Keeping predators under control
In the early 1980s trapping fox, coyotes, badgers, muskrat and a bonus mink did more than just pay for gas. Fur prices were strong and fox outnumbered coyotes to the point where a coyote pelt brought a nice reward, and the intense hunting and trapping effort helped keep numbers in check as well.
My dad was one of those guys who jumped in his old blue Ford and ran a trapline every night after work. I often tagged along, as I never knew what the 20 or so traps would hold. A coyote was a prize, a raccoon showed up once in awhile, and the occasional skunk was a necessary evil, but it was all part of the trapline.
And that was part of the draw -- similar to just about any hunting or fishing outing for that matter -- you just never knew what might lie around the next bend.
I can count on one hand, maybe two, the number of trappers I know who are keeping the heritage alive. But where trapping with the dedication required for checking a trapline daily has fallen off, a lot of it because of a depressed fur market and high price for gas, I know many others who have joined the ranks of predator hunters. Whether it's with calls, or by spotting and stalking, predator hunting has become much more popular than it once was.
Part of that has to do with opportunity, as coyote numbers are higher than they were 30 years ago, and their primary range has expanded. While the state's coyote population has grown, the fox population is smaller, partly because of the presence of mange, and partly because coyotes don't like fox and force them out of their territories.
With the rising popularity of predator hunting in North Dakota, there are also a few reminders, ethical and legal, that need to be considered in the realm of enhancing landowner-hunter relations.
I'd venture that many landowners would welcome coyote or fox hunters who ask permission for walking or snowshoeing access. As with all types of hunting, however, there's no guarantee.
Don't forget that with the excessive early snow and drifts around the rural areas, some posted signs are snowed in and it's better to seek out permission in most cases, rather than assuming land is not posted.
While I'm on the subject of posted signs, I've taken a few calls from landowners asking for a reminder that "no trespassing" isn't exclusive to hunting. "No trespassing" is all-inclusive, on foot, snowmobile, ATV or other form of transportation. No matter what the activity, if land is posted the landowner wants people to ask before they enter.
When it comes to furbearer hunting and snowmobiles, it's illegal to chase and harass wildlife. Anyone who witnesses such activity should report it immediately.
While night hunting for predators is legal during the winter, you must be on foot, and you can't use a spotlight. So, use the spotlight for finding calves or lost pets, and when you set out to call fox and coyotes at night, leave the light at home and bring the snowshoes along.
While my participation as a predator hunting isn't on the same level as many other active coyote or fox caller, I still enjoy strapping on the snowshoes and hiking across the in pursuit of fox, coyotes ... or rabbits. You never know what you might find when you spend the day on the other side of the window.
-- Leier is a Game and Fish Department biologist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.