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Coyotes are fair game for shooters


King George County officials have made it clear that it’s fine to shoot coyotes, even with high-powered rifles that aren’t allowed during hunting season.

State game officials also encourage residents to shoot any coyote that wanders into their gun sights. The wild canines aren’t native to Virginia, and they can pose a threat to smaller game animals such as rabbits, squirrels and wild turkeys, as well as livestock and even pets.

“If you can shoot a coyote, by all means, do it, as long as it’s a safe and ethical shot,” said Mike Dye, a district wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

“We have no problems with it, absolutely not.”

The growing population–or colonization, as Dye puts it–of coyotes in the Fredericksburg region has been discussed numerous times in recent years. The animals are native to the West, but started showing up in Virginia counties in the 1980s and seem to have spread throughout the state.

With no natural predators, they adapt quickly in varied environments, from the sheep-filled hills of the Shenandoah Valley to the urbanized area of Rock Creek Park, Md., where they were first spotted seven years ago.

“If a fox is a dog with a bachelor’s degree, then a coyote is a dog with a master’s degree,” said Ken Perrotte, a King George resident who writes an outdoors column for The Free Lance-Star. “They’re very intelligent, very efficient hunters.”

Perrotte recently asked King George supervisors to clarify the county’s ordinance on shooting coyotes, which are considered a nuisance species in Virginia.

County Attorney Matt Britton gave his interpretation of state and local ordinances Tuesday night.

“Bottom line is you can shoot coyotes any time, except on Sundays, if you want to, and you can use a high-powered rifle to do it,” Britton said.

Supervisors were satisfied with his opinion and decided not to change any wording in a local ordinance. They had considered putting coyotes into the same category as groundhogs.

The state also has declared them nuisances, and residents can use high-powered rifles to shoot them any time of the year except during deer season.

The reasoning behind that, Britton said, is that someone will climb into a tree stand and claim he’s shooting groundhogs when he’s actually hunting deer.

King George doesn’t allow the use of high-powered rifles during hunting season. Bullets fired by more powerful weapons travel farther, and that can be dangerous in areas with dense populations or flat terrain, which is the case in King George.

Caroline County has the same restriction.

King George officials are giving residents the go-ahead to use weapons larger than .22-caliber rifles to kill the coyotes, which don’t have a lot of fans in the area.

“I’m a farmer, and you gotta realize, when they kill livestock, they’re taking money out of our pockets. And I get a little upset when you start taking my money,” said Larry Carr, a King George resident who lives near Port Conway. “I’ll shoot every one I see.”

Perrotte, who lives near the Westmoreland County border, said he’s seeing a lot more coyote tracks than he ever has. He has also heard about encounters from other residents, including aSpotsylvania County woman who was walking her dog in the battlefield park off Lansdowne Road this summer.

Linda Conrad said a young coyote kept circling her and the dog. It didn’t seem the least bit frightened by her–or her yelling.

Male coyotes tend to be larger than females and can reach up to 45 pounds, according to the state game website. A National Park Service brochure describes them as looking similar to German shepherds, but with longer legs and snouts and bushier tails.

Three years ago, two of Carr’s farm dogs got into a fight with coyotes. He doesn’t know how many wild canines attacked his, but said there must have been several of them, based on the damage.

His dogs are big: a Labrador-Chesapeake Bay retriever mix and a Rhodesian ridgeback, a breed developed to hunt lions in Africa. The ridgeback lost a couple of teeth, the Lab mix “was cut up across the back end,” and both needed stitches, said Carr, whose vet bill topped $200.

Kelly Strauss, who lives near Hopyard Farm subdivision in King George, shot a coyote several years ago during deer season. He was in a tree stand and saw something stalking two female deer.

“I remember thinking, ‘What in the world?’ then I realized it was a coyote,” he said.

He was certain the canine hadn’t merely wandered onto the same game path.

“It was like Wile E. Coyote,” he said.

Strauss regularly hears the howls of grown coyotes, as well as the yips of their puppies, from his home less than a mile off State Route 3.

“Once a month you can hear them out there, yipping at each other,” Strauss said. “It’s eerie, but it’s a cool sound. It’s a reminder that you still live in the country.”

The Code of Virginia considers these animals and birds to be nuisance species. No hunting license is required to shoot them.

house mouse

Norway rat

black rat


feral hog



European starling

English (house) sparrow


Under state law, these species can be killed at any time and in any manner that is legal under state and local laws. It is not legal to trap these species live and move them to another location.

Coyotes typically are more of a threat to livestock and wild animals than to pets because they usually avoid human contact, said Mike Dye with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

He suggests that farmers use strong fencing and guard animals, such as Great Pyrenees dogs or donkeys, to ward off coyotes.

In more urban areas, homeowners should keep all trash in tightly closed garbage cans, avoid leaving pet food outside and not let their pets run loose to avoid contact with coyotes, according to the National Park Service.

In 2008, the Virginia Citizens Defense League reported that 17 Virginia counties had bounties on coyotes. Localities from the Shenandoah Valley to the southwestern portion of the state paid $25 to $75 for each coyote killed.

Tough budget times may have caused some counties to drop the program. Closer to Fredericksburg, two hunt clubs in Fauquier County still pay bounties.

The Casanova Hunt and Old Dominion Hounds, which merged with the Rappahannock Hunt last year, pay $150 for each coyote killed on land the members hunt. They don’t want people from outside their hunting areas bringing them coyotes, and they accept the animals only from hunters they know, said a spokesman at Clark Brothers, a gun shop near Warrenton.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425