Jensen Afield

An adult Eastern coyote, photographed in Vermont.

Depending on how you view the Eastern coyote, you will have one of three opinions on the horror story that took place on a Salisbury farm last week.

1: It will reinforce your deep-down hatred for the coyote because of your belief that the canine kills too many deer.

2: It will be viewed by you as a freak of nature and is not a reflection on the splendid, wild predator in our midst.

3: You won’t care because either you don’t care or don’t know enough to care.

The savage attack by a coyote on an elderly couple at their farm last week should send chills down anyone’s back. But the way that Priscilla and George Gilman responded to the attack should serve as an inspiration to anyone who lives in or near the woods of Vermont.

In a nutshell, the couple, both in their 70s, were attacked without warning by a large, almost certainly rabid, coyote. George Gilman made a valiant effort to keep the crazed canine at bay during a continued attack. Despite his efforts, both adults were bitten and, no doubt, traumatized by a sick animal. Meanwhile, both victims have received the first of a series of rabies shots.

How scary was it?

The coyote continued to rush the couple and George Gilman did his best to ward off the creature by kicking it. They fought the coyote and managed to beat the critter back. “We were just trying to save our lives,” Priscilla Gilman said. “The adrenalin just kicked in.” After the attack, George Gilman went back outside with a shotgun and killed the animal.

So now we have a situation. We know that coyotes can bring down an adult deer under the right conditions. We know they have predatory instincts. But we also know that, despite living virtually in our backyards, your average coyote is far less a threat than some people can imagine.

My biggest fear is that this attack will embolden those people out there, especially those who view the coyote as a menace, to further demonize this wild animal. This behavior by one almost certainly rabid coyote is extraordinary for an Eastern coyote in Vermont, where there is an open season on the critters.

I am an avid deer hunter and I know that coyotes kill deer, year in, year out. But biologists both here and in other New England states have made it clear that, while coyotes do kill a segment of the deer population, they have far less influence on whitetails than what exists in the imagination of far too many deer hunters. Winter mortality, road kill and, of course, deer hunters have a far bigger impact on deer than a group of hungry coyotes.

The fact is, people in rural areas, anywhere in Vermont for that matter, have a far greater chance of being attacked by their neighbor’s dog than by a crazed coyote. Keep that in mind.

It is interesting to note that, of the three previous attacks on people by coyotes, all of those Vermont incidents took place in the woods and the targets of those attacks were hunters — two bow hunters in October and a turkey hunter in May.

I have personally called in at least four coyotes while turkey-hunting, both in the spring and the fall. My guess is that a hunter, dressed in camouflage, making the sound of a wild turkey or, perhaps, wearing clothing that has been sprayed with doe or buck urine, could have been a factor in those attacks. But that is only a guess.

The latest episode, of course, did not involve hunters; the coyote attacked an elderly couple going about their chores on their farm.

Yeah, I can hear it now: “You coyote-lovers put an end to those great coyote-hunting tournaments and now we have this: coyotes attacking people. We need to bring those coyote tournaments back to Vermont.” Sorry, that kind of talk is nonsense.

The Eastern coyote is here to stay. No open season, no tournaments, no amount of trapping (I have no problem with that, by the way), nothing will change that fact. The sooner we get accustomed to the reality that coyotes are among us, that they play an integral part of the wildness of Vermont, the better all of us will be.

Contact Dennis Jensen at d.jensen62@yahoo.com

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