When a 19-year-old folk singer was attacked and killed by coyotes in Nova Scotia last week, the shock waves spread far beyond that Canadian province’s borders.
Here in Maine, hunters, hikers and outdoors enthusiasts were likely among those who paid particularly close attention to news accounts of the attack.
Coyotes, we all know, are among us here in Maine.
And while many realize the animals eat plenty of small mammals — and some larger ones, like deer — few of us likely thought of the yipping beasts as a threat to a full-grown human.
But as the Nova Scotia incident seems to prove, it makes sense to have a healthy respect for the capabilities of many of the wild animals we’ve come to take for granted.
“You always have to consider wild animals dangerous,” said Wally Jakubas, a Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife biologist who has worked extensively on coyote research.
“This is a very unusual situation that happened in Nova Scotia, where you had several animals that apparently attacked this woman,” Jakubas said.
But that doesn’t mean that interactions between coyotes and humans is unheard of, Jakubas said.
“Coyote attacks on people are not extremely rare,” Jakubas said. “There’s been quite a few that have been documented on the West Coast and even some here on the East Coast. Most times those attacks have been associated with coyotes that have been fed by people or in some other way have been acclimated to having people around them.”
Jakubas said he once encountered an aggressive coyote while hiking along the Utah-Colorado border, and eventually abandoned his tent when it became apparent that a confrontation with the animal was imminent.
“That was unnerving, because I had camped around coyotes for much of my life, and worked with them,” Jakubas said. “So it can happen.”
Jakubas said coyotes are typically very timid animals that don’t want to spend time around humans.
“Usually if you get a glimpse of one for a few seconds, you’re lucky. And 99 percent of my experience with coyotes is that they hightail it as soon as you see them,” he said.
But what if they don’t?
And what if you end up closer to a coyote than you want to be?
Jakubas says the tactics that he used while camping is the one he’d recommend to others.
“The whole time, I was facing the animal and treating it basically like I would treat an aggressive dog. Trying not to show fear,” Jakubas said. “That’s how I would treat it. And it worked.”
Jakubas said the attack in Nova Scotia should not cause outdoors enthusiasts here in Maine to panic. But a little caution is never a bad thing.
“I would generally say that people should not be overly concerned about coyotes, but you should also not take them for granted,” Jakubas said. “You should discourage them from hanging around your yard.”
Monster deer likely a myth
Each year, without fail, reports begin trickling in from the hinterlands as soon as deer season starts.
A huge deer has been shot. It’s the biggest anyone’s seen in years. What can you tell me about it?
Each year (unfortunately for those of us in the story-telling business) those tales about mythical 300-pound bucks are just that: Myths.
Nobody can tell you who shot the critter. Nobody can tell you who tagged it. And nobody can actually say that they saw the deer themselves.
This year (perhaps in order to beat the midseason rush), it didn’t take long for a whopper of a deer story to begin making the rounds. Whispers began right after Youth Deer Day on Oct. 24.
According to the e-mail and phone messages I’ve received, a 38-pointer with a 40-inch antler spread was shot somewhere in the Greenville region. It weighed 320 pounds, field-dressed.
On Wednesday, after fielding one call too many about the matter, I visited Lee Kantar, the state’s top deer biologist.
“I’m 99.9 percent sure it’s a myth,” he told me, explaining that none of the regional biologists, and none of the tagging station operators, had any evidence of such a deer being taken.
Kantar had received an e-mail photo of the purported deer, and is so sure it wasn’t shot in Maine — or isn’t nearly as big as some claim — that he has deleted the picture from his computer.
Craig Watt at the Indian Hill Trading Post shared a similar story.
“I’d love to say it was true,” Watt told me Wednesday, explaining that tagging a 320-pound deer would likely draw plenty of eager hunters to his store.
Yes, Craig Watt would love to say the rumor was true. But he couldn’t.
Watt explained that he called every tagging station in the Moosehead Lake region (and then some) and found nobody who could substantiate the story. He also talked with game wardens, and none of them had anything to add.
Still, the phone calls and e-mails continue to pour in here at the BDN.
Just like they do every year.