Two area coyote hunts have evolved into a tradition for hunters who pursue the canines, and for the clubs that sponsor the events, the hunts have become their main funding source.
The Huntington Mills United Sportsmen Camp 271 charges hunters $25 each to participate in their three-day hunt. The club is located along the western edge of Luzerne County but its coyote hunt is open to hunters statewide. The hunt is held in conjunction with a breakfast buffet served at the clubhouse, and club member Gene Dodge said the two events fund most of the programs for the year.
“There is a lot to do during the three-day hunt, but it’s how we make money for the club,” Dodge said. “Without fundraisers like this, we’d be in trouble.”
To the north, the three-day hunt held by District 9 of the Pennsylvania Trapper’s Association in Tunkhannock has grown into one of the largest in the state. Hunters are charged an early entry fee of $25 (due by Jan. 13) and $30 for entries received later. District 9 president Bill Kalinauskis said the coyote hunt is their only fundraiser for the year and covers programs such as their trapper training school, a yearly fur sale and a donation made envirothon competitions in every county in the northeast.
But in order to raise the funds, the clubs have to put out money to get the hunts going each year.
The biggest expenses are the cash prizes which drive participation.
The United Sportsmen hunt attracts between 100 and 125 hunters yearly, Dodge said. Prizes are awarded based on the weight of the coyotes brought in, and the hunter who harvests the heaviest coyote overall takes home a top prize of $1,000. Second place is $500 plus there is a $100 prize for the heaviest coyote taken each day, and $50 is awarded for every coyote brought in.
The District 9 hunt attracts more than 700 hunters and, as a result, offers larger cash prizes. The hunter with the heaviest coyote receives $2,000, and there is a $250 daily prize and $100 for every coyote taken during the hunt.
While both hunts have become traditions among canine hunters in the area, they didn’t start out quite as big.
In Tunkhannock, the District 9 hunt attracted 250 hunters during its first year in 2000, but quickly grew to 600 in its second year and has even topped 800 hunters once.
Kalinauskis said he got the idea for the hunt in 2000 after participating in another coyote hunt in Jim Thorpe.
“I was optimistic,” Kalinauskis said. “My concept was to offer a cash prize right off the bat, and that would either make us or break us. When we hit 600 hunters that second year, we never looked back.”
The United Sportsmen hunt, which started 14 years ago, attracted 50 hunters at the start and offered a smaller cash prize. Dodge said that changed several years ago.
“Seven years ago we increased the top prize to $1,000 and also offered a gun raffle,” Dodge said. “It was a gamble, but it has worked out.”
Dodge and Kalinauskis don’t view their respective hunts as competition and acknowledged many hunters participate in both events, which are held on separate weekends.
Dodge said because their hunt is statewide, the event has attracted hunters from Clearfield County, Williamsport, Stroudsburg and from towns along the New York border.
He said about 50 percent of the registrants each year are new and most of the coyotes brought in were taken by hunters using dogs.
Dodge said the coyote population can support the hunt, and others like it, for years to come.
“People are still telling me all the time that they’re seeing more coyotes,” Dodge said. “The 10 or 12 we get in every year doesn’t put a dent in the population.”
The Tunkhannock hunt encompasses an eight-county area in the northeast and typically results in a harvest of 40 to 50 coyotes. Hunt organizers inspect each coyote turned in to make sure nothing was done to alter the weight.
“We try to run the most honest coyote hunt in the state,” Kalinauskis said. “We’re happy with what we have and we don’t need to expand it.”
Hunters using dogs also account for most of the coyotes taken in the Tunkhannock hunt, and if the weather is good – preferably a couple inches of snow on the ground, the harvest could exceed 50 during the three days.
Unlike Dodge, Kalinauskis feels the coyote hunt has helped to control the population.
“In the northeast, our hunt and others in this area have definitely reduced the coyote population and put it in check,” Kalinauskis said. “The population is still strong, but it’s less than it was 5-10 years ago.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky