Hunters in central Vermont shot and killed 70 coyotes last weekend in the fifth annual Hound Dog Hill Coyote Hunt. Event organizer Joe Russell bagged two 30-plus-pound animals himself, and hauled them to the reporting station at Buxton's Store in Orwell. Pick-up trucks with bloodied beds pulled in and out of the parking lot all weekend.
Russell established the hunt after competing in a similar Pennsylvania contest designed to keep the burgeoning coyote population in check.
The biggest complaint about the wild canines is that they kill deer. Russell suggests the current number of coyotes might explain the lousy 2004 deer season, which, according to Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Department, was the worst since 1982. In fact, more coyote carcasses came through Buxton's in three days than dead deer over the course of rifle season.
"It's not much fun when you sit in a tree stand and you watch coyotes chase off the deer," says Russell.
Because they're not game animals, the state doesn't keep track of coyotes. It's open season, year-round.
Deer aren't the only animals threatened by coyotes -- the wily ones eat sheep and chickens. "People in rural areas lose their cats," Russell says, hinting darkly, "Well, your cat didn't just drop over dead."
Russell's popular Vermont coyote hunt has doubled in size each year; more than 600 sportsmen from all over the Northeast entered in 2005 to win an estimated $5000 first prize. The winner will be announced at a gathering at Russell's house on January 15.
The hunter expects the event to draw twice as many gun-toters again next year, barring any flack from animal-rights groups, who have objected to it in the past. Russell seems resigned to someone spoiling the fun. "The bigger it gets," he says with a sigh, "the more people will complain."