Cash for Coyotes: Do Bounties Work?

Bounties placed on predators grab the attention of hunters and non-hunters, but do these tactics work on reducing populations of coyotes?

Cash for Coyotes: Do Bounties Work?

New Mexico has banned predator hunting contests, the latest western state to do so. 

Legislators in South Carolina want to give you cash for doing what you love to do. Yep, they want to pay you to hunt coyotes. South Carolina state senator Stephen Goldfinch introduced a bill that would pay hunters a $75 bounty for each coyote they turn in. 

“We’ve had an explosion of coyotes in South Carolina. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get a call from someone who lost a cat or dog to a coyote,” Goldfish said. “I know we will never get rid of them, but my bill will help knock down their numbers and hopefully reduce the number of fawns and turkeys that coyotes kill every year.” 

Bounties aren’t new. A price has been placed on the hides of a wide variety of wildlife species since before the country was founded. Local, state and federal government agencies have paid cash for everything from wolves and coyotes to hawks and even gophers. Most ran their course, fading away into obscurity. Some still remain. Louisiana has had a $5 bounty on nutria, a non-native, invasive aquatic rodent similar to a muskrat that has taken a severe toll on coastal marshland. The state has paid more than $24 million to hunters and trappers since 2002.

It seems to be working. According to data compiled by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the total acreage of coastal marsh damaged by the rodents decreased from 82,000 in 2002 to 16,000 in 2017. 

Can they work with coyotes? Not only does Goldfinch think they can, but some officials in Utah also think so, too. In 2012, the state legislature passed the Mule Deer Protection Act, which placed a $50 bounty on coyotes killed in the state. As its name implies, the bill was promoted as a way to save Utah’s declining mule deer herds. 

Whether Utah’s bounty program is working is open to debate. However, one thing isn’t, Utah’s program is costly. At $50 a pop, the state paid hunters more than $575,000 in 2017 alone. 

Hunters Would Pay the Bounty

Goldfinch wants South Carolina hunters to pay for the bounty. His bill would add an extra dollar to each resident hunting license sold and an additional $5 to non-resident licenses. Based on current license sales, he figures the new fees would generate up to $650,000 per year. At $75 each, that would pay for fewer than 9,000 coyotes.

Bounties come with a host of issues, including the potential for fraud. As it turned out, some hunters were turning in coyotes killed in other states for Utah’s cash. One couple was charged with felony fraud after investigators determined many of the 237 coyotes they turned in were not killed where the couple claimed they were. According to a story in the Salt Lake Tribune, 95 of those were killed in Nevada and by other people. 

Now, Utah hunters hoping to collect a coyote bounty will have to snap a photo of the carcass with their cell phone. Goldfinch’s bill has the same requirement. The photo must include a “geotag,” which includes the GPS location of the photo. Of course, that may not stop hunters who kill coyotes in another state from waiting until they get to South Carolina to take a photo. 

“We make laws for the 95 percent of people who will follow them,” says Goldfinch. “There will always be ways for the renegades to cheat the system. The best we can do is make it difficult for the other 5 percent.” 

Do Bounties Work?

Fraud potential aside, the more important question to ask is, do they work? Bounties are designed to encourage hunters to go afield and kill coyotes in an attempt to reduce populations. Based on Utah’s results, they certainly can encourage hunters to hunt more. According to Utah Department of Natural Resources surveys, hunters spent 35 percent more time hunting coyotes due to the bounty. Since it was adopted the average annual coyote harvest, including recreational hunting and trapping and kills by federal wildlife agents, has been about 15,000 per year. Prior to the implementation of the bounty program, average annual harvest was about 9,300. 

While the coyote kill may be up, the results of that additional harvest are muddy, at best. Based on kill locations, about 20 percent of the Utah’s coyote harvest takes place on mule deer summer range, which is where fawns are born and raised. Coyotes are a significant source of mule deer fawn mortality. So far, though, fawn-to-doe ratios have actually decreased over the course of the bounty program. The state’s deer herd has grown slightly. Biologists think that may have to do with favorable weather conditions more than any reduction in coyotes. Drought, in particular, can take a heavy toll on fawn recruitment. Severe winters can also play a role in population trends. 

It’s no secret that predators are taking a heavy toll on South Carolina’s fawn crop. A number of studies have verified that. The state’s deer herd is down and so are turkey populations. 

Goldfinch thinks his bounty will result in an additional 12,000 to 14,000 coyotes taken by hunters on top of the current kill of about 30,000 per year and help reduce fawn predation. However, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources biologist Charles Ruth doesn’t buy those numbers. 

“The additional fees proposed with this bounty would generate about $400,000. That would pay for about 5,500 coyotes. Since our harvest is already in the neighborhood of 30,000, that money would only pay for the first 5,500 coyotes and not an additional 5,500,” he explains. “Basically, this bounty will pay hunters to do what they are already doing for free.” 

Even if Goldfinch’s numbers do hold up and hunters shoot an additional 12,000 coyotes, that would consist of less than 10 percent of the state’s estimated 350,000 coyotes. A number of studies have shown that in order to reduce coyote populations, upwards of 70 percent of the total population must be removed. As their numbers decline, coyotes can increase the size of their litters to compensate for the reduction. 

“I don’t think the proposed bounty will have any noticeable impact on coyote numbers or a reduction in fawn predation,” Ruth said. “If you look at the history of bounties, there is no evidence they have ever worked.” 

Drilling Down Locally

Bounties have even smaller impacts on a local scale. A number of Virginia counties have paid for dead coyotes over the past decade or so, but in most cases, those bounties have been abandoned or scaled back. A few Virginia counties still have them, including Franklin County, which paid nearly $6,000 for 171 coyotes over the course of nine months in 2018. However, the county’s administrators did not consult biologists to determine if they work. Few politicians do. In fact, few biologists and even fewer state wildlife agencies support any type of bounty program. 

“Every once in a while, I’m asked to give a presentation on coyotes and bounties to a county board of supervisors considering implementing a bounty,” said Mike Ries, a furbearer biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “Most end up agreeing that bounties are not effective and don’t adopt them, but some don’t. All I can do is give them the facts.” 

Coyote predation on wildlife and livestock is a very complex issue and one that is often oversimplified by those affected, adds Fies. Coyotes eat deer, say hunters, so let’s provide a cash incentive to kill them all. Farmers also look for a fast fix.  

“I think politicians just want to look like they are doing something, even if there is no evidence what they are doing will work," Fies said. "Generally, bounties are paid to hunters who were probably going to shoot a coyote anyway. Even if they do encourage hunters to shoot more coyotes, there won’t be enough additional harvest to make much of a difference. Coyotes from surrounding counties just move in and fill the void.” 

So what does work? Fies and Ruth agree that targeted efforts around a farm with coyote problems can reduce those problem coyotes. Often, says Fies, a particular coyote or group of coyotes is responsible for attacking sheep or calves. 

“Removing specific animals can reduce livestock depredation, but randomly shooting coyotes on a county-wide or statewide basis has not worked in the past and it is unlikely to work in the future,” he said. “The number of additional coyotes killed as a result of a bounty is miniscule compared to the total harvest. Most of the coyotes killed by hunters would likely be killed anyway.”


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