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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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Clarification on coyote controversy

Mention the word coyote around a farmer, landowner or hunter and the discussion heats up fast.
Remark that you have seen one recently and everyone listens and has a story of their own. Coyotes, or Canis latrans, have been around since the late 50’s in Virginia but it has only been a decade or so since those of us in the Northern Neck have been noticing them.

As the canines reproduced and sought new habitat, their numbers increased and they have adapted to the subdivisions, farms and woodlands in our area. The increase in numbers has caused some conflicts with landowners as of late and now the citizens are moving to do something about old Mr. Coyote.

 A few hunters have complained that coyotes are finding their shot deer before they can track

them down. It appears old Mr. Coyote is helping himself or herself to an easy meal.

Some complain about the howling and yipping coyotes are doing at night that keep them up and others have lost small stock such as chickens or ducks to the cunning thieves. Yet others worry about their cats or small dogs they let out of their homes.

All are valid concerns, as a coyote will do the above things, but for the most part will try their best to avoid humans when they can. However, they have to eat too, and they do and are quite efficient at finding food.

On Jan. 3 at the King George Board of Supervisors meeting, coyotes made the agenda and the topic was brought to light about the state or county requirements for killing or hunting them in King George County.

The board went to County Attorney, Matt Britton, to get clarification. Since Mr. Britton is, by position, the top law enforcement officer in King George and interprets the law to make or drop charges, his decision or interpretation of the law is important, to say the least.

At the meeting Mr. Britton noted that VDGIF has labeled coyotes as one of the nuisance species (pursuant of the official state code 4 VAC 15-20-160; Va. Code Section 29.1-100) and they may be killed as stated above, year round, except on Sundays. Britton went on to say that no license is needed to kill coyotes.

The state code of Virginia 29.1-100 states in part that hunting is the taking of any animal. A license is required to hunt.

However, the VDGIF website (http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/nuisance/) states:  Under state law, these species (nuisance animals) can be killed at anytime and in any manner that is legal under state and local laws.

 (It is NOT legal to trap wildlife live and move it to another location.) These are the only species this applies to and a permit or hunting license is required to use lethal methods on other wildlife that becomes a nuisance.

The last sentence makes a big difference in the argument about needing or not needing a license, particularly the words “other wildlife”.

Are high-powered rifles permitted?
The short answer is yes. Here is why: Unless restricted by local ordinance, firearms of any type, size and caliber that are otherwise legal under state and federal law may be used.  Va. Code 29.1-519.

Basically, King George has no regulation or ordinance restricting the firearm that can be used on coyotes.

State laws does say that “…any county or city may, by ordinance, prohibit hunting in such county or city with a shotgun loaded with slugs, or with a rifle of a caliber larger than .22 rimfire. However, such ordinance may permit the hunting of groundhogs with a rifle of a caliber larger than .22 between March 1 and August 31.”

King George acted upon that and enacted Sec.10-7—Hunting with Muzzleloading rifles — “…it shall be unlawful for any person to hunt any wild bird, game species or animal in the county with any rifle capable of shooting any cartridge more powerful than a commercially loaded .22 rifle cartridge. This section shall not be construed to prohibit any person from shooting groundhogs with a larger rifle, except during the general open season for hunting in the county.”

I spoke with Mr. Britton about this and he pointed out that the ordinance prohibits the use of rifles larger than .22 for all GAME species (except groundhogs outside of deer season). His point was that since coyotes are classified as a nuisance species they fall under a different category that is not included in game species and therefore there is no restriction on which firearms can be used on them.

The bottom line is that you can shoot coyotes anytime with a legal firearm (no machine guns or grenade launchers of course) any time, except Sunday.

Perhaps there will be some legislation to make the ruling a little clearer since groundhogs are listed as a nuisance species and yet there is an exception written specifically for them. I doubt the legislators foresaw the problem that coyotes would one day become in our Commonwealth.
While Mr. Britton would support a state law change to allow localities to restrict shooting coyotes during deer season, localities are currently only allowed to do so for groundhogs and a locality can only do what state law allows.

If you decide to use a high-powered rifle on coyotes, please use common sense and put safety first in your endeavors. While I don’t think using a high-powered rifle for a coyote is a bad idea, a whole lot of responsibility goes with using any firearm, particularly a high-powered rifle.
Note: My thanks to Mr. Britton for his patience in guiding me through the law, state codes and history regarding this issue. He took quite a bit of time to explain this to me for the purpose of this article.

Watch HB 855 as it seeks to redefine the definition of nuisance species to include game animals and fur bearing animals.

Mark Fike

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