The Bounty Hunter
bounties on coyotes, rattlesnakes, copperheads, groundhogs, beavers, foxes, cougars, wolves, bear and even porcupines. Some states still offer bounties to “control” coyotes, gophers, nutria, beaver and ground squirrels.
Do they work?
The short answer is "no," at least not if the goal is to reduce a predator's population, recruit new hunters or improve game populations. In addition, there may be unintended consequences and your time can be spent doing better activities.
Let’s look at what happened in Missouri when we had a bounty system on coyotes from 1936-1947. A study of this bounty system showed that while it resulted in the destruction of large numbers of predators, it did not reduce the damage to livestock or the number of complaints. “Eleven years of bounty figures offers no evidence that the population of coyotes has been reduced thereby.”
They also compared the bounty system to hiring “government trappers” to respond to landowner complaints of coyotes killing livestock. They determined it was effective in reducing problem-causing coyotes, but was too expensive for the counties to continue and did nothing to reduce the overall coyote population. It was noted at that time the most cost-effective method is what the Department does presently, train landowners to trap problem predators which are killing livestock.
Animals living in the wild operate under their own set of rules governed by the cycles of habitat, weather and food availability. Populations fluctuate; predators eat their prey. Under heavy pressure, furbearers will move or mate at an earlier age and have larger litters. Reduce the population of one predator and others may spike. For example, remove foxes from an area and you may see an increase in smaller rodents that eat quail eggs. Remove coyotes and you could see an increase in foxes, skunks, possums and raccoons.
It’s much easier to point the finger at the big, bad coyote, evil bobcat, rugged red-tailed hawk or rascally raccoon than look at habitat conditions that affect the nesting success of quail, turkey and other early successional wildlife.
A better alternative is to “predator proof” your farm by improving wildlife habitat. Now, you won’t exactly “predator proof” the farm but you can definitely make it better for wildlife and harder for predators by providing the types of habitat quail, turkey, deer and rabbits need.
For turkeys I’m a big fan of improving nesting and brooding habitat by planting native warm-season grasses and wildflowers; edge feathering; timber stand improvement; and woodland restoration. The same can be said for folks interested in managing their property for deer. Protective cover for fawns is absolutely critical so plant several small fields or field corners to native warm-season grass. Timber stand improvement and small clear-cuts are also very beneficial to deer and turkey. Heck, the biggest buck I ever saw was in the middle of an area edge feathered. I don’t have a clue how he got in there but he exploded out of the patch in a split second. Periodic management with prescribed fire, managed grazing, strip disking and invasive plant control is also important. Sounds a lot like quail habitat doesn’t it?
Now there’s nothing wrong with furbearer trapping or varmint hunting in the fall and winter. In fact, fur prices were pretty good last year. Raccoon pelts averaged almost $12 and red fox was over $33 per pelt. The simple truth is trapping and varmint hunting provides a great recreational activity and a little income on the side. Just don’t think controlling predators, especially with a bounty, will improve game production. Good habitat is still the key.