Oklahoma House lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow coyotes to be hunted at night using high-powered rifles, night-vision goggles and searchlights despite concerns from state wildlife officials .
Supporters say that if the bill, which still needs to be approved by the state Senate, becomes law, landowners will no longer have to obtain night permits to hunt coyotes, which terrorize chicken coops, calving heifers, calves and domestic animals.
State wildlife officials, however, oppose it on safety grounds and because Oklahoma game wardens already issue free one-year deprivation permits to Oklahomans who are plagued by coyotes as well as daily night hunting permits for sports enthusiasts.
State Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, the Senate author of Bill 4281, said coyotes are nocturnal, so there’s no way to manage the population without searchlights and night-vision goggles.
He also said cattle ranchers were losing a lot of money because coyotes ate baby calves or pregnant heifers while they were giving birth. A rancher himself, Murdock said that in just one year he had lost 14 calves to coyotes, and a few years ago he had to kill 24 that were near his corrals.
He said he understands concerns that opening coyote hunting at night without a permit could lead to poaching, but poachers aren’t the first thing he worries about.
“The people I worry about are the farmers and ranchers who have a dollar bill, who are trying to make a living,” Murdock said.
“We absolutely recognize that people need to protect their livestock,” said Micah Holmes, spokesman for the Department of Wildlife Conservation.
But Holmes also said firing a high-powered rifle is a serious liability and firing it after dark can be a safety risk. There have been a few cases this fall where people aiming at animals accidentally shot into homes because they were unaware of what was beyond their target.
Coyotes can legally be hunted during daylight hours year-round with a hunting license. Landowners can also shoot them during the day if they threaten livestock.
Unlike some other animals in Oklahoma, the coyote population is in great shape.
“Coyotes are abundant…” Holmes said. “There is no reason for us to believe that there are not enough coyotes or for that matter too many coyotes, but of course, if someone attacks your chickens or your calves, that’s too many coyotes. We certainly recognize that.
Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, said it’s hard to know how many calves coyotes kill each year because some deaths go unreported while other causes of death go unreported. definitely known.
He said, however, that the coyote population seems to go up and down, and the number of livestock attacks go up when the state’s rabbit population is down. Right now, Kelsey said the population appears to be higher than normal judging by the number of calls from members who have lost livestock to coyote attacks.
Kelsey said his group supports the legislation although he understands the poaching and safety concerns. He said that although many livestock owners already have a deprivation permit allowing night hunting, there are instances where it can be difficult for a landowner to obtain a permit from a game warden. There are also rare situations where an unlicensed person encounters a coyote preying on livestock.
He said the existing system generally works well, but the measure would give livestock owners more flexibility.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture official did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the number of cattle killed by coyotes each year.
State Rep. Eddy Dempsey, R-Valliant, the author of the House measure, said his neighbors were having trouble with coyotes. Coyotes also killed a few of his dogs.
“They’re just a nuisance,” said Dempsey, who runs a southeast Oklahoma tree farm. “I too live in the middle of nowhere and had to shoot them from my back porch because they were after my dogs.”
His bill allows Oklahomans to use any weapon to kill coyotes. Owning night vision goggles is growing in popularity as rural residents battle feral hogs, so many owners already own a pair, he said.
In the past, hunters helped keep the coyote population under control, but that has changed, he said.
“The furs are so cheap now that we don’t really have people hunting them like we used to, not only coyotes but also bobcats, foxes, coons and everything else, and they’re harming my wildlife “, Dempsey said.