Fear, Coyotes, and Really Big Sticks

Fear is a funny thing. It sparks up when you least expect it and knows no logic.

I’ve written before about the coyote bounty in my province of Nova Scotia. It’s an issue I have a lot of personal interest in. It has baffled me why few seem to have as much concern as I do about the killing of animals who  are only here because of human intervention. I have not yet heard if the provincial government will be renewing the bounty for the upcoming hunting season but the program has run for the last two years. I’d like to believe they have realized this part of their plan isn’t doing anything to stem the population, though I have little hope.

Ack! Is that a coyote I see?
Nope, only a Shiva. Whew!

Regardless, I felt pretty confident in my belief that coyotes are very rarely a threat to humans. Even if spotted, the chances one will attack are slim, especially if you know what to do. I blithely wandered through forests and other quiet, deserted areas without worrying about my safety. Or that of my dog.

 A few days ago my PH returned from walking Shiva full of big news. He had just seen a coyote in the trees near an old power line trail.

Nothing happened (obviously or this would be a very different post!) but the other animal was clearly keeping an eye on them the whole time they were there. Creepy, right?

At first I shrugged it off, content with the knowledge that my PH grew up in the mountains of Alberta and is very knowledgable about avoiding encounters with wildlife. He simply got Shiva back on the leash and left the area. Nothing to stress over.

However, the next night I found myself alone with Shiva in an area not too far from where they had been the day before. The fog had started to roll in and the normally popular path was empty. Typically it would make me happy to have the trail to ourselves but on this night I couldn’t stop thinking about the coyote.

What is it you smell, puppy?

Talk about the power of suggestion! I started seeing them every where. At every sound I’d pause and stare into the darkness of the trees, wondering if we were being watched by wild canine eyes. Every time Shiva seemed distracted by something I would feel the paranoia rise and I’d start to run, trying to get her attention and get us out of the general area. As we walked I recognized for the first time how truly vulnerable we are when walking alone. If something was to happen, there would be no way of reaching help. I’d have to rely entirely upon my city-girl resources.

The idea was frightening. All the statistics in the world couldn’t shake the fear either. While logically I knew I had a bigger chance of being killed by car careening onto the sidewalk, it didn’t stop me from quickening my movements or heading home sooner rather than later.

I still am against the bounty, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I have a right to live any more than coyotes do. Their safety is much more at risk than mine anyway. But I might be taking the educational resources at my disposal a little more seriously. And maybe it wouldn’t hurt to carry a big walking stick with me when in the forest.

Just in case.

30 thoughts on “Fear, Coyotes, and Really Big Sticks

  1. So I used to literally live in the middle of nowhere. Coyotes all around, a few mountain lions that used to hang out in our driveway. I can tell you I’ve never been as scared in the city as I used to get on a regular basis in nowhere’s ville. You’re right – there’s no one close to help. Give me inner city thugs over mysterious things that go bump in the fog any day!

    PS – We have a coyote problem here in Portland too but luckily nowhere near my house…at least that I know of. It’s a good thing I don’t walk my dogs early morning or late night or I’d probably start getting the hebeegeebee’s too.

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    • Thugs I am used to, I lived on a pretty rough street in Calgary and have walked through some scary urban areas late at night. But wild animals in the back woods? I am not so comfortable. Human behaviour is much more predictable!

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  2. It’s hard to shake that feeling once you get it.

    I remember our creepiest walk was one that didn’t have any wildlife. At all. We were in a terrible drought at the time, at a park that usually had a large lake. The park was mostly closed–the lake was the big draw–and the ranger told us that even the deer were gone. Aside from the park ranger, the only living thing we saw was a group of ravens, and they followed us the entire time calling out to each other. I wasn’t sure if they were keeping an eye on us as a threat, hoping I would leave some kind of food, or wondering if they could take Silas down.

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    • Ravens are definitely scary. Some of them are enormous and could probably take out a person if so inclined. If I’d been in your place, I probably would have ran all the way home!

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  3. Was meeting a coyote on your life list? Because you might want to add it. Once the paranoia goes away, I bet you’d feel very privileged to find one (at a distance) in the woods.

    Once again, you Canadians are proving yourselves sturdier stuff than we Americans. My town wants to set a hunting bounty on deer in a dense residential area. This is a town that doesn’t allow people to put up fences. Crazy, huh?

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    • I have seen coyotes many times in the past but they were a smaller species that lives on the Alberta prairie. Coyotes out there tend to be solo for the most part, at least that’s how I remember them. The Eastern coyote is much different, much stockier, and I believe they behave differently as well. They are also not native to this province, which has caused many problems. I’d love to see one in the wild but I think I’d like to be in a car when I do!

      A hunting bounty on deer? I’ve never heard such a thing! Is it just because they’ve destroyed some plants and gardens? I’d think there’d be a better way to handle that sort of thing. You know, like putting up a fence. 😉

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  4. I worry about this too, since my dogs are mostly off leash and tend to stop and sniff like they are on to something, AND we know there are coyotes in our woods.

    While I don’t carry a big stick I do carry pepper spray and I try to avoid the woods in the dusk/dawn hours. Worst case scenario there are plenty of big sticks and rocks around if I had too.

    So far though I think our coyotes are still afraid of people.

    Gosh, I hope I didn’t just jinx myself. 🙂

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    • I think most of ours are as well, honestly. But there has been a lot of paranoia ever since a highly publicized – and awful – attack in Cape Breton three years ago. In most expert’s opinions the attack was an anomaly and nothing of the sort has happened since, thank goodness.

      However, they are definitely getting more used to people as the population rises and there have been quite a few sightings and reports of coyotes causing trouble. I don’t doubt there is a problem, I just don’t think a bounty is the solution. Especially when biologists have stated that coyotes are likely just to breed more often if there are less of them around. It’s kind of self-defeating.

      But I’ll get off my soapbox now. 😛 Hopefully we all remain safe from wild life! I think as long as you stay on popular trails, you will probably be fine.

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  5. I now carry an air horn on night-time walks in case of coyote encounters (what a hot topic coyotes are these days!). And I’m walking with Moses and Alma in suburban Calgary.

    And yes, I’ve had to use the air horn, and yes, it works at scaring a coyote or a pair of coyotes off.

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    • An air horn is smart, maybe I will look for something like that for when I walk in the park in the early mornings. As winter approaches I am thinking this is going to be even more of an issue since there will be much less people walking around.

      Have coyotes been a problem in Calgary lately? I remember reading your post but I haven’t heard from others. I used to see them in Lethbridge all the time, just walking down the side of the highway, but they never caused any trouble,

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  6. Stick is good. Or one of the aversive sprays they market to people like postmen.

    It’s not pup season. That’s when I would worry about coyote encounters with Shiva.

    Anytime you see a wild animal acting very out of character, walk away. Gophers, skunks, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, etc – all of these should be avoiding human contact. They may duck into cover and watch you pass, but they should not be on the path/road/ approaching you/ following you. If it’s acting strange, it’s possibly (probably?) sick – and I would report the incident with your local authorities (here in Az, it’s Game and Fish)

    Coyotes carry the same diseases as dogs, so they are a vector for transmitting across the areas in their habitat.

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    • That’s great advice, I agree completely. I try to avoid any encounter with wildlife, especially when I am with my dog. If an animal goes one way – even if it’s a deer – we go the other. It keeps everyone safe.

      The department of natural resource has an online reporting form, which is pretty convenient. It’s something I will definitely use if I see anything of concern.

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  7. If you think there really are coyotes around, please keep Shiva on a leash! Coyotes are known to have one lure a dog as if to go play and then the pack will descend on the dog and attack once they’ve lured it far enough out. I think coyotes are very deserving of our respect, but I wouldn’t trust them. It’s not very likely that they’d try to harm you, but I would hate to read about Shiva being hurt.

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    • For sure. I really appreciate your concern. I hadn’t heard about that but then I don’t do a lot of reading about wild animal attacks. They generally just terrify me and make me want to stay indoors for the rest of my life!

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  8. Yikes! It’s funny how easily we can freak ourselves out! We used to see a coyote at the park quite often, but he always kept his distance. Still made me nervous!

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    • No doubt! I probably wouldn’t have been eager to return to that park again. I’ve already asked my PH not to walk in the area again. Avoid, avoid, avoid, that’s my motto. 🙂

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  9. I was reading your post on the way home tonight and I kind of got the heebie-jeebies reading it when you talked about the fog rolling in. After seeing the coyotes just outside the dog park a few years ago, and hearing a fellow dog walker tell me how she and her dog saw one lying on an earthen ledge watching them one day, I have always had that paranoid nervous feeling there when I am the only one. I don’ think one or two would take on my 3, but it still freaks me out, especially when it is foggy out or I am walking at dusk. Ya just never know. Eek!

    BTW – Sorry to hear about the hunts. They are planning to allow wolf hunting here for the first time and this after we worked so hard to bring them back from the brink. Go figure.

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    • It is creepy, isn’t it? I used to do a lot of hiking in the Rocky Mountains and would spend the entire time jumping at every sound, thinking it was a grizzly bear around the corner. I love, love, love bears, but I don’t want to see one on the trail. Unfortunately, like coyotes, bears are becomming a real problem and I worry they will be next on the bounty list.

      There was actually a wolf found in the maritimes a few months ago, the first one in decades. And of course, the person shot it. 😛

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  10. I have to say, coyotes are much more likely to attack your dog than you seem to think. At least, that is what my personal experience suggests. Koira was attacked and bitten on a popular paved hiking trail just outside of town in the middle of the day last summer. It wasn’t a serious bite, and the coyote ran away as soon as I yelled and headed toward it, but it was certainly scary. After that incident, I started asking around with other dog owners, and found first hand accounts of at least five other dogs being attacked by coyotes in that same area just that month. Fish and Wildlife (who I called to ask about diseases in our local wildlife such as distemper or rabies, neither of which was present in our area at the time, thankfully) thought that there may have been a den of young that was being protected in that area and recommended not walking there with dogs or children.

    Summary: Coyotes are way more likely to attack dogs than you might think.

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    • I believe you.Coyotes probably attack dogs and cats much more often than they do humans. It’s definitely something we need to be aware and cautious of.

      I am so sorry you had to experience something so terrifying! I am so glad Koira was okay!

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  11. We used to not worry about coyotes, skunks, but we’ve seen there around Vancouver and actually in the City of Vancouver. They have moved into the city for prey and because there’s more and more development. Be careful.

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    • Exactly, that’s the problem, right? As the human population encroaches upon their traditional territory it’s only natural that coyotes and other wildlife will become much more familiar with people. It’s to both of out detriments, sadly. There are only so many places for these animals to go. Habitat loss is the largest cause of animal extinction. It’s not fair but I don’t really know if there is a solution.

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  12. I am not a fan of coyotes. They tend to over populate and kill deer and small rodents and birds. When those are gone they start on small dogs. They do not belong among people. In populated areas they have few predators to curb their population. Up by our cabin they have a bit of coyote problem. They decimated the deer population. Thanks to hounds and hunters the coyote population is back under control.

    Coyotes don’t come to cities because humans are encroaching on their habitat. They come because there are easy sources of food and no natural predators.

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  13. I’m not in an area where we have any dangers other than humans and cars, but I know that when we went to Florida I was concerned about alligators and snakes. Like you, it doesn’t mean I want people killing the alligators and snakes, but I was much more careful of where I walked and about staying alert. A big stick on your walks is probably a good idea. It certainly couldn’t hurt! 🙂

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  14. we have coyotes in the creek valley where I walk most often. On the rare times I do see them, it’s hightailing it away from us. Though I’ve heard stories that seem to indicate that one coyote isn’t a problem… it’s a few of htem hunting together that is concerning – that they’ll try to take on a dog their own size at that point. I carry a big metal flashlight (the kind security people use as a baton in movies)… dual purpose in the evening for locating and picking up poops, and scanning the trees for glowing eyes. I’d say keep aware, but don’t stress too much about it.

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  15. Pingback: Danger On The Trail | Cindy Holman

  16. I agree with you on the bounties. Coyotes are part of nature. We should learn to live with them. However, I also know how easy it is to get scared out in the woods when you’re alone. 🙂

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