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Coyote Sightings
by Jeanne Sable  

I was cross country skiing with some
friends in Rindge, New Hampshire
a number of years ago when their two
young daughters decided to forge ahead of the adults.

They were keeping a healthy lead until they encountered something that
abruptly sent them rushing back to their parents. They thought they’d seen a
pack of wolves.   

While that’s highly unlikely here in southwestern New Hampshire, chances are
very good that the girls had surprised a small pack of coyotes.

There were four animals ,“brownish black” in color, they said. They all looked
basically alike, which pretty much rules out domestic dogs.  We knew from the
tracks and scat littering our woods, the occasional howling sessions, and
relatively rare reports of slaughtered sheep or other livestock, that coyotes were
becoming prevalent in the region.   

Coyotes in New England

As a native New Englander, I never dreamed I would be living among coyotes.
My early introduction to them came largely via the movie screen, where the
mournful cry of the western coyote often  played backup to the twanging guitar
of the lonesome cowboy.

But by the early 1970s,  coyote sightings were creeping eastward from New
York amid much speculation as to their origin. Some claimed the animals were
a cross between the Western Coyote and the Timber Wolf.  Interbreeding with a
growing population of feral dogs also entered the equation, producing the
alleged coy-dog.

Whether the rebounding population of Eastern coyotes owes itself to those
uncertain roots, or whether it has simply expanded into our reforested
farmlands from the Maine wilderness and remote mountain areas where it had
languished is a matter of debate, but it’s clear that the species is firmly
established here.  

One winter I caught a  fleeting glimpse of a coyote darting alongside the
neighbor’s stonewall, probably in hot pursuit of some rodent. I once came upon
one grooming itself  under a hemlock bough in Vermont. It disappeared
literally in the blink of an eye. On other occasions, I’ve spotted them crossing a
highway, or dashing across a field.  

My most recent sighting came shortly after we’d witnessed our next-door
neighbor flinging some spoiled meat into the woods.  The coyote that came for
breakfast the following morning stood still long enough for us to grab the
binoculars. It was a magnificent animal with lush fur the color of a yellow Lab.   

One sighting that will remain etched in my memory above all others took place
during a particularly snowy winter several years ago.  Our narrow, privately
maintained road had been further reduced to barely a car’s breadth by the ever-
rising snow banks on either side. The daytime melt had re-frozen overnight,
creating an icy flume whose steep walls would literally steer my car along the
slick surface as I zigzagged my way along.

On this particular morning I could make out the form of a large grayish animal
on the road some distance ahead. At first I thought it was a deer. But I was soon
convinced that I was heading straight for the neighbor’s dog.

Trapped by the high snow banks, the canine began loping away from me, full
tilt down the middle of the roadway dead ahead. At the last moment, it turned
broadside and peered at me over its shoulder, apparently realizing the time to
bail out was now or never.  With a rapt look of concentration on its face, it
mustered all of its strength, then heaved itself over the towering snow bank.

As the animal cleared the edge, I counted only three legs. The slender snout,
mottled coat, and bony hindquarters also told me this was a coyote, albeit a
rather unhealthy specimen. No doubt it had forfeited its left hind leg to a leg
hold trap, or had it shot by a frustrated farmer defending his livestock.   

When I later told the story to the neighbors, several asked why I hadn’t put the
pedal to the metal and finished off the critter while I had the chance. In his
condition, I may have done him a favor. But the thought hadn’t occurred to me.
I simply savored that fleeting moment as an opportunity to study at close range
a creature so wild and cunning that it is rarely seen.

Coyotes? Should We Be Worried?

That we see them so infrequently bears testimony to the fact that humans
needn’t fear them under ordinary circumstances.  It’s hard to think of an animal
so maligned in our society today as the coyote. Considered “nuisance animals,”
they are subject to open hunting year round. At certain times of the year, they
may even be hunted by night, with no bag limit.

Yet these measures to keep coyote populations under control are often defeated
by the species' innate ability to increase the size of its litters in compensation for
dwindling populations.   

The coyote’s diet consists primarily of small rodents, often supplemented with
berries and insects. They also eat deer, and when given a chance, will prey
upon livestock, especially sheep. They have been reported to attack domestic
pets, and on very rare occasions, unattended small children.   

Still, the coyote is not without merit. While dogs will attack and maim
numerous deer for sport, coyotes will cull out only the weaker ones for
consumption, actually strengthening the herd. In some areas, they have been
credited with doing the deer a favor by keeping the population of feral dogs
under control. In more populated regions of New York, the coyote has even
been lauded as an excellent means of rat and mouse control.  

Native Americans, who revered the coyote as the intelligent, playful and
socially adept animal that it is, deemed it God’s dog. Though we may shun
some of its ways, perhaps we should bear in mind that it is still God’s dog,  
even spelled backwards.   

About the author: Jeanne Prevett Sable is an organic gardener, editor, and freelance
writer based in New Hampshire who specializes in farming and environmental issues,with
hundreds of articles published in local, regional, and national publications. She has
written environmental scripts for children's television, live puppet theater, and the Web.
She is also the author of
Seed Keepers of Crescentville.
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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