'Georgia Coyote Challenge' puts canine in cross-hairs

As any roadrunner will tell you, the only good coyote is a dead coyote.

State wildlife officials, as eager to kill the varmints as any Acme Corporation anvil salesman, are holding a contest to reduce the wily canine's numbers.

Credit: George Mathis

Credit: George Mathis

The "Georgia Coyote Challenge" runs from March to August.

Hunters can kill up to five coyotes a month, which cartoons indicate is more difficult than it sounds, to be entered in a raffle to win a $500 lifetime Georgia hunting license.

So far in March, hunters have turned in 33 coyotes, said a DNR spokesperson Tuesday.

Should the state be encouraging hunters to kill animals that look so similar to our beloved dogs?

I'd say yes because coyotes sometimes kill the animals we care most about -- pets.

Yet, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources isn't tasked with preserving the lives of puppies and kittens. Instead, it tries to manage native wildlife, which the coyote, an interloper from out west, is allegedly destroying.

The Atlanta Coyote Project , a group of scientists who research coyotes in the area, says the "killing contest [is] both inhumane and unwise."

The group, in a recent AJC article , argues coyotes are prevalent only because humans killed off native wolves and coyotes don't really threaten any native species.

So, what native wildlife is the coyote targeting?

The DNR website does not say. Their "Coyote Fact Sheet" says they prey on garbage and rodents and humanity isn't running out of either.

If we could train coyotes to guard bird feeders from tree rats (aka squirrels) I'd be their biggest fan.

The only animals listed on the coyote diet other than rodents is pets ("especially cats"), poultry and other small livestock. None of those are native species.

Atlanta's cat population is probably at an all-time high, which might explain why the coyotes are here in the first place.

I have a kindhearted relative who captures feral kittens as a hobby and tries to trick other people into adopting them. If Georgia had more coyotes she'd be able to hoard something more sanitary, like feral goldfish.

What about livestock?

"If you love something, set it free" looks good on a poster, but in my youth I learned to keep everything I loved behind a fence or in a cage. Eventually my plans were thwarted by a judge's restraining order and the pack of wild dogs that put Mathis Double-D Goat Ranch out of business.

I called the DNR and asked if any native wildlife the public cherishes more than rats is being decimated by coyotes.

DNR biologist Charlie Killmaster, whose last name I did not make up, says coyotes prey on deer, particularly fawns like Bambi.

Deer are most desired game species in Georgia and the U.S., said Killmaster, who, after questioning, admitted his name is kinda cool.

Georgia's deer population is where the DNR wants it, said Killmaster, but coyote kills have resulted in "a 25 percent decrease in the reproductive capacity of the herd."

Contrary to popular belief, Georgia's deer population is currently under control, he said. An overabundance of deer in the Atlanta area is because there's less hunting here.

On average hunters kill about 350,000 deer annually and 50,000 coyotes annually, Killmaster said.

Suddenly, the 33 coyotes taken in the "Challenge" seems like a really small number. Killmaster said the real goal of the Georgia Coyote Challenge is to "increase homeowner awareness" that there's no bag limit for coyotes and it's always open season.

Recently, I was awoken in my DeKalb County home by lots of yipping and yapping. It sounded like someone stuffed a box of puppies under my bed.

I recalled the winter I left my basement door open and the neighbor's Labrador Retriever mix, Buddy, turned my home into a doggy brothel.

Being stupid, I went outside in a robe armed with nothing but a flashlight and a Little League bat. The sun was just about to come up and it was a bit foggy. As I turned the corner I peered through the mist and saw an adult coyote and several smaller ones playing in the yard.

All baby animals, even those no one loves, are cute.

I retreated and made coffee. For indoor creatures, wildlife is rarely a problem.