JASPER — While most Hoosiers nestled into their homes to avoid the weekend’s wintry weather, groups of hunters from across Indiana bundled up and traversed the arctic landscape in search of the state’s most cunning predator.
Huntsmen and women from Dubois County all the way to Central Indiana participated in the county’s first organized coyote hunt that started Friday and ended Sunday. Sixteen teams of between one and three hunters took part in the contest, and 29 total coyotes were harvested through the event. Participants were permitted to hunt inside or outside Dubois County but had to register and weigh in their coyotes at The Great Outdoors in Jasper, the event’s sponsor.
Organizers Chris Popp and Bill Martin — both of Jasper — have been hunting the canines for other county contests for four years. They launched the local hunt to bring the competition home.
“We wanted to bring it back here and represent our county and this area,” Popp said.
The hunters universally agreed that coyotes are extremely challenging to hunt and said harvesting the animals is important to controlling their population across the state. Coyote season stretches from Oct. 15 to March 15 in Indiana, and landowners are also permitted to hunt the animals year-round on their private land. They can also provide written permission for others to hunt coyotes on their property.
According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, coyotes were primarily restricted to prairie regions of the state prior to the European settlement of Indiana. They are now found throughout Indiana, including urban areas.
Martin attributed the difficulty in hunting the animals to their keen senses of smell and sight.
“It’s not the killing part I enjoy, it’s defeating them in their game,” said Josh Hardebeck of Fowler, a participant in the weekend tournament. “It’s the smartest animal besides the human being on the planet.”
Hunter Lance Massey of Dubois said coyotes are smarter than humans. His group returned to the Sunday weigh-in at The Great Outdoors with just one coyote, but said they saw a dozen that got away.
The advice he’d give to someone who wants to dive into hunting coyotes?
“Good luck,” Massey said with a laugh.
Cash prizes were awarded to the teams who bagged the most coyotes, had the two highest weight totals and brought back the smallest and biggest animals. Half of the contest’s admission fees and more collected dollars — about $1,100 total — will be donated to the Dubois County Sportsmen’s Club, where the money will be used to pay for the processing of donated deer meat for local food banks. Popp hopes to organize another local coyote hunt again next year.
Kevin Shepherd, manager of The Great Outdoors, said the store has promoted coyote hunting as an ecosystem balance measure for some time. He wanted to ensure the event was simple and fun for participants.
He noted he would have liked to have more hunters partake in the contest, pointing to the frigid and snowy conditions as adding another challenge to an already difficult activity. Still, he said the inaugural event was a success.
“While everybody else is home in bed, warm, listening to the wind blow out there, these folks are out trying to balance the ecosystem by hunting an apex predator,” he said.