Coyote hunting challenging, controversial

Posted: Friday, January 28, 2005

BOISE, Idaho — Rick Gipson blows a siren-like wail on his howler call to wake the dawn on a cold winter day in the Owyhee Desert. His call is greeted by a crazy chorus of yips, barks and howls.

Coyotes are in the area, and now comes the tricky part — using a variety of calls and decoys to lure the intelligent and wary animals within rifle range. It's a challenge that Gipson relishes.

He killed his first coyote in Colorado when he was 6 years old with a .22 rifle after a coyote raided his grandmother's chicken coop.

After 35 years of coyote hunting, he's learned they are a worthy foe.

''I've had so many coyotes make a fool out of me it's not even funny,'' Gipson said.

He has a bag of tricks to fool the wily canines, including dozens of calls, a motorized rabbit puppet on a stick that flips and flops and draws a coyote's attention, and even a life-sized, stuffed coyote named ''Deke.''

Gipson places Deke in an opening near the sagebrush in hopes that it will challenge other coyotes, which are competitive and territorial by nature. Gipson uses one of his calls to mimic the hysteric shrieking of a dying rabbit. It's the sound of an easy meal for a coyote.

''Coyotes will respond to anything that sounds like it's dying,'' he says.

Shortly after daylight, one comes bounding toward the well-camouflaged Gipson and his young hunting buddy, 14-year-old Jimmy Nasados of Meridian. But being hidden doesn't mean being undetected. The coyote circles downwind and catches a whiff of human scent. It's like an alarm bell going off, and the coyote turns and bounds away.

Gipson fires a shot and misses. Round one goes to the coyote.

Irrepressible pest or noble quarry? Coyotes have long been a nemesis for ranchers and farmers. For decades they've been trapped, snared, poisoned, gassed and shot from helicopters and airplanes.

Bounties have been put on them, and states and the federal government have spent millions of dollars to kill them.

But despite all that, coyotes have not only survived, they've thrived. Coyotes provide a year-round hunting opportunity, and hunting them is nearly unregulated. All you need is a hunting license, so it's impossible to know how many people hunt them in Idaho.

They're an unprotected species in the state, and that means they can be hunted and trapped year-round, day or night, by virtually any method. There is no limit on how many a person can kill. Because of that, coyote hunting can be controversial.

They've been shot from airplanes and chased to exhaustion in deep snow by people on snowmobiles. Some people kill coyotes and leave them in a field, which would be illegal if it was done to any game animal or fur bearer.

But Gipson sees coyotes as more than vermin. He sees them as a hunting challenge worthy of respect.

After being foiled at his first attempt of the day, Gipson drives to a canyon in the Owyhees. He and Nasados quietly set up in a pile of rocks overlooking the creek. Gipson stashes an electronic call in the brush near the creek and sets up a rabbit decoy.

The electronic call, a small camouflaged loudspeaker with a remote control, drones a variety of digitally recorded animal sounds. This time, Gipson tries the sound of a distressed starling, then after several minutes, he switches to a distressed partridge.

The eerie, droning, repetitive sound of dying birds cuts through the chilly, foggy, morning air. Gipson and Nasados sit statue still. They wear camouflage from head to toe to blend in with the terrain, and use rocks and bushes to further obscure them from the coyotes' sharp eyes.

After about half an hour, Gipson catches movement. Shifting only his eyes, he sees a coyote loping along the brushy creek bed.

It's searching for the source of the noise.

Nasados is facing the opposite direction guarding the downstream angle and hopes to bag his first coyote. Since he turned 12, the legal age to hunt game animals in Idaho, he's compiled an impressive list of game. He's bagged three deer, two antelope, turkeys, ducks, doves and pheasants. But he hasn't bagged a coyote even though he's seen more than a dozen.

The coyote moves within 20 yards of the call and abruptly turns away. It senses something it doesn't like.

Gipson makes a smooching sound and then barks to get it's attention and hopefully stall it from running away before he can get a shot. The coyote turns and looks his way. It's a final, fatal mistake.

Gipson's rifle barks and the coyote drops dead without a twitch.

Gipson and Nasados could use nearly any hunting method to take coyotes, but they like calling them.

''I'd rather call in any animal I hunt rather than stalk it or sit in a tree stand and wait for it to come in,'' Gipson said.

''I like the thrill of them coming in when you're calling,'' Nasados said.

Gipson said any animal that is hunted deserves a measure of respect.

''There's an ethical and proper pursuit of any animal,'' he said. ''I think coyote calling is the most ethical way of hunting coyotes.''

Gipson said he doesn't kill females in the spring time when they're having pups, and he always skins the coyotes he shoots and uses the pelts, which he later sells for market value.

''I don't like to shoot animals and let them lay. There's got to be some use,'' he said.

And even though a lack of coyotes has never been a problem, limiting his kill means there will always be opportunities in the future to hunt coyotes.

''I've been doing it most of my life,'' Gipson said. ''I guess I am just addicted to it.''

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