Four Truth Bombs About Coyotes

Coyotes then and now. Eastern coyotes have prospered in the east. (photo by Pennsylvania Game Commission)

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

I saw my first eastern coyote in Maine in 1982. I killed my first one a couple of years later in Pennsylvania. Since then I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about this interesting canine. Few ordinary people have researched the eastern coyote for as long as I have, yet I’m always surprised about what I see reported today as though it’s news. Based on all I’ve read and studied for more than 30 years, here are four “truth bombs” about eastern coyotes.

Truth Bomb #1—Eastern coyotes have been around for longer than you think.

Articles and videos about the eastern coyote come to us through newspapers, television and the Internet—much of it from highly reputable sources—as though excited scientists recently discovered a brand new species right under our noses. But we have known for decades most of what is reported as news. The first serious eastern coyote researcher was Gerry Parker from Nova Scotia, and in 1995 he produced a book titled Eastern Coyote: The Story of Its Success. It’s the story others are reporting 20 years later as “news,” yet Parker’s work is seldom cited.

Truth Bomb #2—Eastern coyotes are here for normal, natural reasons.

Gerry Parker’s research supports the simplest explanation of how coyotes got here, and why they’re larger than western coyotes. As coyotes expanded their range from the northern Midwest into Canada, early arrivals had trouble finding their own kind. In the fringe areas of their advance, they occasionally married up with Canadian wolves and bore young. That’s why the eastern coyote’s DNA shows wolf ancestry—they’re simply a wolf/coyote hybrid. They expanded eastward, north of the Great Lakes, and down into the northeastern U.S.A. That’s why we have coyotes and why they are larger than their western counterpart.

Coyotes then and now. Eastern coyotes have prospered in the east. (photo Steve Sorensen.)

Truth Bomb #3—No game agency ever hid the fact that coyotes were in the east.

Coyotes in the east are not nearly as new as many believe. In Pennsylvania they go back at least to 1938. That’s the year a trapper near Ridgway, PA thought he had caught a young wolf. The Pennsylvania Game Commission identified it as a coyote and published a photo of it. So, while many people will tell you the PGC long denied the existence of coyotes in the state, the truth is actually the opposite. The PGC has repeatedly published information about coyotes and photos of them throughout the 20th century.

Truth Bomb #4—Eastern coyotes had man’s help in getting established.

While it’s NOT true that eastern coyotes were stocked by game agencies, timber companies, or insurance companies, man did help them get established in several ways. The latter half of the 20th century was a time of rapid industrialization which brought big changes in land use: the post-World War II housing boom, increased oil and timber production, the decline of family farms with regenerating forests on what had been cultivated lands, and invasive species such as the gypsy moth. Man changed the habitat, giving the eastern coyote an opportunity to thrive.

Then why so many recent reports about eastern coyotes, as though they are some new exotic creature? A couple of reasons. First, we live in a day where eye-traffic is all-important. Even though information travels faster and farther than ever before, the spread of information still has its limits. Many people miss it until it comes around again—ordinary truths are made sensational and old news is delivered with dramatic elements designed to attract new eyes.

Second, in our day of social media we quickly form opinions with limited information. The effect is to make people think they’re experts. Whether it’s an aging lion hunted in Zimbabwe, or a gorilla killed in a zoo to protect a child, people quickly feel compelled to share their opinions.

In some ways people are more out of touch with wildlife than ever before, and that’s one reason people are excited about reports of the “new species” known as the eastern coyote.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at www.jamestowngazette.com.