The View from Faraway Farm: The night stalkers

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Growing up in Vermont in the 1950s and 1960s I did not see any coyotes, or coy dogs, as my father called them. I also never saw Canada geese or wild turkeys, or blue herons or possum. They are all here now, and they are in abundance. I imagine we'll have wolves in a few more years, and Western cougars as well. Don't get me started on Vermont's indigenous big cat, the Catamount, which is still sighted on occasion. It is great to see our woods more alive than ever before, but I can't say that I am thrilled about the coyote population in my neck of the woods. Fourteen years ago I never heard coyotes at night, and now we hear them all the time. There is a reason that they are back.

We once had a number of people hunting coyotes very successfully to the east and west of us, but not so much anymore. The coyote population around us made a big comeback. I love standing outside in the evenings listening to barred owls hunting the ridges on either side of the valley. The coyote calls just make the hair stand up on my neck. I'm not in fear for my personal safety, but we have lost several beloved pets to coyotes in recent years. I've toyed with the idea of setting up a blind and purchasing a night vision rifle scope. The plan included some scraps from farm butchering and a recorded distress call just to be sure they'd come in. It all sounds interesting and I may try it out some day, but biologists have learned that the more you stress a coyote population, the higher their reproduction rate becomes. It sounds like a whole lot of wholesale killing for a questionable return.

It would also take more effort than I'm willing to put in. I've discussed the coyote problem with my son-in-law, who was gearing up to follow a similar path. He was losing turkeys and chickens to coyotes at their farm, so he got together with a local hunter and talked about building a perch inside their barn just beneath a window. The idea was to have an unobstructed shooting lane to the east where the coyotes would enter his property. The plan also included a night vision scope, etc. Leave it to him to keep pushing the boundaries in his efforts to find the best solution to the problem.

I never heard about any coyote hunts from him so one day I asked. "Nope," he said. "We found a completely different solution that works very effectively." I think my jaw hit the floor when he explained it. Blinking red lights. Here's how it works according to the "Original Nite-Guard" website: "Predators are determined to get at your poultry, livestock, or crops and will circle the entire property to gain entry. They must see the flash to be repelled; therefore, the correct positioning of the light is critical. You are the best judge of the final positioning of your lights because each area is different in terms of terrain, buildings, grass, brush, and trees. Mount the lights at eye level of the animal to be stopped and face it away from the area to be protected. One to four lights will be required depending upon your application. It is not motion activated but will flash automatically from dusk through dawn so night animals are stopped at long distances (500 yards or more) away. They do not come in to investigate but see the flash as a threat the instant they are aware of it. Protecting all directions will eliminate the night animals from finding an alternate entry point."

OK, but does it work? My son-in-law emphatically says yes. While not annoying to the human eye in the least, the random red flashes that you see as you approach his farm are simply a curiosity. They aren't excessively bright, so there is a certain amount of subtlety to the lights. On first view, I thought they were power indicators for a new-fangled electric fence. Fortunately, the Nite Guard lights don't make your farm or property look like a night-time amusement park erected expressly for Wile E. Coyote. It has been over a year since their lights were installed, and I haven't heard another word about a coyote problem.

Maintaining a balance of predators seems like a more practical approach to the problem. If we engage in a wholesale slaughter of coyotes they will simply avoid the killing fields and reproduce in higher numbers somewhere close by. Unless you are hunting coyotes for a bounty, this light deterrent approach is a lot more efficient method of safeguarding your animals from predation. If you factored in your time and the cost of a night vision scope, a handful of solar powered blinking red lights begins to make a whole lot of sense.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.


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