Predator Management and Control

Published on Tue, 09/29/2020 - 10:25am

Predator Management and Control.

 By Heather Smith Thomas.

 Some farms and ranches experience livestock losses due to predators.  Nationwide the most common predator is the coyote, but in some western states wolves are an increasing problem, along with the occasional mountain lion or bear.  In areas where certain predators are still protected (wolves, in some areas, or grizzly bears) stockmen can’t legally kill the animal that is harassing or eating livestock and must work with the proper government agency to deal with the problem.  In some states wolf populations have increased to the point that they were delisted and no longer protected, but a problem wolf or pack may still be difficult to remove, and the stockman can seek help from USDA Wildlife Services in that state.

Jared Hedelius, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist, USDA/Wildlife Services, Boise, Idaho, says depredation often occurs in late winter/early spring during calving or lambing.  Generally the producers who calve early (in severe weather) will be calving in corrals and barns, but the ones who calve later (April/May) often have their cows in bigger pastures and not as closely supervised.  In those situations a predator may cause problems before the producer is aware of what’s happening.

During calving/lambing coyotes often hang around the area.  If the ranch is at the bottom of a creek drainage or near the forest, wolves may also slip in and kill animals—especially at night.  A person may not see what’s happening but might hear the cows bellowing and running, trying to defend their newborn calves.

“I suggest reaching out to Wildlife Services, getting to know the specialist in your area.  Make sure he/she knows when you will start calving, and where you’ll be calving.  In most situations, especially if it’s coyotes, a Wildlife Services employee may be able to remove the ones that are hanging around your corrals and reduce the risk of predation,” says Hedelius.

“Don’t wait until after you’ve suffered losses.  Our number one goal is to protect resources, and in this situation the resource we are protecting is livestock.  If we can get a handle on things prior to depredations getting out of control, we all benefit,” he says.

“When everyone is calving or lambing about the same time, the need for help is in many different areas and we are spread too thin to take care of it all.  We do the best we can, but with coyote work we could go in ahead of time and do preventive measures around that farm or ranch.  We make sure we are addressing the specific coyotes that are causing the problem, rather than remove one 10 miles away that’s not going to be a problem.  We want to spend our time and resources exactly where needed,” he says.

Dealing with wolves is more difficult because they travel much farther.  “The home range of a wolf can be 250 square miles, while the territory of a coyote might be 10 square miles.  Preventive action is important for wolves as well as coyotes.  There are several ways we can prevent losses.  First, is vigilance.  See if there are wolf tracks cutting across your pasture.  We can come out and try to address the problem.  One way we can help—that only works in small settings, like a 40 acre pasture where a producer is calving—is to put up fladry along the boundary fence.”  These little flags that wave in the breeze, might work for a while (like noisemakers might), but wolves are smart and soon figure out that it’s not a threat.  These tactics might buy the producer some time, however, to get through calving season.

“If we can use a tool like this to get calves born and up and going, it may help.  Another thing we can do—if we know there is wolf activity and the risk is high, with a history of earlier depredations—we can take this information to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and work with them.  In many situations they will authorize us to remove the problem wolves,” says Hedelius.

There may be many years of data showing that a certain ranch/location repeatedly suffers losses, every year.  “We can make a plan moving into calving season, before the problem starts. We have several tools we can use—including capture (by trap, or by tranquilizer dart from the air) and putting radio collars on some of the wolves.  We can then see where they are going, and notify the rancher if they are hanging close to the cattle.  In some situations, aerial removal can be effective.  The important thing is to communicate with Wildlife Services before losses occur.  Reach out to us and let us know when you are going to start calving,” he says.

Later in the Summer
Many western ranches have summer pasture on BLM or Forest Service allotments.  In a desert setting there may not be as many wolf problems (the number one predator in these areas is usually the coyote), but up in the mountains wolves are more of an issue.  “The Wildlife Service specialist in each area can help.  In large grazing allotments, the producer may sustain losses he doesn’t know about.  Young calves can disappear quickly,” says Hedelius.  Even large animals can be completely eaten fairly quickly if a pack of wolves is involved.

“A rancher may have 200 pairs out there, and when he gathers them to move to another allotment, there may be only 190 calves; you never really know what happened to the others.  Some may die of other causes, but many of those losses could be predation.  It’s important to have ongoing communication with the Wildlife Service specialist.”

Coyotes generally don’t bother larger animals; those depredations are usually due to wolves, mountain lions, or sometimes a grizzly bear.  It is hard to monitor large range pastures and keep track of livestock.  “With grizzly bears some producers lose 25 to 30 calves a season; the bears eat the whole calf and you never find any trace,” says Hedelius.

“If the producer is out there checking fences, spreading salt, turning on water troughs, etc. prior to putting livestock out there, if there is evidence of predators (tracks, deer or elk kills, etc.) contact the Wildlife Service Specialist for that area.  Then we can take that information to the Fish and Game Department and work on a plan before the cattle are out there,” he says.
“Part of that plan might be to try to get a radio collar on one of those wolves, to track movements and see if they might become a problem.  We might get authorization to remove some of the wolves in that immediate area, especially if a pack is denning and raising pups right where the cattle will be.”

Something else Wildlife Services is doing this year in Idaho, that they haven’t done in the past, is hire range riders.  “This year we received funding to hire two range riders.  This is a seasonal position; they ride during the grazing season.  This is an extra set of eyes, out there nearly every day, looking for signs of predators—wolves, bears or mountain lions.  Many grazing allotments are in areas that also have grizzly bears.  A range rider can hopefully see evidence of where bears are traveling,” says Hedelius.  Human presence on the landscape can sometimes deter predators.  

“I was a specialist for 11 years working with livestock producers daily, and one of the things I constantly heard from them is that they do not have time or manpower to be out there every day.  This year we have the ability to help producers a little more, the ones who are experiencing heavy predation in large landscapes,” he says.

“The funding for range riders does come with stipulations; they are not allowed to use lethal removal of predators, but they can try to deter the predator with additional human presence in the area, and can report any evidence of predators.  The range rider does not replace the fulltime specialist, but is in addition to that specialist,” he says.

“I’ve heard good feedback from livestock producers who have had these riders in their allotments, and we hope to continue this in the future and increase the number of range riders to protect livestock.  We provide the rider, who comes with his/her own horse, saddle, horse trailer and pickup and we pay the salary; it doesn’t cost the rancher anything.  We are here to help the ranching communities and livestock producers.

Shooting Predators
Most farmers and ranchers own firearms, for protecting livestock against predators.  There are many types of guns that can be useful for predator hunting, and several manufacturers.

Dan Clayton-Luce, Communications Director, Henry Repeating Arms, says his company (headquartered in Rice Lake, Wisconsin with a second manufacturing facility in Bayonne, New Jersey) makes more than 200 different models of rifles and shotguns—in a variety of different calibers and configurations.  “One of the things we pride ourselves on is that there is a Henry that can fit just about any need or purpose, whether for large game hunting, predator control, or home defense,” he says.

“Regarding predator control, we have a number of products that fit the bill, but a rifle we call The Long Ranger is probably the standout.  We introduced The Long Ranger in 2017, and have since expanded on that offering with more calibers and finishes. What makes it special is that it is available in calibers like .223, 243, and 6.5 Creedmoor, all of which are great long-range calibers you typically won’t find in a lever-action rifle.  To accommodate these cartridges in a lever-action platform we use a 4 to 5 round box magazine and a free-floated sporter barrel to maximize performance.  It’s a great platform for long-range shooting, such as trying to kill a coyote some distance away.”  

A coyote is actually a fairly small target, and this is the perfect rifle for coyotes.  “You need a fast round to get out there and hit the mark,” he explains.

“On the smaller side of pest control we have a number of .22 magnums and .17-HMR, which are two of the more popular calibers for small game and pest control since they both have a very small projectiles that moves very fast.  The .17 HMR, for example, shoots as flat as a laser and is very accurate, and a great cartridge for lever actions.  The big benefit with a lever action is that you have a follow-up shot if you need it, and it’s quick to get to your next shot.”  If the coyote is trying to run over the next hill, you might have one more chance to get him.

“All of our rifles allow for a scope.  The centerfire rifles are drilled and tapped and the rimfire rifles have a grooved receiver so you can put rings on it for a scope.  The other big benefit of a lever-action is that the profile of the rifle itself is slim.  With a bolt action you have the bolt sticking outside it.  The lever action is very flat with clean lines.  It is easier to carry and you can also put a sling on it if you want, and potentially store it in more places because it’s less bulky and takes up less space.  It is also very reliable,” says Clayton-Luce.

“The Long Ranger 243 is good for deer hunting, coyotes, etc.  In most regions coyotes are the biggest concern, in terms of predators.  For a bear, you’d want a step up in caliber, especially for a grizzly.  We offer a 308 in the same platform as the .243, and also have a number of .45-70 rifles, which will take down the largest game,” he says.

Everything the company makes is backed by lifetime guarantee, which is not common in the firearms industry.  “We take a lot of pride in our products and back it up with what we believe to be the best customer service.  If you accidentally drop your rifle and chip the butt stock, we can replace it.  If something happens to the action, or whatever the case may be, we will fix it under that lifetime guarantee,” he says.

“Our company motto is ‘Made in America or not made at all.’  Every piece of every gun is made in America.” Henry Repeating Arms takes its name from Benjamin Tyler Henry, who invented and patented the first repeating rifle in 1860, known as the Henry rifle.  Other than name, however, there is no affiliation to Benjamin Tyler Henry or to the New Haven Arms Company that sold the original Henry rifle from 1862 to 1864.  Anthony Imperato secured the trademark to the Henry name in 1996 when he started the present company.  Today, Henry Repeating Arms is the leading lever-action manufacturer and one of the top five long-gun manufacturers in the USA.  

Predator Calls
When shooting is a legal or common method of eliminating problem predators (especially coyotes), predator calls can be very effective for luring the animals close enough to shoot.  Abner J. Druckenmiller, Director of Sales, FOXPRO Inc. at Lewistown, Pennsylvania, says his company has been in business for 25 years and makes electronic game calls—mainly for predator hunting but also for deer, turkey, bear, etc.  “I’ve used our calls to call in bears in British Columbia and I’ve hunted all over North America for predators,” he says.

“I had the privilege of hunting in Mississippi during calving season.  Coyotes and bobcats can be a problem, killing calves that time of year, but the main reason coyotes come into the calving area is to eat the poop from young calves because it contains so much protein and nutrients from colostrum.  When you see coyotes with your cattle, they may just be scavenging, but some do kill young calves,” says Druckenmiller.

Coyotes often hunt in pairs and even an aggressive cow is no match for two coyotes; when she charges after one of them, the other coyote can grab the calf.  “That time of year is also breeding season for coyotes and they are hungry and may kill calves—and you will also see multiple coyotes because if a female is heat there may be several males following her.  There is often a lot of coyote activity in the area,” he says.

People often ask how to get rid of coyotes, but you never really get rid of them; if you kill some, more move in to take their place.  You can, however, take out the ones causing the problems.  “If you want to manage coyote or predator problems on your property, there are basically four methods.  One: shooting on sight (when you see coyotes, kill them).  Two: calling coyotes and shooting them when they come to you.  Three: trapping.  Four (if allowed) is poisoning,” he says.  

“Out West there are predation officers whose fulltime job is removing predators and these are the four methods they generally use.  They can help reduce the predator problem for that year, but many predators—especially coyotes—can change litter size in response to pressure or habitat.”  If the environment is good for them, with plenty of prey and not very many coyotes, they often have larger litters.

Predator management is a constant year-round job.  Producers often want to find a way to control these animals without having to spend a lot of time at it, because they are so busy, but some methods are more efficient than others.  “When I try to call coyotes, I am usually only out there for 15 minutes.  About 80% of the time, if I’m going to kill a coyote, it will come to me quickly, between one and 4 minutes.  If I’m out in a field in one location for 15 minutes I may call in a coyote or I may not, in that period of time.  If you have traps set out there, those will be working 24/7 and more likely to be effective.  But you can use both methods, calling in the area where the traps or snares are set.  Even after you leave, there may be some coyotes that come into the area to check it out, and get into those sets,” says Druckenmiller.

Controlling predators is not something you just do during calving season or in the fall or winter.  “You need to be working at it all the time.  Farmers and ranchers don’t have time, but there are a lot of coyote hunters who would love to come to those places and hunt coyotes.  I’ve had a lot of access all over the country, because most farmers are happy to have someone come hunt their predators,” he says.  If the person wanting to hunt on farm property is respectful and responsible and gives a good first impression, most farmers will allow predator hunting.  

“The FOXPRO call is electronic.  It’s legal for hunting coyotes, bobcats and fox in almost all states.  I get phone calls throughout the year from farmers who have a problem with a specific coyote or fox and those are the ones that are relatively easy to call in and kill.  But it’s important to be proactive.  If the coyote was there last night, you need to get there right away,” he explains.

“The advantage to an electronic call is that it puts the sound out away from the hunter.  Coyotes rely on their sense of smell, so you don’t want them to smell you.  You want to be downwind from the coyote, so you want to set the call 40 to 50 yards in front of you with the wind in your face.  The coyote comes into the call and maybe downwind of the call but is still upwind from you.  That’s the perfect scenario.  Crosswinds can also give good success,” he says.

These calls have good range, if a person wants to put it out farther.  “I like to keep it between 20 and 40 yards away from me, however, because I don’t want to try to shoot a coyote at 700 yards.”  The coyote, fox or bobcat is actually a very small target when you consider that the fur makes him look bigger than he is.

“With a fox, you have a 3 to 4 inch area to shoot.  Coyotes are a 4 to 5 inch target.  At 300 yards, there’s very small margin for error.  I want to kill that coyote within 100 yards.  When calling a predator to you, most of those you’ll be able to shoot are between 80 and 120 yards.”  Druckenmiller gives seminars around the country on hunting and tells people they need to practice and be a good shot before they try shooting coyotes.  If you miss, this just makes them wary, and they may not respond to the call next time.  

Bobcats can also be a problem.  “Sometimes they’ll start killing just to kill.  They’ll kill a lamb and cover it with leaves and grass and come back to feed on it, but sometimes don’t even eat the animal they kill.”  Mountain lions also cover their kills.

“Once cats start killing livestock, they seem to have a desire to continue to kill, just for the sport.  That’s why some sheep ranches out West have problems with cats.  Those are the predators that need to be gotten rid of.”  The challenge in some states, however, is that the cat (bobcat, or mountain lion) is considered a game animal and you must have a tag, and can only kill one per year, or have a drawing to get the tag.  As predator numbers increase, there are more problems with them killing livestock. is great resource for information on predator control.

Wolves are in Increasing Challenge
Ever since Canadian wolves were introduced into the intermountain West in 1995, livestock depredations have increased as the wolf population increased.  This negative impact on western ranchers’ livelihoods continues—as environmental interests (wanting more wolves and less control of them) clash with the hard reality of having to co-exist with these superb predators.

Phil Davis (a rancher near Cascade, Idaho) has lost many cattle to wolves over the past two decades.  “Many stockmen have losses they don’t even realize are caused by wolves, because they don’t know what to look for,” says Davis.

A few years ago one of his neighbors had 10 cows and 5 calves killed, but had to dig the last one back up to get it confirmed as a wolf kill.  “He wished he’d known what to look for, before he buried that dead cow.  If the animal is intact, most ranchers assume it died of something else (bloat, larkspur poisoning, disease, etc.) and don’t bother to skin it to discover bruising under the skin.  We’ve found that more often than not, cattle that are killed in our area from July on, are left intact,” he says.  Adult wolves are teaching their pups how to kill and are harassing and chasing cattle, nipping at them.

“These animals generally die, and people don’t know the reason.  One year we thought we had bloat in some yearlings, but discovered that two of them were actually wolf kills.  One was upside down on his back.  I buried the first one before we got it figured out, and had to dig it up to check it more closely.  It’s easy to be fooled when the animal is lying there intact and you don’t see external evidence of trauma,” he explains.  Depredation numbers will be more accurate when people start to know what to look for.  

“Typically wolves run them until the cattle are totally exhausted.  Then the pups can bite on them.  The wolves just wear them down.  Often you find the animal dead in a soft spot.  They crossed a ditch or a boggy area and are so exhausted that they can’t slog through it.  It trips them up and that’s where they finally go down.  That’s one sign to look for.  After they go down the adults hold them there and let the pups chew on them.”  If the wolves aren’t hungry and are just killing for sport or teaching pups, they don’t tear open the carcass to eat on the exhausted animal.  They just leave it and go on to another.

Some interest groups are pushing for use of non-lethal methods to control wolf depredation because they don’t want wolves killed, but these methods are rarely effective.  “Non-lethal methods only work for a little while to deter wolves, if they work at all,” says Davis.  Some researchers are trying methods like extra riders, noise-makers, mag boxes and rag boxes, etc. but these require extra resources which most ranchers don’t have, and it doesn’t work long-term.

In areas where ranchers have to contend with wolves, there are many subtle and undocumented impacts to cattle herds that are not being recognized, like lighter calves, stress on the animals, more open cows in the fall, kills that are not confirmed.  It’s a much bigger loss than most people realize.

Many ranchers in the West grew up without having to deal with wolves, but are now having to come up to speed on what to do about increasing livestock losses.  They have to learn how to differentiate between wolf kills and other causes of death, and are also frustrated at the lack of control on the ever-increasing wolf population.

“One thing people need to realize is that wolves have no natural enemies other than man.  They multiplied exponentially after they were introduced, with the unlimited food source (elk).  In some areas, the elk are largely gone because of the wolves, and the wolves are discovering easy prey like livestock—and what’s going to control the wolf population?  Non-lethal methods are not going to work.  Somewhere along the way this has to be addressed,” Davis says.

In some regions wolves are still being protected, while in other areas they have been delisted, and can be controlled.  “The problem is that we don’t have the ability to control them.  They’ve become so wise to traps that we can’t even trap them now.  The trappers here have not been successful at all, this year,” he says.

“Wolves are smart and there is no good way to kill or capture them anymore—even to put collars on them—unless it’s done in the winter with helicopters, and that becomes expensive,” he says.

“Wildlife Services generally doesn’t have much success except with helicopters in winter.  August through October is when we see the most depredation because that’s when they are teaching their pups to hunt—and this is also when we find the cattle intact and sometimes still alive,” he says.

“The tools we have left for controlling wolves, like the M44, some people want to outlaw, and are very limited.  There aren’t many tools in our toolbox.  One guy invented a collar to put on cows--that transmits her body temperature, heart rate, movement, etc.  If the cow is dead and not moving, it sends an alert.  If the cow is stressed and her heart rate goes up, it could send an alert.  Eventually some people may use these collars on cattle, even though they are expensive,” says Davis.  Some of the new technology may be beneficial, as it becomes perfected and maybe less expensive.

Coyotes are a major problem for sheep, and sometimes for cattle during calving season, but not as big a threat as wolves.  “Coyotes kill because they are hungry, and not so much just for sport.  In early spring, when they are hungrier, wolves do consume more beef, but as long as elk calves are available, they prefer to eat elk—and generally just kill cattle for sport or to teach their pups to kill,” he says.

“We had some heifers a couple years ago that were calving in June (rather than when they were supposed to calve—because they’d been bred too young, while they were still nursing their mothers).  Wolves came through all the other cattle and didn’t bother them, but killed those heifers and their calves and ate the calves.  They killed almost every heifer that calved.  They didn’t touch the other cattle; they were very selective.  Wolves are brutal, during calving; they must be able to smell the birthing fluids for miles,” says Davis.  

“If you have wolves in your area during calving season, it’s a big problem, and they are hard to shoot, even if you are out there a lot checking cows.  If the cows are calving out at pasture, you can’t be out there all the time guarding them.  Wolves are basically nocturnal (and more difficult to apprehend) and do most of their hunting at night—because of the chase.  It’s cooler at night and they don’t overheat.  They also do a lot of hunting on rainy or foggy days.  We can almost count on a problem during that kind of weather,” says Davis.

“One of the big issues we face with wolves is lack of education.  Most people don’t understand that wolves can kill an animal and leave it intact with no external sign of injury.”  When an animal dies mysteriously it’s important to have a knowledgeable person investigate and do a necropsy.  

“In Washington and Oregon, however, they don’t let Wildlife Services do this; those states have biased biologists who are supposed to confirm or disprove a wolf kill, but they are not trained, and generally won’t see it for what it is.  This is one of the issues—the inability to actually find out what the problem is.  Unless you have people who are experienced in identifying this, they don’t recognize it.  If it was a coyote kill they can see something was eaten, but for a wolf, there may not have been any consumption of the dead animal.”