes of killing one of the tagged animals. That is supposed to result in the deaths of more coyotes, state officials say.
South Carolina hunters already kill more than 30,000 coyotes a year, but that isn’t deemed enough, wildlife officials say.
“The reasoning behind it from the Legislature is to provide incentive to get people to attempt to take more coyotes,’’ said Jay Butfiloski, a wildlife biologist with the DNR.
Butfiloski, who did not have an estimate on how many coyotes exist in South Carolina, said his agency doesn’t expect the bounty program to eradicate the animals. But it may keep the population more manageable, he said.
Ridding the state of coyotes may be a lost cause, say state wildlife officials and others familiar with coyotes.
“You go back to the federal war on coyotes out west, there were a lot of money and resources thrown at that,’’ Butfiloski said. “They’ve not eradicated them. They are a very successful species. They are fairly elusive. They are very general in what they will eat. They are fairly prolific. That’s kind of a recipe’’ for survival.
The bounty program also includes a registration program for people interesting in shooting coyotes. Those who register by Dec. 1 and who kill one of the 16 tagged coyotes by next July could be eligible to win a centerfire rifle scope combination, the agency said. Those who kill a tagged coyote also could win a Yeti cooler, the agency said.
Coyotes are wild canines that began moving into South Carolina in 1978 near Walhalla and Pickens, according to the DNR. Some walked to the Palmetto State, while others apparently were imported by hunters to train dogs for fox hunting or other sports, Butfiloski said.
Now, they are considered a public nuisance by deer hunters, farmers and homeowners. Hunters say coyotes are killing deer fawns and reducing populations of the much-sought-after game. Farmers say their livestock is threatened. Some homeowners say coyotes are threats to domestic pets, and the animals have been seen in some urban areas near Charleston. State wildlife officials said the resilient canines also have gobbled rare sea turtle eggs on coastal islands.
Author John Lane, who wrote the recently published “Coyote Settles the South,’’ said southerners must get used to living with the animals.
“Coyotes always seem to be underappreciated, little understood and always unpredictable,’’ Lane wrote in his book. “Unlike out west, there aren’t many stories yet in the South about living with them.’’
Coyotes are larger than foxes but smaller than wolves, typically weighing about 30 to 45 pounds in South Carolina. They are grayish brown and are most active at twilight and through the night, according to research Butfiloski has done.
A coyote has a keen sense of smell, good eyesight and can run up to 40 mph, according to a report Butfiloski co-wrote on coyote biology and control. They range in areas of up to 20 square miles. They usually hunt alone or in pairs, according to his report.