By Steve Linenfelser
Brooklyn Exponent Outdoors writer
Coyotes have become a problem in parts of Michigan, and the Brooklyn-Irish Hills area is no exception.
Knutson’s Sporting Goods, of Brooklyn, hosted a “coyote bounty” in January and February designed to help address the problem. Anyone who brought a coyote carcass back to the store would receive a $5 gift certificate just for entering.
Knutson’s also awarded gift certificates to the person that brought in the heaviest coyote, and to the person who brought in the most coyotes, as well as one random winner of a drawing they held.
The bounty contest turned out to be quite successful this year, bringing in a whopping 380 coyotes. Coyotes are very intelligent and wary creatures, and I can tell you they are not the easiest animal to harvest.
Craig Carpenter of Napoleon won the prize for bringing in the most coyotes, which earned him a $150 store gift certificate. He brought in 47 coyotes! The majority of coyotes that were trapped or shot came from surrounding areas such as Jackson, Lenawee, Hillsdale, and Washtenaw counties, but some came from as far away as Ionia and Monroe.
I contacted Carpenter and interviewed him at his home in Napoleon. I found him to be very friendly and intelligent, and the minute I walked into his house I knew he was quite the skilled hunter and outdoorsman. His living room was filled with wall mounts of huge bucks that he and his son had hunted, along with a head mount of, you guessed it, a coyote that he shot around the year 2000.
It was around 2005, he noticed that the coyote population had increased dramatically. He decided that he would buy some snares and capture coyotes, selling the furs and helping some of his neighbors, who complained of coyotes killing pets and wreaking havoc.
Carpenter is in the construction business and has poured concrete all his life. He has always hunted and fished, but during the winter months, he wanted to do something that kept him busy. He would go along with his dad, Tom Carpenter, on weekends when Craig was a teenager, helping him with his trap line.
“It took several hours, and being a teenager with other interests, I decided that was something I didn’t want to do,” he said. His dad used leg hold traps and was quite accomplished. “I’ve talked to a lot of people and they said that my Dad was the best coyote trapper around.”
The family has a farm with 186 acres on Prospect Hill Road, on the western edge of Washtenaw County. Craig started to see a lot of coyotes while hunting there and had a lot of neighbors asking if he could help them out with the exploding coyote population. Craig decided he would use snares instead of leg hold traps and started setting them on his family farm, as well as on about a dozen neighbors’ and friends’ properties.
So, what exactly is a snare, and how does it work?
A snare is a non-lethal method of capturing animals. You set a stake in the ground and attach a metal cable that has a loop, which is set at a certain diameter, depending on what you’re trying to catch. For coyotes, Carpenter would set his snare about 10 inches in diameter and about 10 inches off the ground along a weedy trail. The coyote would walk through the loop, and when the loop tightened, it would capture the coyote. The cable restraint is equipped with a relaxing lock, which loosens slightly to prevent strangulation, making it very humane. The restraint also has a breakaway locking system that is no greater than 285 pounds, so if a deer walks through it, the deer will be allowed to escape unharmed. The cable cannot exceed 60 inches in length and set in a manner where the coyote cannot be entangled in a fence.
Carpenter has over one hundred snares, and during the season, which runs from January 1 to March 1, they are set on his four-acre parcel in Napoleon, as well as about a dozen other areas. He sets his traps along narrow trails, such as in the woods or in a cattail swamp. It usually takes about six hours to check all his snares.
“A snare in the wide open is worthless,” Craig explained. He noted that if a coyote came across it in an open field, it would just walk around it. It’s better to hide it amongst tall grass or weeds. It’s important to wear rubber gloves and boots, to minimize human scent.
Over the years, of course, the coyote population has increased dramatically.
“When I first started, I caught a lot of foxes, now it’s not even close,” Craig says, referring to the fact that there are so many coyotes now. On occasion, he’ll catch a fox, a raccoon, and even a skunk.
I asked him if the coyotes ever got aggressive with him when he approached the captured coyote, and he explained they are usually docile, but that you do need to be careful. They have powerful jaws and are quite intelligent. Carpenter had one coyote that literally chewed through a nine-gauge cable on a snare set on his property three times.
“The males are strong, but the females are much smarter,” he said with a smile.
I asked Carpenter why he traps coyotes. He stated he’s always loved to hunt and fish, and this was a way to get outdoors during the slow season of construction. It’s after deer season, and he sees quite a bit of wildlife.
“I saw my first bald eagle last year,” he said in admiration.
And you can make a few extra dollars with the fur. Craig says coyote fur is in high demand. He got $40 for one pelt this year.
I asked Carpenter if he thought there was a coyote problem.
“Most definitely,” he said. He told me a story of a guy in Brooklyn that had his beloved cat, which was part of the family, killed by a coyote. Another family watched in horror as one of their little dogs was carried off by a coyote in broad daylight. I too have seen a coyote in Brooklyn kill a neighbors’ cat. They can also interfere with deer hunting.
Craig told me a story of one night during bow season last year where a buck was starting to walk across a field. Suddenly, the buck turned around and ran the opposite direction because five coyotes suddenly appeared and gave chase.
As I left, I remembered that Craig told me that when he entered the contest, he really didn’t count on bringing in the most coyotes. Just for bringing in each one, he got $5. Hey, 47 times $5 isn’t too bad.
As I was driving home, I remembered something else. You see, this all started with Craig helping his dad on a farm in Washtenaw County as a teenager, and stating at the time he’d never do it. Craig has a son, an 18-year-old named Chad that lives with him and told his father one day after helping him check snares that he’d “never do it.” Huh, funny thing is, that’s just what Craig told his father.
Back in 1837, Washtenaw County actually had a $5 bounty on coyotes. It’s funny how things can come back full circle. Craig said he read in one book, “If the world came to an end, the coyote would survive.”