Depending on who you ask, they are either respected or
reviled -- a natural force keeping nature in balance or a varmint to be taken
down before they can prey on pets, wildlife or cattle.
Whether they are wily or not, the coyote is about to come into the cross hairs of hunters' rifles across New Mexico. Calibers Shooting Sports Center in Albuquerque is sponsoring a statewide, two-day coyote hunt starting Dec. 1 to cut the number of the predatory critters in an effort to protect the state's livestock.
Coyotes have no protection under New Mexico law.
Caliber's owner, Ryan Burt, said he came up with the idea after he was approached by several ranchers from around the state who have been dealing with coyotes harming livestock.
Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association and New Mexico Woolgrowers Inc., said the cost to livestock producers is hefty.
In 2009, the last year reported, losses to predators in New Mexico included 5,500 sheep and 3,700 lambs. In 2010, the loss of beef cattle topped 220,000 head across the southwestern United States.
"You do the math and that is a huge loss," she said. "Not only to the growers, but to the people they do business with -- feed and health providers. And it ultimately shows up in the consumer's pocketbook by reduced supply."
During the shooting contest, two-member teams will fan out across the state. The team that brings in the most kills will win a pair of Bushmaster AR-15 rifles. The entry fee, according to the store's website, is $150 per team and all participants must be at least 18 years old.
Although the store is based in Albuquerque, everyone is eligible statewide, Calibers employee Jason Darby said.
"Folks down in Las Cruces would be eligible," he said. "They will need to bring the carcass to the Albuquerque area at the end of the hunt. We are working out the details for registration."
Tye Lightfoot, a Las Cruces hunting guide, said keeping the coyote population down is vital to the health of game animal herds as well as domesticated livestock. The upswing in the state's coyote population, especially in rural areas, has resulted in a decrease in mule deer and antelope, he said.
The number of coyotes began to explode when the government stopped trapping programs and the population quickly began to grow, he said.
"Coyotes bounce back quicker than people realize," Lightfoot said.
In the central part of the state where Lightfoot leads hunts, coyotes would normally prey on smaller animals such as rabbits. Once those food sources grow scarce, coyotes begin to hunt fawns, lambs and calves, reducing game herds and even driving some ranchers to abandon some operations due to predation.
"We've seen the number of jackrabbits go down," Lightfoot said. "Then (coyotes) started to prey on the fawn crop and the antelope. When the coyote population grows, they chase more mule deer, antelope, beef and sheep."
But Susan Weiss, an advocate for the Coexist with Coyotes group, blasted the contest. "Hunting to eat is one matter," she said. "But just hunting for a contest I think is really immoral and disgusting."
Unlike game animals or the protected Mexican gray wolf, coyotes are always in season. A pack is typically three to eight animals, according to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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